My favorite of all the Scouting programs is Cub Scouting because, without a doubt, it is zany fun for youth and adults alike. This program offers so much for youth from kindergarten through fifth grade and Cub Scouting can be something in which the whole family can participate. It is hands-on learning and achievement that puts kids in the middle of action, adventure, and learning. Den meetings and adventures, as well as pack meetings and activities, are designed to be fast paced exciting activities intended for active, excited boys and girls. When you join Cub Scouts, hold on; grab the cheese grater and some SHARP cheddar because this will be great, great, GREAT! (Old Cub Scout applause)
If you want to have meaningful time well spent with your children, then participating as a den leader or supporting a den is for you. Here are some things you should understand about Cub Scouting that will make your time in Cub Scouting with your child less stressful.
The center of the Cub Scout program is the den. Here, energetic, curious, and imaginative youth gather weekly. The den consists of six to eight youth either all boys or all girls. Each den is led by an adult den leader and an assistant den leader, or a den may have two co-den leaders. They plan and carry out a year-round program of activities for the den designed around their rank advancement. There are five types of dens normally based on grade in school:
- Lion (the year prior to first grade, or age 6)
- Tiger (first grade, or 7 years old)
- Wolf (second grade, or 8 years old)
- Bear (third grade, or 9 years old)
- Webelos Scouts (fourth and fifth grades, or 10 years old)
In many packs, there will be one or more dens for each grade level: Lions, Tigers, Wolves, Bears, Webelos, and Arrow of Light. A smaller pack might combine first- and second-year Webelos Scouts. Lions and Tigers always have their own den because of their unique program structure. Dens of more than eight members are not encouraged.
It is in the program of Cub Scouting where the fun happens. Here the den leaders, assisted by adults from families, lead the Cubs through weekly rank-specific program adventures in the den meetings, which last about an hour. The fun happens because we understand the needs of youth 6- through 10-years of age. Youths this age thrive on structure, so each den meeting follows the same structure for them: gathering time, opening, talk time, activities, and closing. Once they know the structure, they anticipate and stay focused.
Youths this age are active with short attention spans, but also love to giggle and enjoy silliness. Accordingly, den meetings are designed to be fast paced. We know that when children get bored, they turn to their own tomfoolery. Instead of allowing the Scout to lead the tomfoolery, the den leader’s conduct the silliness with Scout jokes, action songs, applauses, stunts, yells, run-ons, and/or games. We call these meeting sparklers, and they truly work in allowing the den leader to keep control. Youths need periodic distractions. So, you can let them find their own distractions, or you can make the distractions that are just loaded with fun suited for their age. This is the secret to great Cub Scouting and everyone ends up loving it; adults and youths alike.
Scouting has resources for leaders to make den meetings fun and keep the attention of Cub Scouts (many of these sparkler resources are online). One new online place for sparklers is “Think and Grin” from Scouting Life (formerly Boy’s Life). Den leaders should plan their sparklers as transitions, at a minimum, between each element of the den meeting or anytime the Scouts are getting distracted.
When I was a den leader, I recruited a den chief to be in charge of all things sparklers. A den chief is a Scout, Venturer, or Sea Scout that helps plan and conducts den meetings. The den chief suggests games and activities the Cub Scouts might enjoy, serves as a role model for the Cub Scouts, and guides Webelos Scouts as they transition into Scouts BSA. They can also be of great assistance at pack meetings.
I selected my den chiefs from nearby troops with assistance from the Scoutmasters, then together the den chief and I attended den chief training. Attending the training with my den chief allowed me to discuss how they could use the skills they were leaning in the den meeting. This is very important in making the den chief part of the team from the start and gives the den chief confidence in their assignment and responsibilities. I also put the den chief in charge of all openings who did a wonderful job teaching the Cub Scouts on how to do flag ceremonies.
Managing a group of energetic and enthusiastic Cub Scouts has its challenge as children this age are prone to distraction and misbehavior. This challenge assists in fulfilling the purposes of character development if we know how use it. Instead of telling Cub Scouts what NOT to do, we tell them what we want them TO DO. When we tell a Cub Scout, “Stop it,” we take away their opportunity to practice making ethical and moral decisions, because we took the decision part away from them.
When we ask them, “are you doing your best?” or “be kind” we allow the Cub Scout to make the decision on whether their actions are correct and to adjust their behavior. This process is one of the most powerful elements of Scouting and connects the Cub Scout to the opening where we said aloud the Scout Oath and Law.
In reality, with Cub Scout-age youths, you will find yourself all too often telling the den or an individual Cub Scout to be courteous, be helpful, do your best to be quiet, or be kind by keeping your hands to yourself. But do not give up. This is the process and attention to this process has a powerful effect on youth in learning to make ethical decisions. Children learn in their den ethical decision making if we use this method consistently.
The program elements in Lion through Webelos have great child and family appeal and offer a variety of activities to achieve the purposes of Cub Scouting: character development, citizenship training, personal fitness, and leadership. The Cub Scout programs include games, crafts, skits, songs, stunts, ceremonies, trips, and outdoor activities for a well-rounded program all based on experiential/kinesthetic learning.
The advancement adventures require action and participation. This learn-by-doing helps Cub Scouts enjoy den meetings to the fullest by being actively engaged. Each age group learns from many areas such as fossils, genealogy, geology, nature, first aid, magic, duty to God, storytelling, communications, music, weather, maps and navigation, healthy eating, agriculture, physical fitness, modeling, fishing, robotics, community and community service, pets, tools, hiking, camping, cooking, and cleanliness; plus many more categories.
Cub Scouting offers so much in a fun, fast-paced program. Cub Scouts not only learn things not taught in school, but also things not always taught in a home. Cub Scouts grow and learn how to belong to a group and enjoy that sense of belonging. Through the Scout Oath and Law, Cub Scouts learn and practice ethical and moral decision making all the while forming great friendships, experiencing fellowship, and practicing duty to God all in a safe, endearing environment. We do great service to our children, our community, and our nation through participating and growing up Cub Scouts.
Stan Stolpe has served in multiple Scouting positions at the unit, district, council, regional, national and international levels in the U.S. and overseas. He resides in Alexandria, Virginia, and is currently a skipper’s mate for Ship 818. The views and opinions expressed in this message are solely those of the author.