Your son’s soon going to receive his Arrow of Light badge and graduate from Cub Scouting into the real adventure of BOY SCOUTING! He and his den have already visited at least one Boy Scout troop meeting and one Boy Scout outdoor activity. Now it’s your turn… You and he together will visit a troop, where you’ll meet the Scoutmaster and see the Scouts in action. You want your son to get the best possible experience from Boy Scouting, so the troop he joins is important to you as well as to him. There may or may not be a “feeder” troop that your son’s pack is associated with, and there may be other troops nearby, so it’s important to keep in mind that no boy “marries” a troop—he joins it to get the most out of Scouting, and he can change from one troop to another anytime he wants, for whatever reason he wants (in sports, it’s called “free agent,” which is exactly how you and your son always want to think about this).
But… If you want your son in a great troop, what do you do, and what do you look for when visiting?
Start here: Borrow your son’s new BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK and read the first couple of chapters. This will give you a heads-up on how Boy Scouting is different from Cubs, and what his new handbook is promising him he’s going to get and do, as a Boy Scout. Now you’re armed. So here are a few important things to look for… Clues that the troop you’re observing is going to be OK…
Start with the obvious: Are the Scouts and uniformed adult volunteers wearing their uniforms, and are they head-to-toe? If the answer’s no, or at best haphazard, or maybe “from the waist-up,” then that’s a clear signal of how they treat the even more important aspects of Boy Scouting: It’ll likely be half-hearted, sloppy, and off-the-mark. If uniforming is complete or near-complete, there’s a better chance that other aspects of the Boy Scout program are being delivered the way the program’s written to be delivered.
The next most obvious is: Who’s running the meeting? If it’s a Scout (he’d likely be the Senior Patrol Leader), that’s exactly what you’re looking for: In Boy Scouting, adults don’t run meetings; Scouts do. If, on the other hand, you see one or more adults “in charge,” including teaching skills, running games, making announcements, and so on, start planning to visit another troop. Fast. When the Scouts are running the show, you have some good assurance that, along the way, your own son will get to do this, too! This is how tomorrow’s leaders are developed!
Is there an obvious meeting plan: Does it seem apparent that there’s a plan and schedule that the Scouts are operating from, or is it your impression that they’re sort of making it up as they go along? Again, ask yourself: What kind of learning environment do you want your son exposed to?
Are any skills being taught, and how are they taught? Boys of this age prefer learning-by-doing. Every troop meeting’s supposed to provide time for peer-to-peer skills instruction of some sort, and it should ideally be hands-on; not lecture-style. If you spot adults doing the teaching, by lecturing at the Scouts, it’s time to back-stroke out of there. But if you see boys teaching boys, in patrol groups, with adults as more-or-less “wallpaper,” then there’s a good chance Boy Scouting is going on in the room.
What sorts of games do they play? Troop meetings are supposed to have a segment where patrols play a game that reinforces a skill, helps build teamwork, or is challenging in some way. If the game is dodge-ball, or tossing around some Nerf balls, basketballs, or footballs, and there’s no coherent purpose other than blowing off a little steam, this troop’s off the mark.
Are trips and outing planned by the Scouts, as patrols? The meeting should include some quiet planning time, where patrols separate themselves from one another and, led by their Patrol Leaders, sit down and plan which Scouts are responsible for what (food, transportation, getting tents from the Quartermaster, and so on). If, instead, one of the adults is standing there asking for a show of hands on who’s going on the trip, and talks to other parents about who’s doing the driving, who’s buying the food for the troop, and so on, this isn’t a troop at all: It’s simply a big patrol run by “The World’s Oldest Patrol Leader.”
And here’s another top-priority observation: Check the Scouts’ faces. Do they look happy, energetic, and like they’re having a good time and glad they’re there? Or do they look blank or bored out of their skulls, just sort of “going through the motions”? (This aspect may be the most telling of all!)
Finally, how does the meeting end? It’s supposed to end with what’s called “The Scoutmaster’s Minute”—a very brief moment at the end when the Scoutmaster speaks to the Scouts with a parable or short (very short!) story that helps reinforce one of the Ideals of Scouting (found in the Scout Oath and Law). If the Scoutmaster lectures, makes announcements, or otherwise wastes this critical moment, consider looking elsewhere.
When you visit with your son, it’s helpful to have some questions to ask, to create a dialogue and to learn more about the troop. Here are a few worth asking…
- How often does the troop have outdoor activities? (You’re looking for “once a month” on average.)
- What Scout camp does the troop go to, in the summer? (Any Scout camp is fine; none spells trouble.)
- Do first-year Scouts go to camp with the other Scouts in the troop? (Any answer other than “Yes” is a huge red flag.)
- If my son decides to go for Eagle rank, and wants to earn it right around his 14th birthday, what’s your feeling about that? (The response needs to be along the lines of, “It’s his choice; he can advance at the pace he decides and we’re here to help him get there.”)
- The BSA has a new evaluation program called “Journey To Excellence. How did this troop do last year? (There are four levels: Gold=Excellence, Silver=Effective, Bronze=Satisfactory, and none of these means bottom-of-the barrel. “We don’t do that” is another big danger signal.) (The JTE program evaluates troops in these critical dimensions: Scout advancement, camping, community service, adult volunteer training, youth leadership opportunities, youth membership retention and growth, etc.)
Well, that’s it for now. Certainly there are many facets of Boy Scouting we haven’t touched on here; my intent isn’t to be comprehensive but, rather, to give you some key highlights. You can always check these out in more depth, or check on other aspects as well—That’s up to you!
HappY BOY ScOuTing!