Four ways to get Scouts excited to earn merit badges

scoutcast-logo1With 135 merit badges to choose from, selection isn’t a problem. But motivating Scouts to earn merit badges sometimes can be.

That’s why the February 2015 ScoutCast offers solutions for getting Scouts excited to earn merit badges.

This month’s guest is Zach Chopp-Adams, an assistant Scoutmaster of Troop 383 in Heartland, Mich., who wrote about this subject for one of his Wood Badge ticket items.

I picked out four of his best tips.

1. Encourage older Scouts to wear their merit badge sash

Sometimes motivating younger boys can be as simple as encouraging older boys to show off the merit badges they’ve earned.

“Have them talk about their favorite merit badges, why it’s their favorite, and what their interests are, and in some cases they can actually help out if a unit does decide to do a merit badge class and a particular older Scout is very, very interested in one topic,” Chopp-Adams says.

2. Find parents with counselor skills

Merit badges are only as good as the counselors that teach them. Chopp-Adams has a way to find out parents who are qualified to be merit badge counselors (once they’re Youth Protection trained, of course).

“One great resource is having a parents’ night to discuss what the parents’ hobbies and skills are and have them sign-up if they would like to as a merit badge counselor,” he says. “Even in a small unit there is typically a large diversity of skills and hobbies amongst the parents that they are more than willing to share.”

3. Look at pop culture

This tip comes from one of the hosts, not the guest, but it’s equally useful.

She suggests tying merit badges to pop culture — TV shows, videogames, movies — whenever possible. An example: The Hunger Games books and movies could inspire a Boy Scout to want to earn Archery merit badge.

4. Have troop “veterans” come home to share

Sometimes young men don’t realize the importance of merit badges until they’ve aged out of the program. Chopp-Adams says you could invite those veterans back to speak to your Scouts.

“I’ve heard of quite a few boys who have earned their Eagle who are in college who have kind of had a revelation moment, especially with Communications and Citizenship in the Community merit badges, where they’re in college and realize that what they’ve learned is a huge help and a huge benefit,” he says. “And in a lot of cases, they come back and share their experience with the boys in the troop.”

Find even more tips

These four are just the beginning. Find more great ideas by listening to the February 2015 ScoutCast here or reading it here.

New and “coming soon” merit badges

Check out my Calendar of New Merit badges for the most recently released merit badges and those announced but not yet released.

What do you think?

How do you motivate Scouts to earn merit badges? Leave some ideas in the comments.


Photo from Flickr: Some rights reserved by Howard TJ

11 Comments

  1. I listened to the Podcast to see if there were any additional pointers & I think Bryan has caught the highlights here. I have no issues with pointers 2-4 as I think these are all good ideas. Getting new parents involved as MB Counselors may be the first step to getting them to be more involved with the troop. This is especially true if the Scout did not come from a Cub Scout Pack. Even if the parent does not more than serve as a MB Counselor, they are at least helping out in some manner. The pop culture idea has been around for some time. I’ve seen a guy either on FB or LinkedIn that uses a Zombie Apocalypse theme for Emergency Preparedness. Do not use troop “veterans” only to serve as testimonials, but as MB Counselors as well. It is a great way to get a former Scout back into Scouting after going away from college. We had a Scout that Eagled out of our troop & is now a CNN producer. He comes home to visit his folks almost every Christmas. About every 2-3 years, we hold an overnight lock-in at the VFW post (in addition to our January campout) where the Scouts on their Christmas break earn their Moviemaking (formerly Cinematography) MB.

    As for the first suggestion that Scouts wear their MB sashes to weekly meetings, that does not seem to be the prevailing standard in our council. Our Scouts usually take off their Field Uniform when they play games & the MB sash is just another item to take off. Even during non-game time, the MB sash sometimes gets in the way of activities.

    In our Troop, I think that wearing a MB sash to every meeting may be interpreted by some as an attempt to “show up” the other Scouts. We have a couple of Eagle Scouts with MB counts in the 50s. Some of the other Eagles barely reached the 21 required. My son, a soon-to-be Life Scout, has earned 80 MBs. At the COHs where most Scouts get 1-3 MBs, he has alrways received 10+ MBs. I limit him wearing his sash to COHs, Scout Sunday, Webelos Crossover Ceremonies, and Merit Badge events where it specifically stated they wanted Scouts to wear their MB sash as I have heard some questionable comments by other Scouts and Scouters/adults when he does wear his MB sash. I’m sure it is out of jealousy, but there is no need to throw gasoline on the fire. For other troops, wearing a MB sash may motivate newer Scouts and bravo to those troops.

    • Why not let the scouts decide? Propose through the PLC and see what they say. Our PLC is considering a “Sash Night” meeting maybe once a month so that those scouts that want to wear their sash can beyond the typical ceremonial occasions. If boys put in the effort to earn all those badges why not show them off?

    • This post was ok up until the bragging about not bragging part. If your son did in fact earn them as written then wear them as earned. No need to worry what others think.

  2. I agree with David that wearing it to all the meetings comes across wrong. My aged-out Eagle earned 37 merit badges – 1 more than his original Scoutmaster. My 14 year old Life Scout originally set the goal of beating his brother. He will receive 8 merit badges at our COH later this month, taking him to 35. About two weeks ago, he decided to out earn the most prolific Scout in our Troop in recent memory – 62 merit badges. Now he is talking about going for them all.

    A tradition in our Troop that has been around since long before me is to award merit badges at the COH based on the number earned. The guys who earn 1 or two are first, and it builds to the Scout who earned the most. It’s usually the same 2-3 guys coming in at the end, but it makes the younger guys start thinking “Hey, I want to be the last guy called next time.”. It also gets them thinking about merit badges they could earn when they see someone else earn, for example, Music, because they start thinking, “I’m in band, choir, orchestra, I bet I can earn Music.”

    • Kevin: Great idea about going from 1 to n when doing Merit Badges at the COH. Our Troop does it by Patrol with the PL handing out those for his patrol. The SPL does it for the ASPL & they reverse for the other. Advancements are recognized at the same time as they already have the patch.

      I was at another’s troops COH last Sunday & they did all the Advancements first and then the Merit Badges. The SPL read out the awards while the Advancement Chair & Scoutmaster handed them to the Scouts. Just another way of doing it, but I like the order from least to most as it may serve as a motivator to get out of the lead-off spot.

  3. In reguard to tip #4 my son is an eagle now in collage and one of the merit badges he enjoyed earning was public speaking. Now he’s doing an internship at his collage radio station. WSOU Seaton Hall Pirate Radio THE LOUDEST ROCK.

  4. Currently my son plays baseball and is a 2nd class having bridged last March. He has only earned 3 MBs and really has no desire to do the work to earn them except at summer camp. His patrol leader is helping the boys to work on some of them but my son just doesn’t have the motivation.

    My son really wants this to be his last season of baseball and I told him he needs to do some kind of sport or another activity. If he can’t decide on something on his own, I told him then he has to earn every single Scout MB 🙂 I think he now wants to take up guitar 😉

  5. Somehow this topic reminds me of the seeming difference between THEN and NOW. Perhaps this is just my old-age genes kicking in and coloring my memories of way back when, but it seems to me that back then (!) the need to “motivate” Scouts to earn MBs didn’t exist in near the panic stricken sense we hear today. I don’t remember my Scout friends being pushed and urged and “motivated” for the MBs. We read the book (? yes read) and went off to find a MB counselor. Might have been two Aviation MBCounselors in all of the NCACouncil, for instance. My High School Band director signed up to be my Music MBCounselor when I asked him to be.
    Now, the complaint I hear is not so much getting the boys “motivated” as curbing the so-called “Merit Badge Mills” that seem to make it too easy to earn the MB. Or is that part of the “motivation”? Making it easier to find and meet the Counselor and earn the MB?
    What would happen if we left it totally to the Scout to wend his way thru the rank earning miasma? I have always felt that if the Troop has a good program (hikes, campouts, etc. ) the advancement to FC will be all but automatic. The ranks above FC are more problematic. Motivation? Opportunity? Desire for recognition? “Make Eagle or do not get your drivers license before 17” I have heard…. “Xbox for Star”, ” Jamboree paid for for Life”, yep heard that…
    Now, we do need to have an easier way to record and catalog the available MBCounselors. That is the problem around here. Who is registered? Where is he/she? Our District MBDean has changed name three times in the last year. The list is not up to date , either District or Council. If one wants a Geology MBC, say, it is often by word of mouth/rumor/recollection that we find one.
    As a Commisher, I often approach appropriate people to be new MBCounselors. Local Museum Director likes the idea of having MBCounselors on site: American Heritage, Collections, etc. They can have an after school program that entails Scout program along with merely handicrafts .

  6. I disagree with making “Find parents with counselor skills” one of the top four points. Too many troops in my district have made it a priority to have a counselor for every merit badge associated with their troop. The result is many people who have registered for more than 30 merit badges, with the top jack-of-all-trades coming in at 58.

    The MBC application lists one qualification as “Be recognized as having the skills and education in the merit badge subjects covered…” District and council advancement committees need to do a better job of recruiting experts in their fields who can “go for the deeper dive”, as the MBC training module states. Would you rather earn Space Exploration from an ASM or parent who read the book or drive across town and work with an astronaut (we are lucky to live near the Johnson Space Center).

    If you want to get Scouts excited about earning merit badges, you need to heighten their experience with each one, not simply make it easier to find a counselor. I’m not saying that there aren’t parents who are recognized in the MB subjects, but narrowing the search to parents is sacrificing quality for quantity.

    One of the benefits of the MB program as stated in the MBC training module is utilizing the method of adult interaction. It is very beneficial to a boy’s self-confidence when he’s had to call adults he doesn’t know and ask to work on a MB. This is lost to some degree when he’s going to his patrol-mate’s parent to earn the badge.

    I’ve done all of the repairs required for the Home Repairs MB and at one time registered for it. I’ve since dropped that one. I can use the EDGE method to show a boy how to safely change out an electrical wall switch, but what if he asks how the wiring works when you have two or three switches that can control the same light? That’s where having a licensed home repair contractor would enhance the boy’s experience rather than help fill his sash. I would change the second point to “Find subject matter experts with counselor skills”.

    • As the old adage goes: Location, location, location.

      If you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity to provide a unique merit badge experience, such as you with Johnson Space Center, then definitely take it!

      Though what’s discussed in getting parents involved harks back to my days as a youth in the Scouting program (We’re only talking 10-15 years ago) where there seemed to be a drought in counselors in our district and even finding counselors for Eagle required MB’s required someone making an hour and a half or more drive. (There was the opportunity to go to one of the two councils only 10 minutes away, but that was a logistic nightmare). And even as Scoutmaster, this kept happening, and I wasn’t overly thrilled with the quality in the experience they were getting.

      One of the biggest problems I noticed in my troop on why Scouts (especially younger Scouts) weren’t going out to contact Merit Badge counselors was they were very, very, very uncomfortable in working with someone didn’t know in a process with something they weren’t familiar with. Once we registered a couple parents who were Merit Badge counselors and they realized the process in earning a merit badge wasn’t overly scary or stressful, they were more comfortable to contact a counselor outside of our troop to complete a merit badge, and as you pointed out, having them contact an adult he doesn’t know is a huge boost to their self-confidence when they realize they’re being respected.

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