Well, it is August. It is a great time to keep the outing in Scouting. There is so much to explore; late- summer and early-fall wild flowers are out; early mornings and evenings afford opportunities to observe animals and birds; turtles bask in the sun along lakes and streams; and the night sky is full of stars with Saturn visible into the night. If you have not done so already, August is also the time to do your annual program planning. Before the boys go back to school and get lost in other activities, their availability is better now to do the planning they should do for a 2015 – 2016 year that is full of the adventure of Scouting and lifelong lessons and experiences.
In Scouting, the eleven-year-old (EYO) Scouts do much of the planning under the guidance and advice of their EYO Scout leaders. One of the important leadership traits we want the boys to learn is how to plan. Later in life as priesthood holders, they will be directing the affairs of their wards and stakes and will need the tools of planning: pulling ideas, working with concepts as well as dealing with constraint and conflicting interests. The start you give them now is very important. Each year in Scouting they should participate in an annual program planning conference.
As much as we want the boys to do the planning, without setting constraints and providing direction, the planning can quickly move off topic to activities that do not fulfill the aims of Scouting. The aims of Scouting are:
- Character development: using the ideals of Scouting, adult association, personal growth, leadership development, and uniform (as well as duty to God, which is Stan’s addition)
- Citizenship training: ideals, patrols, outdoors, personal growth, and leadership development
- Physical and mental fitness: ideals, personal growth, outdoors, advancement (and spiritual fitness; also Stan’s addition)
The aims and methods of Scouting are important because we as leaders need to see these through the lens of the fun programs we assist the boys in building. In preparing for the EYO patrol conducting their annual planning conference you will need to first get together with the EYO patrol leader and assistant patrol leader and prepare them for the annual planning conference. You will need to teach them how to lead the patrol through the process. Before sitting down with the boy leadership, I would speak to the Primary president and discuss the activities of the EYO Scouts from her perspective, get the date for priesthood preview, Christmas Primary activities, stake-sponsored EYO camporees, and other calendar dates the EYO Scouts should participate in. Visit with the Scoutmaster and find dates for Aaronic Priesthood commemoration (father/son campout), courts of honor, camporees, Scouting for Food (November), and the National Day of Service if your state participates. You will also want to gather information from the Scout’s advancement needs and understand the goals of each Scout that you gathered through Scoutmaster’s conferences. In fact, you can download an online Troop Annual Program Planning Conference Guide (under resources). This PowerPoint presentation has a section for both Scoutmaster and Scouts. Also keep in mind to focus on a single big annual event, such as an EYO camporee or preparing boys who will become deacons for Scout camp.
To really assist the boys with their planning, the Boys Scouts of America publishes Troop Program Features published in three volumes. The Troop Program Features volumes one through three contain all you need to plan and execute a full month of patrol/troop meetings as well as a dynamic outing. From volume one I usually pull camping, citizenship, aquatic, and cooking. Great features I like to use in volume two include first aid, hiking, orienteering, and nature. From volume three there is physical fitness, cooking (another), and sometimes I have used winter camping. That is eight months of programs that help the boys advance and focus on their First Class Scout skills.
Now that you have the material, you are ready to review this material with the EYO patrol leader and assistant patrol leader so you can prepare them to lead their patrol in the annual planning conference. Schedule lots of time for your conference as they may not have done a lot of program planning in the past. Schedule breaks for them to play Scout games because their attention span is limited at this age. I have found the most successful planning conferences I have done are ones that I planned on a campout or in a camping scenario where we stayed out until 9 p.m. or so.
Annual program planning is a key element in successful patrol and troop operations.
“Research conducted by Eli Lilly in Indianapolis, Indiana, showed that a common element of strong troops is they all have a good annual program planned a year in advance that is then shared with all families in the form of a calendar. The important result of a shared annual program calendar is that your troop will attract more families and Boy Scouts will stay involved longer” (BSA, Annual Program Planning 2015).
August is a great time to begin your annual plan; if not in August, then September. Once done, be sure to distribute the final product to family, Scout leaders and youth in other Scouting units, Primary leaders, and other ward leaders so everyone understands your plan. Most of all, enjoy the time working with the boys as they learn program planning. For more detailed information, the new Scoutmaster Position-Specific Training instructor manual has a full section on the annual planning conference.
-Stan Stolpe has served in multiple Scouting positions at the unit, district, council, regional, and national levels in the U.S. and overseas. His current positions include district roundtable commissioner, district Cub Scout training chairman, and assistant Scoutmaster for a new Scout troop. He resides in Alexandria, Virginia, serving in the Mount Vernon Virginia Stake. The views and opinions expressed in this message are solely those of the author.