What is going on?

cancelledToday I had to cancel a Troop camping weekend due to a lack of adults.  This isn’t the first time this has happened to us this year.  Actually, we haven’t gone camping yet this year, and it’s the middle of June.  I don’t understand what’s going on.  I think one was due to expense, but the others – and here’s the kicker – have been due to a lack of adult help.  That’s right, it’s been just me willing to take the boys out and that just can’t happen under the BSA flag.  My wife is willing as well, but that is still a no-no for youth protection training.

So what’s going on?  I think part of it is that for the last 6 years, myself and one other registered adult went on everything.  There was never a worry about adult leadership at outings because her and I would always be there.  Well, now that’s changing.  I’m involved in baseball, and the other leader’s boys aren’t as active as they once were.  So now I’m seeing the results of having the ‘usual suspects’ take care of everything for so long.  And I have to say, I’m not impressed.

So now I have to think on how to fix this.  We have a mandatory Troop meeting on Monday to go over summer camp stuff, and I think since we’ll have everyone there it would be a good time to address this issue as well.  Question is, how do I address it without coming off like a jerk (I’m known to be more than a little rough around the edges and not worry too much about offending)?  Any suggestions you folks have would be appreciated.  I really am getting concerned that without more parental involvement, our unit might just fall apart due to a lack of outdoor programming – not because we don’t want to, but because we’re just unable to.

Chime in please, I could use some advice on how to handle this one.  Thanks all!

From the Northwoods of Minnesota, where the mosquitos can carry you away at dusk…



Do you meet in the summer?

Troop meetings.  The cornerstone of any Boy Scout Troop.  Some units meet all year round, while others meet only during the school year, just like Cub Scouts.  What does your Troop do?

When our Troop first started, I had complete control over whether or not we met in the summer, and in my opinion it was really important the keep the meetings going as the boys were all greenhorns and needed to work on basic Scouting skills and techniques.  But the last couple of years I have left it up to the boys how they want to do it, and let the PLC make that decision versus myself.

Last summer, they wanted to try and only have one meeting a month in the summer (for the record, our ‘summer’ is defined as June, July and August).  So, we held one meeting a month, and only had a PLC every other month.  The thought there was that everyone seemed to be so very busy in the summer with everything under the sun, that maybe if we scaled it back a bit there would be more participation at the meetings we did have.  That didn’t work out so well.

This year I left it up to the PLC again, and this time they decided that they want to just keep the meeting schedule the same as during the rest of the year.  I can’t say that I blame them.  Their thinking this time around was that if you missed a meeting in the summer last year, you went basically 2 months without a Scout meeting, and they didn’t like that huge gap between meetings.  Granted, we’d have separate planning meetings for our outings and such, but those weren’t Troop meetings.

I personally have a tough time understanding how some Troops can still operate without Troop meetings in the summer.  To me, summer is the ideal time to be out and put the ‘outing in Scouting’.  But I feel you still need to have those meetings every month – just because it’s summer doesn’t mean that advancement and meetings should stop.

If you’re in one of those Troops that doesn’t meet in the summer, how come?  Maybe I’m missing something that to you is a no-brainer as to why you don’t meet in the summer.  If you’re willing, I’d sure appreciate some feedback from any of you on this.  Just let me know in the comments, please.  I may even make a poll on this one, just to be more ‘scientific’.

On a totally different note, anyone else interested in the Twitter CSP swap?  I got my first one from @SMShawn today, and now I’m all excited to start getting them from all over the country!  I’ll be sending out my CSP’s to you folks that DM’d me as soon as I can get to the Scout Shop and get some more unused patches.  Seems all of mine are pre-worn….don’t wanna pass those out now, do I?



Base Camp

Last Sunday, our Troop spent the day at Northern Star Council’s newest camp – Base Camp.  From their website:  “It is designed as a place – “Where expeditions begin” –  to introduce young people from all communities to the type of activities that are core elements of Scouting and our “learning by doing” approach to non-formal education. Young people of all ages and backgrounds can experience the adventures of Scouting right in the heart of the metro area.”

We had 9 boys and 4 adults take part in the day’s fun activities.  So that’s 13 people total, and we had the place to ourselves.  2 staff members with us all day and an extra staffer was with us during the high ropes portion of the day.  We started off with indoor archery.  The first 6 or 8 rounds were your typical archery – just shooting arrows at the targets.  Then they spiced it up a bit and gave us a few different challenges – like trying to get one arrow in each color on the target, and placing paper cups and balloons on the targets to see if we could hit them.

Then it was off to the rock wall.  Seemed to be the most anticipated thing of the day – and many of the older boys ate this up.  I was impressed to see that all of the boys had been climbing already, and they all worked as teams very well together.  Lots of encouragement, and lots of help to find the right hand and foot holds.

Lunch time was pizza – and all but 3 pieces remained.  The Mrs. and I debated on how many to order, and I’m glad we kept it at 6 pizzas (I over-order most of the time).  By this time in the day, the boys were getting a little tired both physically and mentally, so lunch and a breather was a great idea.

After lunch it was time to hit the high ropes course.  This is indoors as well, and during this time is when the tornado hit the Minneapolis area.  Our director for the day, Karl, had this ‘deer in headlights’ look as he approached me to inform me of the weather situation, and if it moved any closer to us, we’d have to get the kids off the course quickly and into the designated storm shelter.  No big whoop, just like summer camp, really.  We wound up not having to do it, but we were ready to just in case.

Finally, it was time for the Space Shuttle simulator.  Being the space geek that I am, I was really looking forward to this.  Sadly, it was the most disappointing thing we did all day.  Very little instruction, and we all came out of it feeling like we didn’t gain a thing from it.  The staff seemed to think the software was goofed up, and I sure hope so for their sake.  But, you live and you learn.  I really doubt if we return to Base Camp that they’ll want to do this part over.

We were then treated to an unplanned bike ride around Fort Snelling.  The weather had cleared up, and it was a beautiful afternoon for a bike ride.  The bikes provided were very nice, and we didn’t really bike all that far.  It was a wonderful ending to a wonderful day, however.

Rock Wall at Base Camp

To recap, I would have to say that Base Camp is definitely worth the cost.  (Cost is based on what activities you want to do, and whether or not you need them to be staffed – see their website for details.)  All of us, including the adults, had a great time.  What’s not to like about it?  You’re basically getting to do most of the things that are the highlights of summer camp, closer to home and anytime of the year.  I think this place is going to wind up on our annual planning agenda in August.  A HUGE thank you to the Mrs. for setting all of this up – I hope you can come with if we go again, I think you’ll love it too.


Day 100 – Limping Across the Finish Line

100 days ago, I thought it might be ‘neat’ if I tried my hand at writing a Scouting blog.  It just so happened that the 100 Days of Scouting was kicking off for its second year and I found it a great excuse to get it going.

Here we are – and what a long, strange and eventful journey it’s been.  My last post was kinda my wrap up post – so I won’t do it again – but I do have something I’d like to get off my chest.

I think my wife summed up my irritation pretty well:  “I find it amusing and exhausting when people complain and rant about rules and policies in BSA or other youth organizations. Bottom line: if you don’t like it, then volunteer for a different organization. Pretty doubtful that a nationally based group is going to change their ways because you think you’re superior to their rules.”  Thank you dear, you have a way with words sometimes when I’m so frustrated all I can do is sigh.

Today, I also had to deal with a set of parents who tried to get their Scout signed up and paid for this weekends activities.  Sign up for it was due over a month ago so we could plan transportation and such.  What kind of lesson would we be teaching both the Scout and his parents if we let them slide on it?  Not to mention, we already have the tour plan filled out and ready to go.  Yea, I also struggle with excluding a Scout because his parents don’t know how to keep things straight.  But I even reminded 2 weeks ago thinking if they somehow forgot about it, they could take care of it then and it would have been ok.  It’s not fun to play the bad guy, but sometimes you just gotta in order to keep everyone from taking advantage of you.

Well, I kinda just went off for my Day 100.  Sorry.  Wait, no I’m not.  I’ll bet you there’s someone else out there who’s dealing with the same stuff, or worse – and maybe they’ll read this and feel just a wee bit better because they realize that they’re not alone.  That’s one of the lessons I’ve gotten out of this 100 Day of Scouting deal.  I’m not alone in how I feel, or the issues that I have to deal with day in and day out.  So, our Troop is at least sort of ‘normal’.

My last hashtag with #100DaysofScouting for the year…..*sniff*



Day 93 – good times

Day 93 already?!?  Seems like only yesterday I was just catching wind on Twitter about the #100DaysofScouting movement and deciding that maybe I’d like to try my hat at it.  As we near the end of this interesting and fun journey this year, I have a couple of things I’d like to point out.

First of all, I’m humbled by the sheer number of people who come to this blog and read what I have to say.  I never imagined my words would spark such conversations across the country, and even in my Council and District.  This is all just me, just my opinions and observations as I try to help make the best Troop, District and Council I can.  I can’t believe just how much Scouting shaped who I am today, and I can only hope that I am able to return the favor.

Secondly, I have made several new Scouting friends via Twitter and podcasts.  I’ll mention a few here by name, as their podcasts and blogs have brought me new ideas and taught me that I need to really let the Scouts lead the Troop versus me being the heavy handed Scoutmaster that I didn’t realize I was kind of being.  Scoutmaster Jerry and Clarke Green have awesome podcasts – and if you’re an adult leader of a Troop I would strongly recommend you subscribe to both of these podcasts and start listening.  SMPhil has helped me along my Roundtable Commissioner route and I would like to thank him yet again.  I think things are going to be different around here come next fall when Roundtables start up again.  There are lots of others, you know who you are – and I will continue to interact with you even when the 100 days are done and over.  You all have been entertaining and a very valuable asset to me this year so far.

Now that I’ve said that – on to what I’ve been up to (only 8 more days of updates like this!):

Monday we held a PLC.  Second one where I’ve let the SPL run the show, and it went much better than the first.  I think they’re starting to realize that it’s their Troop, their program, and they have the final say in what they do.  Of course, I’m there along with others to ensure they follow the BSA guidelines and maybe to nudge ’em once in a while – but for the most part, they’re starting to talk to each other and not to me about what they need to do and want to do.  It’s really neat to see this happening for me , as I’ve always headed up the PLC meetings in the past.

Tuesday and today I had Scouting lunch meetings with different Scouters.  Yesterday I listened as an old friend of mine kinda ‘vented’ about the Troop his son just crossed over into, and was asking me several very good questions about how Troops ‘should’ operate and things of that nature.  I answered his questions, and offered what advice I could.  It will be interesting to see if he’s able to make some positive change in that Troop.

Today I met with our District Executive and talked about the future of Roundtables.  I think there’s some great ideas out there (that if they are implemented and work, I will share).  I was also asked to attend this weekend’s Spring Camporee even though our Troop isn’t going because the votes are in and the District name I submitted was selected.  In a way, I kind of left a legacy there – the new name of our new District was mine.  Cool, huh?  I’m planning on attending the campfire on Saturday now, and am very excited about the whole thing!

I hope you all have had a great Scouting day/week/month/100 days!  Keep on Scouting!



Day 88 – Uff Da!

10289866-dealing-with-stressI’m busy. VERY busy. I’m sure you all are too. Lots has happened since I had the time to sit down and write here. I’ll do my best to recap. I’ll get into other things that have come up in more detail at a later date.

So last Thursday I attended our District Commissioners meeting and our District meeting. I presented the report I generated from the online survey that was distributed about roundtables. It generated some great discussion that took up almost the entire hour we had for the meeting (sorry, Margi!). I think we’ve got some good ideas going forward – and once those things are in place a little more, I’ll share them with you (translation: I could write a book on roundtable at this point, but I have some catching up to do first).

Friday night I was in the role of Cub Scout Dad. I spent the night at the Lake Superior Zoo for their ‘Zoo Snooze’. We had pizza, pop, learned about polar bears, took a night hike through the zoo, made t-shirts, held frogs and hissing cockroaches and petted an albino python named Monty (har har). We then laid down and watched How to Train Your Dragon and fell asleep. The next morning we got up, packed up and had a light breakfast before having the zoo to ourselves for a few hours. It was an excellent program, and I enjoyed just being a Scouting Dad.

Monday was our Troop meeting. Kinda pulled a fast one on our SPL, as I realized we didn’t have any idea of what was in our Troop trailer since the winter, and we had 2 campouts coming up that we were gonna need to know what to get as far as gear. So, I brought the trailer to the church and we gutted it out and inventoried everything. Then, as though the BP was watching, we had to cancel both campouts because of lack of participation. Totally bummed, but I think there were just too many events going on those weekends (including graduation) that it made it tough for most.

That’s really it for my Scouting week. I am now an assistant baseball coach, and I’m also on the baseball board helping with the website and scheduling fields for practice. So, I have another hat to wear for the summer. That’s ok. I did the same thing last year, and the Troop survived just fine. Especially since I’m letting go of lots of things and putting my faith in the boys to run the show – it’ll all be ok.

That’s all from my neck of the woods for now. Gotta hit the hay soon – need to be at the church tomorrow morning to help with the Cub Scout pancake breakfast. It never ends, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I hope you all have a great weekend and a Happy Mother’s Day!

Oh and Mom, thanks for everything. Really. I love you. Happy Mother’s Day!

Day 79 – Re-thinking Roundtable

Not a whole lot happening this week at all for Scouting in my world.  As we don’t have a Troop meeting on the 4th Mondays of the month, this tends to be a little slower time for me and for all the Scouts and adults in the Troop.  And that’s OK in my book.  Very soon, it’ll get pretty busy with camping, and the summer madness.

Tonight I put together the final report for our District after gathering data from the survey I put together for the Roundtables.  Interesting results, to say the least.  Some people were very honest about stuff, and other took it as an opportunity to tell the Council just what they think of our program.  Some of the answers made me giggle, as they just didn’t make much sense to me, but I put them all in the report so everyone can see what our volunteers think and feel about the current Roundtable situations.

I read a comment by a fellow blogger, Clarke Green the other day about Roundtables, and I’m starting to wonder if Roundtables – the traditional monthly meetings – are past their prime, and need to be re-thought and re-tooled to accommodate today’s Scouting leaders.  Our District is huge (covers parts of 3 states) and although we’ve been holding several Roundtables each month, the biggest issue for Scouters attending seems to be distance.

Roundtables have traditionally been used to pass information on at a District level.  Before cell phones, internet, e-mail and other technologies this was pretty much the only way to ensure that leaders had the information they needed.  It was also a really good way to add supplemental training and even some required training.  With the majority of training being available online these days, it’s hard to offer much training that will interest people to attend.

I’ve already thrown out the questions to our Council about web meetings – and other forms of communication that might better serve our District.  In fact, that was one of the question on the survey.  There wasn’t one favorite answer, either.  It seems like there’s a mix of people who still want that face-to-face meeting, just less often it seems.  There are those who would prefer just electronic communications (podcasts, newsletters, ‘online roundtables’).  I hope we’re able to do some, if not most of these things soon.

I’m not saying get rid of the traditional Roundtable all together.  I’m saying we need to re-evaluate the purpose of Roundtables.  We need to figure out what our Scouters need now – and not just rely on what has typically been done.  If we’re able to move in the right direction for the majority of them, I think we’ll see more participation in Roundtable, and possibly in all Scouting events at the District and Council level.

“Change is inevitable – except from a vending machine.”
– Gallagher

Day 74 – Advancement – do you push?

Today was a slow day as far as Scouting goes.  Received a few emails from our DE about some things, but nothing really noteworthy and I didn’t really have anything to work on for the Troop.  I did create a separate email address for the blog and potentially for a podcast – MNScoutmaster@gmail.com.  Feel free to contact me there with any questions, comments or concerns you may have.  I did have some time to think about advancement – so I thought I’d pass my thoughts on to you and see if any of you out there have any comments.

How important is advancement in your units?  I’m primarily talking about the Boy Scout level here, but if you have something to say about any other level (Cub Scouts, Venturing, etc..) feel free to contribute!  I have heard of some Troops being called ‘merit badge factories’ – those Troops that focus primarily on advancement and pumping out as many merit badges and Eagle Scouts as possible.

Personally, I don’t like that idea. When I was a Scout I went to a few merit badge workshops – where they sit you down for 8 or so hours in one day and you just hammer it all out until you’ve earned the badge.  I don’t feel this is a good way to earn merit badges as you really aren’t able to absorb much of the material presented and thus don’t retain much of it.  Sure, you earn the badge, but that’s it.  You really don’t learn the skill.  I’d much rather see a Scout take 2 or 3 months to earn a merit badge (especially the Eagle required ones) than bust one out in a day.  They’re better for it in the long run, and so is the entire program.

That being said, I’ve been looking at the new Journey To Excellence (JTE) stuff for Troops and particularly the advancement portion.  55 to 65% of a Troop advancing one rank in a year isn’t really that terrible of a hurdle, but sometimes – in certain years and certain circumstances – it can be.  For instance, if you have a Troop that is full of Scouts that are First Class and above.  In that situation, it’s very possible that less than 50% of your Scouts will advance in the year.  I guess it all depends on how much you stress advancement, and how easily available you make it to them.  That’s one thing I’m struggling with at the moment – all of the Scouts that are First Class and above strictly need required merit badges to move them on to the next rank –  most even all the way through Eagle.

So how do I help them along?  We’ve tried the intro to a required merit badge during a meeting.  I think ONE Scout went with it and is now close to completing that one.  The rest, well, I think they took the Cub Scout mentality (no offense to any Cub Scouters) of group advancement.  I may take a few minutes next meeting and gently remind those boys that advancement is up to them, and will not be a group thing.  Of course, our younger patrol is currently on an advancement kick, and is utilizing one of our ASM’s to help them get lots of stuff knocked off up to First Class.  Still, there are many things they just can’t do as a group in a patrol meeting.  So they will have to advance at their own pace as well.

Sorry if I’m babbling a little here.  I’m just letting you know my thought and how our Troop is currently operating.  I think advancement is important in the program, but I also think that we as leaders shouldn’t push them too much.  I have a Scout that is a founder of the Troop 6 years ago that is still Tenderfoot.  He likes to come to meetings and go camping when he can, it’s just that advancement isn’t important to him.  I think he still gets just as much out of the program as the boy who is all about becoming Eagle.  So I’m still pondering.

There is most likely a balance.  There always seems to be a balance.  It’s their Troop, not mine.  They’ll actually figure it out, won’t they?

Happy Easter to you all, I hope you have a great weekend!


Day 67 – 73: Catching Up!

Well, since it been nearly a week since I’ve written anything prepare to get an ear (or is it eye) full.  It’s been a busy week Scout-wise and non-Scout wise.

First off, we had our Troop meeting on Monday night.  Our newly appointed SPL wasn’t going to be there, and the ASPL couldn’t make the PLC the week before, so I knew there was going to be a little confusion this evening on what was planned and how to execute it.

We meet at 7pm.  7:15 rolls around and no one has decided to start the meeting.  I informed all the leaders and parents there that we all needed to let go a little and let them run this, and if that meant starting at 8pm versus 7pm then so be it.  Thankfully the ASPL finally realized what time it was and got the ball rolling around 7:20.  I was proud of all my adult leaders and parents for letting that little thing go, as it wasn’t easy for some of them (myself included).  Baby steps, right?

Another amazing thing happened that night.  Our younger patrol (the one full of Scout ranked boys and one Tenderfoot) decided that they wanted to go camping as a Patrol.  I sat with them for a while to listen to what they were working on, but the minute I walked away the real planning started.  I was amazed and impressed at how much they figured out in about 20 minutes.  Sure, they have lots of stuff to consider and plan for yet if they want to see this happen, but they sure got the ball rolling and if they keep it up will have themselves a fun weekend at some point this summer!

Tuesday we had a Troop Committee meeting.  Not a whole lot of exciting stuff there, except for the fact that we decided to order new equipment (stoves, rope, flag poles, etc…).  We ought to be really set for camping season this year with this new stuff.  We had a very successful fundraiser earlier this year and now we get to reap the rewards!  No Scoutmaster lounge yet, but I need to be patient for that (ha ha).  We also welcomed a new adult into the fold.  He’s going to be a merit badge counselor for now to see how he likes and go from there.

I checked the Guide to Safe Scouting on splitting mauls, as one of our ASM’s was wondering if it wouldn’t be safer for the older boys to use that when trying to split larger pieces of wood.  Yes, I know, it would be better if they just avoided larger pieces of wood – but sometimes firewood is scarce.  If we do get a maul, we’ll have special training and individual evaluation before anyone would be able to use it.  I double checked with our DE and he agreed that would be the best solution if we do get a splitting maul.

Wednesday was Church night, and a baseball meeting.  During the baseball meeting, it was brought up that our main baseball/softball fields does not have any concession area.   As it just so happens, my Life Scout is currently exploring options for his Eagle project and was contemplating possibly building a concession stand as his Eagle project.  So being the good Scoutmaster that I am, I made sure the baseball board was aware of his intentions.  I then saw said Scout at church that evening and told him to be sure to contact the athletic director ASAP if he wanted to be able to use that idea as his project.  So even on a non-Scouting night it seems to come right back to Scouting in one fashion or another.

And for the first time this week, I didn’t really do anything Scouting today.  Well, except for writing this blog.  It’s OK, I don’t mind.

Until next time my fellow Scout friends!

Day 66 – Well, that was unexpected.

So tonight was our Roundtable.  Sort of.  Only 3 people showed up.  Our DE, the presenter and an Associate District Commissioner.  Yea.  That was a let down.  I won’t take it too personally, however.  I understand that life sometimes gets crazy, and with the cost of gas going up constantly these days, getting people to attend Roundtables is going to be increasingly difficult.

One thing I’m thinking of doing is trying some type of online collaboration.  Not sure if it’ll be a web conference where we can be interactive with online viewers, or if it’ll be more of a recorded Roundtable and then put it up on a site.  I’ve been asking our DE’s and even Scout Executive what they currently have for web conferencing software – and if it would work for Roundtables.  I seem to be getting a positive response so far, but I’m still in the ‘feelers’ stage of this.

I recently put out a survey for Roundtables – and it seems the best way that people want to get information is “Online newsletters with links where I can find additional information, and connect with subject matter experts”, followed closely by “Quarterly, in person Roundtable meetings”.  So I’m thinking a mix of meetings and technology need to come together.  Just not sure yet how.

Well, that’s all I’ve got to say about tonight.  The DE, presenter and I sat around for darn near the whole hour talking Scouting though, so it was still a productive evening – just not the way I thought it would be.