Finding Hidden Pockets of Time for Scouting

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The last time I stopped by the grocery store, a friend’s GIrl Scout troop was selling cookies out front. That wouldn’t be unusual except that it was the middle of a school day. The girls weren’t skipping school, however. Instead, our local schools were closed due to a teachers’ strike, and my friend was striking–pardon the pun–while the iron was hot. Or at least while her girls were available.

It’s no secret that kids are busier than they’ve been since child labor laws went into effect. These days it’s common for students to play multiple sports, play in the band, participate in drama club, take lots of Advanced Placement courses–AP Macroeconomics, anyone?–and still find time to maintain an active presence on social media. That makes it harder than ever to squeeze in Scouting activities, which is why smart leaders seize on opportunities like teachers’ strikes that close the schools.

Here are some other times you can potentially sneak in a little extra Scouting–like a day hike or a merit badge session:

  • Snow days when the roads are passable (often roads are clear by mid-morning)
  • Teacher in-service days
  • Three-day weekends like Presidents Day weekend
  • The day before Mothers Day–just don’t be at camp that Sunday!
  • Thanksgiving weekend
  • The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day

Have you found other hidden pockets of time on the calendar? I’d love to hear your stories.


Need more great troop program ideas? Check out The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.

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Not Your Father’s Scouting Program

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In the lead-up to the recent addition of girls to what is now Scouts BSA, I often wondered about what unexpected outcomes the change might bring. Among those I saw early on were a grassroots groundswell of volunteer interest in starting new units (for boys and girls alike), tons of positive media exposure, and (it appears) big improvements in uniforming options for females.

One outcome I didn’t necessarily expect was how readily male Scouts would welcome females into the program. For example, the official Scouting magazine blog recently highlighted a troop whose patrol leaders’ council voted to donate $1,000 to their linked troop for girls and described how the young men leading the Order of the Arrow’s Tamegonit Lodge worked hard to ensure that young women could join the OA the very same weekend they could join troops. (The young women in question were Venturers, which is how they qualified.)

That second story reminds me of an important truth we adult leaders often fail to grasp–perhaps especially if we’re decades removed from our time as Scouts. To paraphrase an old Oldsmobile slogan, this is not your father’s Scouting program. Scouting today is different in large and small ways from the program of past generations, and when we fail to recognize the differences we fail to serve current Scouts well.

A case in point that has nothing to do with girls: When I was Scoutmaster, I did everything I could to get my Scouts to sing like my troop mates and I used to do. They never bought in to my vision, and I wasted a lot of energy that could have been better used in other ways. (Ditto for getting them to wear neckerchiefs.)

Today’s Scouting program is not better or worse than the program I enjoyed; it’s just different. That’s why we adults in Scouts BSA troops need to get out of the driver’s seat and leave the driving to our youth leaders–even if they’d rather not drive an Oldsmobile.


Need more great troop program ideas? Check out The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.

New Units: No Longer A Dirty Word

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When I was a district Scout executive, quite a few of my volunteers assumed that starting units was the job of professional Scouters. And not only that, it was something no self-respecting volunteer would undertake because, they argued, starting new units was “all about numbers.” (They forgot that those “numbers” had names: John, Sam, Brian, etc., etc.)

My, how times have changed. I’m a member of the BSA Family Packs/Girl Troops group on Facebook–a really good forum for learning more about family Scouting–and I’ve been amazed to learn about all the grassroots, volunteer-led efforts around the country to start packs and troops for girls. One guy I met through that group will be kicking off his new girl troop with 36 Scouts and 22 adults on February 1! It seems that the resurgence of volunteer interest in starting units is a great side effect of welcoming girls into Cub Scouts and Scouts BSA.

If you’re interested in jumping on board the bandwagon, whether to start a girl troop to function alongside your boy troop or a Venturing crew or Sea Scout ship for your older youth, you ought to check out the BSA’s Unit Performance Guide. It’s a great resource on how to start a new, sustainable unit.

And if you get stuck, reach out to your district executive. After all, it really is part of his or her job to grow Scouting by starting new units to serve numbers with names like Jane, Samantha, Brianna, etc., etc.


Need more great troop program ideas? Check out The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.

The Government Shutdown, WII-FM, and Your Troop

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As the recent government shutdown began seriously to affect many federal employees, plenty of Americans stepped up to help. Consider these headlines:

  • Businesses Pitch in to Aid Federal Workers During Government Shutdown
  • Chef Ming Tsai Is Giving Government Workers Free Dumplings During Government Shutdown
  • Chef José Andrés Opens Resource Center for Furloughed Workers
  • Pop-up Food Pantry at John Wayne Airport Helps TSA Workers During Government Shutdown

Those individuals and organizations were heeding the words of William Arthur Ward, who once said, “Blessed is the person who sees the need, recognizes the responsibility, and actively becomes the answer.”

They were also, if we’re being honest, doing a little marketing. And that’s okay. I once heard marketing defined as figuring out what you have that someone else needs and making the connection. The idea is that by focusing on your customer’s needs, you end up fulfilling your own.

Bad marketers focus on their own needs (“Buy my product so I can make a profit”). Good marketers focus on the needs of other people, realizing that everybody’s favorite radio station is WII-FM (What’s In It For Me?).

What’s the connection with Scouting? Too often when we’re recruiting, we focus on our needs–filling out our patrols, identifying new assistant Scoutmasters, etc.–rather than on the needs we can help potential troop families meet. When we think about what they need first, we discover that we can probably meet their needs–and our own.


Need more great troop program ideas? Check out The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.

Debunking an Old Scouters’ Tale

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One of my favorite projects for Eagle’s Call magazine is writing about outstanding Eagle projects, typically those that have won the Adams Award at the national, regional or local level. Some projects fascinate me because of their creativity, others move me because of the tragedies that inspired them, and a few awe me because of the jaw-dropping number of hours they took.

When a Scout and his volunteers log hundreds of hours, I like to mention that fact. When a Scout finishes his project in a day or two, I never do. I don’t want to draw the wrath of Scouters who mistakenly think that an Eagle project must take at least 100 hours, 200 hours or some other mythical number.

This old Scouters’ tale comes up so often that the current version of the Eagle Scout Service Project Workbook rebuffs it in two separate places. Read the second rebuttal, and you get a sense of the frustration members of the BSA Advancement Committee must feel:

If you have been told you must meet a minimum number of hours, then you may lodge a complaint with your district or council. If you have given leadership to an otherwise worthy project and are turned down by your board of review solely because of a lack of hours, you should appeal the decision.

Section of the BSA’s Guide to Advancement (which every Scouter should study carefully) says much the same thing:

No unit, district, council, or individual shall place any requirement or other standard on the number of hours spent on a project. The Boy Scouts of America collects data about time worked on Eagle Scout service projects only because it points to a level of excellence in achieving the BSA aim related to citizenship.

There’s an old medical school joke you’ve probably heard: What do you call someone who finished last in his med school class? The answer: “Doctor.” It’s the same with Eagle Scout candidates. Whether they spent 10 hours or 1000, they are equally qualified to wear the Eagle Scout badge, assuming they met all the real requirements–not those invented by old Scouters.


Need more great troop program ideas? Check out The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.

Get Creative With Your Troop Games

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When I was a Scout, we seemed to play one of two games at every troop meeting: British Bulldog outdoors in the warmer months and Steal the Bacon indoors when the temperature dropped. If those of us on the patrol leaders’ council had been a little more creative (or had gotten around to reading the various planning resources available from the BSA), we might have tried a different game every now and then.

I’m guessing your troop gets ends up in a similar rut. Although the three volumes of Program Features for Troops, Teams, and Crews offer dozens of fresh game ideas, your PLC probably needs a more Scout-friendly game source.

I found one recently your Scouts might like. Called Youth Group Gameshttp://youthgroupgames.com.au, if that link doesn’t work–it features hundreds of games designed for church youth groups. Most of them, however, would work just as well in a Scouting setting.

What makes the site interesting is the search form built into the home page. With a just a few mouse clicks you can narrow your search to one (or more) of 21 categories, including chilled out, large groups and team building. You can also specify indoors or outdoors and even specify duration and a level of messiness. You can even find Steal the Bacon, although I hope you’ll look for something a little more original!


Need more great troop program ideas? Check out The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.

What’s Your Scouts’ Bowl Game?

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Now that Thanksgiving has come and gone, Americans everywhere are looking forward to the next major cultural event: college bowl season. (Oh yes, and Christmas!) Between December 15 and January 7, dozens of football teams will play in more than 40 bowl games, from the venerable Rose Bowl (the “Daddy of them All”) to the not-so-famous Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. Given the crowded schedule, most athletes stand a much better chance of playing in a bowl game than graduating in four years.

There will still be plenty of teams on the outside looking in, however. And as some of those teams have limped to the end of their losing seasons, TV commentators covering rivalry games have been quick to say things like “This is their bowl game.” And while there’s not (yet) a Losers’ Bracket Bowl or a Toilet Bowl, it’s probably true that most players would rather take down a hated in-state rival than play in a forgettable bowl game in a half-empty stadium on a cold December Tuesday night.

So what in the world does all this have to do with Scouting? I think it’s easy to put so much emphasis on high adventure–as life-changing as it can be–that we forget that most Scouts will never visit one of the four national high adventure bases.

For most Scouts, summer camp is their bowl game. Or the district camporee is their bowl game. Or even a totally forgettable (in your mind) troop outing is their bowl game. And so we owe it to them to make every activity special, even as we encourage them to challenge themselves and expand their horizons.


Need more great troop program ideas? Check out the new edition of The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is now available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.