In some of my reading on other subjects, I ran across some scientific research from the mid-1800’s that I think is fascinating in its potential application to scouting. I am going to go down some complicated paths in this series of articles, so allow me to set the context first.
The View from the Eagle Board
For those of you who have sat on an Eagle Board of Review more than once, you likely can confirm that the following scenario is common.
A 17-year old in full dress scout uniform walks in the door. He is often clean shaven (although beards are increasingly common). He walks erect even if slightly nervous about what he is walking into. He firmly shakes hands with each member of the Board of Review. He answers questions about his Eagle project in great detail. He has pride in his accomplishments. He looks the part of an Eagle Scout already.
As he sits through the Board, the Board members ask the Eagle candidate to reflect on his beginnings in scouting and his growth. The candidate describes his first campout in the rain. He reflects on his anguish and discomfort. He laughs about how those deprivations are nothing compared to the later discomforts of camping in the snow of winter amidst the howling winds. He reflects on what he learned about overcoming obstacles, adapting, and accepting his circumstances.
He has learned that slight discomforts at home are nothing compared to facing the elements and the discomforts Mother Nature offers.
In my role as District Commissioner, the BSA charges me with the primary mission of encouraging Best Practices in our units. In other words, I am responsible for being able to explain to leaders why BSA policies are in the best interest of the unit, its leaders, and its scouts. That does not mean that I agree with each and every policy, but it does mean that I should be able to articulate the rationale in the light most favorable to the BSA’s intent.
For example, I should be able to articulate why units that camp the most are the more successful; why units that allow the boys to experiment with the patrol method with guidance and boundaries from the scoutmaster corps are more successful than units where adult leaders run the program; or why units with Senior Patrol Leaders who work the Patrol Leader Council are more successful than units where Senior Patrol Leaders acts as the patrol-leader-of-all. Read the rest of this entry »
As we bring in a new year, all scout leaders should have a resolution to become trained in their new positions.
University of Scouting is coming up in less than 2 weeks. This is a great opportunity to get Outdoor Leadership Training for Scouts (PB109) or Webelos. It will take the whole session of classes, but it will be done. BALOO for Cub Scouts is PC103.
New District Committee members should plan on taking the District Committee Training at University of Scouting. (PG112) This is only half of the required course. We may elect to offer both parts at Camporee, too, but we would prefer to offer other training if at possible.
Chartered Organization Representative Training is available. (MG121) There are also course for the unique characteristics in different denominations of churches (MG123-126).
Take a look at all the offerings. Look at your unit’s needs and encourage your adults and Den Chiefs to get trained at University of Scouting.
We are also considering what classes to offer at the Winter Camporee. If you have certain preferences, please contact District Commissioner Jeff Heck with your thoughts.
We, as scouters, are all familiar with the emotional growth that scouts obtain from being involved in outdoor activities. How do you describe why it works? Often scouters struggle to explain what they have witnessed to be true. We need to be able to describe why this works if we are to be able to persuade new families to join. Let’s take a look at what types of activities promote personal emotional growth.
Ultimately, well-run scout units are boys-at-play not boys-at-school-outdoors. If that is so, may be this explains why scouting works:
Closely related to the increased pressure to achieve is the decline in play.  Over the past several decades, we have witnessed a continuous and, overall, dramatic decline in children’s freedom and opportunities to play with other children, undirected by adults. In other essays I have linked this decline to the well-documented rise in depression and anxiety among children and adolescents (here) and to the recently documented decline in creativity (here). Free play is the primary means by which children learn to control their own lives, solve their own problems, and deal effectively with fear and anger—and thereby protect themselves from prolonged anxiety and depression. Free play is also the primary means by which children maintain and expand upon their creative potentials. Now, I suggest, free social play—that is, play with other kids, undirected by adults–is also the primary means by which children overcome narcissism and build up their capacity for empathy.
Play, by definition, is always voluntary, and that means that players are always free to quit. If you can’t quit, it’s not play. All normal children have a strong biological drive to play with other children. That’s part of human child nature—an extraordinarily important part of it. In such play, every child knows that the others can quit at any time and will quit if they are not happy. Therefore, to keep the fun going, each child is motivated to keep the other children happy. To do that, children must listen to one another, read into what they are saying, and, in general, get into one another’s mind so as to know what the other wants and doesn’t want. If a child fails at that and consistently bullies others or doesn’t take their views into account, the others will quit, leaving the offending child alone. This is powerful punishment that leads the offender to try harder next time to see from others’ points of view. Thus, in their social play, children continuously practice and build upon their abilities to empathize, negotiate, and cooperate.
Moreover, children, unlike adults, are rarely effusive in their praise of one another. They have little tolerance for anyone who thinks that he or she is “special,” or is in some way above the rules, or is a natural leader who should get his or her way all the time. Playmates are often highly skilled in deflating one another’s egos, through such means as humor and insults, or through outright rejection if those means fail.
Consistent with this view, correlational studies have revealed that children who engage in more social play with other children demonstrate more empathy, and more ability to understand the perspective of others, than do children who engage in less such play. Moreover, several short-term experiments conducted in preschools have shown that when some children are provided with extra opportunities to engage in social play, those in the extra-play groups later exhibit higher performance on various measures of social perspective-taking and ability to get along with others than do those in the control groups.
Boys setting up their own terms of play provide emotional development benefits because they have an incentive to adapt. The incentive is the desire to keep others involved. They don’t seek out or give effusive praise — often quite the opposite. Yet, these unstructured opportunities provide real opportunities to foster empathy and understanding.
What lessons do we learn as scouters? In the last post, I suggested that adult-guided activities, especially in sports, have a much higher incidence of injury, requiring medical attention, including orthopedic surgeries. Now we see that emotional growth is greater where youth-led activities are allowed, including juvenile insults. The more time for unstructured interaction is allowed, the greater opportunity for growth.
While many of the points in the excerpt above focus on “free-play” for young children, the lessons for emotional growth are the same as children become teen-agers. They need time to face challenges together and have arguments where they face the risk of the other kids giving them the ultimate juvenile punishment: non-participation. If a patrol leader is overly controlling and lack in empathy, his patrol will find anything else to do than follow the patrol leader’s instructions. The patrol leader may or may not learn quickly, but he has the opportunity to learn that dictatorial methods fail.
The patrol leader who leads by example will learn to be a better leader. When the duty roster is made, the good patrol leader will give himself the least desirable job first: latrine or KP duty or the patrol’s least favorite. The patrol learns that he has more credibility when he can say, “I understand it is not fun. I did it yesterday. Come. I’ll help you figure out how to do it faster.” His patrol will get tasks done.
So what is going to give your scouts the greatest opportunity for growth? A weekend campout that appears to be completely chaotic and unstructured? A high-adventure trip led by adults and planned down to the minute?
With these tools in mind, how would you explain that the patrol system is the reason that a prospective scouting parent should have their son join Scouts?
Attention Scoutmasters, Varsity Coaches and Crew Advisors! Space is still available for youth to attend National Youth Leadership Training / White Stag. Courses offered in June and July. NYLT is an exciting, action-packed program focused on developing your Scout’s leadership skills they can then use in your unit. Register a Scout today at the Council website.
Carolyn Small | Program Director – Special Initiatives
“Do you have your handbook?” How many times at meetings have you asked this question?
As a passionate scouter, I enjoy the opportunity to interact with the scouts. As I sit to reflect about how to improve my skills, I often wonder if my passion is getting in the way of truly allowing the boys to play the game of scouting.
The story of the spread of scouting in the early 1900’s keeps coming to mind. There were two parts to the process: boys naturally grouping together in patrols to camp and play the game of scouting versus the adults trying to promote its spread for their own purposes. Each has furthered scouting.
USA Today has an interesting article about bug repellents. Good timing for camp!
Day says he is convinced it’s mostly about carbon dioxide: mosquitoes and ticks find their victims by detecting it and some of us produce more than others. That includes heavier people, pregnant women and exercisers. “The amount of carbon dioxide you produce depends on your metabolic rate,” he says.
What leads to CO2 production:
What you eat and drink may matter, Day and Bernier agree. Alcohol, in particular, seems to attract mosquitoes, they say. At least one study also suggested smokers were at higher risk – but probably because they spend so much time smoking outside, Day says.
What to use:
CDC says you want one that includes DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide), picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus or a chemical called IR3535.
What to avoid:
• “Natural” repellent sprays made with plant oils, such as citronella, lemongrass, and rosemary.