Ask your Cub Scouts whether they enjoyed an especially chaotic pack or den meeting, and they’ll likely say yes.
But ask the parents or volunteers, and you can expect the opposite answer.
So how can Cubmasters, assistant Cubmasters and den leaders manage that chaos while still allowing their Cub Scouts to have fun? Kimberly Cook is here to help.
The veteran Cubmaster and den leader from Alabama says that teachers get years of training in the art of classroom management. These educators take classes on how to maintain control when outnumbered by kids 20 to 1.
The rest of us, though? We’ve got to learn on the job.
Below are Cook’s top tips. I ran these by Anthony Berger, the BSA’s national director of Cub Scouting, and he gave them a thumbs up while adding a few excellent, time-tested suggestions of his own.
Following these guidelines will put you on your way to having happy parents, happy leaders, and productive, fun meetings.
1. Use the Den Code of Conduct chart.
At one of your first den meetings, get the Cub Scouts to make their own list of behavior rules. You can use the Den Code of Conduct chart to help you here.
These might include rules such as “no talking when a leader is talking” or “no running around the room.”
For pack meetings, the Cubmaster should communicate rules that suit the formality of the situation. At a minimum, this should include no talking while a Cub Scout or leader is talking at the front of the room.
Put these rules on a slide or poster that is shown at the beginning of every meeting.
2. Once you make a rule, enforce it.
If you choose to ignore impolite or disruptive behavior once, you have nullified the rule you made. In a Cub Scout’s mind, a rule that is not enforced is not a rule at all. If a Cub Scout sees another Cub Scout violating a behavior rule, he or she will be the next one to break it.
If keeping order isn’t your strength, enlist an assistant to help.
3. Communicate behavior expectations to parents and den leaders.
Parents value order and reinforcement of good manners. If you let parents and leaders know what you expect in terms of behavior, they will help you achieve it.
If you are having trouble with a particular Cub Scout’s behavior, explain the problem behavior to the parent and enlist his or her help to develop solutions.
4. Use the Cub Scout sign.
Raise the Cub Scout sign regularly to get attention. Do not yell or shout at the Cub Scouts “signs up”.
Quietly use the Cub Scout sign and stop all activity until every Cub Scout has their sign up and is paying attention. Don’t resume the activity until everyone is quiet, including parents.
Wait as long as necessary to ensure Cubs are quiet and listening before starting the meeting.
Use a formal ceremony (such as a flag ceremony or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or Scout Oath) to start the meeting, because it will draw the focused attention of your Cub Scouts and set the appropriate tone for the rest of the meeting.
5. Plan some high-energy activities in the middle of your meeting.
Kids thrive on activity, and they crave some amount of chaos.
For den meetings, include a high-energy game that gets the Cub Scouts outside, when weather and conditions permit, and involves physical activity.
For pack meetings, include cheers or group games that allow Cub Scouts to collectively be loud. Boys and girls don’t like being quiet all the time, so allow for planned chaos.
6. End your meeting with a focused, quiet activity.
Always close a meeting with a quiet activity, such as announcements, a Cubmaster’s or den leader’s minute, or a ceremony. The goal is to refocus attention.
If you follow the suggested Cub Scout meeting template, it will have the right balance of activity and quiet. Make sure every meeting has a definite end.
7. Require Cub Scouts to give full attention when another den or Cub Scout is presenting.
At a pack meeting, the Cubmaster and other leaders should ensure a den or Cub Scout making a presentation has the undivided attention of all watching.
Don’t rely on the den making the presentation or that den’s leaders to help with this. Likewise, in a den meeting, the den leader should ensure Cub Scouts are polite to each other, giving others their full attention during presentations.
8. Use positive reinforcement whenever possible.
Items such as a conduct candle, talking stick, or beads or marbles are some ways to use positive reinforcement.
A conduct candle is lit at the beginning of the meeting. When the Cub Scouts misbehave, the candle is extinguished. But if it stays lit, it begins to burn down. Once the candle is fully gone, usually after three or four den meetings of good behavior, the den receives an incentive selected by the Cub Scouts themselves. Pizza parties and ice cream socials are popular picks.
A talking stick is a special item that must be held by the Cub Scout or leader who is talking. If you don’t have the talking stick, you shouldn’t be speaking.
The jar of beads or marbles works like the conduct candle. Here’s what you do: Get a small jar and place it at the front of the room. Give each Cub Scout three small items at the beginning of the meeting — marbles or beads work well. Each time the Cub Scout misbehaves, he or she must give one of these items to the den leader, who puts it away. At the end of the meeting, the small items the Cub Scouts have left are put in the jar. When the jar is filled, usually after three or four den meetings, the den receives the party.
No matter what item you use, always phrase rules in a positive way.
Instead of saying, “No talking while the Cubmaster is talking,” say, “Listen when the Cubmaster is talking.”
Focus on what Cub Scouts should do instead of what they should not do. Rather than calling down the Cub Scout who is making too much noise, offer a reward or praise to the Cub Scout who is sitting and listening quietly.
Kimberly Cook (above) is a veteran Cubmaster and den leader, having previously served as den leader, Pack Committee Chairman, Asst. Cubmaster, and Cubmaster for packs in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, and Homewood, Alabama. She currently serves as Unit Commissioner for two packs, two troops and one Venturing Crew in the Vulcan District of the Greater Alabama Council and is the Vulcan District Committee Membership Chair.
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