A Resurgence of Traditional Scout Skills in the BSA

I maintain, the MAJORITY of today’s Scouts love the kind of woodsy activities that provide old-fashioned, outdoor fun that’s involving and challenging. I further maintain MOST members of our organization feel camping and backpacking in the great outdoors are Scouting’s MAIN attraction. Even today, with all the appeal of the internet and advances in technology, Scouting is still outing—the kind of outing done primarily in wooded areas surrounded by nature. There’s simply no app for the experiences and memories born in that setting.

Of course, the BSA has to be concerned with keeping up with changing times. This makes sense. Creating interest and attracting new members is contingent on the assurance that what Scouting provides is YOUTH-RELEVANT! But, amidst the wide spectrum of diverse, new offerings available in today’s Scouting program, I even further maintain there’s always an irresistible fascination with what can be termed, “Old School Scouting,” i.e. the magical way things were done in the woods before the advent of all the mesmerizing, modern technology in the forefront of today’s society.

Lord Baden-Powell / Ernest Thompson Seton / Daniel Carter Beard
Lord Baden-Powell                   Ernest Thompson Seton                  Daniel Carter Beard

As evidenced in the present BSA literature and advancement program, there is a pronounced de-emphasis in traditional camping approaches—both in the front and backwoods. It is undeniable, and it appears we are straying further and further away from the traditions provided by BSA’s founders: Ernest Thompson Seton and Daniel Carter Beard. I wrinkle my brow and ask, “Where’s all that great information and those inspiring descriptions illustrated by photos of real Scouts lighting a fire with a bow and drill or flint and steel, cooking a meal without utensils over a wood fire, or building a bridge using only ropes and poles over a creek?” It’s both irrelevant and a copout to simply dismiss or try to explain away this “dumbing down” of timeless campcraft skills by pointing to the principles of Leave No Trace. There is no correlation!

Once again, I maintain these and NUMEROUS other useful and fun techniques and activities can and still do contribute to the real appeal of even modern-day Scouting. It’s apparent, hand in hand with the world-class skateboard park at the Summit, the exciting addition of the STEM/Nova program, and all the “high adventure for the mind” merit badges like space exploration, digital technology, and robotics, a large population of today’s Scouts are STILL greatly enamored with acquiring the skill sets revolving around wilderness survival, the building of an impressive pioneering structure, and the creation of an awesome campsite. (See “Ideal Camp According to Baden-Powell” ) When it comes to hearing the “Voice of the Scout,” let’s make sure our youth are given the opportunity to choose that special outdoor voice that always has been and still is at the very heart of the experiences our movement has offered since our beginnings—the kind of rewarding, basic and challenging experiences that can only be found in Scouting!


NOTE: Nothing is being proposed that would even remotely affect or conflict with low impact camping and the principles of Leave No Trace!

Larry Green

Author: Larry Green

Volunteer with the BSA

20 thoughts on “A Resurgence of Traditional Scout Skills in the BSA”

  1. Still no signal towers or anything that’d require COPE to come tell you that you need belays and helmets and such. So still no big scouting skills.

  2. Boy Scouts has enough depth and breadth to offer both new and old skills. Camping, scout-craft, and pioneering are vital parts of Scouting which are valuable and distinguish it from other programs. Our program is also diverse/dynamic enough that a Scout/Patrol/Unit can meet the requirements but still focus on a given area. On that note though I think every rank should have a camping requirement since it is a significant part of the program.

    1. Joel, in my opinion, the second sentence of your comment is a real gem! The sentiment shared by many is that it would be most beneficial if Scouting was presented as a value-based program that offers extraordinary opportunities to gain self-reliance and practice teamwork, while learning timeless outdoor skills that yield the ability to take care of oneself and others.

  3. The focus of Scouting needs to stay on traditional Scout outdoor activities and citizenship development. These are the things that differentiate Scouting from all of the other activities available to today’s youth. We won’t win by trying to copy the competition.

  4. As the modern world makes our kids (and adults) more and more dependent on technology – Scouting is our only hope for teaching our kids how to survive “without”. It’s often pitiful to witness the helplessness of kids and adults alike – with a simple power outage – or a dead cell phone battery. Scout skills are not just about camp craft. It’s the concept of making do with what you have. …like getting from point-A to point-B without using a GPS!

  5. Absolutely! It is shameful that National is taking this training out of the Scoutmaster Training and even the Wood-badge Syllabus.

    In addition to the obvious benefits from learning outdoor Scouting skills such as cooking and surviving in the woods, there are several added benefits. Far too many kids are raised with little or no expectations to succeed. Many that I have worked with are full of the “it can’t be done” syndrome. For example, taking a group of the older boys camping in Michigan in January teaches them that they can adapt and survive conditions they never expected was possible. Another example is making Lasagna from scratch on a camp out. I made the noodles from flour and eggs, using my water bottle to roll them out then stewed the tomatoes into a sauce. No lectures, no lengthy classroom work, just letting them watch me and ask questions. The take away from experiences such as this are “the impossible” can be done with a little ingenuity and these lessons build confidence that applies to other things in life.

  6. I like the website Larry. Great information. I did a “Box of Stuff” Scoutmaster Minute at Roundtable tonight. Learning all of these traditional basic scout skills go into that “Box of Stuff” up in the Scout’s head to be pulled out when the need arises. Very important and fun too learn these skills and from time to time refresh them. Thanks.

  7. I tell our Scouts that they are going to learn things in Scouting, like outdoor survival skills, that none of their non-scouting friends will know. No other youth organization teaches the kinds of outdoor and woodsman skills that Scouting teaches. The kids can learn about computers and science in school but nobody teaches them about navigating using a map and compass, 5 different ways to start a fire, how to build a shelter in the wilderness, how and WHY to tie knots and lashings, etc. No matter how Scouting evolves the one thing that separates us from all other youth organizations is the outdoor skill we teach. It’s the core of Scouting and an area that we are quickly forgetting about.

    1. You are EXACTLY the kind of Scouter we’re looking for to help rectify this dilemma. Your Scouts are fortunate, but nowadays, most Scouts in the BSA aren’t given the same opportunities. I sincerely hope you’ll get on board and help wave the banner.

  8. Super idea! Why hasn’t National actually done this already?! Too much emphasis on games & sports! WiFi & computer games! Let’s get back to the origins of the Scouting program! Traditional skills pertaining to camping, woodcraft and pioneering are important to survival. Many men used these skills while in in the service.

    1. In regards to why National hasn’t actually done this already, I’m HOPING and trusting the appropriate national committees will meet the “renewed emphasis” proposal with open arms. That’s why we’re endeavoring to disseminate our perspective along with a petition for all members and a survey for Scouts as one of the preparatory steps. This is a job for all individuals who can relate to the relevance and importance of the tried and true “Old School Scouting” approach to once again provide a meaningful and richly appealing outdoor program in the BSA.

  9. Completely agree! I know that when I first joined Boy Scouts, my expectation was that Scouting was for the backcountry and for learning scoutcraft and woodcraftt skills. I wanted to know how to tie knots, make pioneering projects, build towers, dig an occasional hole, etc. Scouting must return to its traditions as the traditional activities are what keep boys around. Sure STEM, NOVA, and other 21st century skills need to be included in the program, but that shouldn’t be our primary purpose.

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