Boy Scouting will be a new adventure for your son, with a greater degree of independence and self-reliance. As a parent, your role will shift from helping him do things to helping him prepare for things, and from coaching to encouraging and cheering!
Lots of parents ask us what they can do while their boys are in webelos to prepare them for the transition to Boy Scouting. We find that some things boys experience for the first time in Scouting, as they develop a bit more independence and self-reliance. While that can be a good thing, you can ease the transition for your son by giving him his first experiences before he joins. Plus, you can do it while having some family fun and good "teaching moments." Here are some things to try that have been suggested by boys and parents over the years:
• One of the biggest transitions in scouting is boys developing independence from their family. To avoid issues of homesickness, we really encourage families to find some ways to provide "parent free" activities and overnights for their son during 5th grade. Overnights at friends' houses, a webelos overnight without mom or dad, going skiing with a buddy's family up north for the weekend are all good options. Helping your son develop his own personal activities that other family members don't participate in can also be helpful.
• Having a basic level of fitness will really help your son enjoy his first year in boy scouting. Try some strenuous family hikes or bike trips on a regular schedule, or any other activity that will develop some aerobic capacity and a degree of physical strength and confidence.
• The troop does a lot of water activities, which require some swimming ability and comfort in water. If your son is not a strong swimmer, get him into some swimming instruction now, when he's young and before he's "embarrassed" and tries to avoid water activities. This might take some real encouragement and "push" from you, but it will be well worth it. The BSA basic swim check is to swim (100 yards): 3 lengths of a regular pool in good form (crawl and/or breast stroke), then swim one length as a “rest stroke” (sidestroke or elementary backstroke), then float on your back for a minute...all without stopping or getting too tired. After your son can do at least that, engage him in every manner of water fight and dunking wars at his level of comfort.
• Service is an important part of scouting. It's important for guys to learn to do hard work and see it through to completion even when they're not "geting something out of it." Consider doing some service as a family... helping with a soup kitchen meal, working on something for your church, etc. Something that your son can really contribute to and be recognized for, which is "work" but not a "chore."
Often scouting will be a boy's first experience with cooking a meal and/or cleaning up after one. Try these simple fun things to prepare your son:
• Have him do some simple meals for the family at home. Good ideas are to learn how to cook a good pancake and make basic spaghetti or macaroni & cheese (just on the stove at home, as practice for campouts). All by himself, start-to-finish, including doing the pancake mix by adding water until it “looks right” rather than measuring. It'll be messy, but keep it fun!
• Get him in the habit of cleaning up his dishes and cooking pots right after a meal himself. We're always amazed at how many young lads have never picked up a sponge to scrub a pot, and that can be embarrassing among peers. Once that's a habit, make a game of learning how to clean up after #1, using as little soap as possible, and making believe the kitchen sink is a hand-pump that you can’t rinse your dishes in (i.e. clean up using a pot of hot water).
Scout troops are pretty strict about gear in terms of fit, quality, and age-appropriateness. As you continue to express interest in our program, we'll send you a gear guide and other tips. Please check with us before any major purchases. In the mean time, though, you can begin to develop some good habits:
• Practice packing gear in a small duffle bag for an overnight trip, like to a friends house. Pack it tight so that nothing is tied-on or dangling on the outside. Show him how, but make sure he does the packing himself.
• Pretend that he’s camping one weekend indoors... leave a bedroom window open, have him sleep in a sleeping bag on his bed, make him get changed while lying down in his bed or in his sleeping bag (like he’s inside a tent that’s too small to stand up in), make him use his flashlight when he goes to bed (no lights!), and keep track of all his stuff without a “gear explosion” around the room (everything’s got to be in his duffle, at least somewhat orderly... like “used” clothes separated from “good” clothes). If he’s really adventurous and you’ve got a good ground-pad for insulation from the ground, let him try it outside in the back yard on a cold but weather-free night.
• If you’ve got a small tent he can practice setting up in the basement, go for it! Then make him take it down and pack it up right. If he’s good at that, do it in the dark with only a flashlight!
• Some boys get weirded out by their first experience with a pit-toilet latrine, or with "taking a dump in the woods." Some even try to "hold it" for the weekend - Ugh! Help prepare your son by pretending that the bathroom is a really stinky latrine. Spray something smelly like perfume around in it. Have him go to the bathroom while holding his nose and "squatting" over the toilet rather than using the seat. Take him camping to a site that only has pit toilets and show him how you do it.
• Camping trips come in all kinds of weather. A few times on "bad weather" days, dress in non-cotton clothes and rain gear, good boots or tennies with warm socks. Pack up a bookbag backpack with a thermos of hot soup and a water bottle and some munchies, and go for a 2-3 hour hike somewhere fun.... a local park perhaps, or just exploring all the secret paths around your neighborhood. Have lunch/soup while standing out in the rain, or maybe under a park shelter. Tromp through any mud you can find on the way home. Stay cheerful, treating adversity and challenge as adventure!