You’ve undoubtedly heard the clever saying Scouting is three-fourths Outing or something similar to that. You’ve also thought “yeah, sure… we go outside and go camping but that’s a bit of an exaggeration.”
Well, it’s not a cliché, and in fact, there is a lot of truth to it.
Scouting was intended to be conducted in the outdoors. Sir Robert Baden-Powell based Scouting on his military experience leading British troops in the Boer War. He helped to bring the strategic skills of observation of the enemy into civilian life by turning it toward nature, along with the survival skills needed to live in the outdoors without proper shelter and indoor comforts.
Today, the program largely consists of weekly meetings, giving rise to the thought that the outdoor aspect is overrated. But it’s not – the outdoor program is the very reason we hold those indoor weekly meetings. For it is in the outdoors that the methods of Scouting are put into action. Truly, there would be no reason to hold those indoor meetings if it were not to plan a troop’s outdoor weekends and adventures.
Ask a dozen Scouts why they joined Scouting and you’ll get a dozen different reasons. Some will say it’s because their parents made them do it, or because they want to earn Eagle so they can get ahead in college and in life. Hopefully, most will say they want to have fun with their friends (those who don’t say it are thinking it anyway, but might think a more scholarly answer is appropriate). The bottom line is that boys naturally want to hang out with their friends and they like being outdoors. And with the outdoors being such a big part of Scouting, it’s the ideal place to satisfy boys’ natural curiosity and cravings.
Successful troops are those which embrace the outdoor program and employ the methods of Scouting to fulfill the aims of Scouting in the outdoors. And successful Scouts are ones who take advantage of the outdoor program. The next time you hear a Scout say in a board of review that he’s bored with Scouting or find that it’s been a while since his last advancement, ask him how often he goes on campouts. Ask him about his patrol and what he does to help his patrol be successful. And, ask him why he thinks we go camping and what he thinks the purpose of Scout camping is. A connection can frequently be made between a Scout who isn’t advancing, or who has lost interest in the program, and his level of participation in troop campouts and outdoor activities.
Of course, many Scouts have an explanation for missing campouts – they might be involved in band, sports or extracurriculars, have family or church commitments, or have homework to do. In almost all cases, though, it should be possible for these other activities to coexist with Scouting. Homework can be scheduled or done ahead of time. Families, once they understand the importance of Scout campouts, can adjust their plans. After all, it’s normally just one weekend a month – that’s not asking a lot for the benefits the boys derive. If a Scout can’t make it for the entire weekend, perhaps he can come out just for part of it – and the troop can accommodate Scouts for whom this is an issue.
Troops with a vibrant, exciting outdoor program, involving all patrols and providing a variety of camping opportunities, are the ones where the Scouts are engaged, happy and successful. Not every troop functions at a high level in this regard, but every troop can work toward a culture of expecting that their outdoor program will be engaging, and can move toward planning and carrying out monthly campouts that sizzle. While it’s up to the Scouts to plan these things for themselves, the Scoutmaster can advise the senior patrol leader, and the committee can help Scouts discover the opportunities that are possible through conversations during boards of review and at other times.
If we keep Three-fourths of Scouting is Outing in the forefront, the pieces will fall together more easily and we’ll be supporting a troop that boys want to join and have fun in.