I’ve been a Cubmaster, and a den leader for Wolf, Bear,and Webelos dens. Volunteering as a Cub Scout leader ought to be a lot of fun, and it is, most of the time.
We had a “normal” Cub Pack, (if such a thing exists). We always needed more help, we struggled with recruiting, we had our parent drama; but our Cubs had a great time, and so did I. I know how challenging working with Cubs (and their parents!) can be.
I can remember feeling discouraged as a Cub Scout leader asking more experienced folks who responded with what seemed like artificially cheery and optimistic advice. Did they have any idea? Did they just waltz along through the whole thing trouble-free?
What I want to share are thoughts, not specific program advice (although you’ll find some here and there). If you are looking for practical things like meeting plans and craft ideas I am afraid you’ll be disappointed. There are plenty of official resources created by people who know a lot more about the ins and outs of specific program issues, and others created by experienced Cub Leaders who offer great practical program ideas.
I want to share thoughts about issues that often don’t get a whole lot of attention in formal training, the things we talk about in the hallway or the parking lot after the meeting. Of course these are my opinions and observations, not expressions of official policy. You may or may not share my opinions, but you’ll at least get something to think about!
As a Cub leader I made the most progress from looking objectively at my attitude and my approach. To begin with here’s some key ideas about…
Cubs and Cardboard Boxes
A decade or two ago a few Scout Camps started funding and building “Cub Worlds”; ambitious structures resembling pirate ships and castles. One of the rangers at a nearby camp had a simpler, less expensive, and (I thought) infinitely better idea.
As summer approached he asked a few appliance stores near the camp to save their big cardboard boxes. The cubs arrived to find a field full of big cardboard boxes waiting for them rather than a shiny new building project .They got to build their own pirate ships and castles!
Do you remember how exciting a cardboard box was when you were a kid? Given the raw materials and a little time we could make a whole world out of a cardboard box. A few minutes with crayons and a steak knife and we had a fort, a plane, or a clubhouse.
That spirit of creative discovery is what Cub Scouts is all about, provide the raw materials, a little help, and see what happens.
Adults have the tendency to complicate, we are pretty good at it. Sometimes this is driven by the desire to give our children the absolute best and biggest iteration of everything. We want our Cubs to have the biggest, best and shiniest, the most complex, expensive and involved, who wouldn’t?
More often than not we get upset if they aren’t absolutely thrilled with that massive effort that we thought was so great. They have more fun playing with the cardboard box the what’s inside the box.
Rather than creating things to present to them let’s encourage and enable our Cub Scouts to create experiences for themselves. Let’s bring them the resources with the encouragement, wisdom, and patience to let them find their way.
The Roller Coaster or the Bike.
A bike was my ticket to the universe as a boy; I could go anywhere and do anything under my own power on a bike. Roller coasters are fun too, but if you offered me 100 tickets to ride the roller coaster in exchange for my bike when I was a kid I am pretty sure I would have said no.
I can’t get to the roller coaster without someone driving me there, it’s not always open, and there are lots of other people in line. Besides, the roller coaster goes on the same tracks every time, I’d be bored after the fifth ride.
Big shows, or presentations by adults are like roller coasters, (sometimes really slow, boring, roller coasters!). I’m not saying a roller coaster ride isn’t fun once in a while, but the cubs are just riding along. Let’s get them pedaling the bike.
Big, showy presentations and entertainment at a pack meeting are like a roller coaster, skits, songs, and stunts at a pack meeting are like bikes. I like activities where Cubs aren’t just along for the ride, ones where the have to supply the power and direction.
Decorations or Achievements?
Cubs love swag! They will deck themselves out like Christmas trees with every possible badge, bead, belt loop, pin, ribbon, and medal they can get their hands on. It’s such great fun! (Let’s be honest: most Cub Scouters are almost as excited about getting swag as the Cubs.)
Of course we know that all the swag has ulterior motives most Cubs aren’t old enough to fully appreciate or understand. We may find that they are paying more attention to the swag than the experiences or skills the swag represents.
When we build the program on checking off requirements rather than doing great stuff Cubs will be more focused on hunting for badges than learning and doing.
Re-setting that focus is our job. Rather than starting with the idea of the reward, begin with the excitement and engagement of the experience. Instead of “let’s get this requirement, this belt loop (etc.),” how about “let’s build something, do something, go somewhere, or try something”?
Here’s a valuable resource for Cub Scout Leaders-
For the Love of Cub Scouts
The unofficial guide for building a stronger pack-your Scouts will love-in only an hour a week