Kids love to get things. Badges, belt-loops, patches, pins, emblems, certificates, levels, prizes, trinkets. You name it, they love to collect them. I’m going to call them all badge-type awards throughout the site from here on out to keep confusion down.
The trick in scouting is using this love to inspire the kids to learn and grow into the amazing adults we know they have the potential to be.
Scouting programs are not intended to give kids a reward for every single thing they do. But isn’t it better to focus on why it’s awesome to EARN the rewards.
Some things take multiple meetings to earn. Some you can earn in a one hour meeting. Others require kids to do something at home that can’t be done at a meeting.
Most like to do the quick badges because you can get more. A lot of leaders love doing so and filling up their uniform with the badge-type awards to show how much the scout has done. But just doing things isn’t the same as experience, learning, and earning. Showing up to a meeting is different than participating. It’s important as a leader to find out where that line of difference it and try not to cross it. A few participation badges is okay, but don’t fill the year up with them. It makes the other ones lose their value in the eyes of the child and parent.
I once heard a complaint from a parent once that earning 8 badge-type awards in a single year was too few. If you’re expecting a badge-type award per meeting, I could see how that would be too few. But if your kid is learning a skill, do they really learn it in a single hour, 90 minutes, or even a two hour meeting? Practice makes perfect. No one expects perfect skills to earn a scouting badge-type award. But sometimes you have to have multiple meetings to get something down.
I’ve taught wood working skill in two one hour meetings. We had to do a lot of pre-prep for the kids and they missed out on a lot of things because of the stream-line and rush. The kids earned the badge-type award, but not a single one of them could recreate the project we did. They knew the general idea, none of them felt they knew what they were doing or could tell someone else how to do it. But another group where we did a super Saturday to get most of it done and followed up with a single meeting to do another coat of varnish – those kids were far more excited to take their projects home and could eagerly explain how they made it. They treasured those boxes. I’m pretty sure the other boys tossed theirs in the charity pile to take to a local Goodwill or Salvation Army before the next year was done.
At the end of the day, Juliette Gordon Low (Girl Scout founder) said it best. “Badges are not medals to wear on your sleeve to show what a smart [kid] you are. A badge is a symbol that you have done the thing it stands for often enough, thoroughly enough, and well enough to be prepared to give service in it. You wear that badge to let people know that you are prepared and willing to be called on…”
So if a scout has a badge-type award, they should be able to point to it and tell what they did to earn it. If they learned how to do something (and not went on a field trip, participated in a fundraiser, etc.), they should be able to teach someone else the basics of that badge-type award as well.
The more skill needed for the badge, the longer it takes. The more steps a badge has, the more complicated it can get for a leader to try and teach it in an engaging manner and keep the interest of the kids. Motivation is hard to keep going when you have only two meetings a month and it takes 4 meetings to earn a badge-type award.
Try to stagger the long ones between quick ones. Sometimes ones that take 6-9 meetings can be helped by taking a break or two in the middle of it to earn a badge in an hour. Or do an extended meeting as a super Saturday to break up the pace and do a medium time needed badge in a day while you spend the meetings on the long one. Or only do the long ones on a super Saturday and keep meetings to medium and short ones alternating.
Again, you know your own limits and the personality and interest of your kids. Learn what you can, stay honest, but don’t get caught up on all the technicalities. Some kids don’t care about the badges at all, just the activities it takes to earn them.
KISMIF – Keep it Simple, Make it Fun. Whether they earn badge-type awards or not, as long as the kids are engaged, enjoying scout meetings, and keeping to the values of the scouting group – it doesn’t matter that much.