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a knotty problem....

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Our boys are BORED with knots - but they need them for advancement! We teach and they don't retain the knowledge, they can tie a knot in front of us while we teach - but a few days/weeks later - I ask them to tie me a bowline or a taut-line hitch - and they get the names mixed up, the knot tied wrong, or close, but not quite right.


I didn't have to re-learn knots when i started scouting with my son, I remembered them from my scout days. I think part of the reason I retained them well is that more of our equipment, tents and such USED those knots. I also likes crafts, and macrame was popular and used many of the knots.


But tents now are freestanding ( and i LIKE no guy-lines to trip over!) and knots are boring, macrame is old-fashioned, and the boys don't remember.


So what do YOU do to make knot tying fun and memorable? the rabbit/tree story for the bowline helps - but they still get it mixed up.

Does anyone have any good stories /technics for teaching knots in a fun way?


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At Cub Scout pow-wow last fall I took a class about knots. The man teaching it has worked with Boy Scouts for a number of years. He had some great tips.


He said buy some of that bright colorful rope at Home Depot or Lowe's. Carry it around with you and just sit and practice knots before meetings and at campouts. Pretty soon the boys will be coming up to you asking how you do that.


He also would challenge the boys. Anyone who could tie the basic knots, one right after another, faster than he could, won his rope! He said this was a inexpensive investment that paid off big. He was good and didn't just "let" them win, they really had to work at it.


Or have a ongoing knot champion contest. Maybe a board at that is displayed at the Scout meeting with the current champions name.



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Often, our PLC will identify a couple of knots that each Scout must tie before they eat. Sometimes, it is the same knot across all the patrols, sometimes each patrol wants to emphasis a specific knot and the PL chooses something different. But over the course of a year's worth of campouts, all of the major knots, and many of the 2nd and third tier knots, get a going over. Works pretty well for us.


I have also seen intra patrol competitions set up like relay races. In the most elaborate, each patrol counted off, and the SPL called "#2!" Whoever was number two started off and were given a knot to tie, that way no one knew which knot they were going to have to do.



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I put together a "knot-tying" apparatus with the ever-so useful Popcorn tin cans. I filled two large tin cans with cements and cemetned two 2" PVC stubs in the middle of the cans with 2"PVC connectors on top of the stubs. From there, I mounted four feet 2" PVC and attached 90 degrees 2" elbows. Attached between them is a six feet 2" PVC pipe. This is my "tent."


I cemented a camping stake in the middle of a smaller tin can (the cheapy $7 popcorn can) ... 6 of them. These are my "stakes."


With this, I taught them the two-half hitches (anchor the rope to the top of the tent) and the taut-line hitch (tighten the tent guy-wire to the stake)! I also use the "cross-bar" of my tent to teach the other anchoring knots that are "knot" part of the requirements. The beauty is to use the apparatus in a race ... that's when they really learn.


As for the bowline, I teach them two types ... the "self" bowline and the "traditional ... rabbit and the hole" bowline. Two methods that I used that are very effective. The "self" bowline can easily be demonstrated by first throwing myself into the deep end of the pool and pretend to be the drowing victim. I would have one of throw me a rope when I would hold on to the rope with one hand while tying the bowline with the other. By the time that they pull me up, they were amazed as to how fast I had tied it with only one hand! All of them want to be the drowing victim! This is when I told them only the scout who can successfully demonstrate to me how to tie the bowline without looking can be the victim! The other method is to have them beat me on speed of tying the bowline. So far ... only one of my Webelos comes close ... with 3.5 sec. I don't slow down for them because they have to have an incentive to beat! ... my record? 2.8 sec.


That goes with square, sheep shank, clove hitch, etc.


So the moral of the story is ... you need to be an expert at it and challenge the boys ... there isn't a boy who does not want to beat his leader!


The last useful thing is to have them setup a flag pole at camp by lashing and tying two spars together!



I also have a quiz page too for them too ... but for fun only!






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We had the same problem so we developed "Knot of the Night". At each Troop meeting we would start by haveing each Scout tie a knot they should know for rank. We even made it easier by starting with a square knot. Then we went to two half hitches then taut line then bowline then timberhitch then figure 8. It was suprising how well they did & how much they retained!


Ed Mori


Troop 1

1 Peter 4:10

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I am the troop 'knot nut'. A rope is always hanging on my belt or in my hands at meetings. As I go around monitoring the boys activities I am usually tying knots, there is always one or more scouts that want help with a knot. If you show interest in something eventually the scouts will pick up on it.


Also, the scouts know that if I am part of their

BOR knots will be required to be shown. This is true for all ranks through and including Eagle. Quite interesting to watch some of the scouts stare at the rope sitting in front of me during the BOR, almost as if they think it will bite them. But they do learn because of raised expectations. Scouts will rise to these raised expectations. The scouts learn scout skills because it is required of them not just asked for. Many times they do not realize what they are learning until sometime later, but they do learn.


Just make it fun and required.


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Good ideas in the posts above. Here are a few more:


Brightly colored rope helps (if nothing else it makes it look more interesting). Two colors work well for knots that are tied with two pieces of rope or both ends of one piece. Tie two different colors of shorter rope together then use the ends. Helps with visualization of the knot.


Once the boy gets the basics of the knot, use it in a practical manner. It's more fun to use the knots to tie a stack of magazines together, lift objects, etc.


Create a challenge or game. Turn off the lights for a prescribed time (1 minute, 30 seconds, etc. and have them tie the knot in the dark). This can progress into a progressive game. Each correct knot (use a different knot for each step) when the lights come on means a step forward, each one wrong means a step backward, until someone reaches the finish line. Be creative and come up with other games or relays.


Here's one that I used with firefighters that can be adapted to Scouts if they are game. We had the firefighter lay down on his back on a mechanic's creeper. He was pushed directly under the pump drain of the firetruck with the rope laying next to him. When the lights went out he had 10 seconds to tie a bowline (now other rescue knots) around himself. He wasn't aware of time unless counting to himself. When finished he would yell and we would pull him out. The kicker was that at 10 seconds someone would pull the pump drain - if he was still under the truck he'd get soaked. If he yelled and came out with the knot tied incorrectly, he had to do it again until he got it right. This can be changed to standing under a bucket of water for Scouts and start out with a longer time. It can be done in the light or in the dark. Reduce the time as they get good at tying the knots. A good activity on a really hot day, when they want to get wet anyway. Only do this with Scouts who volunteer for the challenge - and try to have a leader participate in the challenge. I've purposely taken longer than usual or challeged at such a short time that I knew I'd end up getting wet. The boys absolutely love to see a leader get soaked.



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I would suggest the following:

Team Clove Hitch - Each patrol, standing outside of a 6 foot circle around a tree, must tie and tighten a clove hitch. One it reinforces the clove hitch, Two, a great team building game.

I use knots to appeal to the kids...they can build the best "fort" "tree house" etc, by knowing the knots and lashings. Go to usscouts and find the links to the hurricane district for drawings of what can be built with lashings! and if the boys want to build the biggest thing ever, let them try!

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One of my ticket items was to put together a book of weekly lessons for the scouts to use right after opening ceremony. Like Ed, it included the knot of the week. It starts with simple knots and advances to pioneering knots. Seems to work well. The best way for them to retain the knowledge though is to use them for practical purposes. Try letting them pitch philmont style tarps instead of tents. My scouts seem to want the tarps now instead of the tents because they have more room and access. Worth a try.

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What we did recently at a troop meeting was to have a competion. Each scout paired up with a buddy. They had to tie a bowline around their waiste and then tie their two ropes together with a sheepshank. When done they would lean back and put their hands in the air. We found the fastest in the troop and then had them compete against the leaders. Nothing better than a little competion to spur knot knowledge.


By the way the scouts beat us.

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Hi Laura,

There is a great book available at your council service center with pioneering activities for the scouts to do that will allow them to build som really fun, cool, stuff. It's written by John Sweet.


The secret to getting scouts to do these things is to give them an adventure that requires them to use the skills you want them to practice. Hand them a piece of rope and tell them to tie an assigned knot....then listen to them snore.


Give them some spars and offer an incentive to the first patrol that can get a patrol member 10 feet off the ground and you have adventure.


Bob White

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I'm not sure how this happened, but twice in one night, I have to agree with Bob White. Knots tied and not used are soon forgot.

Many years back we tried giving each patrol a pound of fettuccini.

They had to light a fire, cook the pasta and tie it into one long "Rope" using only square knots.

That was a lot of fun.

But to get your Scouts doing pioneering and building Towers and Bridges, will bring those "Boring Old Knots" Alive.

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