Inside the next-gen program features for troops, teams and crews

expertlogo1The BSA wrote the book on fun and engaging Boy Scout, Varsity and Venturing programs. Literally.

I mean the three-volume Program Features for Troops, Teams and Crews. It’s your youth leaders’ go-to resource for planning a great program. Your Scouts and Venturers can use these Program Features to plan their main monthly activities or as a way to supplement gaps on their Scouting calendar. The books are all about making a youth leader’s job easier and more fun.

Volume 1 — packed with 16 topics ranging from Camping to Spectator Sports — is available now. Volume 2 is due out in the next couple of months with Volume 3 to follow by the middle of 2015.

So what’s inside these Program Features, how should they be used and where can you buy them?

For those answers I asked the expert. In this case that’s Peter Self, head of the BSA’s Member Experience Innovation team. Here’s what he said.

What are the Program Features for Troops, Teams and Crews?

Program Features for Troops, Teams, and Crews is a three-volume set containing a total of 48 unique topics that a Scouting unit could use as either the core of its activities, or as a way to round out what’s already on the calendar,” Self says.

“The features cover six general categories: Outdoor, Sports, Health & Safety, Citizenship & Personal Development, STEM, and Arts & Hobbies. You can find program ideas for SCUBA, Science, Multimedia, Fitness & Nutrition and more.”

Sounds cool. What are the 48 topics?


Why do we need these? Aren’t the youth supposed to plan the program?

Self says:

Teaching youth leaders how to plan an engaging and fun program that also fulfills the mission of the Boy Scouts of America has always been a challenge. There’s a fine line that adult leaders often straddle in the process. On the one hand it’s tempting to simply take control of the planning process to make sure nothing is missed and that a quality program is delivered. On the other hand we may not give enough support, and youth leaders end up muddling their way through a frustrating process. This is where the new Program Features for Troops, Teams and Crews can be a big help.

The idea of having a “go-to” resource for youth leaders isn’t new. Many of us recall the old Woods Wisdom, which evolved into the Troop Program Features and the Varsity Team Program Features. Each of these publications provided introductions and outlines for unit level program. Even the first Venturing Leader Manual contained a number of tools to help plan activities.

While each of these publications provided great resources, they were aimed at our adult leaders, rather than the youth. And to be quite honest, they needed a facelift. That’s where the new Program Features for Troops, Teams and Crews comes in.

How will these Program Features be affected by the changes coming to Boy Scouting in 2016?

“The development team has worked closely with the other program task forces to make sure that the information in these new books aligns with the changes to Venturing and the upcoming 2016 changes to the Boy Scouting program,” Self says.

How are these different from previous versions?

More flexible: Troops, teams and crews can customize their own year from the 48 months of activity ideas. Selection is key as youth leaders plan the upcoming year.

More customizable: Meeting plans, like ski runs, come in three flavors: green, blue, and black. Skills marked with green circles are essential, those with blue squares are challenging, and the ones with black diamonds are the most advanced.

Better organized: Nobody creates a unit calendar alphabetically, but past program features volumes were organized that way. This time they’re mixed up, deliberately combining outdoors, careers and hobbies to make each volume more diverse.

Better designed: Gone are the black-and-white pages with illustrations that were charming but not always informative. The new versions are broken into chunks with information that’s clearly presented and easy to use right away.

It’s what’s inside that counts, right? What do these look like inside?

For a sample, check out the First Aid program feature. And below, see the first page of the Science program feature.


Where can I buy these Program Features?

Volume 1 (item No. 616351), which includes the first 16 program features, is available at your local Scout shop or at

How do I know I’m using the most current edition?

Good question. Here’s the cover of the new edition:


Where can I learn more?

To find out more about these great new resources, check out the March 2014 ScoutCast.


  1. I have used these, and their predecessors for years….and they are a free download from PDFs that I can print are more valuable than having a single hard-copy. So, are their plans to make then new versions free downloads as well? If not, I would think this will not get much traction

    • I don’t believe there are plans to give them away for free. But I hear they may explore selling them a la carte — so you could buy one or two program features at a time, presumably for a buck or two each.

  2. I know the BSA would like to recoup the development costs of these plans, but $45 (for all 3 volumes at $15 each) is quite a bit for something we’re used to getting for free, even if they are updated and expanded. At the very least, there should be a lower-cost download option. The BSA is pretty far behind the tech curve on e-books, though. Just look at the Field Book, the Scout Handbook, or the recently released handful of MB pamphlets. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy they’re offering them in electronic versions, but the execution has been a little wonky AND expensive.

    • Fillable .pdf’s are not that hard to come up with. That saves the plc from having to print them. We could save thousands and thousands of trees if they could simply fill them in electronically and post them to the website, put them on their phone, a tablet, etc.

      Oh…but Scoutopia doesn’t exist.

    • These really are significantly improved. Plus they focus more on meeting the needs of Crews, not just troops. I am happy to spend the $15 per book. I just which they all came out at the same time.

  3. I received a pre release version at Philmont this past summer and it has been valuable in trip planning. This new series is nothing like the previous versions and so much more user friendly! well worth the money

  4. I’m not so concerned about the price. $15 per volume isn’t unreasonable IMO. *However* I am extremely frustrated with National’s foot dragging on getting these published.

    BSA has been promising these updated materials for years!! They released teaser samples in early 2013 with promises the set would begin releasing later that year. They then continued to postpone, delay, hem, haw and otherwise fail to produce the materials for almost two years (1st volume FINALLY came out at the end of 2014). There’s simply NO excuse what-so-ever for National to perform in this fashion.

    At the rate BSA is going, there will probably be Cub Scouts who crossed over after the updates were announced and then aged out of Troops before BSA gets their act together enough to finish the materials. It’s absolutely absurd.

    • Personally, I think a registered Scoutmaster, who volunteers hundreds if not thousands of hours to this program should be able to access a free copy thru his unit tools page under his account.

      • As a Chartered Organization we should be provided a free copy of everything. Um…we kind of pay for electric, water, trash, the charter, the liability, etc. Now you are asking my volunteers to once again pay for the reinvented wheel?

  5. I’ve ordered Volume 1, and at this juncture can only HOPE the Pioneering topic (just 1 of 48!!!) is a whole lot more useful as a resource for patrols and units to actually build the structures and experience success than the preceding Pioneering Program Feature which, (from a practical, properly-presented, put-the-skills-into-action perspective) left so much to be desired! IMHO

    • Some units take Campcraft and Pioneering seriously, others would if they could, and of course others have different agendas and enjoy placing emphasis on other parts of our multifaceted program. However, whatever the BSA presents should be as exemplary as possible, especially when presenting one of its mainline, traditional activities.

      Instead of including in the body of this comment an in depth treatise regarding the Pioneering Program Feature and how wonderful it could have been, one question: how could the BSA possibly have allowed it to be printed with so much misinformation and lacking so many well-organized and well-presented opportunities for Scouts to really learn and succeed, when so much reliable information and experienced experts are readily available to serve as a resource.

      Here’s a link to my own critique of the Pioneering Program Feature: I know many very responsible individuals probably won’t review this evaluation and commentary pertaining to only one of 48 program features, but someone should! Especially as it relates to presenting a Scouting program that is both challenging and fun, this particular feature is one on which some of us direct a high degree of attention and attach a great deal of importance.

    • Unfortunately, the Pioneering module just features the same old misleading mistakes and misguided program ideas. Breaks my heart! Though the “powers that be” say they did their due diligence and consulted with their “experts,” it’s overwhelmingly obvious these individuals have little or NO experience with the program activities, required materials, and how to facilitate a successful, unit-level pioneering program. I’m saddened, because this translates into a wasted opportunity. (Looking forward to next time.)

  6. The topics make me scratch my head… “Spectator Sports”. We need a guide on how to watch a game? Many of these topics are Merit Badges. How would these supplement the MBbook? “Project Planning” should be covered in NYLT, yes? As an “old timer”, I can’t help but think that the intro to most of these topics was covered in my original BSHB or “Handbook for Boys” .
    If this is meant to be a guide for the Boys, it will be a hard sell, as the modern Scout is ready for a Palmbook version. If it is meant as an adult idea book, well, we do have many adult leaders that need to be reminded of certain things.
    The bigger problem is not so much collecting ideas to do, but convincing the boy that he CAN do THAT, and convincing the adult that THEY CAN do THAT. Will this compendium accomplish that?
    I suppose the idea of having a discussion or idea lead off is good, but I have to agree with the previous notes that it will sound like an expensive dust collector for many folks.

    • Let me share a comment from the previous post about this. It was written by Jim Virgin, a national volunteer who worked on these guides:

      Bowling is something many Troops, Teams, and Crews do. These planning guides are not necessarily focused on advancement, but rather a guide for the type of things units do anyway.

      Spectator sports will cover topics like the rules of sport they are seeing, fundraising, moving in crowds, and what to do if something goes wrong (i.e. fire, tornado, bombing). A unit can choose to do all four weekly plans in the module, or only a couple.

      The plans are flexible to do anything you want, and yet simple enough to follow like a recipe. Like many things in scouting, it is a tool. Some units may want to use the fund raising meeting plan anytime they need to raise money.

  7. Great resource for SPL and PLC members but as previously noted their use and utility will be limited if only available in hard copy. Since the BSA has moved most training and other resources to the web and our Scouts gravitate to this medium it would be wise to post electronic copy ASAP.

  8. KB – I don’t think these are essential materials at all. In other words, That is, I don’t want my dues going to pay just so you could get this for free.

    I might buy-in if they:
    – were printed no-nonsense, black-and-white.
    – had Minimal pictures.
    – had Maximum text.
    – Could be found no place else.

    They are handy when you and your youth don’t want to do your own research, don’t want to call in a local expert to consult, or don’t want to pull some chapters out of your handbook, fieldbook, or merit-badge pamphlet. But a lot of other folks enjoy the process of scouting around in their community to see what best fits their unit’s goals.

    In the long run, I would like to see “program essentials” become crowd-sourced. Scouters and scouts log in to get them, submit their comments of how they implement things maybe even suggest a new bullet point, and every bullet point can receive votes. (Maybe with end-users seeing which specific feature get likes from Cubs vs. Scouts vs. Venturers, and maybe even BSA-selected professional experts.)

    Then, occasionally, issue “best of” program features in print.

    • It’s my understanding that these resources are developed by volunteers, so the only National support that needs to be recouped is for the graphic arts support. In a boy-led troop, I think these are essential because it gives the boys a resource to design their meeting plans. If BSA follows the merit badge pamphlet model, then the cost becomes prohibitive in making the information available to the youth leadership that needs to have it in their hands (which really means their phones and tablets is this day and age).

  9. I am an advocate of the old Program Helps. I remember as a PL and SPL, the Program Helps were a valuable resource when planning Troop Meetings. Everything was there for each Troop Meeting for the month including openings, closings and what supplies were needed to run the activities. We may alternate the months we used these programs because of our calendar but over the course of the year most Troops in the District covered the same materials. We received the Program Helps from our Scoutmaster who received ‘for free’ included his Scouting Magazine. The Program Helps lined up with the Boys’ Life Program Notebook and Calendar. In addition, Roundtable Guides mirrored the subjects in the Program Helps. Scouting has moved away from this alignment with Roundtable and, in my opinion, Roundtable has suffered ever since.

    As a Committee Chair for a Troop and Roundtable Commissioner, I have reviewed the ‘Program Features’. The information is excellent. It does provide an wider variety of activities than the traditional knot tying or map & compass. However, I have found when sitting in on PLC meetings, Scout were often overwhelm with the wider variety. Consensus as to which subject to do is more difficult the more options available. As previously stated, I did find some of the subjects less than appealing for Scouts. I have found our Troop has six subjects we do the same month every year and try to vary the other months. This gives the PLC foundation months while still giving a variety.

    I do agree with others this product must be available in a mobile version. It would be great if there was an app which Scouts could fill blanks of who is responsible for particular activities, (opening ceremonies, etc.) or supplies which they could pull up on their smartphone. This information could be shared by having a user name for the Troop. In our Troop, the overwhelming majority of Scouts 16 and older have a smartphone. A paper version is good for planning, but being able to pull up the plan on the Scout’s smartphone would be extremely valuable.

  10. Doubtless, like “Woods Wisdom,” full of useful ideas collected over the generations.

    Words are significant. No “patrols.” Just “units” and “troops.”

  11. Need to take away some of the classroom topics and add more outdoor topics.

    “OUTING is three-fourths of ScOUTING.” William “Green Bar Bill” Hillcourt, 3rd editions SMHB ( and yes that is a misquote in the current BSHB just do the math.)

  12. Hey Bryan,

    I saw the entry on and saw it listed cooking as a theme for volume 1. My troop is planning on working in that area next month

    So called my local shop and they had them come in today. Awesome timing. So I headed down and bought a copy.

    Bummer part is that the ScoutStuff website is wrong and cooking is not part of volume 1.

    I still look forward to using it but think you could let the site know they need to fix that?

  13. Something is better than nothing, but treating all three of these programs as one does a disservice to all three. One program is coed. One starts at age 11 another ends at age 21. The youth in the different programs have different needs and desires. It’s time the BSA starts acting like it again. What interests an 11 year old boy is not what will interest an 18 year old girl, yet by putting out one guide, in one format, the assertion is there that they will. There are commonalities, sure, but these should be included in program specific literature, not in just one pamphlet. With the commonalities, include items specific to the age/gender/program you are working with. This treatment of all the programs as one does not grow the three programs, as they each have a slightly different take on scouting. It attempts to make a one size fit all program, that like one size fit all shirts is too big for some, and too little for others.

    • I dunno Jeff, when I was 6 I was interested in anatomy … still was when I was 18. The only difference was the genus of the specimen which I was dissecting, and the kinds of labs I could visit to see how experts did it. A few young women I knew (and the one I eventually married) had the same interest, and one or two eventually turned it into a profession.

      The reality of today’s adult leader, is that he/she is involved at every level of scouting. One day, I could be reviewing venturer’s multi-tier hike plan. The next I could be reviewing orienteering skills with a PL so he could train his first-years. The next I could be putting a compass in the hands of a tiger for the first time. And, then I could be doing short-courses for a slew of girl scouts at their camporee.

      So, I can see this being real handy on the bookshelf at charted-org that houses a variety of units. Imagine the venturer who comes from Denali being asked to present his/her experience to a den. Well, maybe the climbing program guide could help him/her to set reasonable objectives for a dozen cubs.

      And, truth be told, right when you think you’ve lined up a perfect evening of age-appropriate activities … those venturers want to take a play from their cub books! (“Mr. Q, at the evening’s dance, can we set up a raingutter regatta, pleaaaaase?”)

      So, it’s actually a good idea for a youth to get a glimpse of the breadth of activities that are available to them. The problem: it’s a rare youth who will go to the scout library and browse through something like this.

      That’s why I think a paid subscription (per unit per year, linked with the myscouting accounts) to a “program features online forum” would get better return on investment.

    • I had the same reaction — I did not care for the multi-program approach. I found it so obviously confusing (see what I did there?) that it made me wonder whether BSA was pushing an agenda other than providing updated resources. Our PLC liked a few of the themes (the illustrations for Rifle Shooting drew them in like a magnet), but they were utterly baffled by the color coded symbols and organization. The three (very different) programs need their own resources, not documents that jumble them together. Yes, the update is appreciated, but it awkwardly conflates the three programs and, while “diverse”, it is not as well organized. After our first attempt at using the new Program Features, I immediately saved electronic copies of the old version for fear that BSA will disappear them.

      • That’s why I said earlier that there is more value in plain text. Minimum graphics. It’s not that hard note pack, troop, crew, team.

  14. “Better Organized”? How can finding things that are “mixed up, deliberately” easier than alphabetically?

    This will allow BSA to NOT follow the 36 month planning calendar (not they have been) that was set-up so that Roundtable, Boys Life, and anyone following the program could follow and get help. This way, no one is responsible for schedule or Units lack of being able to follow it.

    How will National run a 48 topic Roundtable? This HAS to be more logical, right?

    • Roundtable schedule? Ours started to grow in attendance when the commissioners ditched the 36-month calendar and started taking topic requests from their scouters.

    • Rick,

      At the Boy Scout level, who picks the program ideas? The Scouts via their PLC. One reason IMHO that the 36 month plan doesn’t work as you noted.

      And as others have said, each program should have their own resources, not mixing it all together.

      That said, what i didn’t like about the sample, the symbols. Sorry they need to go.

      What i like about the sample, give more info, gives more ideas, and provides outside resources.

  15. Just reading through V.1, it is unfortunate that BSA chose to put specific times in the Meeting Plans. Would be better to leave this blank and allow us to enter our own times making these more useful. You have the suggested length of time for each activity already. Not everyone starts their meetings at 6:45 PM or has closing at 8:25 PM.

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