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Snow Fun
When we arrived at our winter camping destination, I was sure we'd have quite a disappointing time. With only 3 inches of snow, my hope was to get one snow hut made, and maybe 2 if we were lucky.
Well, the scouts wound up scraping snow together for 5 huts - enough for 10 scouts to all spend the night in their own 2-man ice castles!
The day was cloudless as was the evening, so a bunch of scouts completed their requirement of telling direction in day and night without a compass. The only disappointment of the trip was having clouds this morning at 7:00am and not getting to see the Space Station fly over.

And, if any parents of scouts in your troop are concerned with snow caving in on their son, here's one of the huts with 9 scouts on top.
Scout On

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Posted: 22:52 01-21-2007 117
Challenger Troops
Troop 622 in Willmar, MN is a Challenger troop specially chartered for mentally disabled men. A story about them can be read here.

Scouts in Troop 622 have no 18 year old membership limit and they progress through the scout ranks at their pace. They persevere and meet requirements and celebrate their accomplishments.

There are many units that include scouts with various disabilities while other scout families prefer to have a unit dedicated to special needs scouts. In the Northern Star Council, there is a Challenger District to serve special needs scouts with special programs.

Our troop has hosted scouts from a challenger troop on occasional campouts and all scouts learned a lot. Your troop could check with your district or council to find out how you can help serve this special scouting population.

Scout On
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Posted: 22:41 01-17-2007 116
Why I Like Snow Camping
This is how it usually goes after the Sunday worship service while catching up with friends:
'So, anything interesting coming up?'
'Well, I'm going camping next weekend with the scouts.'
'WHAT? It's January. You're Nuts!'
Or, sometimes, they just shake their head as they walk away.

But, those that stick around hear me tell them that a snow shelter is really pretty warm, there's no bugs, and it's low humidity. Snow camping is a great time!

It's usually a small group that braves the Minnesota cold to sleep out in sub-zero temps, but it's also usually the hardiest scouts so the outing is great.

It's a perfect outing to learn how to tell direction without a compass in day and night. You can set up a stick in the snow and check the shadow every 1/2 hour or so throughout the day. And, since night comes very early and the sky is crisp and clear, you can find constellations fairly easily.

The worse part of snow camping, I think, is the meal clean-up. It's not much fun trying to dry dishes when its -5 degrees. Drip drying doesn't work, either. This is one outing where the savvy scouts plan their meals carefully. Last year, one patrol just heated cans of chili in a pot of water so they had no clean up, just throwing away the cans. :-)

Now, I've not had the fun of taking scouts camping in really deep snow where you can just dig a cave. I did that as a youth, but we usually have to scrounge a pile up and hope its enough. This year looks pretty dismal so we may wind up using tents for the first time. That will be good for the guys to experience how the ice forms during the night, and to figure out how to care for the tents when they get home.

Here's Nick and Dave trying to smash their snow hut after sleeping in it overnight. You can see Nick went right through the top after some real effort. :-)
(CLick a photo for a full-size view)

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Posted: 22:56 01-14-2007 115
07 Scout Catalog
More fun than getting the SEARS catalog before Christmas when I was a kid. :-)

The new BSA catalog arrived today. The first thing I noticed was all the Pinewood Derby stuff - sirens, rockets, flashing lights, whistles, axle guards, and even a Master Mechanics kit. Now, the $4.00 car can easily cost over $30.00 - and that's if you don't bother splurging for the 'Pinewood Derby Speed Secrets' book!

Instead of one big catalog, BSA is going to be sending out multiple catalogs, each with a different audience. This one seems to have a theme of [What's New] with lots of decorations, crafts, gadgets, and gifts but not much scouting stuff.

I do like the Switchback zip-off pants that are listed. I've had mine for around six months now and like the light-weight and non-scratchy feel. We'll see how they hold up to 30 days of backpacking this summer.

Oops, found one other thing I thought was funny. Right in the midst of the catalog, there is a 'Child Guard Firearm Safety Device' - a good idea if you have guns, but seems weird in with ponchos, socks, and flashlights. :-)

Scout On

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Posted: 17:20 01-12-2007 114
Scout Camp Fire in WI
On a Wednesday night during January, there's usually not much activity at scout camps in Wisconsin. But, last night a fire did $30,000 damage in Summit, WI when a couple storage buildings burned down.

The camp is near Oconomowoc, Wisconsin and has two camps situated on 290 acres. It's one of the oldest camps in the country, being around since 1917.

I expect the loss is not that great, insurance and more volunteer work can take care of replacing the sheds and equipment. The concern I have is that the cause is still under investigation. It would be a shame to find out it was deliberately started.

Read the Story
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Posted: 14:20 01-11-2007 113
Troop Discipline
Looking through many troop web sites, I've run across dozens and dozens of 'Troop Guidelines', 'Troop Handbooks', and 'Troop Discipline Policies' - every one similar, but different in some ways.

When boys join the troop I serve, they are given a 3-ring binder containing a few pages of information about how Boy Scouts differs from Cub Scouts, how patrols work, and how they need to take responsibility for their own advancement. There are also a couple empty baseball card holder pages for them to store their advancement cards and merit badge cards. We've got nothing written about special discipline policies - they just aren't needed.

Every boy over 10 years old knows what's right and what's wrong and how to behave. That certainly doesn't mean they will always do what's right and behave correctly, but they know. So, what good does writing down rules do? I can't think of any rules that are not covered by just saying, 'Our troop uses the Scout Oath and Law as our guide. All scouts are expected to do their best to follow that guide.'

The main reasons that scouts misbehave are:

Whether or not you agree that the correct behavior is known, there will be times when someone misbehaves. Maintaining discipline in a troop can be touchy, just like in any other group. I've found that the structure of a troop helps take care of most situations effectively and quickly, and with minimal escalation.

Discipline isn't a bad thing - it is not the same thing as punishment. Discipline has at least a dozen definitions, and nearly all of them include 'training'. Discipline is training and correcting someone to bring about expected behavior.

Like everything in Scouting, the training of scouts is the most important thing a Scoutmaster team can do. Including the allowed and expected discipline actions in your junior leader training helps set the troop on the right track. The leaders need to know that they are expected to maintain discipline and what their limits are.

Scouts should maintain discipline in their troop by training other scouts how to behave. So, let's call them the trainer and trainee for these general tips:

Taking time to train scouts to maintain discipline gives them opportunity to learn to deal with power and authority. They will run to you for intervention much less, and they will learn to be fair.
It's a good idea to have the senior scouts do a presentation on discipline for the whole troop occasionally. A skit demonstrating how they would address an imaginary problem the right way is entertaining and educational - especially if the problem is one that has been noticed in a few scouts recently.
It's also a good idea to make sure the scouts are expected to report any disciplinary actions they take to the scoutmaster or his assistants. This gives them an opportunity to show they are doing their job and get positive reinforcement on a job well done.

So, I've just mentioned what you might consider trivial things - being obnoxious, being noisy in meetings, not respecting an instructor - and you're wondering about real discipline problems like fighting or stealing or constant cursing. Well, a boy will push the limits in whatever group he finds himself in until he discovers the limits. By having older scouts trained and available to maintain discipline for new scouts, they will quickly learn the limits. They will know cursing is not accepted. They will know that hitting in anger is not accepted. And, they already know that stealing is not accepted.

If a scout purposefully behaves against what he knows is accepted, then the Scoutmaster needs to handle the discipline immediately. This is not something resulting from being untrained, but from a specific decision to do what is wrong. Addressing the problem directly with the scout and his parents is the best way to handle this.

Most issues with scouts have to do with boys doing weird, impulsive things, and sometime just plain mean things, but rarely things that indicate a real problem. Allowing trained, older scouts to address the behavior nearly always brings it around.

As is true for everything in scouting, the discipline of a troop is an ongoing, never-ending, rollercoaster ride of learning. It is not a plateau that is reached and maintained.

Scout On!
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Posted: 13:45 01-08-2007 112
High Adventure Reflection
The SPL in our troop does a great job of holding a Reflection after most activities so scouts can see how well things went and how we can improve. Reflections are an extremely important part of scouting and I'd recommend promoting them in your unit.
Reflections have been called 'Thorns and Roses' and many other similar terms - basically giving each participant a chance to voice what he liked and did not like about the event. The current BSA training materials promotes the concept of Start, Stop, Continue for reflections.
The leader asks what the group should Start Doing - positive actions which are not yet happening; what they should Stop Doing - actions that are keeping the group from being their best; what they should Continue Doing - things that are being done well and making the group better.

Our troop will be organizing two high adventure trips and a long-term camp this summer. To help with the final reflections after these events, I have a High Adventure Evaluation Form for all participants to complete. The main goal is to help scouts realize that they actually did lead at times, help others along, and accomplished many tasks. Hopefully, they will also come to the conclusion that they did more than they thought they could yet still have room to grow and improve.

Scout On!
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Posted: 16:25 01-03-2007 111
Winter Camping Tips
We're building quinzee huts and camping in them in a couple weeks. Here's a few tips to keep in mind when your troop camps in cold weather.

The entire list of tips can be read at Winter Camping Tips

Scout On!
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Posted: 10:35 01-02-2007 110
Philmont Christmas Present

I received a letter from Philmont - we got lucky and have reservations for 2 crews for the middle of June, 2008!!!! Now, that's a nice early Christmas present.

Now, over Christmas vacation, I'm sending an email to the Senior Patrol Leader so he can figure out what to say at his PLC meeting on Jan. 2. The patrol leaders should be excited to hear we got in. He'll need to announce the trip at our next troop meeting and tell everyone that a $50 deposit is required before Jan. 21st. He'll need to find two crew leaders to start working on the trip. It's still a long way off, but there is a lot of planning and prep to be done.

Over the past two years, the scouts have gotten quite good at planning campouts so I'm confident that a couple of them will do just fine handling Philmont. Since I've gone in 2005, I expect to guide them along as needed and ensure the essentials get covered, but it will definitely be their trek. I'll direct them to the older scouts that went in 2005 for advice and guidance and then fill in any holes that were missed.

We have two high-adventure backpacking trips to organize and execute in 2007 so those will be helpful for the Philmont crew leaders' learning.

Hey, maybe we'll see you at Philmont!
Scout On!
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Posted: 9:45 12-23-2006 109
Christmas - of course
Just a note to join the millions of Merry Christmas wishes on the Internet.

Our family will be spending the next week visiting relatives and dodging snow/rain flurries. We finally got our first snow of the year - of course it was just before we plan to hit the road. :-) But, at least we're not heading to Denver!

Peace to you and your family.

Scout On!
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Posted: 0:22 12-22-2006 108
Scouting Google Gadget
sample here

Just today, I read about Google Gadgets so I decided to see what I could do. These gadgets are little bits of code that allow a person to add interesting things to their web page. For example, a clock, a calendar, a random photo, weather, even a magic 8 ball.
I tried my hand (mostly just to learn about it) and made a random Square Knot award gadget. Anyone can embed it on a web page just like you see in the box to the right where it says 'sample here'. It's just a single line of javascript code so its awful simple to do.

If you refresh this page or right-click in the gadget and choose 'Refresh' you'll see a different knot.
I did notice that there may be nothing showing up if you have your browser security settings tight. If you refresh this page, then it might show up.

Scout On

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Posted: 20:01 12-18-2006 107
Storyteller Extraordinaire
I expect you've heard a great story while gathered around a campfire sometime in the past couple years. Maybe you thought, 'Wow, now THAT was a good story!'

I'll tell you, a good story doesn't just happen. The storyteller puts in some real effort to read, learn, and memorize the story well before casually telling it on a starlit evening as if it just came to him. A storyteller extraordinaire is a gift, a burden, and a curse.

Some people just don't seem to be able to tell a story. No matter how hard they try, it seems a line is forgotten or the sequence is mixed up. That person able to transport an audience to a different place just through his words has a gift. But, it is a gift that can be enhanced through effort. I sincerely believe that anyone can learn to tell at least a few good stories if they really try. The amount of effort needed varies from person to person.

The burden of telling stories is that the next one has to be better than the one you just told. Once you tell 'a good one', people will want to hear another. It's tough work keeping a small collection of good stories ready to tell. It's even harder to cycle in new ones each year to prevent stale stories. The work doesn't end for a storyteller.

When the campfire flames dwindle and the scouts start yawning and you chuckle at a few of the younger ones with their heads nodding around like a bobblehead doll, inevitably someone will pipe up with 'Hey, tell the one about ...!' And, then you're on the spot again to tell that same story you've told umpteen times before but they always like it - that's the curse of being a storyteller. You may be sick and tired of a story, but you still have to tell it again. In my case, there are two of these stories that the scouts which began in my Tiger den and are now in our troop want to hear - The Purple Gorilla and The Medicrin. It got so bad with the Medicrin that I made up The Med and Sin and The Medic Men just so I could have a variety. :-)

Even though being known as a storyteller can be an extra burden, the rewards far outweigh the burden! The most fun is when I hear someone request a story and a scout starts telling one of 'my' stories and the new guys just love it. And, so begins another generation of storytellers.

So, during these slow(?) times of winter, take some time and learn a handful of good stories for next summer. Always have a half dozen ready and you'll be able to fill in a slow campfire or cover for a scout that needs a bit more time to get a skit ready.

Scout On
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Posted: 23:50 12-17-2006 105
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