What’s the only thing wrong with the Braille Boy Scout Handbook?

Yes, a Braille version of the Boy Scout Handbook exists, but trying to find one can prove almost impossible.

One of my coworkers brought a copy by last week, barely balancing the three-volume book in his hands. It was the first time I had seen it, and I was fascinated by the pages covered with raised dots that can be read by touch. The books, though large, were surprisingly light. It seemed like they would float if dropped from a canoe.

Those tiny bumps contain the same Scouting knowledge as the text version you and your Scouts carry around.

But when I went in search of information on how Scouts can order a copy, I ran into a problem that’s symptomatic of a larger issue involved in making books available for the visually impaired.

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How should Boy Scouts retire the American flag?

Look at the right sleeve of any Cub Scout, Boy Scout, or Venturer, and you’ll see just how important the American Flag is to the Boy Scouts of America. So crucial, in fact, that the flag patch comes already embroidered on every uniform.

Reverence for the flag flows through all aspects of Scouting. Think of every unit meeting or special Scouting ceremony you’ve attended. Each began with a flag ceremony and everyone pledging allegiance to the flag.

This respect for the flag shouldn’t stop there, though. When the flag has reached the end of its life, a meaningful retirement ceremony should follow.

Modern flags made of nylon last much longer than those made when the Scouting program began 100 years ago. Back then, flags were constructed out of cotton or wool. But even the durable nylon or polyester flags used today can wear out.

That’s where a flag retirement ceremony comes in. How do you start? Is it O.K. to burn the flag to retire it? We’ll answer those questions and more after the jump.

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Learn from the Handbook: Sleep on it

BSA-Handbook-CoverLet's face it: It isn't hard to knock out for a good night's sleep after a long day hiking the trails at Philmont. You're out like a light as soon as your feet slide into the sleeping bag.

If only getting to sleep the rest of the year could be that simple.

You need about eight hours a night, and the guys in your pack, troop, or crew probably need even more. Chances are that's not happening, and the new edition of the Boy Scout Handbook can help.

Page 110 in the Fitness chapter (Chapter 3) explains the importance of sleep. The book acknowledges that a boy's rigorous schedule can often make sleep a low priority. Sound familiar? A full day at the office followed by a full night of Scout meetings can be just a tiring. To help alleviate that problem, the handbook offers these tips:

  • Plan your schedule so you go to bed at the same time each night and get up at the same time each morning.
  • Enjoy some physical activities during the day.
  • Avoid soft drinks that contain caffeine as well as sugary foods and drinks in the evening.
  • Set aside quiet time as you are getting ready for bed. The bright lights of televisions and computer screens can prevent your brain from quieting down for sleep.

The handbook also reminds you to take keep an eye on your eyes. If they are red or achy, lack of sleep might be the culprit.

Learn from the Handbook: Boy Scouts and Leave No Trace

Subaru_tt With millions of Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Venturers heading to national parks, state parks, and other public land each year, there's bound to be some irreversible harm done to nature.

But the point of Leave No Trace is to minimize that harm. The organization, whose Web site is available here, travels the country to educate Scouts and Scouters about the best ways to enjoy the outdoors without abusing it.

Cracker Barrel heard a presentation from two LNT Traveling Trainers at a conference at Philmont last week. The presenters told us that the BSA spends a combined 30 million days outside each year. That's a lot of impact!

And even though your unit may be practicing responsible use, other units aren't so courteous, we were told. Here are four common complaints LNT hears about Scouting units:

  • The kids are out of control.
  • Units make too much noise.
  • Groups are too large.
  • Scouts exhibit poor camping skills.

So what can be done to get back on the right track? Start with Chapter 7 of the new Boy Scout Handbook. The chapter, which starts on page 244, discusses the principles of Leave No Trace and how boys can implement them in their troop. The BSA has taken a proactive approach to the program, making Leave No Trace a requirement for Second Class and First Class.

Looking to do even more? You can ask the LNT Traveling Trainers to make a visit to your crew, troop, or pack meeting. If they have time and are in the area, they'll stop by for free to give a presentation. Just click here for details.

Chime In: What is your unit doing to minimize its impact on the planet? How can you be doing better?

Learn from the Handbook: Weather Lore


Unless you’re taking a Philmont trek in summer, when you can
set your watch by the afternoon thunderstorms, it’s almost impossible to
predict the weather.

But don’t give up on becoming the unofficial office
meteorologist just yet. Simply absorb some easy-to-remember weather folklore to
increase your odds of an accurate forecast. You can learn it all from Learn from the Handbook—on page 238, to
be exact.

If you step outside and see any of these signs, pleasant
weather is on the way:

-       “Red sky at night, sailor delight.”
Dust particles in dry air make the sunset glow red.

-       “Swallows flying way up high mean there’s
no rain in the sky.”
High-pressure systems carry insects up into the air,
and swallows follow their food aloft.

-       “If smoke goes high, no rain comes by.” Smoke
going straight up from your campfire means there’s no wind to bring storms
toward you.

-       “When dew is on the grass, rain will never
come to pass.”
Cool, clear, dew-forming nights bring nice weather the next

If you see any of these signs, however, better pack an

-       “Red sky at morning, sailor take warning.” Don’t
expect much “delight” if the dry, dusty air moving toward the rising sun causes
a reddish sunrise. That could mean that moist air is approaching from the west.

-       “Swallows flying near the ground mean a
storm will come around.”
Heavy, moist wings cause swallows to fly lower.

-       “When grass is dry at morning light, look
for rain before the light.”
The opposite is also true of dewy grass.

-       “Mackerel scales and mares’ tails make
lofty ships carry low sails.”
“Scales” and “tails” mean rare cirrus cloud
formations that alert you to changing weather.

Chime In: Know
any other weather sayings? Share them in the comment box below. 

Learn from the Handbook: Count on It

BSA-Handbook-Cover Let’s say you’re on the trail when you see a distant
lightning strike. Or you’re at your son’s soccer game when thunder rumbles in
the distance. Is it safe to continue?

Knowing how far away a lightning strike is and whether it is coming
toward you or drifting away can be an important tool in keeping you, your
family, and your unit safe. You don’t have to be a meteorologist to figure it
out, either—you just need page 352 of the new Boy Scout Handbook. And knowing how to count helps, too.

When you see lightning, start counting: one-thousand-one,
one-thousand-two, one-thousand-three, and so on. Stop once you’ve heard
thunder. Sound travels a mile every five seconds, approximately. So if you’ve
gotten to one-thousand-five in your count, the lightning strike was a mile away.

Many scientists say that if lightning is closer than three
miles away, the danger is imminent. In fact, any time you can hear thunder you could be in striking distance of lightning. Thirty-one people have died in 2009
because of lightning strikes, so don’t take this warning lightly. Seek shelter
immediately in a permanent building if the storm is nearby.

For more information on lightning safety and awareness,
check out this site from the National Weather Service.

Update: We've corrected some of the numbers and information in this story. Thanks to Rob and Marc for pointing out the previous inaccuracies.

Learn from the Handbook: Lessons Learned

BSA-Handbook-Cover The new Boy Scout
is great, but its title is somewhat misleading. It’s not just
useful for boys or Scouts—anyone can find a wealth of information inside.

That’s where our Learn from the Handbook series comes in.
Each week we’re bringing you great tips straight from the handbook to enhance
both your Scouting life and your experiences outside of the program.

This week, let’s talk about teaching others a skill. Since a
Scout is helpful, conferring your talents to the boys in your unit is a
basically the Law. But in your professional life or time spent at home, we know
you find yourself training others to perform tasks all the time.

For help, simply flip open your handbook to page 53 or grab
your iPhone and open the new BSA Handbook app (read our review of the app here
{INSERTLINK}). There you’ll find the “Teaching EDGE,” a clever guide to
instructing others. Check it out:

E: Explain how the skill is done.
D: Demonstrate the necessary steps.
G: Guide the learners as they participate.
E: Enable them to use the new skill on their own.

So whether you’re teaching a group of Webelos Scouts how to
tie a square knot or demonstrating the finer points of open-heart surgery to a
bunch of medical students, the EDGE method helps others learn while also making
you better at performing the skill. Everybody wins! 

Chime In: How
have you used the EDGE method to teach others?

Learn from the Handbook: Head Above Water

BSA-Handbook-Cover On an airplane, you’re reminded that your seat cushion can
be used as a flotation device. But what if there’s no Boeing 737 nearby to help
you stay afloat in the water? How do you stay alive when stranded at sea?

Need we say: Don’t panic? Instead, just take a breath and
check out the Boy Scout Handbook.
Well, don’t try to read it while treading water—just know what to do ahead of
time so you’ll stay alive out there.

Start by learning survival floating, found on page 192. The
paragraph and illustration teach you how to take a deep breath and relax face
down, a technique many know as the “dead man’s float.” When you need a breath,
simply push up, breathe, and return to the position.

Using your body’s natural buoyancy can keep you alive
without overexerting yourself by treading water.

If this isn’t working, you can always use your clothes to
keep your head above water. Follow these steps:

  1. Remove
    your pants.
  2. Inflate
    a pocket—that way your pants will float even if they slip out of your hands for
    a second.
  3. Tie
    the pant legs together near the cuffs with a square knot.
  4. Close
    the fly.
  5. Hold
    the waistband of the pants open just below the surface. Cup your hand and
    strike the water, following through so that air caught by your hand goes into
    the pants.
  6. Repeat
    until the pants are inflated.
  7. Use
    both hands to hold the waistband closed and keep the air inside.
  8. Place
    the pant legs around your neck life a makeshift life vest.
  9. Swim
    to safety on your back.
  10. As you
    swim, make sure to splash water on the inflated pants from time to time to keep
    them wet. Dry pants will lose air more quickly.

The handbook recommends this method instead of trying to
blow air into the pants, which might cause you to tire or hyperventilate—not
good when out in open water.

For more tips to keep you and your pack, troop, or crew safe
in the water, check out the handbook’s Aquatics section, which starts on page

Learn from the Handbook: Take a Deep Breath

BSA-Handbook-Cover For all of the efforts you take to keep your group safe on
weekend trips, one of the greatest dangers to you and your family might be
waiting when you get home: carbon monoxide.

The most commonly inhaled poison, carbon monoxide is a gas
given off by car engines, appliances, charcoal grills, furnaces, and

This week’s installment of our new Learn from the Handbook series tells you how to avoid inhaled
poisons and administer first aid if someone is exposed. You also can find all
the information we’re using in this post on page 170 of the new Boy Scout Handbook.

OK, so it’s dangerous. But how do you avoid it? Start by
keeping your lawnmower or car turned off whenever it’s in a closed garage or
shed. These gas-powered devices give off tons of the harmful vapor. Also, you
shouldn’t cook indoors with wood or charcoal. And, please, keep those gas
stoves, ovens, candles, or other flames out
of your tent while camping. There are better—and safer—ways to stay warm.

If someone is exposed to carbon monoxide or other harmful
fumes, they might develop a headache, dizziness, or nausea. Here’s how to treat
a victim:

  1. Check
    the scene.
  2. Approach
    safely. Don’t make yourself another victim.
  3. Get
    the victim some fresh air.
  4. Call
    for medical help.
  5. Check
    that the victim is still breathing and that his or her heart is still beating.
  6. Perform
    rescue breathing and CPR, if necessary.

It's also a good idea to purchase a carbon-monoxide detector. These devices, which cost around $20 to $40, alert you if they sense harmful levels of the gas.

For more helpful tips for use both in and out of Scouting,
check out your new handbook. Or just come back next week for another edition of
Learn from the Handbook.