What is the Fundamental Unit of Scouting?

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As adults, we are involved in our units: packs, troops, and crews. We rarely stop to consider who is the most important part of the unit. As we talk to Council representatives, they talk about our units as packs, troops, and crews. This is for a good reason. Their job is to support the adults at those levels. Council’s (and, therefore, district’s) focus is on creating and maintaining a place for boys to do scouting.

This focus from council on units can easily confuse the adult leaders that those units are the primary units of scouting. If council focuses at that level it must be the most important, right?

Wrong. The most important is the den or patrol. Our focus is the boy and his enjoyment and growth. The den or patrol (which I simplify to patrol for reasons that will become more clear shortly) is where the boy experiences scouting. He wants to do scouting with his friends. He is more likely to continue scouting if his friends are physically nearby. The patrol is where this proximity can and should occur.

Clarke Green shares some very interesting literature from Canadian scouting about why and how this works. It is worth a read.

What should we learn from this? Do these lessons apply to Boy Scouts only or do they apply to dens and crews?

The stronger the identity and cohesiveness of the patrols, the stronger the pack, troop, or crew. The boys doing what they love as a patrol will never fail to seek more of the fun. They want to spend time with their friends their own age. If they get this, they will want to share the joy with younger scouts. It starts a healthy cycle of do, model, teach, and do again.

As parents we feel we are teaching our children well when we model good behavior for our children, and the children quietly start mimicking the good behavior. Even more powerfully, we are impressed when our children learn good behavior from the modeling of other children. The den allows this process to start. The Tigers see the fun of the Wolf den and want to stick around for the next year because their elders did. The Wolves see the Bears having fun on Pack Overnight Campouts. They want to do more camping, so they stay to be Bears. The Bears watch the Webelos start to behave more as Scouts (especially under the new Arrow of Light program), they will want to be Webelos. The Webelos interact with Scouts in action and see more independence from adults. The Webelos want that. The new Scouts learn to act as a patrol without adults. The older scouts teach and guide the learning. The adults step back.

At each step, the stronger the patrol identity, the easier it is seen by the younger scouts, and the more the younger scouts can imagine their own coming experiences. At each step they have more fun with their friends.

Look at your patrols and dens. Who makes the decisions for the group: the adults or the boys? If it is the adults, the boys lose some of the joy of owning the program. This is especially difficult for Tiger Dens. New and young boys. Rookie leaders. New program. I have sat down with new Tigers and asked them what they want to do. They looked at me blankly. I smiled. I pulled out my Chinese menu of activities and asked them simple preference questions. Would you like to do A or B? B or C? B or D? C or D?

They knew their opinions in seconds. Simple questions, simple answers, detailed plan owned by the boys. Their excitement grew because they made the plans with adult coaching.

Our job as adults is not to make the boys do the adult’s preferred program. It is to create an opportunity for the patrols do the boys’ program as guided by adult wisdom.

Herd them around with other boys outside their patrol and their circle of friends, they will feel separated and alone. They will not want to do scouting.

Have the boys act in patrols wherever possible with their friends with their ideas in action. They will stay in scouts.

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