Online Scouting Is Here

LearnScoutsBSA will be dedicating an entire section for online scouting which will include online merit badge day offerings by councils, online resources and ideas for troops, crews and packs. If you have online resources to share please email those to us and we will get it posted. 

**updated content** We now have a dedicated page to online scouting resources located here. 

We now have a dedicated section to preparing, considerations, and how units need to go digital here

To hear this article you can follow this link to our podcast which covers this content.

Practically overnight the scouting world has changed for everyone. With the global pandemic of COVID-19 and how everyone has had to adjust to accomodate for “social distancing” the scouting world could have taken a big hit in it’s programming… but it’s evolving right in front of everyone’s eyes. Some people who embrace change are stepping up and figuring out what kind of new opportunities could be found. Some people who embrace the typical traditions of scouting are understandably hesitant to see how things could erode away to what they feel is already too much change in the scouting world. When you ask just about anyone out there to give you the top 5 words associated with scouting you could hear words like “camping, first aid, knots, boating, cooking, summer camp, patrols, and troop meetings”.   

“Most scouting activities are face to face.”

“Scouting must accomodate for social distancing at the same time provide good quality, safe programming for scouts to build their confidence in accepting and conquering the next challenge.”

“We are going to need both change agents and traditionalists to make this work”

A lot of scouting is face to face, hands on, with a fun way to do things…. at least that is what adult leaders are striving for. Spring is when scouting starts taking off for the year. Troops are pulling in large amounts of Webelos who just transitioned out of cub programs and into the ‘big kids stuff’. Everyone is excite to go camping, try out that new fishing rod, start building fires and work on some advancement. Councils are ramping up programming with activities which have been planned since last year. All these activities generally are done in groups bigger than 10 people and social distancing usually meant making sure you brought soap and deodorant along with giving people some elbow room at the meal table. Scouting can’t lose momentum now in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Scouting must accomodate for social distancing/quarantines at the same time provide good quality, safe programming for scouts to build their confidence in accepting and conquering the next challenge. How is scouting evolving and where can you help and do your part? It’s going to take change agents, traditionalists, scout leaders and parents… in short everyone will need to chip in to make this work. At the heart of it we are going to need both change agents and traditionalists to make this work. Here’s an idea of where both camps can help each other out as well as what Scoutmasters, Councils and Parents can do to help scouting too. 

Change Agents Keep Doing: Keep dreaming up ideas which will engage youth for scouting in different ways. Don’t be harnessed by the “this is how we have always did things” right now because we can’t do things as we have always done it. 🙂 Your ideas like online merit badge classes,  online board of reviews, online meetings, 30 day plans, online campfires and using technology to bridge the gap is exactly what scouting needs to keep youth engaged and accelerating right now. Some of your ideas will stick and grow into programming which will help bring back scouting in the communities which hasn’t been seen for a long time. 

Change Agents Remember to: The one thing all change agents need to account for is ‘spirit of intent’ and who best to represent that than our traditionalist scouters. You can’t forget what we are trying to do and who we are as scouts. Not everything will be able to accommodated for with technology. You need traditionalists to help keep the sprit of intent of scouting strong. Give them a call. Ask them to participate and go in knowing that there may be some disagreements but you both are there for scouts. Above all else we need to make sure YPT (Youth Protection Training) standards are upheld so our scouts and scouters are safe in all our new ways of programming. Dreamers are usually big picture and fun drivers. YPT usually isn’t very fun to talk about but it is needed. Make sure you accomodate. 

Traditionalists Please Answer the Call: We need you more than ever now. Different programming is coming.  Some stuff just needs face to face, hands-on, social interaction and work together type of activities. By making sure you have a seat at the table here will go along way in providing a high quality program. “You can either be in front of the change or under it” is a favorite saying of mine. I believe this holds true now. Focus on “the why” certain things were done as they have been done. Make sure requirements are upheld and kept to standards and understand methods may need a tweak. We must not cheapen the scouting experience at this time. Making things easy doesn’t do any good for scouting. Show the dreamers how it’s still fun and work with them to make sure the fun never is dropped. The scouting traditions you hold dear will definitely get it’s moment to shine the very minute we are over this pandemic and you have a great opportunity in ensuring that this new wave of scouting experience keeps that spirit of intent.

Scoutmasters / Cubmasters / Crew Advisors: As a fellow scoutmaster, I feel your pain. Our units were just ramping up with great spring and summer plans. We are now adjusting the best way we know how and accommodating for social distancing and quarantines. We will now need to accommodate for technology and eagerness too. Some things are definitely scary.

  • Online merit badges: In my mind this is the biggest team of wild horses that can get a way from you in a hurry. Scouts are very excited to be taking all kinds of merit badges all at once. As per national standards all scouts must get approval through you before they take a merit badge. I would caution against a free for all as the logistics and paperwork will be an absolute nightmare when this all settles down. Be selective with criteria you are comfortable with. Make sure your Advancement Chair is inline with your thinking. Too many open merit badges never gets done but a focused effort on a select amount will keep the scouts engaged and motivated to keep going. 
  • YPT: Audit merit badge counselors by asking for a copy of their Youth Protection Certificate especially if they are providing online classes on their own or are out of council. Unfortunately there will be people out there taking advantage of this situation and it falls on you to make sure you approve merit badges with certified scouters with YPT. Online merit badge days provided by councils should be accommodating for this. Counselors should be contacting you when the scout is either finished with the merit badge or a partial is being issued to send you the official blue card so you need to be in communication with them anyways.
  • Pack Programming: What can you do now given that your season is wrapping up? This is a good time to get a lot of adult training out of the way. You may also find some online belt loop activities for those cubbies who may be running a bit behind on their advancement. 
  • Technology Chair: If you are not technically oriented then find someone in your troop who is to assist in getting your troop online. Opportunities will be coming out of everywhere now. More people have access and will take opportunities quick. Registrations will need to be decided on and reacted to quicker because more people outside of your council will be taking advantage of the opportunities and you don’t want your scouts left behind. Get your parents on an email list or get active engagement on a troop website. Get ready to do some online meetings. You don’t need to master technology but you will need someone in your troop ready to tame that technology beast ready to assist in how you want to get things done. 
  • Programming changes: Start rethinking the focus on what can be done online and what must be done on trips (camping and other activities). Try keeping the two easily distinguishable for parents and scouts. It will be a work in progress so please roll with the punches.
  • Troop Handbooks/Guides: You may need to revisit your troop handbooks with updated guidelines on technology use. Depending on your troop structure that may mean a proper vote by your Troop Committee. 
  • A Scout is Helpful: Do a good turn daily. Remind them to continue to serve others in this time by helping more around the house, doing what they can when they can. It can be a simple thing like taking a trash bag with them when they go out for a walk or write letters to their other family members. People will notice. Families will appreciate the extra help and motivation at home too. 
  • Making it Fun: Your scouts are restless, nervous and worried about how their lives are going to change. Make scouting fun. This is the best opportunity for them to have some normalcy to their lives by having online meetings and getting to see each other. If you are at a loss for ideas then ask your other adult leaders for ideas. LearnScoutsBSA is creating an entire new section just for online scouting resources to help with that. 

Councils: Make sure to give your scout leaders some time to accomodate for this new technology wave. Provide some resources to help them along and work with the leaders to agree upon a new level of expectations for communication and programming. The whole scouting world is literally at your doorstep and will take advantage of any online programming you will have to offer so making sure ‘how’ your local council leaders are made aware may need some rethinking and some partnerships reforged. Traditional ways of communication are now getting modernized and/or altered. 

Parents: There are a few things parents need to start thinking about from an online scouting program.

  • Scouting and public areas in the home: As a merit badge counselor I am begging parents and guardians to insist that your scouts are doing online scouting in the public areas of your house or dwellings. This helps merit badge counselors out greatly with youth protection precautions. It also provides you some awareness of what’s going on and you may pick up on some cool knowledge too. 🙂 Some of these merit badge counselors may depend on you being within earshot or in the same room while doing online classes. Email the merit badge counselor.
  • Get engaged in your troop communications: Read emails from your scoutmaster. All of it… not just the first couple sentences. 🙂 Get engaged on the troop website. Ask questions. Don’t wait for someone else to ask a question. Online programming will require faster responses. Your scout may miss out on opportunities that are only 48 hours old.  
  • More stuff to do at home: Your scout will be coming to you with more stuff to do at home. Have fun in doing it with them. 

What we are doing at LearnScoutsBSA: We are going to have an entire section devoted to online scouting for ideas, resources, online opportunities by councils and troops alike. We are building out the section now and it should be up by April 5th. We are still taking content so if you have content to share please email me with that and we will get it on the site. 

We are living in exciting times and we are about to see how scouting will evolve yet again. It will take all of us to make it work and grow. 

Good luck out there scouters! 


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