Modern Scouting seems to have developed a simple, repetitive model for Scouting activities. Once a week, the Troop holds a meeting (almost always at the same place); once a month (or less), the Troop goes on a camping trip; and occasionally a community service project is performed. This routine (or small variations on it) has become the totality of practical Scouting for many Troops.
However, the principles of Scouting allow for so much more varied and creative activities. Patrols can hold their own separate meetings and activities, Troop meetings can be held in different locations for different purposes, and many cool Scouting activities can be held in the city as well as the wilderness.
Yes, you heard that right! Although true wilderness camping is essential in Scouting, Scouts of the past also had many activities which were meant to take place in town. In this post, I'd like to share with you some Scouting activities that can be done in town. The principles of Scouting apply just as well in the city as well as the wilderness. These activities can be done during Troop meetings, Patrol Meetings, or they can be made into special events in themselves.
Because close, personal communities in our culture have drifted apart over the years, civilization itself has become much more of a wilderness and 'jungle' than it used to be, even in smaller towns. Because of this and the speed at which urban life moves, Scouting in the city offers it's own special safety concerns. I don't believe any of these are challenges which cannot be overcome with proper training, preparation, and care.
Each town, Troop, and activity is different, so it is the leader's responsibility to take appropriate safety measures for each situation. The first and most obvious rule is: follow all the rules. Make sure you know the rules of your Scouting organization and your town that pertain to the activity you are planning.
Secondly, do things as Patrols! This isn't just the Scout way of doing things, it is also a very safe way of doing things. Patrols whose members are trained, organized, and can look out for each other are the best safeguard against any accident.
Thirdly, keep good communication! Technology makes this now easier than ever! It's a good idea for each Patrol that goes off on a city activity to have at least two reliable cell phones. You can establish mandatory check-in times when Patrols can either text or phone the Scoutmaster and report on their progress. Most smartphones these days also have built in GPS, so it wouldn't be too difficult for the Scoutmaster to track each of the Patrols' locations.
Don't let safety concerns keep you away from doing special urban Scouting activities. There are plenty of dangers in the wilderness, but these are overcome through training and care. The same can be done with city dangers. Last of all, give Patrol Leaders real responsibility over their Patrol. Mistakes will be made, but learning from these adds to the adventure and value of Scouting.
One activity which Scouts of the past regularly practiced was exploration. For this activity, which was very much related to the task of their military counterparts, Scouts would go into unknown places and discover the important facts and features of the area. They would practice this both in the city and the wilderness. Consider this game which was written down by Baden-Powell in 'Scouting for Boys':
“Each Patrol Leader is given a sheet of paper upon which to make a sketch map of the country for perhaps two miles around. He then sends out his Scouts in all directions to survey and bring back a report of every important feature—roads, railways, streams, etc.—choosing the best Scouts for the more difficult directions. Each Patrol Leader makes up his map entirely from the reports of his own Scouts. The Patrol whose leader brings to the Scouter the best map in the shortest time wins.”
This game, and variations of it, is a great one to practice in the city. Instead of a two-mile diameter, you can set your own area limitations such as a couple of blocks on Main Street or an area bordered by four roads. Of course, no online or paper maps are allowed as a reference. Instead, the Scouts mush rely upon their own observation (memorization as well, depending upon the rules) to mark the important businesses, buildings, utilities, etc.
The ultimate goal of the exploration activity is to go into an unknown area and record as many important features in as short a time as possible. This improves situational awareness, observation, memorization, and knowledge of city planning and layout.
A very similar object for different urban Scouting games and activities is Observation. The difference is that while exploration is concerned solely with a very blanket familiarity with an area, observation activities can be much more targeted.
For instance, a game called “Far and Near”, which Baden-Powell wrote about in 'Scouting for Boys', involves making a list of particular details or items. This list can include such things as: pennies, broken windows, men wearing hats, out-of-state license plates, antique shops, and etc. The Scouts are given a time limit, and must go out and find as many of these items as possible; the rarer items get more points, the more common things get less. One modern twist to this game can include Scouts using a smartphone to take a picture of each item found. The Patrol that gets the highest score within the time limit, wins.
Here is another Observation game as described by an old Scouting pamphlet called, “Patrol Activities”:
“Blind Trail – The Patrol is divided into two equal parts, one led by the Patrol Leader and one by the Second [Assistant Patrol Leader]. Scouts are blindfolded and taken to a quiet spot some few hundred yards from the Patrol Den, where they are spun round to confuse their sense of direction. The two parties are then led away in opposite directions along a circular course which has previously been agreed between the P.L. and Second.
They must move slowly and in absolute silence, the idea being that on their return to the Den they should draw a rough-sketch map of the route they have followed, with a list of the “clues” which enabled them to identify it. The route should be planned to include such places as fish-shops, petrol stations [gas stations]; restaurants, etc., where the sense of smell would provide the clue, and others such as bus stops, traffic lights, picture palaces and so on, where their ears would be brought into play.
It might help, too, if at one or two chosen spots on the route, the Scouts were allowed to use their sense of touch – to explore a distinctive gate-post, pillar box, iron fence, or a clump of evergreen in somebody’s garden. At one stage along the trail the two parties will pass each other, and this point should be indicated on the completed sketch-maps. This little stunt is really a potted adventure and is worth a good deal of preparation on the part of the Patrol Leader and Second.”
Games such as these are great at developing the power of observation. Observation is such an important skill in Scouting; training and developing the habit of observation will serve Scouts tremendously throughout their lives. Doing these observation games in the city versus the country has several advantages. First of all, it will accustom Scouts to being alert in an urban environment. This is a very important habit. Secondly, the pace and chaos of the city will add an element of adventure to the games which makes it more fun.
There are many other Scouting games in observation that Scouts can do in the city. Some require more preparation, some require less. And, of course, all of these games can be adapted or modified to fit a particular circumstance. Scouts these days are less trained in observation, so it is a good idea to start out somewhat easy and gradually get harder.
Expedition games require Scouts to actively go somewhere and perform some task, sometimes against opposition. Baden-Powell gave one example of this type of game called “Dispatch Running” in “Scouting for Boys”:
“A Scout is chosen to carry a dispatch to a “besieged” place—which may be a real village, farm or house, or someone stationed at an appointed spot. The dispatch-runner must wear a colored rag, at least two feet long, pinned to his shoulder, and with this in its proper place he must reach his goal.
The enemy besieging the place must prevent him reaching it, but cannot, of course, go within the lines of the supposed defenders, that is, within 300 yards of the besieged place—boundaries for this should be decided upon beforehand. Anyone found within that limit by the umpire will be ruled out as shot by the defenders.
To catch the dispatch-runner the enemy must take the rag from his shoulder. They know he starts from a certain direction at a certain time— the spot should be a mile or so from the besieged town—and they may take any steps to capture him they like, except that they may not actually witness his departure from the starting-place.
The game may be played in a town with two houses chosen as starting-place and besieged town respectively, and the dispatch-runner can adopt any disguise (except that of a woman), as long as he wears the rag pinned to his shoulder.”
This is one game that will require quite a bit of preparation. However, it is a lot of fun and will help Scouts develop decision-making, observation, and stealth. There are also many different variations of this game which can be made to fit different locations, troops, etc.
Another, more simple game taken from “Patrol Activities” is as follows:
“On hikes and explorations, send one Scout out with another following. See how close he can get without being observed. Try it in the city. Most “private eyes” seem to be expert in shadowing. Are you?”
Another great town game is treasure hunting. The Senior Patrol Leader and Scoutmaster can develop of series of clues which lead a Patrol to discovering the “treasure”. If you've seen the movie “National Treasure”, imagine a much more scaled down version of this type of urban treasure hunt. Although it requires a great deal of preparation, doing this real creatively and involving competition between the Patrols can give Scouts an adventure they never forget, for next to nothing in cost.
One more good city game is “Breadcrumb-ing”. Scouts can make their way through town dropping visual markers often along the way (it can be anything you want, as long as it's not litter; even literal breadcrumbs can work here!). Another Patrol must follow this trail successfully. This game allows for so much variation and can be as simple or as complicated as you make it.
These are just of few of the expedition-type games you can do in town. Really, the opportunities are endless!
Of course, there are many community services that Scouts can do in the city. Picking up trash; building and installing benches; cleaning up vacant lots; replacing tattered American flags; or planting flowers, shrubs, or trees in the appropriate areas are just a few of the ideas that come to mind.
The services you do can be generic like the ones above, or they can be particular to your community. Not only are they valuable duties that improve the quality of the community where you live, they are also great ways of letting more people know about Scouting. One of the best ways to show people who Scouts are and what they do is for people driving by to see a full, uniformed Troop serving the community.
Call to Action
There are a lot of ideas covered in this post, but the main message is the one which I stated in the beginning: The principles of Scouting can be applied both in the wilderness and in civilization. Camping in the wilderness and going back to the basics should always be a part of Scouting. Urban activities should never replace this aspect, but they should be added to it.
Plan on doing at least one big activity in town this month. Get with the Patrol Leader Council and go over different ideas and suggestions. Settle upon an activity, plan it, prepare it, then put it into action! Afterward, analyze with the Scouts how it went, and pin-point areas that need improvement.
I hope this post gave you some good information and inspired you to do some urban Scouting with your Troop. Do you have any in-town activities you have done with your Troop? Please share them! Just leave a comment in the box below. Do you having anything you'd like to add to this post based on your own experience? I'd love to hear it!