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What makes the best first merit badge for a Boy Scout to earn?

There’s no official recommended order for earning merit badges.

Other than badges with prerequisites (example: Scouts must earn the First Aid MB before earning the Emergency Preparedness MB), Scouts can start anywhere they like.

So Boy Scouts are free to lead off with Leatherwork, begin with Bugling or start with Swimming.

But what if a Scout approaches you, as a parent or Scout leader, for advice on where to begin? That list of 136 different merit badges might be a welcome smorgasbord to some Scouts but an overwhelming hurdle to others.

For today’s Tuesday Talkback, please read and respond to this letter from Scouter David West: 

Few boys join Boy Scouts understanding what merit badges are or how to earn them, but hopefully that changes with the new Arrow of Light requirements. With more than 130 options, Scouts often don’t know where to start. I’d love to see comments from experienced merit badge counselors who can argue their subject should be the first merit badge a new Scout earns.

– David West

201 Comments on What makes the best first merit badge for a Boy Scout to earn?

  1. !st Aid

    • I always wonder who thumbs down a comment here. A substantive disagreement I would understand but without comment seems pointless.

      Us troop 73 scoutmasters have to stick together.

      • Melissa Iturria // January 26, 2016 at 9:58 am // Reply

        I didn’t rate the comment but please refer to my reply further down about the First Aid merit badge and why it should not be the first one they earn.

        • I wholeheartedly agree that first aid requires a bit of maturity. My point is that people thumbs down an idea without elaborating. I would like to know why someone disagrees.

        • It is interesting that so many have strong opinions about First Aid, if the Cub Master and Den Leaders do their job as leaders – any cub scout entering a troop will have had Ready man which is very similar to most of the rank requirements but not exact. If the boy attended cub resident camps or day camps he would have been exposed three or four time at least to basic first aid, CPR, Hurry Cases, he would already have a first aid kit etc. My son is a recent cross over and maybe he is “mature for his age” or what have you, but I don ‘t think he should miss a year of merit badge Universities to wait for summer camp to do first aid. What a great winter merit badge and at summer camp do outdoor activities bird, mammal or hiking/cooking/camping. Let the boy decide and let the boy excel, raise expectations and you will raise great young mem.

    • 1st Aid and Swimming are often the ones suggested, but I disagree on first aid. First-year scouts in general do not grasp all the first aid advancement and MB requirements beyond repeating what they’ve been told/showed. They don’t remember much of it a day or two later. It becomes simply a stamping of requirements to get the badge rather than actually earn and learn the content.

      • Chuck Hansen // January 26, 2016 at 10:49 am // Reply

        Interesting point on how much younger Scouts retain from First Aid. Some of that may be age and maturity, and some of that may be delivery method and lack of repetition.

        I recently saw a half-day First Aid MB class that was so poorly taught at a merit badge rally that the boys were unable to explain what they learned three hours later. Granted, the BSA’s emphasis with merit badges is that boys learn the process rather than master a skill, but this is a key skill that gets referenced repeatedly in advancement and is key to being prepared in an emergency situation.

        First Aid MB taught in multiple sessions with multiple opportunities to practice coupled with regular skill repetition at Scout meetings will go a long way towards retention. So does added age and maturity.

        • Keith Rands // July 15, 2016 at 9:41 am //

          With the new requirements in WEBELOS the scout will be exposed to first aid so the natural progression would be to continue with First Aid MB, Then emergency preparedness. Also if the boy crosses over closr to summer camp swimming is an excellent MB to do also with outdoor ones. Start small and easy then progress to more complex ones as to not frustrate to boy.

      • If you use the older scouts to teach the younger scouts, a merit badge like this, it gets reinforced every time they pass on the information. Inviting local Webelos to a Troop meeting where the scouts help the cubs complete Readyman teaches both groups.

    • KC Harling, Venturing Crew 32, OCVOA // January 27, 2016 at 10:03 am // Reply

      For both of my brothers, it was the First Aid merit badge. This is a requirement for many other merit badges down the road. For all those worries about how much they retain, remember that each rank requires they work on parts of it. The other thing is this is the perfect badge to practice EDGE with WEBELOS. The best way to remember is to teach.

    • I would respectfuly disagree that First Aid be first. First aid is a perishable yet challenging skill. While there are many requirements for the lower ranks, and our boys get the basics, the retention of an 11 year old is lower and in turn I recommend that the boy take it as they get to their first summer camp or even sometime around making First Class.

      More importantly, taking and succeeding in any Eagle required badge at such a young age really might highlight that the program is too lax. The coveted Eagle badges should be earned and the proficiency in first aid with such limited training is impossible. I read a comment below by a parent where the logic was “if they do the first aid badge, they knock out all of the first aid requirements for rank. Scouting should not be about checking boxes or knocking out requirements – it should be able learning life skills and becoming men of character.

      Ask your son what he wants to take, guide and coach him to take badges he can be successful at and allow him to succeed. Recognize that scouting is like other learning opportunities. Success drives more success so getting the easy ones like fingerprinting or basketry show how the process works, so that they can focus on skills and not the process as they tackle harder badges later.

      • H. David Pendleton // July 15, 2016 at 9:56 am // Reply

        There are no age requirements for a MB. A Scout can take any MB from the time they cross over until the day before their 18th birthday. A big part of the issue is that many units issue blue cards w/o the Scout going through the process of being counseled by a SM/ASM when they want the Blue Card. The SM/ASM should talk with the Scout to help them decide if they are truly ready to take that particular MB. For many, the First Aid MB may not be the right 1st one but I had a Webelos that took an 8-hour First Aid course with his Mother who needed it to do Girl Scouts with his sister. If that Scout had asked me to sign a blue card for First Aid the day he crossed over, I would have done so.

        My son and I had a long discussion about the MBs, especially the Eagle required ones and in what order to earn them. His 1st summer camp, he did mainly those at the ecology & arts/crafts lodges. He worked his way up to the ones that required the 90-day charts. That is the discussion my son should have been having with his SM/ASM and not me.

        • Scuba Diving merit badge has a de-facto age requirement, as most instructors will not work with anyone under 14; all the camps I’ve looked at that offer it have a minimum age of 14 as well.

    • Health, be prepared and camp are basics.

    • Joe Caragher // March 12, 2016 at 7:46 pm // Reply

      In my opinion it is First Aid, and it isn’t close. What is the first requirement for most of the other merit badges? First aid question concerning potential injuries from engaging in that activity. I don’t accept the notion that age matters at all. Personal Management, yes. First Aid, absolutely not. And the issue of how it is taught, merit badge counselor should be qualified. If not, I’d pull my boys out and reschedule with one who is.

    • A merit badge that is in the area of the young Scout’s interest. For example, one of my sons was visiting the Jamboree and was invited to participate in the Railroading Merit Badge class. He had (still has) tremendous interest in trains…starting as a little boy playing with Brio and Thomas the Tank Engine. The badge was a great fit for him. He went on to earn 29, and Eagle.

    • I just had two Webelos scouts bridge to a troop and their scoutmaster encouraged them to begin the Personal Fitness MB. I see a lot of benefits to this as an enrtry badge:

      1) The new Scout probably already understands a little bit about exercise and the concepts aren’t alien to him.

      2) It reinforces “physically strong”

      3) Eagle required MB

      4) It can be done concurrently with the 2016 junior rank personal fitness assessments.

      5) It can be done anywhere and doesn’t distract from learning the new concepts of a troop.

      6) It’s a longer MB to finish so the scout understands the work/time investment and the payoff from their efforts. It can still be finished in a single quarter if it’s timed properly.

      7) Gets the Part C physical knocked out early.

    • I disagree with doing First Aid Merit Badge First. Here is why.
      Retention of this merit badge is very very important. If this is the very first merit badge they learn chances are low that they will retain everything they learned. First Aid must be practiced and refreshed to keep it relevant.

      You have scout rank requirements to learn the basics first aid.
      You have other merit badges that discuss first aid and safety requirements for the specific badge.
      You have campouts and camporees that teach or emphasis first aid.

      If you allow your scout to experience those first.
      By the time they are a second year or third year scout and do the first aid merit badge, They can retain the knowledge much better thus being better prepared to handle an emergency first aid issue in the future.

      Why rush such an important Eagle Merit Badge by putting it as the very first badge they learn.

      Let their first badge be something FUN and ENTERTAINING. Get them hooked on having a good time with merit badges first. Many of the Eagle Merit Badges take a deeper sense of dedication to learning vs FUN.

  2. I think it should be one that interests them and not necessarily a “required” one. If they learn about something that they are really interested in and they see what work is required to earn the badge, the rest will fall into place.

  3. Donald Bayconich Sr // January 26, 2016 at 8:15 am // Reply

    First Aid and Swimming

    • Agree. Scouts can be alot of fun and finding an interest is personally gratifying. If they start on one less fun, it can instill a negative impact and dreading earning the rest. My son is Star and has earned over 75 so far. He mixes fun with less fun to balance it out. He is more hands on so we research the badges and instructors before he signs up.

  4. Kevin Provost // January 26, 2016 at 8:18 am // Reply

    after Brown sea I recommend that they take 1st Aid

  5. Seeing as you need no merit badges at all for ranks Scout to First Class, minimal emphasis should be put on merit badges for new scouts. The first merit badge should be whatever interests them at summer camp.

    • Chuck, Buffalo with Wings // January 28, 2016 at 8:37 am // Reply

      I agree completely with one addition. I SUGGEST working on the swimming badge in their first few months also gives them the skill qualification required for their first summer camp, without the last-minute pressure to get them ready in time. Boys who don’t know how to swim will then have an incentive, and knowledge retention isn’t a problem.
      In general, when at summer camp the boys SHOULD take what they want. The easier badges allow them to have fun and give a sense of accomplishment without the pressure of a “required” badge. It is a good orientation to gratification after working harder than they did as cubs, which is another point of having the badges.
      In practice, the aviation badge is the first earned for the roughly 60 boys I can place on Experimental Aircraft Association Young Eagles flights, usually because I do these in the earliest months after crossover. Not everyone gets the opportunity, but boys who have taken my class told me some years down the line that it was their first and favorite class.

      • Chuck, Buffalo with Wings // January 28, 2016 at 8:45 am // Reply

        Something I should add to my own comment: craft-related and easier badges also provide a lot of confidence and sense of accomplishment and belonging for boys with special needs, especially for those with attention deficit and learning disabilities. This is an important step toward their learning the tougher badges. I know of two Eagle scouts who started with pottery, art, fingerprinting, basketry, pet care and the such

        • Melissa // July 15, 2016 at 9:24 am //

          Are you anywhere near SE Tennessee? 🙂

    • I completely agree! My son’s first merit badge (three months after he crossed over) was Robotics. He was completely engaged and enjoyed it. (Of course he wishes it was required for Eagle and there were 20 other merit badge versions of Robotics. 🙂 )

  6. While First Aid and Swimming are good choices, you want the new Scout to have something to show for his work, as he did in Cub Scouts. I recommend during summer camp that they take craft related merit badges. They end up with a product they can take home to show the parents and have started their merit badge collection.

    • I would agree that they should work on things that they did in cubs. But Cub scouts should also be teaching first aid (ReadyMan) . They would have been exposed to most of the requirements already in cubs. When I was the Webelos Den Leader my patrol worked on first aid games and such.

  7. Brian Woznicki // January 26, 2016 at 8:23 am // Reply

    If the scout has an existing hobby, there is likely to be a corresponding Merit Badge. That could be a good place to start.

  8. MomOf2Scouts // January 26, 2016 at 8:23 am // Reply

    The 1st few should be the fun and easier ones from Summer Camp.
    Once they have 1st Class Rank, I suggest First Aid, as it seems to be a requirement for many of the other Merit Badges.

  9. Several years ago, I would have said First Aid. It just seemed logical (and important). But since then, I’ve run across too many younger Scouts who didn’t have the maturity to adequately complete the MB.

    I think it’s important that the first MB is one they can complete on their own (not in some stuffy classroom setting), is in a subject that they enjoy, and can be accomplished relatively quickly. So I’d say MBs like Chess, Leatherwork, Basketry, or Music should be the first MB.

    • As Leaders First Aid should be taught and taught again each year by the scouts. The older teaching the younger. Earn it young and then they can start teaching it. If they haven’t grasped it yet they can learn it again as they are working on teaching it.

    • My first Merits badges were Pioneering, Basketry, and Leatherwork. First Aid came towards the end of my 1st Year as it used to be required for 1st Class. I still have my stuff 26 years later and made a basket from some old vines a few years back. I agree it should be interactive and fun. Doing classroom based, worksheets, and lectures are not a great way to start Scouting off.

      It is a great opportunity to set down with the youth and ask him what interests him and help him find a merit badge that goes along with it.

  10. After listening to my son who is an Eagle Scout his comments to me were he should have earned Scouting Heritage first and he feels it should be Eagle required. What better way to learn the history of scouting than earning this badge.

    • As a past Scoutmaster, I would advise my scouts to get there ‘feet wet’ and take a simple badge. At summer camp, I would guide them toward the craft area. Then advance to the skill badges, such as swimming, canoeing, etc.

  11. Since most of our new scouts cross over in February, we strongly encourage them to initially focus on rank requirements and then take 1st Aid and Swimming at their first summer camp. Many of the rank requirements can be fulfilled concurrently with the requirements from these two merit badges. Also, since both of these merit badges are Eagle-required, scouts begin knocking them out early. However, I would never discourage a young man from taking any merit badge that he has an interest in. The challenge is finding a counselor. Our troop has an on-line database of all of our merit badge counselors listed by merit badge and by counselor.

    • Janette Nebel // January 26, 2016 at 8:41 am // Reply

      My son, also an Eagle Scout, agrees that Scouting Heritage should be first and Eagle required. They learn the history of scouting, what it stands for, and they take pride in the organization they are part of.

      • If a scout doesn’t have interest – that won’t beat them into a greater understanding. And it will be a beating.

      • Also Eagle Scout. Go on campouts and do something meaningful rather then learning ridiculous merit badges just to fill up a sash and try to act cool

      • Chuck Kubin, buffalo with wings // February 5, 2016 at 9:33 am // Reply

        …if they are initially interested and retain the interest throughout the badge work. It is easy for adults to lose sight of the difference between what we see as important and what a young scout sees in others around him working on other badges he is likely to view as more fun.
        I believe this badge is very important, especially when reflected in an eagle scout’s perspective, but the first and earliest badges should be fun and gratifying with a lot of hands-on work, so they aren’t taken as “just another class.”

    • Our council has a Pathfinder program where 2-3 MB are earned while at the first summer camp. Usually Indian Lore, mammal study, and another I cannot think of. Simple badges to start getting the concept down. Eagle badges are too hard for newbies to grasp at first.

  12. One of my dads encouraged his son to work on one required and one non-required at the same time, but during one quarter. That way he was meeting both future needs without rushing to get add many as he can, plus still allow time for learning and leading. He is now my senior patrol leader and doing fine. I think parents get the idea that as soon as their son starts scouts, they need 15-20 badges the first year without spending time learning the basics of scouting. I don’t discourage earning badges but I’m not rushing then either. It is not a race.

  13. New scouts who go to camp with us are strongly encouraged to take Pioneering and Swimming. Pioneering is supplemented with Firem’n Chit, totin chit and several of Tenderfoot to First class rank requirements. This is a scout skills jump start. Swimming is also pushed as the camp requires it before doing other waterfront merit badges.

    We also encourage leather work as it can be done to fill in ideal time and finger printing which can be done in an evening.

    This gets the new scout four merit badges in a week, sets them up for camping and opens up most activities at camp the next year.

    • THanks for putting words around my thoughts exactly. Swimming at summer camp while working on Scout to 1St Class requirements. also making sure they have motivational wins so to keep them going as Mr. Ed suggests is also great. Building their scouting momentum in the first 1-2 years is more important than what they are actually doing. IMHO

    • H. David Pendleton // January 26, 2016 at 12:52 pm // Reply

      I think that Pioneering is a tough MB for a new Scout. It requires knowing a bunch of knots, something that most First Year Scouts do not have. My son now has over 100 MBs & did not take Pioneering until his 2nd or 3rd year of Summer Camp. I think the wait was good for him.

      As for swimming, that was one that was “highly encouraged” by his troop but I knew my son was not a strong swimming. Rather than him going to camp and failing to get a Blue Band, yet alone a MB, he took MBs from the Craft Lodge & the EcoLodge. He did Swimming at a local YMCA where there were 2 MBCs/Instructors & only 4 Scouts. Lots more individual attention than 20 boys at summer camp. He did not get the MB there because he did not pass drownproofing, but eventually did later.

      • 100 merit badges? I really hope he had at least 100 nights camping out too. Boy Scouts is not about the collection of a bunch of merit badges

        • H. David Pendleton // January 27, 2016 at 1:06 pm //

          Nick: Thanks for your concern for my son/Scout, but he is not going to be a minimalist Eagle Scout with 21 Merit Badges and 20 nights of camping, which is a possibility in the program. He has over 100 nights camping in less than 3 years in Boy Scouts, NYLT, District Day Camp Staff for 3 years, Scout Buddy for a Troop made up completely of Disabled Scouts, JOTA support team, & over 200 hours of community service each of the last 4 years through his school, church, Scouts, or on his own. He is has served as a Patrol Leader and is currently an ASPL. He will be running for SPL with the election in 2 weeks.

          He will likely serve as a CIT for one of our 2 local camps this summer for a week. Besides going with his troop to summer camp in 2016, he was selected this week to go to both NAYLE at Philmont and the Council’s contingent to the 2017 National Jamboree. He is already planning on staffing at summer camp in 2018 as our primary camp does not allow staff to leave camp early, even for national events. He is also going with his church’s youth group for a out-of-state service mission for a week this coming summer. This will be his first time for that, but only because Boy Scout summer camp always conflicted with it.

          He doesn’t play school/organized sports & we limit his TV viewing time and have no video game equipment in the house. We have to limit his access to his school issued iPad because of the video games he can access from it. Instead of spending the 4 hours a day average that kids now days spend on TV/electronic media, he spends it a little more constructively.

          Before he meets with a MBC, he has read the entire MB pamphlet. He then does all the prerequisites and usually more as I ask him the question, “What will be difficult to do with this MB in the setting that the MB event will take place.” Whatever he comes up with to that question, he does before hand. At almost every MB event he has attended, he is usually the most prepared Scout at it. He did his Communication MB at a MB event (2 days separated by a month) & he was the only Scout that completed it as the others did not do the requirements. He was one of the few Scouts that came with his personal emergency bag for Emergency Prep along with photos of the Family Kit sitting in our basement.

          I understand what BP said about Badge Collectors. I don’t believe my son is one. He does MB work because of his natural curiosity, not to earn another MB. He also understands selfless service as he has no need to earn any additional service hours, but continues to do service projects anyway. Last Friday evening, he supported his former Pack’s Pinewood Derby weigh-in and on Saturday morning spent over 4 hours supporting the actual derby staying through clean-up. He set a goal on his first day in Boy Scouts to earn all the Merit Badges. Bugling will be tough since he doesn’t play a horn, but setting a high bar and missing is better than setting the bar low. The next time he puts himself ahead of his troop or the other Scouts, it might not be the first time but it probably can be counted on two hands. And he will hear about it from me if he doesn’t hear about it from the Scoutmaster. He’s not perfect, but what 14-year old is today?

    • Beware of pushing Swimming at summer camp. Over the last several years we have had a couple of boys who were not strong swimmers who were unable to complete the swimming and this made summer camp a bit of a downer. Once we realized it was not going to happen we focused them on a merit badge they chose and emphasized having FUN!!!!

      • The swimming also could be affected by what part of the country you live in. In the south, MOST children are already great swimmers long before being scout age. In other parts, this badge may be a challenge. Same for others physical activity badges that may be more accessible in certain parts of the country, urban and rural settings.

  14. Whereas I do agree that a scout, should earn any merit badge that interests them, I don’t think it should have to wait until Summer Camp. Also I’m seeing First Aid, as the recommended 1st choice, one of the hardest things in the world to do is hold off on FIRST AID, till 1st CLASS rank is earned, with it a little more maturity, growth, and with any luck it stick with them till it is needed.

    • They need first aid the first time they are the person nearby when an accident happens. While you might have a point if you teach it and then ignore it, I think it should be taught early and often. I hope to have all my troop certified in first aid by an outside organization renewing every other year as recommended.

      Best practice changes over time and the only way to know it, is to have another class.

  15. As the New Scout ASM for my Troop I’m recommending to my Troop Guides that they have the New Scouts pull a blue card for the Camping Merit Badge. The TGs will use this to a. teach the New Scouts the “blue card” process, and b. stress the importance of camping to the New Scouts, and c. helps the New Scouts understand that Merit Badges are earned over time, not like a Belt Loop earned at a Den Meeting or a Webelos Badge earned at a one or so hour session at summer camp.

    • Jim Hilliard // January 26, 2016 at 9:02 am // Reply

      I like the focus on camping. Many of the skills in the Camping merit badge are incorporated into early rank requirements, and it makes sense to note the importance of logging camping nights from the beginning.

      • You need a certain amount of nights for camping so it’s not realistic until after 1st class or maybe even star

  16. I strongly encourage 1st aid, as it helps them understand the requirements for rank advancement in Tenderfoot, 2nd Class and 1st Class. Also I think another good one to start with is Personal Fitness, especially since there is a strong link to the fitness side of rank advancement now.

  17. Usually our first year scouts go to the local summer camp and earn swimming, first aid as well as totin chip. Other than that merit badges come naturally by what we are doing.

  18. Cole Petersen // January 26, 2016 at 8:49 am // Reply

    First Aid and ‘whatever interests them most’ are good answers. I’d throw Cooking into the mix.

    • Given the changes to the cooking merit badge I would hold off on that one as an early one. Takes some understanding of various cooking techniques that younger scouts have not experienced yet.

  19. It really depends on the scout. We usually recommend that first year scouts take Trail to Eagle, First Class Express, or comparable program that focuses on scout skills and the Tenderfoot to First Class requirements, and then suggest they sign up for one or two merit badges than interest them. Like most troops, we work on rank requirements all year long, but this gets them into a group of scouts that are all at camp for the first time, and they get a chance to experience other teaching styles.

    If they are not strong swimmers, we also suggest they sign up for swim class if the camp offers one, so they can pass the BSA swimmer test their second year. Our Scouting for Food event is in March and we usually pair that with an open swim at a local school, which gives us a chance to see how well the new scouts swim.

    We also try and steer them to badges they can reasonably expect to earn, so they do not get discouraged if they get a partial. Most camps have a list of what they recommend for first year scouts, and it is usually the handicraft badges (leatherworking, basketry, woodcarving), the simpler nature badges (Mammal Study), and the simpler science/tech/campcraft badges (Fingerprinting, Space Exploration, Fishing). Archery can be a good one, but the scout needs to be physically big enough to manage a bow.

  20. John Cimral (aka Grrrizz) // January 26, 2016 at 8:53 am // Reply

    I am also a New Scout ASM and believe that reaching the First Class rank within 12 months is essential and lays the foundation for many Merit Badges and Outdoor Adventure awards. Leveraging a summer camp’s trail to first class (TTFC) program is important and Merit Badge work should not take priority over it. That being said, many Merit Badges overlap with the TTFC. Swimming, Camping, Orienteering and First Aid are all good choices. My son picked one of those, First Aid, and added a really fun one, Robotics.

    • John Cimral (aka Grrrizz) // January 29, 2016 at 8:41 am // Reply

      I may have touched a “live wire” by mentioning the goal of First Class in 12 months. Let me explain a bit more. According to the BSA, Scouts that reach First Class their first year are more likely to stay in Scouting and later live the “Spirit”. It is important enough to be included in the SPL handbook as a Troop evaluation criteria. The TTFC also teaches essential skills that are the foundation for later adventures. I believe those skills are the essence of “Be Prepared”. Finally, there are always exceptions and the TTFC needs to be FUN and flexible to achieve its role in Scouting.

  21. demondeacon87 // January 26, 2016 at 8:58 am // Reply

    If someone in the new Scout’s family is very familiar with a merit-badge-related subject, encourage him to do that merit badge first. My first merit badge was Truck Transportation. My dad was a driver and a teamster, so I was able to learn many details about his work and to show respect for his profession. He could drive anything in reverse better than I can now drive anything forward!

  22. This is a great discussion as my son crossed over last November. I was the Webelos Den Leader. He is focusing on his advancement right now and is very close to finishing his Tenderfoot this week. He is seeing that the camping trips are key to advancement but he was introduced to Cit in the Comm at one of his visits. He does see that not all the Merit Badges are earned overnight like they can be in Cub Scouts.

    His troop does arrange to work on swimming in the spring so that may actually be his first merit badge and they have a camp and shoot outing in April so he may also earn his Rifle Shooting Merit badge too before his first boy scout summer camp experience.

    I can also see the value of the First Aid Merit Badge as one to earn early on given the overlap.

    what I think is key right now is that he and the other new scouts look forward to going to the meetings, participating in the extra scouting activities the Troop has and camping trips! The more older scouts he gets to know the more comfortable they will be. I also think it starts to teach them the value of getting help from others but then passing that back on to others who will be in a similar situation in the future.

    All good!

  23. Dean Whinery // January 26, 2016 at 9:05 am // Reply

    The Swimming MB certainly should come before Lifesaving. Looking at summer camp for as many MBs as possible gives the impression of a MB mill; maybe point toward craft/fun MB or two and one that should take more time, and a hands on First Aid course for example. Summer camp should allow time for “jus’ doin’ nuthin'”, too…watching wildlife in the natural habitat is not a waste of time.

  24. Latte Trouble // January 26, 2016 at 9:06 am // Reply

    My son looked over the list of possible badges and chose First Aid to start. He liked the idea of being able to help his little sister and her friends when they get scraped up while playing outside. I thought it was a great choice!

    • Latte Trouble // January 26, 2016 at 9:20 am // Reply

      Ugh, there is no edit feature. I think there is a logical sequence based on each individual’s interests that will take that person through their journey, even though the same badges are necessary to reach Eagle.

  25. Swimming, Cooking, or First Aid, as they help check off many of the rank requirements, and they are also Eagle required.

    • As a cooking MB counselor I have had an issue in my troop with scouts thinking that cooking MB will fulfill rank advancement. The requirements very clearly state that portions done for rank advancement can’t be used for cooking MB and those used for cooking MB can’t be used for advancement. Cooking MB should come after rank advancement. Advancement gives scouts set of basic skills, cooking builds on that. I look for more than hot dogs, grilled cheese and soup from my cooking MB students.

  26. Ed Henderson // January 26, 2016 at 9:07 am // Reply

    I think, and I often recommend that any Scout who hasn’t yet completed their First Class Rank requirements, concentrate on that first, and maybe pick up some fun MB’s along the way, but don’t worry too much about the Eagle Req’s. They will often have an opportunity to get started on those at a summer camp soon enough.

  27. We usually encourage finishing lower rank requirements before summer camp and then put them in the first year camper program for their upcoming rank. That means that 3 badges are worked on at camp, one Eagle Required and 2 others. Swimming, Mammal Study and whatever handicraft badge they wish (we encourage leatherworking over basketry based on the amount of time they have to work on the badge outside of class) This has worked well for years, with a high ratio of Eagles,20%, if we can retain them.

  28. Melissa Iturria // January 26, 2016 at 9:11 am // Reply

    It may be the first one to start but it should not be the first one the actually earn. Please look at the requirements. The very first requirement states “Satisfy your counselor that you have current knowledge of all first aid requirements for Tenderfoot rank, Second Class rank and First Class rank.” Then look at all the requirements that build on the first one. I have had more than one angry parent want to know why their young Scout that just crossed over a month ago did not get to complete his First Aid merit badge in just a few hours. (And I had to spend precious learning time explaining to the new Scouts what a Blue Card is!) If the parent will review the merit badge pamphlet with me they will usually begin to understand.
    Which leads to my next request. Scouters, please support your merit badge counselors by having your Scouts obtain and read the merit badge pamphlet. The information and specific skills they need to learn are all addressed in the pamphlet. Who do you want giving you first aid? A Scout who has actually learned and practiced the skills – or someone who just Googled the answers and filled out a worksheet? The Scout motto is “Be Prepared”, which Scout is prepared? I know National is trying to address the whole worksheet issue but it has not made it’s way to the units yet.
    Scout On!

  29. MY fist merit badge were earned at summer camp. Environmental Science, Swimming, First Aid, Canoeing, Weather, Geology, and Painting.

  30. George Vincent // January 26, 2016 at 9:14 am // Reply

    When I was an SM in the seventies when a MB was required for tender foot I’d talk to the scout and find out if he had a pet. I had a very good pets MB councilor that did a great job with younger scouts. My point is find that one thing that interest the scout and talking to his parents to educate them about MB’s might be a great way to get a scout started. I now chair my district eagle board and ask what MB was the easiest and what was the hardest. The answers always amaze me.

  31. The summer camps our Troops have attended always have assigned MB for the first year Scouts and these are usually their first Merit Badge(s) as they’re busy on the Trail to First Class requirements. It’s been swimming, first aid, leatherwork and woodcarving. Fingerprinting is also a good one as it has fewer and more doable requirements. Hardest part is picking up a fingerprint card and doing the fingerprinting.

  32. LENNY JENNINGS // January 26, 2016 at 9:22 am // Reply

    I think the how to live, and survive in the outdoors merit badges should come first…the rest will help a boy develop his purpose in life. They are all a part of the greatest supplement education in the world. I would love to see them used in the class room. They are a great learning tool, even if you just read them, and they would also feature Scouting……. in a way, that I don’t think, has been tried before.

  33. First Aid and Fishing.

  34. Scouts at their first summer camp (age 10-12) should take 1-2 fun merit badges. We always recommend things like horsemanship, kayaking, archery and canoing. Boys really seem to like these as they are active and fun activities. If they really want to take a required badge, we recommend swimming, but only if they can swim well enough to pass the swimmer test. Otherwise we put them into developmental swim – to get them ready to pass swimming. First merit badges should be all about the outing in scouting and they should be FUN!

  35. First Aid should be the first Eagle required MB they earn. Our Troop constantly “re-earns” their First Aid badge as we tell the SPL to review the first aid requirements whenever there is down time or the boys have failed to plan something.

    We do the First Aid badge at Summer camp. When we cross them over in March we have a program designed to get them to Tenderfoot by summer camp, last week in June.

    If the Troop Guide is ambitious and has an excited group who have just crossed over, we have them usually start on the reading MB. It is an easy one since they are still in school. It is one that is a little easier on the parents too. We meet at a Church with a School Library attached so the Scouts can do their library work there.

  36. Rather than encouraging a Scout to do a specific merit badge, I would first encourage them to come to summer camp and show them the list of badges the camp has to offer. I would then suggest that he and his friend pick one or two to try together. Often times, they will have more fun doing it together and to me, its extremely important to have fun while you’re learning. This will help them do something they really want to do with their friend and they don’t have the pressure of an adult telling them what to do. They get enough of that elsewhere…

  37. Current hobbies are always good. If you already play, something like Chess would be a good place to start.

  38. Scouting Heritage. It eases new scouts into the merit badge process while requiring them to learn not only about the history of Scouting but their own troop. It also requires bringing in equipment for a game, which starts off scouts learning group participation and leadership in a manner they are already familiar with.

  39. I find it interesting and sad that this discussion is abut EARNING Merit Badges and not about BEING a Scout.
    Have we come to view collecting Merit Badges as the reason for being a Scout, as that seems to be the way this discussion is heading?
    “What makes the best first merit badge for a Boy Scout to earn?” The best? Why is any MB ‘better’ than any other?
    I like the comment: “”what MB was the easiest and what was the hardest. The answers always amaze me.”” Hey, Basket Weaving might well be hard for some Scout and Pioneering easy for others. They both involve dealing with fibrous material. Does that define the quality of that Scout?
    Scouts in my ken regularly say that Fingerprinting is the easiest MB. Does that make it the Best First MB? Why not Personal Management?
    I am often reminded that the boys will meet the standards we set. If we set low standards, they will meet them. Merely collecting MBs is a goal. Is that what we want of our boys?
    I counsel Bugling MB. I set up at MBDays regularly. If you play in the school band or take music lessons, Bugling or Music MBs can be fairly easy and almost effortless to earn. But if you are “collecting” MBs , they can be a real challenge. I met some “collectors” recently, a trio of brothers who came to a recent MBDay with brand new bugles in hand. None could even make a successful “toot” , much less play a scale. They were expecting (!) to earn the MB in one, three hour session, even said so. I gave them my card and told them I would listen to them later at any time.

    The truly successful Troops I see have a Boy Led program of adventure that makes rank advancement (S-T-2-F) almost automatic and painless. First Class in a Year? Why is that a necessary? One of the best Scouts I knew in my home Troop was active, led by example, gained skill in all forms of Scout craft, taught the younger Scouts merely by “being there”. He did not receive his FC badge until he was in the Troop for three years (he was awarded Star at the same CoH, and made Life. Aged out …). And this is a Troop that went camping as a Troop at least once a month, including January and February. He never “earned” Eagle, but he is now a cashier in our local bank. I expect to vote for him for governor in maybe twenty years.
    The MBs are meant to be an enrichment , not so much a necessary. “Ya gotta ‘take’ an Eagle Required MB!” you do?
    Over the past years, How much of the much vaunted Eagle Trail has been surveyed, cleared of debris, leveled and graveled (if not paved) before the Scout even knows where it is?

    Brian: Howzabout a discussion on “What is a ‘Good Scout’ ?

    • Cause I’d have the answer! The best scout I ever knew aged out at 2nd Class. What made him the best? He invited me to visit his troop!

      That said, if your boy’s itching to start filling his sash, help him get started!

    • “First Class in a Year? Why is that a necessary?”

      It is not necessarily necessary. There is, however, a very direct and positive correlation between 1st Class First Year year and retention.

    • Correlation is not causation.
      We abandoned FCFY because:
      – The rate of younger scouts advancing to Eagle did not accelerate.
      – As many scouts who earned first class in one year left the following year as those who didn’t.
      – Most scouts who took 3-4 years to master those 1st class skills stayed in scouting proud that they finally conquered whatever was slowing them down.
      – They still were accruing MBs all that time, so advancement to Star involved going “all in” in service projects and positions of responsibility.

      It really helped my SM relax and guide the boys in mastering skills.

    • Ed Schrantz // July 15, 2016 at 9:31 am // Reply

      This is the best comment I have read in this discussion.

    • Ed Schrantz // July 15, 2016 at 9:40 am // Reply

      I think this comment makes all the best points.

  40. We encourage our new Scouts to explore Scholarship merit badge first while they are still in middle school. Chances are their principal will know them and be able to write a letter for them and the essay portion eases them into the whole “merit badge experience.” Other than Scholarship we don’t emphasize merit badges with new scouts (unless the scout has a hobby or interest) until summer camp. Some “First year scout” programs are excellent and include merit badge work – others don’t. We’ve gone to both kind of camps. Fingerprinting is usually offered at the camps we attend, so we encourage our scouts to earn Fingerprinting. Leatherwork is also a good first year scout MB. I was impressed with the Brown Sea program at Camp Rodney. My oldest son earned Swimming, Nature, Basketry and Fingerprinting his first year at Rodney. My youngest son couldn’t wait to be a Boy Scout and he loves to help around the house – so he did Home Repairs for his first MB and at his first summer camp earned Leatherwork, Fingerprinting, Rifle Shooting and Wood Carving.

  41. By good fortune, our newest scout attended his first meeting while our archery and rifle shooting merit badge presentation was happening. The following weekend we went camping at our council’s local camp, where they have an archery and shooting range. A week into scouting and he earned two fun merit badges. If he wasn’t sure about scouting before, he was hooked now.

  42. For scouts who have eyes on Jamborees, High Adventure bases, and other sorts of big-ticket scouting, I’ve suggested Personal Management!

    Seriously, it’s not the topic, so much as it is the counselor. If your troop has some good life guards and swim instructors and does boat trips, an aquatics badge could be it. If you’re in a fire hall … fire safety or emergency preparedness could be it. If you’ve got a bunch of marksmen — especially a range safety officer, then the shooting sports badges are the thing. If you’re down the road from the police precinct … Fingerprinting!

  43. We started with an interest (Dog Care) although swimming was the actual first earned badge at camp. My son and I discuss what options are interesting to him, but we also keep an eye on the Eagle required ones and sprinkle those in.

  44. Our Troop likes to engage new Scouts in one Merit Badge after they first join so they and their parents understand the process and so they can get some recognition in our May Court of Honor. Music and Scholarship have been offered – for Music the Scouts perform at the spring COH.

    We know some new families are still on the fence about this Boy Scout stuff and demystifying it and getting some advancement progress right away gives them some momentum, carries them into summer camp and helps with new scout retention.

    As for best or easiest? That is so individual and I think if the Scoutmaster offers guidance it should be to do what interests them. Younger scouts often surprise me with what they excel in.

  45. Scoutmasters don’t have to stick together. Far too many manby pamby leaders don’t even follow the Spirit of the Law much less the Letter. You want me to follow then get your touckous in gear and require the scouts to do proficiently. As far as the merit badge with which to begin, A single day badge is the best such as Leather Works, Woodcarving, etc.. Remember, there are steps that the scout must take before he starts the merit badge. Review them. For those who may not know or have forgotten, besides the SCOUT deciding what badge to attempt, THE SCOUTMASTER (or another leader in the ABSENCE of the scoutmaster) MUST FIRST GIVE PERMISSION FOR THE SCOUT TO DO THE MERIT BADGE. At this time the scoutmaster must interview the scout and determine the ability of the scout to complete the merit badge in a reasonable amount of time. Yes Texas has taken time limits off of completions but scouts lose knowledge and abilities over an extended period of time. Quit giving out merit badges like the government gives out welfare to illegals. Some with holler, whine and knish their teeth. Parents will threaten to pull financial support from troops or Texas. Let them for the scouts that come out will be far, far better than the ones who skate through. And we have oh so many of them.

    • Suggest you read the section on merit badges in the Guide to Advancement. A Scout may begin working on a merit badge any time he wants, with or without the permission of his Scoutmaster.

      • Carey Snyder // January 26, 2016 at 2:23 pm // Reply

        It is common sense to have to get permission to start a merit badge. To have most 11-year-old start things like Personal Management or Family Life when they do not have the maturity to complete it adequately dilutes the value of it AND of the program, and failure to complete may have a severe demoralizing effect on the scout Approval should be based on interest and on the Scoutmaster or Advancement chair’s assessment of the maturity and capability of the Scout. To not allow the advancement chair to ask about the badge (essentially “retesting” portions of it), no matter what National says, is stupid, and may, in the case of some badges “completed” at extended (long term) campouts turn some from “merit” to “participation” badges. Seriously, some of the policies promulgated at national should be reviewed by the volunteers in the trenches.

      • Suggest you read the BLUE CARD that states that the Scoutmaster HAS GIVEN PEMISSION for the scout to take the merit badge. The Scoutmaster’s signature verifies that the scout is QUALIFIED to take the merit Badge. Nice Try.

        • The current, official blue card from BSA doesn’t state anything about permission. It states, “I have discussed this merit badge with this scout and recommended at least one merit badge counselor.” (

        • Completely wrong. Read the current blue card and the Guide to Advancement.

  46. Matt Culbertson // January 26, 2016 at 10:17 am // Reply

    My thought is to focus on the rank requirements especially since the 2016 rank requirements are more robust.

    My first MB was Reading. This one should be Eagle required given how many folks don’t read the requirements. 😉

    Pet peeve….First Aid MB is not a prerequisite for E prep, it is one of the requirements. There are three MBs in this category. Scuba (swimming), Whitewater ( canoeing or kayaking) and E prep. Lifesaving should be returned to this group as well.

    If I did have to vote for one for a new scout, I would choose First Aid I guess.

  47. Kimberly Needoba // January 26, 2016 at 10:18 am // Reply

    As I respect all above comments and ideas; Rank advancement and Merit Badge acquirement should go hand in hand.
    Every Scout needs encouragement and knowledge of obtaining either. A Troop Guide walking through/explaining the process of obtaining a “blue card” first, in any area of interest or as a group activity (camping/hiking) is an excellent start. Then, emphasizing that some Merit Badges are achieved over time and others, faster, through common interests or individual interests. This boy lead approach builds confidence within every Scout in the Troop.
    Which MB first? Summer camp is the best introduction to their choices and the achievement felt as they receive their patches.
    Knowledge of what is offered is the next step, along with teamwork or group effort.
    If a TG continues to encourage new Scouts that join, others will automatically follow, leading by example. This creates a healthy competition amongst a Troop and fosters future leaders.

  48. William Wells // January 26, 2016 at 10:26 am // Reply

    Which ever one he finds most interesting and as long as there is an available MB counselor to work with him. If summer camp will be his first exposure to MB’s then his selections might be a bit limited, but that shouldn’t deter him from selecting the most interesting from the summer camp offerings.

  49. All these comments and only one recommending that the boy gets to choose.

    Shame on all you adults.

    Stop running your programs this way. It’s harmful to the scouting experience for the boys.

    Boy Led
    Boy Run
    Adult supervision best from a distance.

    If the boy asked for help deciding send him to his patrol leader and then SPL then the SM for final approval to start and possible MBC recommendation.

    • Very true, however, the most successful scouts have parents that are involved in the process. What kind of scouting parent would you be if you just stood idly by and never offered any advice or encouragement. Scouts look up to their parents and I find absolutely no problem with parents reaching out for information so that they can help their boys succeed. Boy led, boy run, yes, but boys can have Mentors and that should start at home. I know I’ve looked through merit badges and have said, what about this one or that one. Sometimes parents can offer insight as to a direction a boy can take. Not all SPL or ASPL’s know all of the boys that well and not all of them care as much as a parent. So, to be so closed minded as to say they should only ask other boys what they should do is silly.

      • “the most successful scouts have parents that are involved in the process.”

        Please define success. A better version of this statement might be Scouts with parents involved in the PROGRAM have a better chance to continue in Scouting.

        “What kind of scouting parent would you be if you just stood idly by and never offered any advice or encouragement.”

        What kind of Scout Leader could you be if you offered advice and encouragement to all the Boys?

        “Scouts look up to their parents”
        I so hope so To be my sons role model would be a great honor.

        “so that they can help their boys succeed”
        Again please define Success.

        “Boy led, boy run, yes, but”
        There is no but on the end of this. its Boy led and Boy run or its not.

        “Not all SPL or ASPL’s know all of the boys that well and not all of them care as much as a parent.”
        This is two arguments ill take them separately.
        Yes SPL and PL are often weak. This is on your SM as one of his primary focus is to work with these Boys to assist with learning leadership. He also has final say on the election of Positions in most troops and should not have allowed for a uncaring scout to be in the position of SPL. This is a leadership position and if the scout is not ready to lead or at least ready to learn to lead he should come back at a later date after the SM counsels him on what and why Often SPL is a popularity contest or Given to the next kid in line.

        Certainly no one cares for your child as much as you.

        You seem to have a lot of references to My and I in your statements. I would encourage you to develop more all and we in your thinking and get more involved with all the scouts. I bet your boy will be just fine.

        For the BOYS

        • T. Scarborough // January 29, 2016 at 10:27 am //

          The distinction between “involved with the process” and “involved with the program” is the key here. You have put your finger right on it.

          To advise a boy by having him look through the merit badges and encouraging him to choose one he seems to have an interest in is much different from advising him to take xxx merit badge for his Scouting career’s sake. Not many have caught your point.

    • If you were to read the ask it was just asking our opinion as MB counselor our thought. I agree with you boy led we are not telling them what to earn that is their choice.

  50. Scoutmaster Bucky // January 26, 2016 at 10:42 am // Reply

    As echoed from above, a unit leader must help direct the young man towards success. First impressions are lasting ones, so ultimately the first merit badge a Scout earns, and their ultimate success along the path to completing this first merit badge, can, and most likely will, set the tone for further interest and enthusiasm not only in the area of earning merit badges but Scouting itself.

    A few tips that I tell parents and other Scout leaders when providing this guidance to Scouts are simple. Find a merit badge in an area that the young man is already an “expert” at, or one that he has a strong desire in earning.

    Even if YOU think it is a bad choice, a part of the development of our young men and women is allowing them to take ownership of their choices. One of the most common mistakes I see from parents and leaders alike is their desire to see our youth succeed at all costs. This, while it seems the noble thing to do, can actually be detrimental to their long term success. Without knowing what failure is, or better stated, tasting the challenges that could ultimately lead to in the Scouting program. Re-enforcing support and clear and honest expectations are the key to mentoring success, sometimes letting the young man falter through the process can be a stronger learning than holding their hand the whole way.

    When the Scout makes the choice and understands the expectations, and with the right amount of mentoring help, they should find success.

    • Scoutmaster Bucky // January 26, 2016 at 10:43 am // Reply

      I want to also include as a separate but related comment, I believe that there should be a set LAST merit badge a Scout earns, or at least last merit badge to earn Eagle. That would be Personal Management. The value of this merit badge is lost when a younger Scout goes through the requirements. The elements of this merit badge are best suited (in this Scouter’s opinion) to a boy who is at least 15 years old or older. If I were Scout Executive for a day I would propose putting an age limit on this merit badge. Again in my opinion, this would benefit our young men much more in preparing them for life, as well as possibly helping retention levels and furthering our Scout’s experience in this great program.

      • But, what if there’s this 12 year old who wants to go to Jambo (and later that Triple Crown of high adventure) and his parents just don’t have the means? He might be able to earn $20/week, and he just needs the good sense to manage it — otherwise it’s gone to video games and soft drinks and snacks. He knows he needs the good sense, and knows this badge might teach him it.

        Are you gonna be the guy to discourage him? I’m not.

        There’s just no one-size-fits all.

      • H. David Pendleton // January 27, 2016 at 7:30 am // Reply

        While you may think that a Scout should be a certain age to take a specific MB, there are no age restrictions for any MB. I have seen some 12-year old Scouts that are more mature than a 17-year old Scout so age is not the only factor in maturity. While less than 10% of Scouts obtain Eagle before age 15, there are some. Putting an age restriction on any MB at the national level would raise the average age of Eagle Scouts–currently at 17 years & 9 months. Do we really want to make the mean any higher?

        If a brand new Scout wanted to do the Personal Mgt MB (most will not), I will discuss it with them about the requirements, etc. If at the end of the discussion (my son has never had one of these with his SM/ASM, but many times with me. I am not an ASM with his new troop after he switched about 6 months ago)) and still wanted to do the MB, I would sign the Blue Card & recommend the MBC.

      • I fully agree that some badges such as PM are better suited to more mature scouts, but I wouldn’t put hard limits on age – it depends on the scout and his circumstances. I am a MB counselor for Personal Fitness and I personally won’t take on scouts for this badge before high school age as that’s when they have the maturity to discuss the matters best IN MY OPINION. if a younger boy wants to take the badge that’s fine, but he has to find a different counselor. The real beauty of the MB program is its flexibility for different boys

  51. I had my son take Scouting Heritage as his 1st one. I wanted him to learn about the history of the organization he was in, so that everything else made more sense later 🙂

  52. Whichever mb will cease to exist next since it will not be able to be done after that. If none than one of the craft mb like leatherwork or basketry. Then they have something physicsl to show for it.

  53. Thomas Fritz // January 26, 2016 at 11:13 am // Reply

    Initial success encourages further participation. With many crossovers happening in the spring, the first opportunity to work on a merit badge is at summer camp. Each of the camps we have attended in the last several years have had a first year camper program concentrating on advancement requirements. The new camper has time for only two or three merit badges. The interest of the scout is the first consideration. The merit badge should be achievable within that camp with no preparation (therefore camping and personal management MBs are out). Even though I am a rifle shooting MB counselor, I recommend waiting until the scout has demonstrated the ability to concentrate before taking this one. Basketry, wood carving and leather work meet the need and are challenging. Wood carving reinforces the Tot’n chip achievement, for instance. Initial success foster participation.

  54. It all depends on the scout. There are some younger scouts that can clearly grasp First Aid and Personal Management early on. Our Pathfinder program used to do Indian Lore, Mammal Study and Nature, but have cut back the MBs to just Indian Lore. They do basic orienteering, first aid and other activities required for rank instead. Swimming is a great idea, but difficult for many scouts, even those that are older.

    That being said, my wife is a First Aid MB counselor, and we review it annually. Unfortunately, she finds that many older scouts are not up to speed, even though they should be.

  55. Patrick Provart // January 26, 2016 at 11:26 am // Reply

    My son crossed into a troop January 4. With my years of wisdom, I answered his “which merit badge should I earn first?” With “What sounds fun, son?”

    He’s attending a merit badge fair in March and has chosen Railroading and Scouting Heritage — based on all the model trains and Scouting memorabilia in our house.

    He’ll earn Swimming and First Aid at summer camp (they are part of the 1st year program)

  56. Interesting question. As the father of a brand new Boy Scout I recently faced this exact question.

    My son will soon be attending a “Merit Badge University”. This event offers almost 50 different merit badges. Wanting to be the prepared father I printed out a list of Eagle required badges, compared it to the list of badges being offered and proceeded to come up with my list of what I would suggest my son should take.

    When he sat down next to me I watched his face light up at all the choices in front of him. I quietly slid my lists off the desk and told him to look over the list and tell me what sounded like FUN to him. After a few minutes he created a list of his own choosing. He was having a hard time making his final choice so I helped him learn how to narrow down his choices and make a decision.

    His final choice really surprised me. It was not what I would have suggested for him, it was not what I would have expected him to pick. It did show me a side of my son I had not known before.

    Prior to this exercise he was luke warm at best about attending the Merit Badge University. He didn’t really understand what Merit Badges are or what a Merit Badge University is. Now he is totally stoked about going and has even talked about what he will take next year.

    I think at the beginning Merit Badges should just be plain FUN for the boys.

    • So-called “Merit Badge University” programs (good or bad) can be confusing for the new scout. Like a District or Council Camporee, it is a different and larger scope of Scouting than the boy has experienced in his Troop or Pack.

      An important part of the start of any “Merit Badge University” programs _should_be_ a short stage program acting out the steps for a Scout to get a MB — the old school way with a counselor outside of the Troop, not as a troop activity or camp….
      I have been repeatedly surprised by Boy Scouts, of various ranks and years, who express the idea that “you have to go to camp to get merit badges.” Some Scoutcraft type merit badges are easier in an equipped outdoor week camp (Pioneering for example), especially for smaller units Also, some units (i.e., leadership) are challenged on doing nature study type merit badges. Climbing, water, and shooting/archery have safety issues, that some units would rather delegate to summer camps (or district/council level). But starting any district or council level MB activity with the short ‘how to’ play is a good idea.

  57. I would say have them do a merit badge that is easily obtained. Let them feel the excitement or earning the badge.

    • Problem is, you never know. Son #1 signed up for archery (against the advice of our advancement coordinator — because achieving the accuracy can be discouraging). He and his patrol leader — a Star scout — took it together. They had a great time and nailed the requirements in a week.

  58. Over the years our new scouts have focused on basic skills prior to summer camp. Than at camp as a group, we keep our first year summer campers together, they work on swimming and 2 other MB’s that allow them to bring something home. Usually leather craft, basketry or something like that. Plus they work on all the other basic skills to earn Totin Chip and Firem’n Chit and Tenderfoot – First Class requirements.

    We try to have them prepped by the end of the first summer camp to earn Tenderfoot at least.

  59. We lean more from our failures than our successes. That said, everyone likes to succeed. And, most people like to learn things, but few like to be taught. Some kids do better in a classroom setting, and some are better in an individual one.

    There are several web sites out there that have ranked all the merit badges and summarized them by difficulty level on a subjective 1-5 scale. Though the Scout should ultimately make the choice, the adults should give him good counsel on what is entailed and expected of him on each badge. That should also be coupled with some knowledge of who and how the counselors teach certain badges. Some counselors are about as much fun to be with as an IRS auditor, and some of them are an absolute pleasure.

    Al that said, if I were counseling a new 10-11 year old on what to start, the ideal badge could be accomplished with about 4-6 hours of work, or classroom discussion, with a counselor that you know will work well with them. It would be taught in a way that they DON’T get at school all day long. It would rank either a 1 or a 2 on the difficulty scale. It would also be a badge that a bunch of their friends want to take together. But of course, if the Scout (and the group of friends) is already doing the activity (like they’re on several sports teams already) then that’s a pop fly for them. But, it would also be a badge that, when finished, they felt a sense of accomplishment for having done so.

    So, if you want me to throw out a suggestion I will. I’ve taught 78 different merit badges in my career, and the one that the kids seemed to really get a kick out of doing was Surveying. Sure it involves a fair amount of math, but it lends itself well to a “class” sort of teaching method, they get to play with cool equipment and figure stuff out. When they get done with it 99 out of 100 of them will know something their parents don’t, which has some appeal. The whole thing can get done in about 3 hours if you’re organized, and it’s a fairly rarely earned badge, (it ranks about 110th in popularity) which is pretty cool too.

    The ones I would counsel them to avoid are the ones that take forever, like Family Life, Personal Management, Personal Fitness, Entrepeneurship, or include a lot of rejection, like Salemanship. Most boys think that Scuba Diving merit badge is by far the funnest badge, but that it is also the hardest. It also is one of the most expensive and difficult to support, and is definitely NOT for everyone. Some kids just never get comfortable under water breathing off of life support gear just to stay alive.

    But like the rest of you, I would leave the choice up to them with some counseling and direction from knowledgable resource sources.

  60. My first that I earned was basketry. I found that it was so easy. I would recommend any merit badge that is simple and can be completed with little difficulty. I would advise the new boys to stay away from the harder merit badges such as personal fitness, family life, or personal management.

  61. Having read some of these and since we are talking about 1st year Boy Scouts, I believe that one that pertains to a hobby that the like or something easy. At this level not only are we teaching them the content of a merit badge but how to proceed to earn the badge. On top of that we are working on getting these Scouts through to 1st class rank. They might want to earn a required merit badge but only if it is something that interests them.

  62. I always recommend First Aid. I want my younger Scouts at least exposed to the basics here as soon as possible and as they work through all the first aid requirements in the initial Ranks, this helps reinforce what they learned through repetition.

  63. H. David Pendleton // January 26, 2016 at 1:07 pm // Reply

    Several issues/discussions here. First, a new Scout crossing over in February or so. I would suggest that he look over the MBs & start one that he might enjoy. If the Scout is going to a MB event, I would provide him the list of MBs and have him choose the 1 or 2 that he might want to do. Make the process fun NOT take these 2 Eagle required as most of the Eagle ones are a little more difficult than the Craft ones. Thus, my suggestion for the Scout would be based on the Scout’s hobbies or interests so they would vary.

    Second, what to take at Summer Camp the first year. Our camp is unique that we are 10 days long and has 4 MB sessions each day. MBs take either 3 or 6 days to complete. I would suggest that the Scout take the ones primarily from the Craft Lodge as there are usually no prerequisites and the Scout gets to take something home to show his parent(s). The other would be one of the more simple MBs from the EcoLodge (Mammal Study or Nature) as these require some prerequisites. If the Scout is a strong swimmer, than Swimming. The camp also has TTFC that is 6-days long for one of the period. If a Scout does TTFC, Swimming (6 days), there are usually opportunity to earn 2-4 additional MBs depending on what they choose.

    I would recommend against the following for the first year: Camping (usually the Scout does not have 20 nights, but they will have by their 2nd year); Cooking (not enough experience); Pioneering (not enough knot tying experience); Wilderness Survival (after they have completed Camping). If the Scout had a compelling reason to take any of these, however, I would be willing to listen. A Scout taking what they want to take will be happier & more successful than being forced to take what someone “highly encouraged” them to take.

    My son told me he wanted to earn all the MBs. We went over them & he mapped out them from easiest to hardest based on a number of factors (time, physical strength, etc). He now has over 100. He didn’t do all the easier ones first, but he did some easy ones along with the harder ones. It was his path guided by a little wisdom from his SM and his parents. Each Scout needs to map out his own course.

  64. There used to be 1 merit badge required for First Class (First Aid). So unless BSA no longer thinks it is a useful skill, I would say this is still the badge that scouts should try to earn first.

  65. H. David Pendleton // January 26, 2016 at 1:16 pm // Reply

    Several years ago, there was a survey sent out to leaders on what MBs should be done during the 1st, 2nd, & 3rd years of summer camp. Here are the results.
    Top 10 for 1st Years: Swimming, First Aid, Leatherwork, Cooking, Basketry, Camping, Nature, Woodcarving, Orienteering, & Archery.
    Top 10 for 2nd Years: Lifesaving, Wilderness Survival, Camping, Environmental Science, Rifle Shooting, Canoeing, First Aid, Emergency Preparedness, Cooking, & Swimming.
    Top 10 for 3rd Years: Lifesaving, Wilderness Survival, Environmental Science, Shotgun Shooting, Rifle Shooting, Emergency Preparedness, Camping, Orienteering, Climbing, & Pioneering.

    As can be seen, several MBs make 2 or 3 of the lists showing that Scout Leaders think differently. This survey was done before Cooking became Eagle required & the requirements changed.

    Interesting to me is that Orienteering was almost equally split between the 3 years. Camping was also high for all 3 years, but 50% said during the 2nd year. 2/3 said that First Aid was important for the 1st year & the other 1/3 said the second year. Not a single vote for First Aid during the 3rd year. Maybe other MBs became more important by that time.

    I always try to look behind the numbers to figure out why, but all I can get out of this is that everyone has their own opinion on what is best for a Scout to take at camp and when.

  66. As a retired Scoutmaster I always recommended First Aid and Swimming. When parents asked why I said that the adult leaders needed to know who can swim and who can help in cases of emergencies so First Aid and Swimming were the first two a new scout earned at his first summer camp. The other merit badges were the easy ones that he could finish and have something to show for the week if he got a partial on the first two.

  67. I think there is no optimum “first” merit badge. Since the whole program is boy led leaders and parents must let the Scout decide. Indeed the Scout needs the permission of the Scoutmaster to start the Merit Badge, he/she must only act as a guide for the Scout. I can remember my “first” merit badges; Reading and Stamp Collecting. I was an avid stamp collector and enjoyed reading. It was an easy introduction to working on my own to earn something. At that time I was in the North Atlantic Council and we had no Merit BAdge Clinics.

    I think we focus too much on programmed earning of Merit Badges. Scouting should not be an achievement factory. Leaders and parents should not constatly pressure Scouts to earn badges ond advancements. Give Scouts encouragement to advance but the intensive hovering I see in some troops would really be a turn-off for me. I’ve seen Scouts coast for a couple of years to make 1s Class and then sprint to Life in a year and eagle inthe next year. I’ve also seen Scouts get Life in 18 mo or so and then go no further. Merit Badges and advancement will come at the pace of the Scout. Let them develop with a minimum of supwervision. This will result in a better rounded SCout and an enthusiastic suipporter of Scouting

  68. Mark Van Lauwe // January 26, 2016 at 3:05 pm // Reply

    With almost 60 years in Scouting, I feel that the Reading Merit Badge is very easy for the Scout and also encourages reading and earning additional merit badges. I am always upset when Scouts have a difficult time reading in front of others or just to another individual. Too much information is gotten through TV and computers. If a Scout has trouble reading, they will have trouble in school, college and a career.

  69. Scoutersully // January 26, 2016 at 3:28 pm // Reply

    First Aid is not a good choice for the first badge. Scouts should be focused more on rank advancement up to First Class. However, they will not want to wait until then to get a MB, nor should they. The first requirement of First Aid MB is “Satisfy your counselor that you have current knowledge of all first-aid requirements for Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class ranks.” In other words, part of the MB is completing the first aid requirements for all three ranks. Scouts won’t want to wait until they have done that to get a MB. As a First Aid MB counselor for quite a few years, it has been my experience that most 11 year old Scouts aren’t mature enough to understand and retain the knowledge and skills for the First Aid MB. That’s why the first aid requirements are phased in over the three ranks. While I agree First Aid is an important MB and should be earned early on, it will take time and not be easy. It should not be the first one a Scout attempts.

    I think the best first MB is something easy and enjoyable that will show a Scout how the MB system works, is fun, and guarantees success: Fingerprinting, Art, Leatherwork, Basketry, Woodcarving, etc.

  70. Last weekend we had our Lodge banquet. Sitting at the next table was the counselor from my first badge 47 years ago. I took Conservative of Natural Resourses, a Eagle requirement. Three patrol leaders were doing it together and invited me to join them. No adults other than the SM signing my mb card were involved. I didn’t have to be psychoanalysed. I did not have to be protected from hard work. It depends on the boy and the situation. My son took Crime Prevention. It was offered by a camp master. At summer camp the wanted to take basketry so he wouldn’t be discouraged. But he also took first aid. He went back to provisional camp and took canoeing, rifle, space exploration and astronomy. When I was an advancement coordinator I wondered why the Eagles from one troop had the same badges. It was easy to take badges with adults from their own troop. Every snowflake is different.

  71. I’m going to go to the opposite end. What do you think the last MBs should be? I think Personal Management, especially if the Scout is old enough to have gotten some credit card applications in the mail I would redact the personal information on my credit card statement and have them calculate the time it would take to pay off the balance while paying only the minimum. Automotive Maintenance (?) before getting a driver’s license. On the other hand, I don’t agree with a parent requiring Eagle before a driver’s license.

    • I replied up above. But the bottom line is you just never know.

      You come up with a solid set of suggestions that works for your first 49 scouts, and along comes number 50 and maybe his buddies too, and you suddenly realize that the mold just broke. You chuck your idea of what’s first/last/between and give them the blue cards and the number of the best counselor you can think of who can manage that cluster of scouts’ special kind of crazy.

    • Scoutersully // January 27, 2016 at 2:56 am // Reply

      For most Scouts, I would agree. I’m a Personal Management MB counselor and I generally encourage boys to wait until they are older — i.e., in high school — to attempt it. Most younger boys don’t really understand many of the concepts and don’t have income to budget. There are exceptions, of course, but they are few and far between.

  72. Basketry

  73. I’d echo a sentiment from a number of the comments. The first few merit badges are where a scout learns the *why* of merit badges. I like having the scouts pick something they like, and work with counselors in twos and threes, rather than a big merit badge class. Fun first.

    Alternatively, starting with First Aid is great – emphasizing the underpinning and pattern of learning anything new, but particularly merit badges – safety, first aid, science and skill.

  74. This question is completely inane. The concept of which one “‘should come first'” is arrogant and completely without merit for what is best for every Scout (millions?) on an individual basis. I am an Eagle Scout (palmed), heavily-involved troop leader for several years, council-level trainer through 4 Wood Badge courses, OA Brotherhood… so not a tangentially involved scouter is what I am trying to say. The beauty of the merit badge program is that it introduces and exposed by requirement any Scout to the widest array of interests possible, avocationally, professionally, technically, artistically, athletically, yada-yada…. Indeed, it has done that for many of decades, and many. many of us can say we as Scouts narrowed our perspectives into professional fields in which we excelled for a long time pretty much because we were first exposed to that stuff by being forced to explore achievement in a variety of areas. And not one, as prescribed by some leader with a personal agenda that no one else is privy too. Sorry, but no merit badge creates a master at any task, and it seems clear to us who have been involved in their requirements at several angles that these are designed to whet appetites in areas to be explored further, once certain elementary tasks are completed successfully and as interest may dictate. Further, the program seems to force exposure in breadth of concepts toward being well-balanced, and where they may not be explored otherwise. Indeed, I have seen many ‘light bulbs’ get turned on…. and isn’t that the beauty of developing the abilities of young men?

    • VA Scoutmaster // January 26, 2016 at 9:16 pm // Reply

      Dear Chris: I humbly suggest you read your own post, especially the first three sentences, and then consider what we mean by friendly, courteous, and kind. Reflect on the irony of your characterization of a fun discussion topic as “arrogant” which you then follow with a recitation of your Scouting curriculum vitae.

      • Scoutersully // January 27, 2016 at 2:58 am // Reply

        Well said.

  75. John Cloward // January 26, 2016 at 9:41 pm // Reply

    I’ve heard some people recommend that a boy should start on first aid merit badge as a Tenderfoot, that way he can accomplish all his first aid requirements (TF, 2C, 1C, and MB) at the same time. I strongly recommend against this practice. As an adult, I have to recertify in first aid every two years. The idea that a boy only needs first aid training once between ages 11 and 17 is a big mistake. If we want the knowledge to sink in (and perhaps more than any other scout subject this should apply to first aid), it has to be refreshed on a regular basis. 2C first aid should come several months after TF, and 1C first-aid should come several months after 2C. Each new ‘hit’ on the topic of first aid should be an opportunity to review and relearn previous knowledge. As a general suggestion I wouldn’t start the first aid MB until at least six months after 1C first aid was passed off. And all those more advanced merit badges that require first aid as a prerequisite? More opportunities to review and relearn! (We need to get rid of the “I passed that off once so I don’t need to know it anymore” syndrome!) Of course, having the older boys teach the younger is the best way to keep their knowledge fresh.

  76. Scoutersully // January 27, 2016 at 3:00 am // Reply

    Right on!

  77. When a new scouts wants advice on which one to take I talk to the scout not mom or dad about what they find interesting. Then suggest a couple that would work into that. Likes to draw Art like gaming Game design like pets dog care. And then I throw in a couple that are on the opposite end in case he wants to try something new

  78. I believe a scout should start with something that interests them to get them excited about the program. My first merit badge was Weather, and later in life that inspired me to become an Air Force meteorologist which I did for 23 years. I think too much pressure is put on getting Eagle required merit badges done early.

  79. As Scoutmaster, I always recommend the FINGERPRINTING merit badge first. It is quick and simple, with information that does not require alot of retention. It gives them the opportunity to see what earning a merit badge entails, on a simple level. After they accomplish that, they can go on to others.

  80. For those who would suggest that 1st Aid should be the first, I would suggest that 11-year old retention is low, so this becomes a check the box activity if that is all you do – Take the merit badge and call it a day. My son, at eleven enrolled in the Red Cross’ CPR and First Aid class, took all of the first aid requirements for advancement and then took his 1st Aid Merit Badge at Summer Camp, where he knew more than some of his instructors. First aid is a perishable skill.

    Having just watched how this all worked over the last year, I would suggest that one of the easier, non-required badges of interest to the scout is most important – It shows how the process works, minimizes interference with the rank advancement and gives them a success story. Taking Eagle Merit Badges before they get to Second Class (outside of Swimming and First Aid) is putting the cart before the horse and distracts from the fun aspects of scouting.

  81. Andrew Shane // January 27, 2016 at 9:32 am // Reply

    I think it depends on the scout, the first merit badge I worked on at home was Citizenship in the Community. It was a tough challenge for me to start with and get used to completing merit badges, but I was really glad to get it out of the way early. If its someone who gets discouraged quickly on something hard, I would recommend something easy and quick to accomplish. My first 2 merit badges I earned were Basketry and Leatherwork, which was at Summer Camp, they were relatively easy and hands on. We worked on these merit badges with several scouts so it was nice having someone around to compare notes with and ask for help.

  82. The strategy we use in our troop is that our first year T21 scouts do not take merit badges until summer camp at the end of their first year. This allows us to focus on getting them through the T21 rank requirements. At summer camp, we do not give them a choice – everyone takes Swimming and Leatherwork (or sometimes a different craft merit badge). This approach accomplishes a few things: 1. they get to focus on advancement which provides excitement for moving up in rank. 2. they form bonds as a group during summer camp as they are in the same merit badges together. 3. by only taking two, there is a great chance of success in completing both and we have time to work on finishing up T21 requirements. 4. completing swimming is an Eagle badge and pre-requisite for some others as other commentors have mentioned.

    Now if a scout is a go-getter and really wants to take a merit badge during the first year before summer camp, we do not stop them but we don’t actively encourage them to do it.

    This strategy works very well and we do not have much push back from parents or scouts once we explain the thinking behind it.

    • One other comment – once they reach First Class, then we encourage them to take either Cooking or First Aid (which we arrange to have ongoing during our troop meetings). I agree with another comment about how First Aid skills need to be continually refreshed and reviewed, thus they can refresh and build on the basic skills from T21 when they take the merit badge.

  83. Most scouts first opportunity is summer camp. As SM I suggest something at Soutcraft; leatherwork, art, sculpture, basketry. Etc. They just finished fifth grade, so these are in their skiill range. Others would be archery and fishing. Swimming, 1st aid, I leave for second year, with other Eagle requires.

  84. Lots of interesting comments on this thread. The reality is that first year scouts shouldn’t be focusing on merit badges out of the gate. They have three ranks to go through before merit badges become a requirement for advancement. Therefore, a lot of the comments regarding maturity and age are not necessarily accurate. Yes, it depends on the scout and what interests them. First Aid and Swimming are great merit badges that I would recommend (they are Eagle required), but they don’t need to be the first ones. I say keep the scout engaged by learning about something they love.

  85. Patrick Moore // January 27, 2016 at 10:19 am // Reply

    I think it is most important to learn the merit badge process by choosing a fairly easy merit badge. When I confer with a new scout, I always suggest the music merit badge. Most scouts are in a music program in their elementary school so they are familiar and the requirements are very easy so they learn the merit badge process. At their first Summer Camp, I suggest to work on one Eagle and one non-Eagle. I like swimming and pioneering. Both fit nicely into the rank requirements and can be fun. Summer Camp is perfect for these badges as they spend a week straight focused on the activity.

  86. When I first join scouting, my scout master would give each Scout a list of the merit badges he thought we were ready for the week before we went to summer camp. My first year I took Art, Nature, and Computers merit badge. Personally I thought this was a good idea. Next year I took Rifle Shooting and Motorboat merit badge. Then the year after, I pursued the eagle required ones.

  87. Robert Rubinberg // January 27, 2016 at 10:26 am // Reply

    I would recommend swimming, especially as a first year at summer camp. Up to that point I have the scouts focus on rank advancement, towards Tenderfoot. First Aid is built into the program through the rank advancement towards First Class. I would suggest that scouts work First Aid as they approach or make First Class.

  88. My first MB was Fishing – my son’s first was Chess – which he was already in a Chess Club. He’s been in Scouts for 2 years and has 4 ER MBs – but other than Swimming at 1st year of camp, the other three were not in his first 8 or so earned.

  89. JeffreyK Cub Master / Merit Badge Counselor // January 27, 2016 at 11:40 am // Reply

    The Best First Merit Badge a Scout should earn is . . . the one he most wants to earn!!! Not something a parent or leader prescribes for him. One that will make Scouting fun and interesting and keep him working toward his Eagle!

  90. It depends on the Scout.

    Some first year Scouts are ready to take on almost anything.

    For others, they are really only ready for most simple merit badges (e.g. finger printing, coin collecting, pets, summer camp handicraft badges).

    As a Scoutmaster, I make sure the Scout understands what it takes to earn the badge, that they have the resources to complete the badge, and have access to a counselor. After that, it is up to the Scout decide what to work on.

  91. I earned First Aid first, but that was in the era when you had to earn Skill Awards first. My young son just earned Game Design as his first Merit Badge. We did it with a bunch of Scouts from different Troops on a Saturday at a Microsoft Store. That was a wonderful first experience for him and it generated interest in other Merit Badge areas for him. He no longer sees Merit Badges as something only for the “older” boys.

  92. Scoutmaster RA // January 27, 2016 at 1:49 pm // Reply

    This depends on the venue in which the badges are offered. If it is summer camp I will set my first year campers up for the 1st year program and add First Aid and Swimming. If it is a Merit Badge Clinic I want it to be a fun experience and not a classroom experience that does not go as in depth as I would wish. At a clinic, have fun. Don’t start off with an experience of “darn, this is just like going to school”. A Merit Badge should be of interest to the Scout at all times.

  93. Sewing Merit Badge, so they can sew on all the other patches they earn……but alas, Sewing ain’t a merit badge!

  94. When my son was in Boy Scouts he did Basketry, leatherwork, Indian Lore and something else. His Scoutmaster recommended them as the best ones for a first year camper.

  95. William Roseberry // January 27, 2016 at 5:12 pm // Reply

    We always suggested First aid Merit Badge. Other badges may be simpler or more fun . . . but, sooner or later one will NEED to use some type of first aid, whether to help someone else, or may even need to talk someone else through the process to help themselves.
    We had EMTs as ASMs who taught first aid skills 1/2 hour before our weekly meetings, from Tenderfoot through Emergency Prep.

  96. First Aid without a doubt, but unlike most MBs, for the troop I grew up in, it was not treated as a “one and done” badge. In my old unit, we did the First Aid MB every six months for every boy (October for new Scouts, April for cross-over Scouts). Older boys taught the class to younger boys under the counselor’s watchful eye. This made every boy highly proficient and prepared for every medical situation that arises. It is also a natural outgrowth of the Webelos Readyman, as well, providing a useful bridge to your crossover Scouts.

    Of all the MBs offered, First Aid is the one badge I think every boy at some point in their life will actually use, and not just one time, and as such, should be placed as highly important and the “first” MB to be worked on.

  97. Greg Sartor, New Albany, IN // January 27, 2016 at 6:40 pm // Reply

    Leatherwork and Swimming. – First year Scouts at summer camp, maybe two months into their Scouting adventure can earn these merit badges before they even earn Tenderfoot. Swimming is good to master early- then they can canoe. boat, etc. along with troop activities as they come up. Leatherwork because it is easy, designed for younger Scouts, they will also create something tangible and useful to take home with them from camp.

  98. A few quick thoughs : 1. Their first badge should be a fun badge that they have some enthusiasm for. 2. That said, if a summer camp or other opportunity is in the near future (which it often is for crossovers / summer joiners), it’s hard to beat Swimming. 3. With the new revisions to the requirements for Tenderfoot through First Class, I think that a lot of boys could make a much earlier start on Personal Fitness than has been the norm in the past. 4. If I were to recommend a first Eagle-Required badge, I think Personal Management is a solid choice. While many put it off until late in their Scouting career, it teaches some planning and time management practices that really help on both troop activities and other badges.

  99. Generally first year classes at camps give the scouts one or two merit badges. My first merit badge was citizenship in the community but i wouldn’t suggest it to any new scouts

  100. So we get really lucky in that our district holds a merit badge event at the end of March/beginning of April. It is district wide and well attended so we usually have more than 600 participants.

    We camp in a field at a school and so new scouts don’t feel the usual isolation of a first Campout, plus the event location is within 15 minutes of our meeting location, so scouts don’t feel like they are far from home…both good and bad.

    During the day Saturday and Sunday the district staff run a litany of merit badge courses, some challenging, some more introductory. We encourage new scouts to review the course options and pick half day classes that interest them. Usually they end up with items like Model Design, fingerprinting, collecting or skating.

    All in all it has proven to be a great experience for our new youth and really makes them feel like they are getting a great head start on their advancement.

    Oh, the other big advantage is that the adults cook for the youth so they can eat and get back to class. They love being catered to and we get to give them some ideas about the kinds of food they can make on future campouts.

  101. My Boss at the scout shop mentioned today that Fingerprinting was a good first badge to earn. It teaches the process of earning a badge with brevity.

  102. Kevin Warmack // January 28, 2016 at 12:10 pm // Reply

    I would encourage the young Scout to find a merit badge that interests him to start his journey. Yes, there are the Eagle required badges that can be done first like Swimming and First Aid but we have to remember, this young man is coming over either from Cub Scouting, where he had to complete all the Arrow of Light requirements and then begin to understand being a Boy Scout or they are coming fresh off the street and he has to get familiar with the Oath, Laws , etc. We don’t want to overwhelm the young man. And the ulitimate goal is to keep him interested and maybe finish the Eagle before Life and the fumes (perfume and gasoline ) get him.

  103. My first merit badge which I earned back in 1948 was Poultry Keeping and my second merit badge was Music. I earned PK because we raised chickens and I chose Music as my second badge because I played in the school band and understood music. No REQUIRED BADGES for me right away. I wanted to learn how the MB program worked. Reading and Scholarship followed. Theen I began my required merit badges after that.

  104. I recommend that they take a few ‘easier’ badges, so they can get the idea of what is required. I usually end up teaching them how to correctly fill out the card (I see a lot of 1st timers), to make sure it’s readable, and how to talk/contact the counselor. I will get a parent of a new scout, or a shy one, and they talk to me first and I then ask to speak to the scout. I introduce myself, and then I ask them which badge they would like to do with me. I am a counselor for Basketry, Leatherwork, Music, Pet Care, and Dog Care – relatively easy ones to start with. And I also do Cooking, Personal Mgmt, Nature & Forestry.

    I do explain to them that the buddy system is required, and it’s to protect them and to protect me. Either a parent must be with them, or another scout. IF it’s 2 scouts, and no adults, we meet in a public place – like the Library or a coffee shop or a fast food place – whatever is easiest for them. IF a parent is with them, and starts to take over, I explain that this is between their son and me, and if I need clarification I will ask the scout first and then look to them. This helps with the communication between all of us.

    I like it when they start with the less intense one’s first and get their feet wet – so to speak. We go over the difference between writing, demonstrating, and discussion. I let them know that they can write down (or type on a computer) any notes they wish to use when speaking with me, but that a discussion is just that a discussion. And a 200 word essay on the care, feeding and laws of owning a pet is a 200 word essay. I don’t expect perfection in spelling, grammar or syntax, but I want them to do their best. And then we discuss it.

    When doing Basketry, I show them some tricks to make it easier (warm water, and twist ties to hold everything in place, among some other things), and then we go. I usually end up with a scout who is finishing an incomplete merit badge from their first year at camp and sometimes I work with those that have a learning disadvantage (attention, autism, or other), because I am patient and will gear our meetings to the needs of the scout. Leaders have been known to send me those youth having trouble with the standard counselor – and we get it all done. Sometimes this will be a few weeks, and sometimes a year – it depends on the scout.

    As an Advancement Chair for a troop, first and foremost, when talking with scouts, I ask what their interests are and what would they like to do – not what the leader or the parent says, but what they would like to do. Too many scouts are steered to certain badges and sometimes they aren’t ready for them. I have been known to tell the 7 & 8 grade scouts that the Citizenships are great to earn during these years, because this is information that they are learning during their school year – so please make it easier on yourself and do them at the same time. Some listen, and some do not. I do not want to push a scout to First Aid if he can’t handle the book learning on top of everything else – nor do I want a new scout to do Personal Mgmt when it is like teaching them economics and they have no clue. I have also been known to call a Scoutmaster, to sound them out, when a scout seems to not really want to do a badge. I like to keep the communication lines open all around.

    The great thing about working with these scouts, especially the first timers, is that when they make eagle, they call me and tell me that I really helped and could I please come to their eagle ceremony? I am always so touched and I really love that part.

  105. I find that the common mentality of my district and council leaders is that scouts should be the only ones to instigate interest in a merit badge. Then promoting Eagle required merit badges in MBU farms.

    As a former SM, CC and MBC, I have seen too many scouts that have only earned merit badges at summer camp, and think this is a travesty. I used to offer events in Virginia with scouts traveling from numerous states up and down the East Coast. When asked why they are driving from New York, Florida, Sout carolina or Illinois, I was told they couldn’t get them in their district, council or adjoining council.

    When I discussed this with my local district and council leaders, I was told that I should not be doing this because scouts are supposed to initiate to contact as directed in the Guide to Advancement 2015 page 49. But creating an event and making it know to scouts via a web page allows a scout to identify an opportunity and visit a place of interest. This posting to a web site resulted in a “CEASE AND DESIST” order from council as then they considered it a district and\ or counsel event. I was also told the website was not BSA approved and could not be posted there. I could find no documentation that states that this is the case and sounds more like an ad hoc unwritten rule.

    Can anyone provide some clarification on these issues?

    • Joe, while not knowing the particulars of the Council C/D edict, you should be commended for offering the learning opportunity to the Scouts, filling a need and getting a very positive response from the Scouts (if not older Scouters and Professionals).
      I would especially say this for the way down the list in popularity MBs.

  106. The first one should be what ever interest the Scout. The SM should sit down and find out what the scout is interested in. The find a MB that fits that interest. The key is if he is interested in the subject the scout is more likely to be successful in completing the MB. Once he has properly completed one MB then the scariness of MBs will be gone and he is more likely to be successful.

    His firs MB should not be one he earned at camp or at a MB Pow Wow. My reasoning is because at most camps or Pow Wow the MB are taught instead of earned. So if the Scouts first MB is in a class atmosphere he think that that is how they are suppose to be earned ans will be more reluctant to contact a counselor in the proper way.

  107. Family Life MB would be my proposed ‘first merit badge’, with the soon to be Tenderfoot and family given the requirements and a blue card, with an explanation that working on T-2-1 class would be the focus of the Patrol and Troop. There is high level of family involvement, obviously, in the Family Life MB [old Citizenship in the Home MB]. The young Scout should take more initiative than a Cub or WeBeLoS, but it is still a family effort. The parent(s) should be impressed by the drug abuse and other discussions. There a lulls between camping trips, meetings and school, for work on Family Life.

    The commenters who view Family Life as taking a more mature boy, are reading more into the printed requirements than I see. No doubt, the 17 year old with steady girlfriend and the 11 year old would have a different talk with the Counselor and level of project, but they are still parts of a family. The FL projects take some time and record keeping, but are not necessarily difficult.

    The young Scout would also be free to look into any other Merit Badges or Troop etc group MB related activities, summer camp, with the understanding sill that the first focus is on timely First Class achievement and skills.

    Reading and Scholarship are two other MBs for long winter days.

  108. Claude3 Thouret Jr // February 4, 2016 at 3:02 pm // Reply

    I earned Eagle at

  109. Claude3 Thouret Jr // February 4, 2016 at 3:10 pm // Reply

    I earned Eagle at 14 (class of 63), I would recommend the first MB be something simple and fun and may be an Eagle requirement until the scout reaches 1st Class. Then go for all the gusto and First Aid is a great MB to get. I have used that knowledge and skill to help folks as a good turn.

  110. Scouting Heritage….” Learn about the history of your unit “

  111. Richard F. Becker // March 11, 2016 at 4:11 pm // Reply

    Very interesting thread going on. My recommendation is Collections or something similar. This gives the boy a chance to discuss something he enjoys with an adult and starts to build a rapport with an adult he does not know. This gives them the confidence for other merit badges

  112. Interesting regarding those who “disagree” with various suggestions – the point is of course that it doesn’t really matter what badge to do first. However, whenever I was asked for my opinion, typically prior to a scout’s first summer camp my answer would be as follows

    – my recommendations were 1st Aid and swimming – swimming because our most popular summer camp (camp Wente in Northern California) had fantastic facilities for swimming and it was a lot of fun. First Aid because it’s so helpful in the trail to first class – regarding the comments that scouts can forget the content and thus it should wait for more maturity, I disagree, yes the skills are perishable and as such a scout program should be continuously refreshing those skills for all scouts throughout their career (as should all adults)

    – I’d also add DON’T do the more “academic” eagle-requiredbadges that are frequently taught in a school like setting – they tend to be better taken by my mature scouts able to have substantive discussions with the MB counselor – and scout summer camp should be focused on FUN and nothing remotely academic.

  113. My son has just crossed over from Webelos, and I am going to encourage him to do the badges he wants to do, even if they don’t lead to Eagle. Don’t get me wrong–if he ever makes Eagle, I will be happy for him, but I want him to enjoy the program and gain some understanding on life and all the fascinating things the world can offer.

  114. Scouter Jay // April 10, 2016 at 9:41 am // Reply

    Whenever a Scout wants to sit down with me to plan his first merit badge, I look at a few details. First thing – was the Scout in Cub Scouts or is he fresh to Scouting. If he crossed over, he most likely did Readyman/First Responder to earn his Arrow of Light, so he could start First Aid MB if he wanted. If he is a brand new Scout, he probably wouldn’t have a background in basic first aid to start that MB yet. Second thing – I ask the Scout what excites him. Sometimes, all it takes is a look at the cover of a MB book to ignite something in the Scout to want that badge. Sometimes it takes asking questions to find out which badge to recommend.

  115. The first MB a scout works on should be one that HE is excited to try. If a scout is completely engaged in the adventure of earning the merit badge then he will understand the process better, which in turn will set him up for future MB’s. Just ‘getting though it’ seldom leads to comprehension and puts down a shaky foundations upon which other MB are built. I keep a 20+ page (constantly updated) list of MB opportunities in our area… I have no problem omitting MBU’s that hand out cards for half taught subjects.

  116. When I have a first-year Scout going to summer camp I try to get them to take at least one Eagle required Merit Badge and then a merit badge that it’s hard to take at home such as environmental science or fish and wildlife management. I then tell them to take a couple merit badges of something that they would enjoy or have an interest in. If they choose to take first aid as their first badge at summer camp I am fine with that. But as they grow and we have meetings where we run the first aid merit badge, I make sure they sit through them to absorb it more as they get older. First aid is something that they always need refreshers on and will always learn something while sitting through it again.

  117. John C Van Wert // April 10, 2016 at 10:33 am // Reply

    First one should be something fun, something the boy has alot of interest in. The scout will be eager to jump right into it a do the work required to get it done. I think it’s a great way to “get one under your belt”. My son was taking Archery lessons for 2 years before crossing over so that was the first badge he earned. The shooting part of the badge was easy for him, but he learned alot about Archery and the equipment he uses every week. He was extremely proud to show up at a function with that one badge on his chest, wearing his sash like one of the boys!

  118. My questions is what I ask parents, if you were to have a heart attack and you are on the ground looking up, would you want an 11 year old who took 1st aid MB or a 15 year old? As a teacher of the 1st aid MB I’d rather have the older boy. Maturity and retention are important and the ability to perform during a stressful situation.

    • H. David Pendleton // July 15, 2016 at 10:17 am // Reply

      If I had a heart attack & there were ONLY 11-year olds around, I would rather them have taken the First Aid MB than not having taken it because it was suggested that they wait until later.

  119. Eagle Scout Scoutmaster // April 10, 2016 at 1:03 pm // Reply

    How about the people here who were never a Scout keep quiet.

    Second, how about a merit badge a Scout wants to earn. It’s their choice.

  120. Mark Wonsil // April 11, 2016 at 4:36 am // Reply

    Not as concerned about the first earned, but the first blue card might be Camping so the scout can start racking up those nights outdoors.

  121. Let em pick something that they enjoy and run with it. Get started and keep going.

  122. Charles Fincher // July 15, 2016 at 9:40 am // Reply

    I always advise scouts not to make their scouting journey any harder than it needs to be. Most middle schoolers are taking music class, have required reading, are taking PE and sports, have pets and other routines that they are already doing. Start with those. Then explore the badges in which they have an interest. When the patrol or troop or camp is working on a meeit badge, don’t pass up the opportunity.

  123. Although it is more difficult for younger scouts to complete all requirements, I believe Wilderness Survival is a good 1st one to start, God forbid they had to use those skills when if they ever find themselves in a bad situation.

  124. Paul stock // July 15, 2016 at 10:52 am // Reply

    There seems to be a lot of discussion about first aid mb and younger scouts. I am working with two scouts that have behavior issues. One of the boys attended resident camp as Webelow 1( my son) and one did not. While going through the ready man requirements that were already earned by the first for the second 6 months after camp, he took over the meeting and was showing the other the what’s where’s and why’s. Give the boys some credit. I have seen them both come to task after I injured my leg at family camp.
    Fortunately, I did not need immediate medical help other than what they did. They were ready men.They remembered there training, were lightning fast and correct in all aspects during the incident. I was impressed ALOT!

  125. Marty Raborn // July 15, 2016 at 11:34 am // Reply

    The Troop my son just joined suggests First Aid and Swimming for their new scouts. I think this is a great recommendation, which my son has followed. He has learned a lot of really important outdoor skills in a short amount of time. He is also working on Personal Fitness in the background. One thing that is different about Summer Camp now than when I was a kid is the ‘Rank Advancement’ classes. I was originally hesitant about these but my son was really happy he took this class at Camp to help get him going on his ranks.

  126. Are we really talking about merit badges for cross-over scouts? This is a mistake, period. Once they get through Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class, they have the foundations to take and extend their knowledge and refine skills. They shouldn’t even be thinking of merit badges until well through First Class and then it should be a non-eagle required badge, except maybe swimming. Wow, this whole thread is terribly disappointing.

  127. Scoutmaster Jason // July 15, 2016 at 12:39 pm // Reply

    My suggestion would be First Aid and Swimming, in short order. First Aid is going to be an issue in every other MB that follows, so start learning the skills ASAP (more about that later). Swimming is a prerequisite not only for other aquatic MB’s, it’s also a requirement for many camp activities over the summer, so those two first. I could also see the sense in doing Personal Fitness early, especially since the new Path to First Class has physical requirements at each rank.
    With respect to the conversation over First Aid, and whether new scouts can handle the maturity, remember that earning a merit badge is the beginning of a process, not the end. Of course a new scout won’t remember everything at first. But if he (or she if Venture or Sea Scout) passes the requirements once, then that scout is equipped to use the skills on the trail, or at summer camp, or at least will know where to look for the right answers if necessary. A year later, that scout refreshes his/her memory at the district camporee when they do a First Aid-themed game. After earning First Class, maybe that scout starts helping the counselor teach first aid at a troop meeting. Certainly checking off rank requirements (our troop has scouts over 1st Class check requirements, not the adults) will force the scout to review First Aid with the younger scouts. By the time the scouts make Star or Life, they have been teaching and reviewing, and using, First Aid many times over and it finally sinks in. As a teacher myself, I understand that it’s true both in the classroom and in the troop: you don’t really learn something until you have to teach it to someone else. And you aren’t qualified to teach it until you earn the merit badge yourself. My son earned First Aid at age 10.5 right after bridging from the pack, and now at 17 he’s Red Cross and BSA certified as a Lifeguard, working Aquatics staff at Mataguay Scout Ranch in San Diego Imperial Council.

  128. Sorry, but I feel strongly the first merit badge should be — “the one the scout wants to do!” Scouting should be fun and merit badges should be an entry into a greater world. The first should help usher the scout into that greater world; it should be fun, easy and available. Often, it may be at their first summer camp (which at our council is a badge smorgasbord.) let the boy decide.

  129. Having just returned from summer camp with 6 new scouts I agree with those recommending handicraft and nature related badges. My reasoning being a scouts first MB’s should get him hooked. Taking a harder entailed Eagle badge requires more skill and knowledge than some boys can muster the first year of summer camp. We suggest badges the boys can complete at camp or very quickly finish the remaining requirements once home. This gets the boys engaged in the program giving them a quick buy in to advancement with out rubber stamping MB’s.
    First Aid has rank requirements that take time and mastery. Even swimming can be hard for some. Case in point we had new scouts whose parents wanted them to be in the Mile Swim. Upon inquiring if the boys were on a swim team or strong swimmers we were told the boys swim all the time. It was disheartening for the boys all pumped on mile swim to be classified as non-swimmers at the camp swim test and then moved to a seperate section during the swim MB and unable to complete at camp. A good SM will explain this to parents and hopefully get their buy in for reinforcement at home.
    Let’s focus on providing scouts with MB path of progression rather than a chest full of badges they don’t remember earning due to helicopter parents “buying” them at rubber stamping fairs/universities/museums.
    Quality not quantity. Make them proud of what they earn.
    Some of our scouts won’t turn in Blue Cards from fairs if the didn’t really complete all the requirements. No that’s trustworthy and what scouting is all about.

  130. Clovis Hebert // September 17, 2016 at 8:07 am // Reply

    As a former Boy Scout I find the question ridiculous. The is no “best one first” ! Whatever fits the Scout or circumstances is best. It’s amazing to see 200 comments about a non issue. Oops 201.

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