Thursday, March 17, 2011

Cub Scouts and Homeschooling

Scouting can be a wonderful addition to homeschooling. Although both Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts have much to offer, I am more familiar with Cub Scouts (the primary-grades level of Boy Scouts), so that is what I’ll discuss. I’ll leave Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts to better-informed writers.

Cub Scouts is for boys in first through fifth grade. Usually organized through a church or school, simply because that is where the children are, many are community-based. If no pack exists in your area, you can always start your own. But check the Cub Scout website, first. Also, ask around. Or, at the beginning of the school year, look for the yellow and blue “Join Cub Scouts” signs posted around schools and communities.

First, some lingo for newcomers:
Local Council: A geographical area encompassing a number of districts
Districts: A smaller geographical area encompassing local Packs and Troops
Pack: The entire group of boys, from grades one through five
Den: The grade-level group
Tigers: Grade one
Wolves: Grade two
Bears: Grade three
Webelos: Abbreviation of “We’ll Be Loyal Scouts”
Webelos I: Grade four
Webelos II: Grade five
Pack leader: Trained adult (usually a parent) who leads the pack
Den leader: Trained adult (usually a parent) who leads the den
Volunteer: Everyone else!

The pack, dens, family members, and scouts all work to achieve the 10 purposes of Cub Scouting:
1) Character development
2) Spiritual growth
3) Good citizenship
4) Sportsmanship & fitness
5) Family understanding
6) Respectful relationships
7) Personal achievement
8) Friendly service
9) Fun & adventure
10) Preparation for Boy Scouts

While scouting can benefit all families, it offers extensive benefits for homeschooling families. Perhaps the most obvious is socializing. Packs meet at least once a month, and dens meet at least twice a month. So, at least three times per month, scouts are getting together, doing activities, and learning new skills. That doesn’t include special pack or den events, such as hikes, going to fire stations, community service, et cetera.

When it comes to the “school” part of homeschooling, Cub Scouts shines. Scouts can earn belt loops (like merit badges, but metal and fit on belts) and pins (like merit badges, but worn on a special red vest). Achievements can be earned in sports (28 possibilities) and academics (25). The requirements get progressively more involved from belt loops to pins. For homeschoolers, the achievements can be used to help focus or add to on-going studies. For example, the geography belt loop requires scouts to draw a map of their neighborhood, identify major landforms within 100 miles, and use a globe to discuss geographical terminology. Scouts working toward their geography pin have even more steps to complete, including making a three-dimensional model, reading a geography book, learning about an explorer, and much more.

But scouting’s benefits go beyond earning belt loops and pins. Scouting reinforces many of the ideals homeschoolers teach: family togetherness, respect for others, community service, and love of learning. Volunteering opportunities abound in scouts, and parents can quickly become an integral part of the scouting experience. All family members are usually welcomed and encouraged at scouting events.

Some homeschoolers may have an issue with the religious element of scouting. If this is the case, then 1) do not join a church-associated group, and 2) ask the school or community-based pack leader what their expectations are in regard to religion. Plenty of packs allow scouts and their families to explore their own spirituality, whatever form that may take, and leave it at that. Be aware that the Cub Scout Promise does state “I, (name), promise to do my best/To do my duty to God and my country . . .,” and the Promise is said at every gathering. Personally, I believe it provides a perfect opportunity to discuss your own spirituality and beliefs with your scout. But, of course, it is a personal decision for each family.

Additionally, the Boy Scout of America's by-laws state, "Because of Scouting’s methods and beliefs, Scouting does not accept atheists and agnostics as members or adult volunteer leaders." With many packs, this is basically a "don't ask, don't tell policy." Personally, I have never had anyone ask about my beliefs in our Pack or Council; I think they're just pleased to have an active, involved volunteer.

Also, some families may be concerned about scouting's call to be "morally straight" and "clean," especially as it relates to homosexuality. Again, some Packs are more liberal than others, and families need to weigh their decision to join accordingly.

Ultimately, scouting has much to offer the scout, the family, and, by extension, the community. Homeschoolers should not overlook this wonderful opportunity to add to their learning experience.

Article by Sarah J. Wilson

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