It’s that time of the year. The kids are back in School.. No more back to school shopping, School opens houses are wrapped up and we know who the teachers are. The weather is changing, gone are the hot days of summer and clouds are creeping back in. Chilly mornings and its getting dark after dinner. When Webelos Den leaders are on the phone setting up Troop visits, parents are looking at Troops, and Webelos Scouts are ready to cross over… well not completely ready, but they are anxious and wanting more. More in Scouting.
Over the past week I have been on the receiving end of many phone calls from parents of Webelos and a hand full of Webelos den leaders seeking time to come and pay a visit to a Troop meeting and hit an outing. This is great, it means that the boys are wrapping up their Arrow of Light requirements and that they are looking at transition.
What I learned in the first couple calls was that the Den leaders and most of the parents were pretty much punching the ticket for the AOL requirement in their approach.
You see, for me finding a troop is a lot more than just finding a unit close to home, or one that goes camping, or does a ton of service projects.
When I was a Webelos Den leader, after my tour in the Cubmaster position, we were looking for a Troop for our oldest son. I had made lots of friends in our Scouting community and had looked at a few Troops throughout the year. But when it came time for “official” Troop visits, I started looking with a more critical eye.
I came up with a list of things that I wanted to see in Scout Troop. My son came up with a few things that he wanted to see… and together we set out to find the perfect Troop.. for us.
Some of the questions and things that I needed to see as a Parent and potential Scout leader were:
1. Is the unit Boy led? This is important. Boy leadership is critical in the functioning of a Boy Scout Troop. Units that do not have Boy leadership are missing out on Leadership development, Citizenship opportunities, and building confidence and Character in the Scouts. Units that do not allow for the Boys to lead are nothing more than Webelos III dens.
2. Are the Adult leaders trained? This too is extremely important for a few reasons. First, if the Adult leaders are not trained then they can not know the program as it is intended to be presented. They surely will leave something out, or dismiss it as silly and “that’s not the way we did it when I was a Scout”.. as they light a campfire with a flare. The BSA program is outlined in training, and while not all training sessions are dynamic and wonderful, the material that is presented is consistent with the way the BSA wants it done. Second, for me it shows a lack of commitment on the part of the Adult leader. If he can not take one or two days out of his schedule to get trained then I do not think he is dedicated enough to take my son out into the woods. Every Scout leader should view their position as a privilege. Parents leave their sons in the trust of that leader, the least they can do is go to training and allow the parents a bit of understanding that they want the best for their sons.
3. Who runs the meetings? The Boys or the adults? Now I know that there are cases where the Scoutmaster needs to get up there and talk or teach, but by and large, who is running the meeting?
4. Are the older Scouts teaching and working with the younger Scouts? This speaks to skills development and leadership. Is the Troop teaching skills, and are the Scouts retaining them.
Repetition of skills makes the Scouts stronger in them. When older Scouts teach the younger Scouts it helps both of them learn and retain those skills. Look at the Troops “Trail to First Class” program. How is conducted? Do they have goals? Are the older boys involved in that process?
5. Methods. There 8 methods in Scouting. As a parent or Webelos den leader, you should find out what they are. This link will help you out. LINK. Look for all 8 in a Troop. If they are not doing them… ask why not. They are all equal in importance. You need all 8 to achieve the AIMs of Scouting.. Character development, Citizenship training, and Physical fitness.
Look for it. Do not let a dynamic scout leader brush over the Aims and methods. They are the essence of Scouting and if they are missing, your son may as well be at the YMCA.
6. Adult and Youth interaction. How do they get along. If you hear lots of yelling and screaming… turn and run.
7. Youth interaction. Are they using the Patrol method? Do the Scouts seem to get along. You see this mainly on an outing, but you can get a glimpse of it at a Troop meeting also.
Do they divide up chores, maintain a duty roster, follow the Patrol leader?
Do you see cliques in the Troop? Friends are ok… but cliques are not so good, they tend to be exclusive and that is not part of the program.
Do you see the opportunity for hazing or other “Troop Traditions” that send up red flags? Again.. turn and run. There is nothing wrong with traditions, but when they involve a Scout being hazed or made a fool of, something is not right.
8. Are the Scouts having fun? A simple look at the faces of the Scouts. Are they happy to be there, are they hanging out with friends and having a good time, or are they just there because mom and dad made them. Fun can be seen in every aspect of the Troop program when it is there. From the way the Scoutmaster interacts with the boys to the way the plan and prepare for the next event.
One last thing that you should look at during your visit. The annual plan. Ask to see what the Scouts came up with for the year. Yes I said SCOUTS CAME UP WITH. The plan should be planned and executed by the Scouts. Lots of guidance and coaching from the Scoutmaster and his assistants, but the plan should be owned and operated by the Scouts of the Troop. So ask to see the plan.
When my oldest son and I paid our visits to various Troops, we found lots of the elements we were looking for, but never saw the total package. Along with other adults and a hand full of kids, we started our own Troop with the commitment that we would do it right. It is working so far.
The Troop visit is an extremely important part of your Scouts experience. Be sure to ask the right questions, find the flavor you are looking for. Find what best suits your needs and the needs of your Scout. Have a critical eye and get what you want out of Scouting. There are lots of choices out there, pick the flavor you want. You may have to drive a little farther, or rearrange your schedule a bit. But remember it is for your son, and he deserves the vary best.
Have a Great Scouting Day!