Scouting Program Archives: Hobbies Troop Program Feature

Hobbies Troop Program Feature

Here’s a chance for Scouts to show off their hobbies and for those who don’t have a hobby to find one. The merit badge program offers a wide variety of hobby interests, and the Scouts in your troop could have an opportunity to explore some of these programs at a hobby show or with an individual hobbyist.

Even though the feature this month deals with hobbies, the patrol leaders’ council will want to plan an overnight outing for the troop. Scouts working on Tenderfoot through First Class ranks still need the opportunity to be outdoors.

Find the complete plans for the Hobbies Troop Program Feature on the BSA website.

Caption Contest Gathering Activity

Last week I posted a gathering activity called “When I Was Young” which works well with a photography or camera theme. Another idea for your gathering activities for these themes is to have a caption contest.

Find some photos which are absurd or unusual. These can be photos from your past events or you can even pose some photos.  Put the photos on display at your meeting or banquet with slips of paper next to them.  Put a container next to each photo for the caption. During the gathering time, the Scouts should look at each photo and write a silly caption for it. Then they should put the caption in the container.

After the meeting or banquet starts, have a few parents or youth leaders go through the captions and pick the best three or so for each photo. Then at some time during the event, display each photo with a projector and read the best captions. You can do all of the photos at once or you can just do one at a time to break between other activities.

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Papier-Mache for Kids

Purchasing information: Papier-Mache for Kids

From the publisher:

“Step-by-step, easy instructions show how to make pigs, cats, masks, monsters and more. Eight great projects in all! Everyone has the basic ingredients for papier-mâché around the house – newspaper, flour and water – and everyone can do this creative, satisfying craft that allows you to build big, small, crazy and decorative sculpture.

More than 150 color pictures guide you through the steps and show lots of variations on the results. Try it – it’s fun!”

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80-Piece Deluxe Art Set

Purchasing information: Darice 80-Piece Deluxe Art Set

From the manufacturer:
  • 80-piece deluxe art set including art supplies for drawing, painting and more
  • Includes color pencils, oil pastels, watercolor cakes, paintbrushes, pencils, and accessories
  • Provides an artist with a wide range of materials in a compact, portable case
  • Case is wood with snap-shut handle

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Making Amazing Art: 40 Activities Using the 7 Elements of Art Design

Purchasing inforamtion: Making Amazing Art: 40 Activities Using the 7 Elements of Art Design (Williamson Kids Can! Series)

From the author:

“This book is suitable for ages 7 to 13 years. Sandi Henry introduces children to the seven basic elements of design that will help them to take a piece of art from ‘That’s Nice’ to ‘Wow!’. These elements – line, shape, form, colour, value, texture, and space – are the building blocks that all artists use to create works from drawings and paintings to weaving and sculpture.

Readers will see examples of how children of their own age use elements of design in their work. And they will meet classic masters and contemporary artists whose individual works are based upon these same design techniques.

  • Grid Drawing – using a grid to divide images into smaller parts to reproduce a photograph or painting;
  • Cut-out Collage – using free-form shapes cut from construction paper to create a colourful collage;
  • Texture Rubbing – using the bumps, grooves, lines and other patterns to add interesting visual texture to artwork;
  • Complementary Colour Puzzle – cutting and gluing shapes of complementary colours to create a striking abstract design; and,
  • Supersize It! – using a papier-mache to create an enlarged version of a common object.”

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Tips for Setting Up a Hobby Fair

As part of the Hobbies Troop Program Feature for Boy Scouts, the Scouts will conduct a hobby fair to show of each Scout’s particular hobby. Here are some things Scouts might want to consider when organzing and setting up the fair.

Secure a Location Well in Advance

Do this as soon as you start planning the fair. Check with your chartered organization to see if they have a suitable space for you. You could also try a local community center, school, or church. You might have to be a little flexible with your dates also.

You can also consider doing your fair in conjunction with another event. For example, I used be our science fair coordinator for our school. Even though we usually had about 10 participants, there was not a good space in the school to set up the fair. So we did it in the spring during one of the parish fish fries. This had several purposes. First, it let us have a good area in the gym. Second, it gave it more of an “event” feel than just setting it up in the gym some day when it wasn’t in use. And third, it gave the kids a chance to show off their work to a larger community, which was good. They deserved it after all of the work they put into their projects.

Send Out Some Guidelines

Make sure everyone is on the same page beforehand. How much space will be allotted for each display? Set up one of the tables you will be using beforehand and decide how many displays will go on each table. Then measure off the space which will be available to each person. Set some ground rules. Will liquids be allowed? What about batteries and electronic devices? And check with the location you are using. Do they have any rules you need to pass along.

Set Up Some Tables

Have some tables set up before people start bringing in their displays. If there will be multiple displays on a table, mark off each person’s “territory” with masking tape. Put a label in each space with a name or number to indicate who will be using that specific space.


If you will be having a contest with some sort of judging, have scoring sheets with the criteria ready. Contact your judges in advance and give them the scoring sheets. You might also provide sample scoring sheets to the participants well beforehand. Sometimes knowing what the criteria are will result in better displays. What criteria should you use? That is up to you. Things like attractiveness of the display, originality, and presentation (if you are letting them give a brief talk to the judges) are often used. You can also have different categories – like best collection, most unusual hobby, outdoor hobbies, etc. On the day of the event, tell everyone involved a specific time when judging will begin so they are all ready.


Definitely recognize those who did an outstanding job, but try to recognize the efforts of all at the same time. Everyone worked hard on their display so it might be nice to hand out certificates to all of the participants. Or you could do something similar to a science fair, where everyone gets a ribbon, but the color is based on how well the met the judging criteria.

Clean Up

Make sure you have a clean up plan beforehand. Have enough people lined up to take down tables and put the space back the way it was before you started.

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Crossing the Alligator Pit Game

For the Hobbies Troop Program feature, the plans for the Troop outdoor program suggest playing a game called “Crossing the Alligator Pit” as a patrol competition.

This is a very challenging game which combines lashing skills and teamwork. It would also work well  for an interpatrol activity at a meeting focused on pioneering skills.

Here is how you play:

Crossing the Alligator Pit

Equipment (per patrol)

  • Some method of marking an area on the ground – string, chalk, etc. depending on the surface
  • 3 spars, each about 6 feet long
  • 3 sections of rope for lashing, each about 6 feet long
  • 4 sections of cord or sturdy string for use as guy lines


  1. Mark the “alligator pit” on the ground. It should be 20 feet from one side to the other. Make it wide enough so that the patrols can line up along one side with a few feet between each patrol.
  2. The patrols start lined up on one side of the pit.
  3. Give them a signal to start.
  4. The patrols should lash their spars together into a a-frame shape. The program helps suggest a shear lashing at the top and diagonal lashings for the crossbar.
  5. Attach the four guy lines near the top lashing.
  6. Stand the construction up. One Scout stands on the crossbar. Four additional Scouts use the guy lines to prevent it from tipping over.
  7. The Scout on the crossbar then “walks” the structure across the alligator pit, with the four Scouts on the guy lines keeping their lines taut to keep in from tipping over.
  8. The first patrol to successfully cross the pit wins.
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Tips for a Great Table Top Display

Table top displays are a way to show off a  hobby, collection, event, or other project. Or you can showcase your unit’s program. As part of the Hobbies Troop Program Feature for Boy Scouts, table top displays are used in a hobby fair to show of each Scout’s particular hobby. In addition, for several of the Venturing awards, Venturers must create a table top display.

Table top displays are not just for Scouting though. Creating displays for Scouting projects will help Scouts later when they need to create displays for school projects, science fairs, and even later in life for business.

So how do you create a great tabletop display? Here are some ideas to get you started.

Tips for a Great Table Top Display

Know the Rules

First of all, find out what sort of limitations will be placed on your display. Don’t assume you will be allowed unlimited space. Find out what the maximum width, depth, and height of your display can be. Must all of your display be attached to a board, or can you place loose items on the table. Are perishable items like food allowed? What about batteries or liquids?

Obtain a Display Board

For most displays, you will want a display board. You don’t need to purchase an expensive business quality board. Look for an inexpensive tri-fold presentation display board like this one. Just make sure it meet the rules. Having the display board in hand before you start creating stuff to put on it will give you a solid idea how much space you have to work with.

Organize Your Thoughts

The material on your display board should be organized into different sections. These sections should have brief descriptions which catch the viewer’s attention. For example, if you are making a display about Leave No Trace, you might have a section for each principle – “Dispose of Waste Properly”, “Leave What You Find”, “Minimize Campfire Impacts”, etc. A display for a science project would be completely different. It might have sections like “Problem”, “Hypothesis”, “Background”, etc.

So you need to come up with your own way of organizing the material. About six to ten different sections works well for most displays. But be flexible and do what works best for your particular project.

Type It Up

After you organize your thoughts, type up a heading for each section and then the material.  Your heading font should be really large so it catches the eye. The material under each heading should be in a large enough font that most people standing in front of the display can read it without leaning forward or squinting.

You might have to do some trial and error to get the sections printed up correctly so they fit on the board. If you have additional information you want to make available, but it in a report and place it on the table in front of the display. (You might want to attach it to a long string so it doesn’t wander off.) Just be aware that most people won’t pick up the report, so get your main ideas on the display.

A Picture Speaks a Thousand Words

Depending on the rules and what information you are trying to convey, you might not be able to use physical objects to share your ideas. But you can often use pictures. If you are creating a display to recruit new Scouts and it lists some of your great activities, add lots of pictures.

Use Color for Impact

Add construction paper boarders to your typed information and section headings. One way to do this is to print the material with wide margins, cut off some of the margins, and mount it on the construction paper. Add boarders to your photos also. If your display still lacks impact, add some brightly colored shapes with key words neatly written on them.

Be Prepared

You’ve completed your display. It looks great. You take it to your location, set it up, and on no! Something has fallen off. Take some glue, tape, string etc with you in case you need to make last minute repairs. You probably won’t need it, but you will be glad you made the extra effort if you do.

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Tips for Starting a Collection

There are several Scouting achievements related to collecting. For example:

So how do you start a collection? Here are some tips to get started.

  1. Decide what interests you. This might seem obvious, but sometimes it is the hardest step. You might be drawn to items which are frequently collected such as stamps, coins, or trading cards. On the other hand, maybe those don’t interest you. Look around your room. Is there something you have  a few of? Maybe you can find more. Your collection doesn’t have to be all the same type of object. It could be different types of objects which share a common theme, such as a group of items related to your favorite sports team or movie.
  2. Don’t decide to collect things which are expensive or difficult to obtain. Sure, I’d like to have a diamond collection also, but it doesn’t seem practical. That doesn’t mean you have to choose something which you can make a collection of with ease, but it should be something which you can reasonable add to every month.
  3. Check with your parents. You might want to make sure that they are willing to provide you space to keep your collection. And they will have other considerations about the wisdom of what you are considering collecting. Maybe your mom isn’t so wild about you keeping a live bug collection in your room. And she might remind you that the bugs are better off in their natural environment anyway.
  4. Consider collecting something unique. If you want to stand out and get some attention, collect something really strange. Sometimes these are the most inexpensive things to collect also. I once saw a collection of gum wrappers which was nicely categorized and displayed.
  5. Make a nice display. As mentioned in #4, a nice display really makes a big difference when viewing a collection. Label the items and give a little history or extra explanation if possible. What makes a single item in the collection special. Your collection will hold the viewer’s interest longer if the display is organized, informative, and easy to view.
  6. Know how to store your collection. Do some research and find out how to store your collection so it is preserved over time. This is especially important with delicate items, like stamps or pressed flowers.
  7. Keep collecting. It is OK to start with just a few items if you continue to add to it over time. It might be good to set a goal for yourself like “I will add at least one new item every month.”
  8. Network with other collectors. If you can find other people who collect similar objects, then you might be able to swap items and increase your collection. Local hobby clubs might have fairs you can attend. Remember safety though and never contact another individual without your parents’ permission and knowledge.
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Hobbies Troop Program Feature for Boy Scouts

BSA provides  troop program feature guides as a resource for Boy Scout troops. A PLC can use these guides to plan a series of meetings and outings around a single theme. My post Troop Program Features for Meetings and Outings has  more information about these guides.

The Boy Scout Roundtable Planning Guide suggests a Hobbies feature for December 2011. So this month we’ll take a look at this feature in more depth. Some of the ideas in this program feature will also be useful to Cub Scouts and Venturers who are working on hobbies related programs. The Hobbies program feature can be found in Volume 2 of the Troop Program Features.

Remember to let the youth leadership use these as a starting point for planning their troop program. If they want to use the program guides, the don’t have to follow them to the letter. Instead they should create a plan which fits their unit.

The Hobbies program feature provides 4 troop meeting plans and an outdoor program plan. At the meetings, younger Scouts can work on their early rank requirements. It suggests that older Scouts investigate the Collections merit badge, although there are other hobby related merit badges which could be worked into the troop program. The meetings culminate in a hobby show where Scouts can display all of their hobbies. The outdoor program plan is a campout with interpatrol games. There is really no hobbies focus to the outdoor activity. As the program plan states:

Here’s a chance for your Scouts to show off their hobbies and for those who don’t have a hobby to find one. The merit badge program offers a wide variety of hobby interests, and the Scouts in your troop could have an opportunity to explore some of these programs at a hobby show or with an individual hobbyist.

Even though the feature this month deals with hobbies, the patrol leaders’ council will want to plan an overnight outing for the troop. Scouts working on Tenderfoot through First Class ranks still need the opportunity to be outdoors.

I will look at some of the ideas and activities for this program feature in more depth in a few more posts this month.

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Chess Merit Badge for Boy Scouts

The new Chess merit badge for Boy Scouts was just launched a few weeks ago. DS is especially excited about this badge. He has always loved chess.

My husband has just put in his paperwork to be registered as a chess merit badge counselor. The Boy Scout troop is doing a lock-in at our charted organization in December.  On Sunday morning they will be doing a service project by setting up for a blood drive. But there is nothing planned for the rest of the event yet. If my husband’s merit badge counselor application is approved by then, maybe some of the Scouts will be interested in working on the Chess merit badge.

Chess Merit Badge Requirements

  1. Discuss with your merit badge counselor the history of the game of chess. Explain why it is considered a game of planning and strategy.
  2. Discuss with your merit badge counselor the following:
    1. The benefits of playing chess, including developing critical thinking skills, concentration skills, and decision-making skills, and how these skills can help you in other areas of your life
    2. Sportsmanship and chess etiquette
  3. Demonstrate to your counselor that you know each of the following. Then, using Scouting’s Teaching EDGE, teach the following to a Scout who does not know how to play chess:
    1. The name of each chess piece
    2. How to set up a chessboard
    3. How each chess piece moves, including castling and en passant captures
  4. Do the following:
    1. Demonstrate scorekeeping using the algebraic system of chess notation.
    2. Discuss the differences between the opening, the middle game, and the endgame.
    3. Explain four opening principles.
    4. Explain the four rules for castling.
    5. On a chessboard, demonstrate a “scholar’s mate” and a “fool’s mate.”
    6. Demonstrate on a chessboard four ways a chess game can end in a draw.
  5. Do the following:
    1. Explain four of the following elements of chess strategy: exploiting weaknesses, force, king safety, pawn structure, space, tempo, time.
    2. Explain any five of these chess tactics: clearance sacrifice, decoy, discovered attack, double attack, fork, interposing, overloading, overprotecting, pin, remove the defender, skewer, zwischenzug.
    3. Set up a chessboard with the white king on e1, the white rooks on a1 and h1, and the black king on e5. With White to move first, demonstrate how to force checkmate on the black king.
    4. Set up and solve five direct-mate problems provided by your merit badge counselor.
  6. Do ONE of the following:
    1. Play at least three games of chess with other Scouts and/or your merit badge counselor. Replay the games from your score sheets and discuss with your counselor how you might have played each game differently.
    2. Play in a scholastic (youth) chess tournament and use your score sheets from that tournament to replay your games with your merit badge counselor. Discuss with your counselor how you might have played each game differently.
    3. Organize and run a chess tournament with at least four players, plus you. Have each competitor play at least two games.
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Chess Theme for Scouts

This month I am featuring a Chess theme in honor of the launch of the new Chess merit badge. Chess is a game which requires the player to focus, analyze, and think ahead.  So this month I will feature awards related to chess as well as some aids to meet the requirements and some fun ways to help beginners learn the game.

While the theme is called a “Cub Scout” chess theme, chess is fun for all ages. So  information in this theme can be used with:

I’ll post the Chess merit badge requirements tomorrow in case you haven’t seen them yet.

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Troop Program Features – Program Planning

My son JD is the new Senior Patrol Leader for our troop. He is currently putting his leadership team together. Then they will have to dive right into program planning. One thing which can help with this is the BSA troop program features.

If the youth leadership for your Boy Scout troop hasn’t looked into these, I suggest you make them aware of them. You can find the program helps for these features on the BSA website.

Volume 1 starts out with a section about program planning which is very helpful and is geared to the Scoutmaster and the youth leadership, to teach them how the planning process is supposed to work. I think some people might say that Step 1 should be more carried out by the SPL than the Scoutmaster, but this is straight from BSA.

Want to learn more about working with youth leadership? This is a great book to help:
A Scout Leader’s Guide to Youth Leadership Training: Working the Patrol Method

Read My Review of this book

This first section breaks the planning process into several steps :

Do your homework – The Scoutmaster finds out about important council and district calendar dates, making a list of available resources, reviewing scout advancement,  making a list of possible goals, and thinking about what program features the troop could feasibly do. The Scoutmaster is then supposed to go to the troop committee to review what he or she has put together.  Then the Scoutmaster meets with the SPL and ASPL to communicate the information he or she has gathered.

Get Patrol Input – The SPL and ASPL take charge of planning with the patrol leaders.

Annual Program Planning Conference – The SPL and ASPL, under the guidance of the Scoutmaster, lay out a long term plan for the troop. The BSA document includes a sample agenda and some forms to help out. So if the Scouters and youth leadership in your troop are not familiar with these documents, I suggest you check them out.

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Music Merit Badge for Boy Scouts

With all of the holiday concerts this time of year, some of your Scouts might want to work on the Music merit badge.

Most of the options for requirement 3 are doable for Scouts.  If they are a member of a school or church musical group, they can count that as one of the options for requirement 4. And if they go to a pack meeting or den meeting, they will probably find leaders willing to let them teach Cub Scouts three songs and then lead the Cubs in song.

In any case, if they like to sing or play an instrument, a Music merit badge counselor will be able to help them work out how to earn this badge.

Music Merit Badge Requirements

  1. Sing or play a simple song or hymn chosen by your counselor using good technique, phrasing, tone, rhythm, and dynamics.. Read all the signs and terms of the score.
  2. Name the five general groups of musical instruments. Create an illustration that shows how tones are generated and how instruments produce sound.
  3. Do TWO of the following:
    1. Attend a live performance, or listen to three hours of recordings from any two of the following musical styles: blues, jazz, classical, country, bluegrass, ethnic, gospel, musical theater, opera. Describe the sound of the music and the instruments used. Identify the composers or songwriters, the performers, and the titles of the pieces you heard. If it was a live performance, describe the setting and the reaction of the audience. Discuss your thoughts about the music.
    2. Interview an adult member of your family about music. Find out what the most popular music was when he or she was your age. Find out what his or her favorite music is now, and listen to three of your relative’s favorite tunes with him or her. How do those favorites sound to you? Had you ever heard any of them? Play three of your favorite songs for your relative, and explain why you like these songs. Ask what he or she thinks of your favorite music.
    3. Serve for six months as a member of a school band, choir, or other organized musical group; or perform as a soloist in public six times.
    4. List five people who are important in the history of American music and explain to your counselor why they continue to be influential. Include at least one composer, one performer, one innovator, and one person born more than 100 years ago.
  4. Do ONE of the following:
    1. Teach three songs to a group of people. Lead them in singing the songs, using proper hand motions.
    2. Compose and write the score for a piece of music of 12 measures or more, and play this music on an instrument.
    3. Make a traditional instrument and learn to play it.
    4. Catalog your own or your family’s collection of 12 or more compact discs, tapes, records, or other recorded music. Show how to handle and store them.


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Pets Merit Badge for Boy Scouts

This is a good merit badge to recommend to your Scouts with pets.  For those who are already taking care of their pets, it gives them some recognition for their efforts. For those who aren’t caring for their pets yet, it give them a little motivation to step in and take some of that responsibility from mom and dad.

Our local Humane Society puts on a skill center for this merit badge once or twice a year. It always fills up quickly.

Pets Merit Badge Requirements

  1. Present evidence that you have cared for a pet for four months. Get approval before you start.*
  2. Write in 200 words or more about the care, feeding, and housing of your pet. Tell some interesting facts about it. Tell why you have this kind of pet. Give local laws, if any, relating to the pet you keep.
  3. Show that you have read a book or pamphlet, approved by your counselor, about your kind of pet.
  4. Do any ONE of the following:
    1.  Show your pet in some pet show.
    2.  Start a friend raising a pet like yours. Help your friend get a good start.
    3.  Train a pet in three or more tricks or special abilities.

* Work done for other merit badges cannot be used for this requirement.

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Troop Program Features for Meetings and Outings

Boy Scout program features let a troop to plan its meetings around a theme. The Scoutmaster Handbook suggests that these be used on a monthly basis, but when our troop has used them it hasn’t stuck to that plan. Sometimes they have used a feature a couple of weeks in a row. At other times, they have taken two similar features, like camping and wilderness survival, and combined them for a four or five week plan.

The program features include meeting plans and a outing plan. There are some examples in the Scoutmaster Handbook, but the complete set is available from via the links below. Remember, Boy Scouts is a youth run program, so don’t just hand them the plans and say “This is what we are doing this month.” Instead, let them look through the plans and use them as a basis for coming up with their own plan. They can choose the parts they think will work for your troop, throw out the parts they think are “lame”, and add their own ideas.

You can find the program helps for these features on the BSA website.

The program features are

  • Aquatics
  • Athletics
  • Backpacking
  • Boating and Canoeing
  • Business
  • Camping
  • Citizenship
  • Communications
  • Cooking
  • Cultural Awareness
  • Emergency Preparedness
  • Engineering
  • Environment
  • First Aid
  • Fishing
  • Forestry
  • Health Care
  • High Adventure
  • Hiking
  • Hobbies
  • Leadership
  • Mechanics
  • Nature
  • Orienteering
  • Physical Fitness
  • Pioneering
  • Public Service
  • Safety
  • Science
  • Shooting
  • Special Cooking
  • Sports
  • Tracking
  • Wilderness Survival
  • Wildlife Management
  • Winter Camping
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