Welcome to the LDS Scouter Blog. We hope to provide you with valuable information, share useful resources and maybe even improve some attitudes and Ward Scouting programs. The recommended way to use this blog is to start with the post, "Why I started this blog." Then browse through the post titles in the archive (found in the sidebar) for topics of interest.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Limbo Patrol

Welcome to our first guest post:

Let’s get one thing straight: If you go to your local Scout Shop and ask what you need to get started as a new 11-year-old Scout Leader, they’ll tell you there’s no such thing. It doesn’t’ exist. It’s a construct of our highly compartmentalized Mormon culture. The actual BSA position is Assistant Scoutmaster; I’m 35, not 11, and boys lead their own patrols.

The only place you will find anything at all about the “eleven-year-old Scout Patrol” is in the LDS Scouting Handbook. The Green Book of Salt Lake contains just over six pages of instructions. One paragraph addresses Cub Scouts; six cover Scouting, including the entire Aaronic Priesthood Scouting program. (This doesn’t mean that’s all the Church says about Scouting, it means you’re supposed to go to the BSA literature.) Fully one and a half pages discuss how to run the EYOS program (this is supplemental to the BSA instructions on running a troop). I attribute this to the neither/nor nature of the EYOS patrol: It’s still Primary, but it’s not Cubs; it’s Scouts, but it’s not Deacons’ quorum. Because of this compartmentalization, the EYOS often functions as its own troop: it’s the Limbo Patrol.

What, then, is the EYOS purpose? It’s really no different from the one for older boys: “Scouting can help [boys] increase in confidence, testimony, brotherhood, and understanding of Aaronic Priesthood duties.” Scouting aims to develop men of high moral character, physical, emotional, and spiritual fitness, and who are good citizens, regardless of something as arbitrary as a birth date. It does this by instilling in our sons the values of the Scout Oath and Law through participation in fun and challenging activities. It empowers them to act, and not be acted upon. These two organizations’ purposes are really the same thing; the Church uses Scouting because it reinforces the qualities and behaviors we expect from an Aaronic Priesthood bearer. It teaches them to be responsible for their actions.

My job is to provide the boys in my charge with all the opportunities they need to successfully complete the requirements for First Class (and to do so in a fun and safe manner). That’s it. Of course it goes much deeper than that, but that's a good summary. I’ve told my Scouts and their parents that I don’t worry about advancement. If they take advantage of the program by attending patrol meetings and activities and working with the other boys in the patrol, advancement will take care of itself. To be sure, there will be conflicts in their schedules; their interest and commitment to Scouting will wax and wane with the (athletic) seasons, so they get to work at their own pace. Even if they barely squeak by with Tenderfoot in this first year, I let them know that they have plenty of opportunity to enjoy Scouting in the years ahead. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that their advancement milestones, fast or slow, are a reflection on you. We’re not accountable for a patch-count in this calling. Having Fun Is Job One.

There are several challenges in running an EYOS patrol. I’ve already discussed the compartmentalization that naturally occurs in Church organizations. A corollary to that is the tendency for the EYOS to be left out of the loop. The only solution to this is to make yourself visible to both the Primary Presidency and the Scout Committee, kind of like the Whos down in Whoville shouting, “We are here! We are here! We are here!”

Another challenge is that parents, especially those new to Scouting, have no idea what to expect. Their experience till now is with Cub Scouts, and the transition for them is just as dramatic as it is for a boy. Of my seven Scouts this summer, five were the oldest in their families - I had five first-timer families! It took me a while to realize this, and that the parents needed patient coaching just as much as the boys. It helps to be up front with expectations and responsibilities, especially regarding who signs off requirements, or what they might be asked to contribute. (Akela is great for Cub Scouts, but he doesn’t cross over with your son.) If you can get parents to come observe meetings and help on day hikes and camps (as volunteers, not parents), you’re way ahead of the game. If you can get one to serve on the committee, you're golden!

Then there’s the camping challenge. The Green Book limits EYOS to three camp outs per year, and stipulates:
“Fathers are invited and encouraged to participate in the overnight camping experiences with their sons and with boys whose fathers cannot attend” (emphasis added).
Unfortunately, the first half of this instruction is usually interpreted severely, while the second half is ignored, usually in a single sentence: “if you want to go on a camp out, your dad has to come with you.” Besides defeating the spirit of the actual instruction, this has the potential to penalize a boy for circumstances beyond his control. It’s telling him, “we want you to earn First Class in this first year, but we won’t let you because we have this extra, well-meant but conflicting, policy.” Patient, reasoned (and possibly irritating) advocacy is your only recourse.

The final challenge I’d like to address is the tendency to forget why we’re doing this in the first place. It’s super easy to get bogged down in the minutiae of keeping the patrol vibrant. Depending on how well your Committee functions and how well you utilize the Patrol Method, you can easily be overwhelmed. That’s when we forget that this is a preparatory time for the boys. Find moments to bring the spiritual dimension to their activities. The boys are still working on their Faith in God award, specifically the Priesthood preparation section. You have a great opportunity to help them understand and see what that is all about. Scoutmaster minutes and other moments around the campfire, not to mention your example, will go a long way toward helping them be ready for the big one-two.

The other thing you need is to have a plan. When I was first asked to do this, Google became my best friend. I found several one-year plans designed to get boys from nothing to First Class in 12 months. I’ve adapted them and expanded them into tools that are flexible enough to accommodate the boys’ own plans for their patrol (remember the Patrol Method), but still cover all the requirements. You can download them below. By following this plan, I provide the opportunities that each boy needs to complete the First Class requirements. Some may go faster or slower, but this ensures all the bases are covered.

In conclusion, as far as BSA is concerned, eleven-year-old (new) Scouts are just inexperienced Scouts who need guidance from competent leadership. Their parents also need to know what to expect. As we teach them first aid, the difference between a maple and a scrub oak, or maybe how to lash together a catapult, we are in a position to help them not only understand the world around them, but we’re also in a unique position to influence their lives in a way not available to teachers and parents. We’re Scoutmasters.

New Parent Orientation my Wood Badge patrol built (.pptx)
Planning tools I use:

Eric the Half-bee has been an 11-year-old Scout Leader Assistant Scoutmaster in Bountiful, Utah for a year and some change. He’s happily married and the father of four, including an 11-year-old scout in the patrol he is training. His interests include photography and gardening, one of which he actually enjoys some success with. He spent eight years on Active Duty in the US Air Force and attended Wood Badge in May, 2011. He is a last-minute Eagle and has also served stints as Cubmaster and Cub Committee Chair, where he didn’t have a clue what he was doing. In other words, he didn’t bother to get trained. He is the author of The Volun-told Scouter blog.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

You may be losing comments

This is just a heads up to fellow bloggers. If you have a blogger blog and are using the type of comment box that opens at the end of the post (as opposed to opening in a new window or going to a new page) then some people may have trouble or not be able to post comments on your blog, especially if you don't allow the name/anonymous option.

To change it, go to your dashboard (blogger.com) and select "settings." Choose the "comments" link under the settings tab (not to be confused with the comments tab next to the settings tab). The third item on the list should be, "Comment Form Placement."

I know many bloggers love getting comments, so I thought you should know that you might be missing out on some just because of your comment box style. I seldom comment on those blogs, because I have to change browsers to do it, and I am sure there are others who are doing the same.

I also wanted to mention again that if you have or know of a blog about Scouting in the Church, please let me know so that I can add it to the sidebar. My little list is growing slowly. There's some great blogs out there. Check them out, if you haven't already.