What is age-appropriate has been a fertile subject for discussion, conjecture and urban legend in Scouting. Judging the suitability of an activity and which Scouts can appropriately participate is an important skill for Scoutmasters.
This page on the BSA website explains how to determine what activities are appropriate for different ages of Scouts.
Here are some tests that prove valuable for any activity:
- Matches the training and experience of participants.
- The group has the ability to successfully complete the activity.
- Complies with the policies and procedures in the Guide to Safe Scouting – No. 34416C.
- Supports or is in harmony with Scouting values.
- Adds to the life experiences, knowledge, or abilities of participants.
- The unit or group receives training appropriate to the activity.
Compare the goals of the different stages of Scouting:
- Cub Scouting activity is parent/youth- or family-oriented, conducted with adult supervision and is discovery-based.
- Boy Scouting activities are led by youth, are patrol- or troop-oriented, meet standards and advancement requirements, are experience-based.
- Venturing/Varsity Scouting activities are led by youth who set and meet their own challenges, are socially based with coed participation.
To properly judge the suitability of activities adult leaders must have a complete understanding of the demands of the activity and/or seek assistance from experts in the skills, gear and temperament required. They should also be familiar with the conditions they are likely to encounter.
A good example from my experience is backpacking. I won’t take younger Scouts on a backpacking trip where I haven’t hiked the trial first. Although one can gauge difficulty fairly well from maps and trail descriptions the real test is actually hiking the trail. Older Scouts with some experience are up to the task of covering unknown ground but younger Scouts out for their first backpacking experience are not.
While some snippets of policy are embodied in the chart (i.e. Cub Scouts do not canoe on moving water) the word ‘guidelines’ title of the document indicates that the chart is not an absolute expression of policy rules:
Because of the varying development rates among youth, these activity guidelines are flexible and should not be perceived as requirements or rules. They address the mainstream of youth abilities while allowing for exceptions for Scouting units and groups based on the consideration and judgment of unit, district, and council committees and boards.
Another helpful bit of information:
I think the word ‘should’ instead of ‘must’ in this statement indicates that there is some latitude. Although many activities (Jamborees, High Adventure Bases and some local programs) strictly require a certain birth date unit based activities can judge the appropriateness of an individual Scout’s participation based on ability in concert with age and expand the birthday window by a month or two either way