The twelfth in a series designed to help Scout families, Scouts and those new to Scouting better understand what Scouting is, how it works, and how to get the most out of the experience. For past articles, see back issues of The Guide.

Unraveling the Mysteries of Scouting

This past weekend, I had the privilege of shepherding a group of Scouts from my troop to the Autumn Blast event at Gardner Dam Scout Camp. They truly had a blast climbing and rappelling, mountain biking through the trails in the woods, rafting down the Wolf River, practicing Scouting skills, and laughing and sharing in the fellowship of Scouting. We are blessed with pristine properties — our camps where we can all enjoy the outdoor experience. Well-planned programs invite our youth to explore, learn, and have fun. A wonderful display of materials from the Bay-Lakes Council Museum invited the attention of the participants and piqued their curiosity. They undertook a scavenger hunt identifying items reflecting the long and rich history of Scouting in the Bay-Lakes Council. One of my Scouts turned to me and asked a simple question, “What is a crew?” During lunch, a parent asked me what the knots on my uniform meant. Later, another parent said that he had been an Explorer as a youth and didn’t realize that the Exploring program was a part of Scouting. Wow! I had forgotten that Scouting is full of mystery, of symbolism and ritual, filled with terminology that is itself a language all its own. Experience in Scouting unravels many of Scouting’s mysteries, but it takes years to begin to understand them — and one probably never learns them all!

As we welcome new families to Scouting through Cub Scouts, and even into Scouts BSA troops, Venturing Crews, Sea Scout ships or Exploring posts this fall, it is important to remember that for most of these youth and their parents, Scouting is full of mystery. Even for people with past Scouting experience, enough has changed through the years that you cannot assume you know all about Scouting today. As a youth, I was a Cub Scout at a time when the progression of ranks began with Bobcat, then moved to Wolf, Bear, Lion and finally to Webelos. There were no Lions when my son entered Cub Scouting, and now we have them back – as Kindergartners! Change in Scouting is ongoing. The point is that we cannot assume our new and returning scout families understand Scouting. In order to welcome them into our movement, it is incumbent upon all of us to explain who we are, what we stand for, how we work to engage youth and adults, and how Scouting is structured to teach values, skills, leadership and offer a foundation for life. No question is silly or unwelcome; indeed, we should all anticipate questions, offer a thorough orientation to new families and provide ample and timely information as we undertake programming, outings, and activities.

My message this month is simple, really. Scouting is all about sharing, stretching out a hand in friendship and recognizing the mysteries that abound all around us. If you are new to Scouting, don’t fret that you don’t understand something. All you need to do is ask, or just look confused – we’ll take it from there. If you are an adult leader or a youth with some experience in Scouting, watch for that confused look, listen for the questions of the curious, or simply understand that our insignia, all those patches we hand out, our terminology, our very structure, even our values as embodied in the Scout Oath and Law are a mystery to both new and returning Scouts and even those with years of experience. Take the time to explain Scouting every step of the way, assuming that at least some in your unit are clueless. Communicate clearly when sharing the details of a program plan, outing or activity so youth and their families can understand what will take place, what will be expected of each participant, and why you are doing things the way you are. Welcome questions as an opportunity to share what you know and understand, and don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know something. There begins a journey of discovery you can share with your Scouts as you seek to understand together. Take advantage of the programs planned by the Council and District. They are opportunities to learn more about Scouting and to interact with others involved in Scouting. Each person you encounter can share a perspective, experience or story that helps to unravel some mystery in Scouting.

When asked, I couldn’t distinguish all of the knots on my uniform from one another. I was never in Venturing and I confess the Summit Award was unfamiliar to me until last spring, though it was part of the museum display and stimulated questions from my Scouts. There is so much to learn and understand about Scouting. Like any good mystery, it takes time to unravel, but is certainly worth the experience. Happy Scouting!

Paul Shrode