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Top tips for making the most of a merit badge day

As a Scout, my favorite merit badges were earned as a byproduct of Scouting fun.

We’d go camping or visit the Texas Capitol or cook a gourmet dinner and — boom! — merit badge done.

But sometimes you have to be more deliberate about merit badge instruction. Perhaps you have Scouts who want to earn specific merit badges that don’t fit into your troop’s upcoming plan. Or maybe you have a subject-matter expert who’s willing to give up a few hours to serve as a counselor, and you don’t want to miss that opportunity.

When merit badge instruction is grouped into a daylong event where Scouts can earn multiple merit badges, we call that a merit badge day.

Merit badge days come in a number of forms. Here’s a look at what the Guide to Advancement says and what a longtime counselor says.

What the Guide to Advancement says

Small-group or individual instruction (while following Youth Protection guidelines) is preferred over large-group classroom instruction.

Read Section 7 of the Guide to Advancement. It says the merit badge process “should be hands-on and interactive, and should not be modeled after a typical school classroom setting.”

The BSA doesn’t outright outlaw large-group merit badge instruction, but it recommends you avoid it:

This small-scale approach is the recommended best practice for merit badge instruction and requirement fulfillment. Units, districts and councils should focus on providing the most direct merit badge experiences possible. Large group and Web-based instruction, while perhaps efficient, do not measure up in terms of the desired outcomes with regard to learning and positive association with adults.

What a longtime merit badge counselor says

Carey Snyder is the chartered organization representative for Troop 731 of the Sam Houston Area Council.

He suggests, first off, that a merit badge counselor study the requirements and ask himself or herself this question: “Is this really serving the Scout to streamline this and present in a classroom environment? Would he get more out of it doing it individually?”

He offers these other thoughts on merit badge days:

  1. When applicable, announce to all participants (and parents) that the badge will not be completed during the one-, two- or four-hour class.
  2. Share with Scouts a list of requirements they might complete during the class, if there’s time. These requirements often include those beginning with “discuss” or “demonstrate” or “explain” that involve a direct interaction with the Scout.
  3. Share with the Scouts a list of requirements that may/must be done before class and what evidence the Scout should provide.
  4. On merit badge days, opt for two or three longer sessions (with plenty of breaks) instead of four or five shorter sessions. This means Scouts won’t earn as many merit badges during the day but will get more out of each one.
  5. Emphasize hands-on learning over lectures.
  6. Encourage Scouts to complete additional requirements at home or during family trips. This engages the family in the Scouting experience, perhaps drawing in another adult to the troop.

What can you add?

What suggestions do you have for maximizing merit badge days? The comments are open.

20 Comments on Top tips for making the most of a merit badge day

  1. Sangre de Cristo District (Northern New Mexico) of the Great Southwest Council) is doing a “Merit Badge Pow-Wow in the Woods” in May 19-21, 2017 to provide a realistic environment for MBs: Wilderness Survival, Nature, Bird Study, First Aid, and Forestry.

  2. Counselors with the time available should let boys know that they can present skills or games related to the MB at a troop meeting or campout … possibly on a “will work for dutch oven cooking” basis

    A “side-effect” of earning merit-badges should be boys planning unique activities for their troop.

  3. Hospitality Chairman // March 17, 2017 at 5:56 pm // Reply

    And if you want great merit badge counselors to keep coming back, feed them well!

  4. In 17 years of Scout leadership I’ve learned to NOT like these events. EVERY one we attended basically gave the badges away.

    I’m sure they are organized by well-intended people, but folks need to realize that the MB Program has a very specific purpose in the big picture.

    Through the MB Program….
    * THE SCOUT gets to PERSONALIZE his BSA experience by learning the things that interest HIM, not what the “majority” voted to work on
    * THE SCOUT takes on the OWNERSHIP of his advancement
    * THE SCOUT engages and works closely with adults who are not is parents or SM
    * THE SCOUT gets to work at HIS pace, not the pace of the “class”
    [Hopefully, your heads are nodding at this point]

    “Eagle Scout” is not simply “21 badges and a project”… it’s all the PERSONAL GROWTH that happens along the way. The MB Program is a big part of fostering that growth. IMO, folks streamlining” or “fast-tracking” advancement are doing the boys no favors.

    • After 20 years of scouting, I find it difficult to listen to criticism on badges being too easy at merit badge days when every summer camp I have ever been to gives out many badges to scouts in group settings counseled by young staff that usually are less qualified to teach them than the adults in my troop, the exceptions being when safety is involved like water sports and shooting sports. On top of that, the youth counselors often teach more merit badges in a summer than unit adults are allowed to sign up for. Too much hypocrisy for me!

  5. Paul, I second your comments. By whatever name, the process of earning Merit Badges has shifted from Scout & Counselor to Counselor and many Scouts, aside from the need to adhere to YPT considerations

    Too often the group format turns into a “Lecture” and many of the “SPECIFIC ACTION requirements turn into a one-time, group demonstration for ALL.

    Also, too many Scouts, their Leader and PARENTS believe by simply attending these events the prescribed time, the Scout walks away with a badge!!!

    This applies to both the Saturday morning program as well as the local Summer camp.

    There will also be “home work” a Scout needs to complete. The Merit Badge Counselor simply ensures the requirements are completed to earn the badge. Otherwise, the lazy Scout ends up with a PARTIAL and the set-backs the incomplete effort and wasted time has brought….

  6. Matt Culbertson // March 18, 2017 at 1:42 pm // Reply

    This is what we do.

    http://www.bsatroop168.com/2018-mbc

    • H. David Pendleton // March 21, 2017 at 7:00 am // Reply

      Matt: I like the emphasis in the instructions that that mere attendance does not mean that a Scout will earn the Merit Badge.

  7. “A Scout(er) is Trustworthy”. The Merit Badge earning process depends on three things: 1) The integrity of the MBCounselor who teaches/instructs/discusses the Scout and requires the completion of the requirements, 2) the Scout who wants to EARN the MBadge, and 3) the opportunity presented. One is NOT going to earn Canoeing MB at a MBCollege in a school auditorium. Personal Management should NOT be expected to be “earned” in one sitting. Astronomy SHOULD include some night time , yes?
    If the Scout comes to whatever venue, be it a Scout Camp, MBMidway, Counselor’s basement rec room, expecting to be “signed off” purely by his attendance, he is not meeting his part of the bargain. If the MBCounselor takes the Scouts “worksheet” as evidence of knowledge without discussion, he is shortchanging the Scout. (Worksheets are not accepted by me !). If the MBCounselor has little knowledge of the subject (a Star Scout at Summer Camp doing Nuclear Science???) it just ain’t right. If the venue does not lend itself to the skill involved (Pioneering in a school classroom?) , it should be re-thought.

  8. The best Merit Badge days or fairs and summer camps we have attended all had a list of prerequisite requirements that you had to finish before hand and provide proof on attendance in order to finish the merit badge. Our troop also discourages boys from taking all but a small list of required merit badges at fairs or camps. We have a group of dedicated in troop counsellors who lead these badges and ensure the boys complete the badge requirements. I guess we’re not as concerned about them glossing over a section of the Golf or Basketry merit badge – but are more concerned with Citizenship, Personal Management, Emergency Preparedness, etc.

    We also don’t allow our scouts to sign up for Trail to First Class programs either. While the scouts who run them are usually knowledgeable and give good instruction – the pace of learning every still from Scout through First Class in 4-5 days is just too much. Most boys don’t remember more than 10% of it a day later. An 12-18 month path of slow instruction with repetition is much better.

    • I think the trail to first class programs are great, but the knowledge should be displayed separately before signoff. Troops who rely heavily upon these programs without checks nor balances end up with a bunch of star scouts who are unable to ties a square knot or perform even the simplest first aid.

    • kurt A. Esposito // April 19, 2017 at 9:15 pm // Reply

      You don’t allow? Who are you to allow or disallow what your Scout does within the rules of the BSA?

  9. Keep quality high and cost to the minimum. Cover overhead, but do not seek to profit from this service.

  10. I guess we have tripped into some amazing merit badge events!
    The University of Florida hosts a STEM merit badge event. My sons robotics class was led by Masters and PhD students in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering department. They spent the entire day with alternating PowerPoint slide lecture, hands on work in the first hour to all hands on in the last 4 hours. Even my very quiet son, was called upon and the group patiently waited for him to speak. Nuclear Science breaks for lunch after stopping at the reactor. The Vet Medicine participants practiced with equipment they use in the Vet School … this is usually sold out each year.
    Our council hosts canoeing and small boat sailing at their camp on a few Saturdays during the year. This allows a troop without member access to boats to attempt these in a smaller group setting. Anything in the water is very popular at our local camp.

  11. H. David Pendleton // March 21, 2017 at 7:14 am // Reply

    Last Saturday, our council held its semi-annual event at the HS Truman Museum/Library where Scouts can earn the CITN or American Heritage MBs. The Scouts are given the prerequisites ahead of time and if they do not complete them as written, nothing more and nothing less, they fail to earn the Merit Badge. I had one troop tell their Scouts (I had 3 of them in my small group) they could write any political leader for one of the requirements and two of them failed to earn the CITN Merit Badge because they wrote President Trump instead of one of their Senators or Congressmen to discuss a national issue. We have small groups of about 8 Scouts in each after they take a tour of the museum to begin the day. Each Scout had to discuss each of the requirements and none got a “pass” because they were sitting there. I don’t know what the other 8 MBCs did, but I know that every one of mine met the requirements for the CITN Merit Badge.

    My son has attended at least a dozen Merit Badge events in a variety of formats: 1-day long, 1/2 Days separated by 2 or 3 weeks; 1/2 Days but 3 different days. As long as the MBC holds the Scout to the standard and makes sure that the requirements have been met, I have no issue with them. For my son, I have him go over the requirements and do not only the ones listed as prerequisites (or homework for the ones with time between the meetings), but possibly others as well by asking, “Which of these requirements might be difficult to do during that short period of time in the environment (classroom or outdoors) it will take place?” For the vast majority of his MB event sessions (I don’t like to call them classes), he was always the best prepared Scout for it. In his Communication MB one, he was the only one that earned the MB after the 2nd of the 2 meetings. All the rest failed to do their homework (usually emcee a campfire, COH, etc.) to earn it.

    When I see less than 100% success rate for a Merit Badge at one of these events than usually the MBC is holding the Scouts to the standard. When the success rate is 100% for all MBs at an event, then that is probably not one that I want my son to return to again as I know that the standards are not being met.

  12. Carey Snyder // March 22, 2017 at 11:54 am // Reply

    Scouts should also be aware of opportunities offered by family trips, or Scout Trips. CITN requires two of the following [Requirement 2]:
    “(a) Visit a place that is listed as a National Historic Landmark or that is on the National Register of Historic Places. Tell your counselor what you learned about the landmark or site and what you found interesting about it.
    (b) Tour your state capitol building or the U.S. Capitol. Tell your counselor what you learned about the capitol, its function, and the history.
    (c) Tour a federal facility. Explain to your counselor what you saw there and what you learned about its function in the local community and how it serves this nation.
    (d) Choose a national monument that interests you. Using books, brochures, the Internet (with your parent’s permission), and other resources, find out more about the monument. Tell your counselor what you learned, and explain why the monument is important to this country’s citizens.”

    Scouts camping at Camp Alexander in Colorado have excellent opportunities to obtain the information to meet this requirement. About 4 miles down the road from the road which goes into Camp Alexander is Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, which they can tour and obtain information which will allow them to complete 2(d). In Colorado Springs they have access to Pikes Peak National Historic Landmark {2(a)}. Prior planning can make these available to the Scouts, so that they can obtain the information and the time to demonstrate to their Merit Badge Counselor their mastery of these requirements.

    The point of all this verbiage is to suggest that the scouts can have a part in planning family vacations which will allow them individually to complete the requirements, something much more valuable to them than sitting in a class. Imagine what they can find with a visit to Washington, DC or to state capitols, etc. All they need to do is familiarize themselves with the requirements for the merit badge, and see how they can leverage their trips. Parents who are dedicated to Scouting should also look and, after the Scout has tried, suggest unexplored opportunities for the Scout.

    This information is just related to one badge – think of the opportunities for a unique (and possibly life-changing) experience offered by leveraging the badge requirements into a planned trip [and the possible deeper involvement by the whole family into Scouting].

    For resources (just to start)
    National Monuments
    https://www.nps.gov/archeology/sites/antiquities/monumentslist.htm
    National Historic Landmark
    https://www.nps.gov/nhl/
    National Register of Historic Places
    -https://www.nps.gov/nr/

  13. Holly Peirson // March 24, 2017 at 1:08 am // Reply

    Our District is pretty rural, so we do 2 Merit Badge events each year. We typically offer 18-24 badges, depending on available space, and other options, like mini-Brownsea for the newest scouts, and this year we added a full day of Den Chief training, and Cyber Chip AM for the younger scouts, and PM for the older scouts.

    We also do a few of the Eagle badges on a rotating basis: For instance, we do a 1/2 day to BEGIN Personal Management, and a 1/2 day to Complete it. The scouts get good grounding info on how to go about completing the badge, are advised to get verification of their 3-month progress during the interim between our events, etc. They then come back at some point to complete the badge, or they complete it normally with a local counselor.

    We also BEGIN several badges, like Hiking and Sustainability. The scouts know they will need to work with a local counselor or contact the person whom they began the badge with, to complete it.

    We do NOT call our badges ‘classes’ and they are typically done outside as much as possible (we are in Minnesota, so…)

    Thanks for having these types of forums/Q&A areas for leaders to talk about their best practices!

  14. I agree that some MB days can be MB factories. The same can be said for some Summer Camps. A few years ago we had a few scouts at camp earn the art MB in an hour!

    I try to make any class I teach interactive and discussion based, rather than lecture.

    I teach public speaking at our local merit badge college. The requirement is that each scout come prepared to do all of the speeches. I limit the number of scouts to 5 or less. Which leaves just enough time to get through most of the speeches in a two hour period (I’ve never had all 5 boys come prepared to do all the speeches).
    The “audience” is the scouts themselves and I ask them to critique each other while I act as moderator. It is extremely interactive and helps reinforce the lessons about eye contact, being prepared, and using aids. Plus with a small class nobody can hide.
    If they do all of the speeches they will complete the badge. And before everybody jumps on me about the other requirement we do spend a little time on the parliamentary rules too!

  15. Kevin Sweere // April 5, 2017 at 12:00 pm // Reply

    How’s this for annual average stats?
    440-500 scouts from six councils
    1090-1200 individual badges taught
    45-50 different counselors teaching 65-75 different sessions over 3 weekends
    Every requirement for every merit badge tracked in Google Docs

    Thank you Pam & Kelly Smith (and many others) whom have organized and ran the Merit Badge Trail Drive (MBTD) for many, many years within the Chillicothe District, Tecumseh Council, Ohio.

    If you’re looking to run a large merit badge event the ‘right way’, check out http://www.tecumsehcouncilbsa.org/Chillicothe/Events/2017ChillicotheDistrictMeritBadgeTrailDrive

  16. I volunteer as a merit badge counselor every autumn at our district merit badge fair. We have about 20 counselors offering 30 merit badges during a 5 hour period. I like to have small groups of 4 or 5 scouts who come prepared with their pre reqs completed and involve them in a group discussion of the topics to create a synergy that benefits everyone in the session. MB’s should be a great introduction to a topic to spur interest in possible future learning. Scouts do not need to be subject topic experts. Keep the material interesting and they do the rest. A lot of good ideas in this discussion today. I learned a few helpful items.

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