Thursday, March 28, 2013

2013 Webelos Leader Guide Is Now Available

The 2013 Webelos Leader Guide is now available on the Council web site on the Summer Camp page. The Boy Scout Leader Guide is undergoing final review and will be posted shortly.

Friday, March 8, 2013

More Snow

Gary Lee sent this picture from camp today. The latest storm had dropped 8 inches of snow in the Mount Pinos area by late Friday morning. Gary notes that the picture above looks a little fuzzy because the show was still falling.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Merits (and Demerits) of Merit Badges

If you talk to the average Scout -- or leader, or parent -- about summer camp, the conversation is invariably going to turn to merit badges.

Most experienced leaders and camp managers will tell you that merit badges are not the only reason for a Scout to go to summer camp, or even the most significant reason. They can be an important part of the program mix, especially if you, as a leader, manage your boys' merit badge work wisely.

First, do not let the boys, their parents, or your fellow leaders become fixated on merit badges as the primary purpose of summer camp.

Summer camp is the best opportunity you have to build a sense of community and comraderie among your Scouts; to get to know them as individuals; to influence their character, values, self-confidence, self-discipline, and self-worth; to develop teamwork and leadership. Merit badges can help with some of those things, but they are just one of the tools at your disposal.

One of the best Scoutmasters we know often points out that he has just 90 minutes a week at troop meetings -- something like 75 hours a year -- to befriend, train, influence, guide, and support his Scouts. At summer camp, he has more than 100 hours -- more time packed into one week than he has all the rest of the year combined.

Don't let that opportunity pass you by while your boys spend all day in merit badge classes.

I've looked at a lot of camp Leader's Guides, both as a Scoutmaster and as a staffer, and nearly every one offers the same recommendation: Scouts should not take more than three or four merit badges at camp. We'd go farther and recommend that boys who are below First Class rank should only take one or two.

Second, help your Scouts set realistic goals and appropriate priorities. A Tenderfoot Scout should be focused on working toward First Class, building a solid base of fundamental skills, before trying to earn a lot of merit badges. And he should be sampling a little of everything camp has to offer, trying new things, and just having fun. That's what will keep them in Scouting and bring them back to camp next year.

Older Scouts should be providing leadership, helping the younger boys with their advancement work, and taking advantage of some of the new experiences that any good camp offers -- climbing, hiking, mountain biking, shooting, COPE -- even if those experiences don't lead to a merit badge.

We see too many boys who by the end of the week are burned out on classes and homework. If they're taking five one-hour merit badges a day all week, how is that different from school? And why would they want to do that again next year?

Third, make sure your Scouts select merit badges and other activities that are appropriately challenging. A younger boy should probably be limited to a handicraft badge or one of the easier nature badges, rather than the more difficult ones. He will enjoy the challenging badges more, and get more out of them, if he waits until he is ready. For example, I used to be a Scoutcraft Director, and in my opinion, none of the Scoutcraft badges are really suitable for first-year campers because first-year scouts generally don't have the basic skills -- knots and lashings for Pioneering, map and compass fundamentals for Orienteering, and so on. If you know a boy is a poor swimmer, don't set him up for a frustrating week by letting him take Swimming Merit Badge.

On the flip side, there's little value for your older Scouts in earning a lot of easy, non-Eagle-required merit badges just for the sake of numbers. Encourage them to try something more challenging instead -- maybe BSA Lifeguard, Mile Swim, an NRA marksmanship award, or our Frontier Survivor program.

Fourth, ecourage them to prepare for the merit badges they intend to take. Make sure they get a copy of the merit badge book and read it before camp. Check prerequisites in the camp Leader's Guide (We are revising on ours now and hope to have the 2013 edition available in the next couple of weeks; meanwhile, most of the information in the 2012 guide is still accurate). But also look at the requirements yourself. Many, if not most, merit badges include reports and other "homework" that your Scouts could do more easily at home before leaving for camp. Many of the nature badges, for example, require writing a report about an animal. How much easier is that going to be at home, where they have access to a computer, the Internet, and their school or public library for research?

Yes, merit badges are important. They're so important that we want to make sure that Scouts to them at the right time, in the right way, so they can get the most out of the experience. We'll do all we can to help, but it starts with you.

Agree, or disagree, we'd love to hear what you think. Use the "Comments" box below.