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.