Parents (especially mothers in my experience) are the family scheduler; keeper of the family calendar and maker of schedules.
We need a direct, accessible and detailed line of communication with parents (again, in my experience, especially mothers) if we expect to have Scouts attending outings and meetings.
Shouldn’t the Scouts themselves be responsible for this? Shouldn’t they know their own schedule and make plans accordingly? In the best of all possible worlds I would like to see that happen but it’s not likely the way that most of the families we serve conduct business. An informal survey of my Scouts revealed that they really have no idea what’s on their family calendar let alone what they will be doing next week.
Scouts who play on a school team, are in a band or orchestra, or are in a play or club at school have a pretty fuzzy understanding of their commitments and schedules. They may know that they have a practice on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and they may have a game on the Saturday of the Camporee but it’s not likely that they are keeping a calendar. Some of the older Scouts are begrudgingly keeping a calendar, but the younger ones are almost certainly not.
If you are a husband and father of a Scout I’ll bet you consult the family scheduler (the wife and mother) before you commit to an outing or meeting. Some family and school commitments are non-negotiable; weddings, vacations, PSAT and SAT schedules, plays and concerts and games.
Our long-established practice was to have set of target weekends for the year published and distributed as early as possible and we expected families to merge that into their scheduling. We then distributed permission slips two to three weeks ahead of the outing and waited to get them back.
Even with much pre-planning and careful avoidance of conflicts some outings seem to fall flat. Our typical attendance is one half to two-thirds of our Scouts at any given meeting or outing. We usually have two or three outings far below or above this number. Even though attendance may be disappointing at times we have learned to pay attention to the Scouts that show up and not to wring our hands (too much) over those who don’t.
Interestingly most Scouts do not miss meetings or outings because they choose some other more engaging activity or simply don’t care to go. Eight times out of ten, when I check to see why someone didn’t attend there’s some perfectly legitimate reason – a scheduling conflict, a family trip, illness, etc.
The resolution to all this is that we have to have a set of realistic expectations. We must not brow beat Scouts who don’t make outings and meetings; they are volunteering their time after all and nobody likes being compelled to do things through negative reinforcement.
We have started to issue permission slips in batches – three or four at a time at quarterly parent’s meetings – and are slowly conditioning our families to commit to outings earlier. It will take a year or two to get folks into the habit of doing this.
What I have discovered, though, is that it is mainly mothers who make the call on the family schedule and we must keep the lines of communication with them open and fairly constant. Our weekly email ends up in every mom’s mailbox and we have learned to demystify things. What’s a patrol leaders council meeting or a board of review? What’s a patrol meeting?
How many Scouts show up at your troop meetings? How about outings and trips? What methods do you use to communicate with their families about these schedules?
The results of the survey I conducted about these questions begin here.