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Rethinking Ages in Scouting

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I spun this from the discussion on "Venturings Place". There were comments about youth in Crews working to give back and also about being able to get away from ankle biters. Also comments about retention problems within the demographic and kids going off to college.


I've often wondered why we do things the way we do? Boy Scouts runs until the 18th birthday when a boy becomes an adult and ages out. He can join the troop as an adult, be one on one with adults and tent with adults. Yet if he is an OA member, he is a youth until 21 and can not be one on one with an adult or tent with them. Crazy huh? A 19 year old can be an ASM in a Troop and considered an adult, but if he is also a Crew member, he is a youth. Two different things at the same time in two different arms of the same organization.


Now, we've helped confuse the training scenario. This year saw a change to NYLT where it is program neutral and includes Venturing. So now we have 13 year old Boy Scouts attending the same leadership training class with 20 year old Venturers. Of course, Wood Badge lowered the age for participants to 18 and if they are registered as an adult in a Troop, they can attend. Confusing? At the NYLT Course Directors Conference a few weeks ago, the age issue came up. Basically, the rule of thumb was that you certainly wouldn't want to put 13 or 14 year old participants in patrols and tents with 18 and 19 year olds. Then they said that if they are older than 18, you should be steering them towards Wood Badge anyway. Then why did you change NYLT to include Venturing?


BSA needs to address the elephant in the room. I'm all for tradition.....that makes sense. Looking at the UK Model, I think it might be a much more workable model than the age related rules and exceptions we keep dealing with in the US. In the UK they have:


Beaver Scouts for 6 - 8 year olds

Cub Scouts for 8 10 year olds

Scouts for 10 - 14 year olds

Explorer Scouts for 14 -18 year olds

Network for 18 - 25 year olds


What say you?

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If you look at other countries (I've actually wondered if anyone has done a country by country comparison), you will find that many countries use similar age groupings, tho they may call them something different.


11-14 is usually 'Scouts'

14-18 is usually Senior Scouts, Venture/ing Scouts or the like

18-25 is usually Rovers/Rover Scouts or the like


Very few do overlapping ages like the BSA does.



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Pie in the sky but I say ditch all but Boy Scouts. No Cubs, no Varsity, no Venturing, and no Explorer (LFL).


That said the reality of the situation is that BSA is more interested in numbers than serving the needs of what should be our primary target audience which is 11-18. It is my opinion that Cubs turns off as many or more boys and families to Scouting than cross over, and once they are turned off to Scouting they never give us a second look. It has been that way since at least the 70's. I remember then as a Scout that folks knew more about Cub Scouts than Boy Scouts and yet then as now we call our selves Boy Scouts of America! Part of BSA's mission is for boys to base the rest of their life on the Oath and Law yet most that join Cubs drop out before earning Tenderfoot!


If the ancillary divisions can not survive on their own why have them. If Cubbing has higher numbers than Boy Scouts IMNSHO shorten or drop Cubbing to improve recruitment and retention of Boy Scouts. I would much prefer a smaller organization that makes a meaningful difference in the lives of youth than one that only superficially does to more youth. Quality vs Quantity.


Do that and then the age problem will be much simpler.

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This is a great question Beav. If I remember right, the Canadian Scouts had the same kind of structure as the UK Scouts accept for the 14 year old limit on the Troop Scouts. I had a lot of respect for that structure before they changed in the 90s. It had more outdoor program for the cub ages while adding more mature program for the older scouts.


Anyway to your question, I think adding the Beaver Scouts to the BSA would reverse the trend of loosing cub scouts that we are seeing today. The 5 year Cub program is burning out the adults and strangling the Webelos program. The Beaver Scouts suggestion separates boys with a toddler age maturity from boys with a grade school maturity and would simplify both programs immensely allowing the adults to put more focus on the smaller easier to manage groups.


As for the rest, I agree it would help in a lot of the issues you brought up. But for me, I do not like the Scouts being limited to age 14 for two reasons:


First, the success of Troop age scouts comes from the younger scouts learning from the actions of the older more mature scouts. My experience is there isnt enough difference in the maturity between 11 year olds and 14 year olds to have a real difference on the younger scouts growth. We need the 15 thru 17 year olds for the role modeling to make a real impact.


Second, generally mature troops have a program where the oldest scouts run the program with the younger scouts developing the maturity and skills at their own pace to move into the leadership positions when they reach the appropriate age and maturity. Four years isnt near enough time for the program to develop an older generation of leadership. The difference between young troops that dont have the older scouts and the mature troops program with older scouts is that scouts in the younger troops feel that they are obligated to take their turn in leadership position when they reach an expected agen. The troop either gets bland from unenthusiastic leadership or the adults have to get more involved to inject more ideas and variety. The mature troop programs tend to separate scouts who want leadership from scouts who are satisfied with lesser responsibilities. It makes a big difference in the developing the maturity of each individual scout and leads to a more exciting program for all the Scouts.


Other than that, I like your proposal and think it would simplify the program a lot.




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So now we have 13 year old Boy Scouts attending the same leadership training class with 20 year old Venturers. Of course, Wood Badge lowered the age for participants to 18 and if they are registered as an adult in a Troop, they can attend. Confusing? At the NYLT Course Directors Conference a few weeks ago, the age issue came up. Basically, the rule of thumb was that you certainly wouldn't want to put 13 or 14 year old participants in patrols and tents with 18 and 19 year olds. Then they said that if they are older than 18, you should be steering them towards Wood Badge anyway. Then why did you change NYLT to include Venturing?


Actually in regards to WB, 18-20 year olds could always attend IF serving as an ASM and had completed training. I was asked to attend WB in the 19-20 year old range (I didn't complete SMF until I was 19) as they would have waived the 2 year tenure requirement since I came from the ranks so to speak. even if they didn't waive the 2 year tenure, a 20 yo could attend WB.


Now WB is open to all 18-20 year olds, whether they are registered as an Adult ADL, AWDL, or ASM or as a youth with a ship or crew. only requirement is that they have completed basic training for their position.


So here it is, if someone is 17 and under, they go to NYLT, 18 and older, irregardless of adult or youth status goes to WB21C


As to who to do the ages thing. Remember Venturing LOWERED the age to 13.5 AND completed 8th Grade.



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When you went thru Wood Badge, who did you tent with? If you were on a Crew outing, could you have tented with the same person? See any inconsistancy there?




I agree on the Boy Scout age range. I would want to see it go thru at least age 16 to get the benefit of older scouts being the example for younger scouts. That being said, if you were just grouping age ranges for any kind of program in general, the UK model is probably about right.

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I never went through WB, I was asked to attend, repeatedly in fact. Now when I did SMF as a 19yo, my tentmate was a 40 something. Again we were both adults and it didn't matter.


But when I did my cruise as an 18yo sea scout, my cabin mate was a 16 yo.


So yes there is an inconsistancy. That's why my council came up wiht an unofficial term for the 18-20yo crowd Gray Area Scouters (GASers for short). I know when intermixing events occured, like OA events, the way things were divided was under 18, 18-20, 21+ male and 21+ female.







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Now then, seeing as the UK model was mentioned I guess I should put in my forpeneth (2 cents) worth.


The current age ranges in the UK have been a success but that is not to say that they don't have their draw backs so be careful of what you wish for. But I guess I should give a bit of background to how it ended up that way.


Historically the age ranges in the UK have changed a number of times. From around 1965 onwards they were


Cubs 8-10 and a half

Scouts 10 and a half to 15 and a half

Venture Scouts 15 and a half to 21


From the late 80s onwards Beavers were introduced for 6-8 year olds.


The UK of 1965 was a very different one to 1995. Very few people went to university and many people left school aged 15 to start apprenticeships which they would typically pass out from aged 21. Hence the age ranges made sense, ie you moved to a more senior section around the time you left education.


Fast forward 30 years and full time education was compulsory to 16, the overwhelming majority stayed till they were 18 and around 50% were either going to univeristy or going to some other kind of training after that. Other changes to society had also come about, too many to go into. The effect though was that scouts were losing their14 and 15 year old who simply didn't want to hang around with 10 and 11 year olds and venture units were losing their 18-19 year olds to university meaning that the system where by the older members of the unit effectively ran it was falling apart. A further problem identified was that younger adult leaders, those under 25, were being lost as they felt socially isolated in groups where they were often 20 years the junior of many adult leaders.


So the age ranges were changed to reflect this, scouts now cut off at 14 (although there is some flexibility, kids can stay till they are 14 and a half), Explorers came in for 14-18 year olds and Network for 18-25s. Network is, in theory, a youth section. Its other fucntion though is to provide a social setting for younger leaders and it is helping to keep them, it was losely modeled on the student scout and guide clubs that had, and still do, prove very successfull.


And it has worked, numbers across the UK are up over 20% in the last 7 years, disproportionatly so for those aged over 13. It has, in my opinion, been a great success. Some caveats though.


The increase in numbers cannot be placed simply at the door of the new age ranges. There have been many other changes to. The uniform has changed, especially the trousers. I wouldn't have been seen dead in the old style trousers, the new ones, navy blue combats, are far better (and practical). The introduction of coed scouting (now THAT will be controversial on here!), the splitting of the chief scout role into a chief commissioner (who runs the organisation) and a figure head chief scout who is more of an ambasador (currently Bear Grills) and refocussing the programme on adventure rather than the more traditional scouting.


Also the scout section has lost something. There is only so much you can ask of a 13 or 14 year old PL. It is not the same as a 15 year old. They need more supervision and also have less of an air of authority. You can get them to run a patrol camp on their own, but the effort it takes to get them to that standard is very large.


There are politics as well. Venture was meant to run at group level. Explorers now runs at district level. Some groups have been unhappy about this and have undermined the explorer programme but this is gradually being stamped out.


Over all I think what we have gained from the changes has out weighed what we lost. Scouting only makes a difference if you can get bums on seats. Also scouting is there to serve the kids, to give them what they need. Currently in the UK we have a problem with many kids, particularly in urban areas, being wrapped in cotton wool. The refocus on adventure, of giving them the chances to do something scary that gets them out of their comfort zone and gives their parents a reminder of what their kids can do is exactly what is needed and more important than being able to lead a group of 6 or 7 other kids.


If BSA wants to change I think they need to think carefully about what they are trying to achieve by making those changes. Change for the sake of change can be the worst thing you can do. only you lot know what is going to get the average 13 year old American through the door and also what they need. The one week I spent in New York leaves me far from qualified!

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Scouts Canada is very similar to the UK system except is is school grade based.


Beavers - Kindergarten, 1, 2

Wolf Cubs - 3,4,5

Scouts - 6,7,8

Venturers - 9,10,11,12

Rovers - College/University (18-25)


Camping and fitness activities are required in every level of their program. The depth and length of the camping and fitness requirements increase each year based in the age if the scout. A day camp and short hike for Beavers building to 1-2 week high adventure type treks for Rovers.


Most of my experience is with the younger 3 groups. They run on a 3 year loop program. A joining requirement section (similar to Bobcat or Scout) is done every year as is a bridging section (crossover) to the next level. The items covered for the rest if the year are unique to that year and won't be repeated for 3 years. Unlike the BSA Cub program the scouts don't cover nutrition, flags, and other activities each year. Learn it in depth once and move on, less boredom factor. Badges play an important role in achievement - they are required for aged based awards. There are no real ranks in the Canadian program as far as I can tell. All scouts work towards their age based/level award.


Leadership is based on grade - in Scouts 6th graders are patrol members, 7th graders are patrol seconds (assistant PL), and 8th graders are the patrol leaders. Same thing in Beavers and Cubs just different titles. The Beavers are very programed and adult led, Cubs start making some decisions (food for camp, craft choices, etc), Scouts are making more decisions but still have adult guidance, Venturers are pretty much independant and Rovers are on their own. Adult leadership seems to be a good fit for the maturity level of the kids.


The BSA has the programs in place to separate out the age groups a little better. Everyone seems to forget about Varsity Scouts (it isn't just for the LDS Church, they just use it the most). Lets have Cubs (Tiger to Bear), Webelos (up to Tenderfoot), Scouts, Varsity Scouts (advancement based choice) or Venturers (high adventure/fun less advancement focus but available) for those over 15/in high school.


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Well if you want to redo structure let's totally whack it our the ball field and tick some folks off, including 2 of me three sons who are chomping at the bit to be Cubs.


Grades 2,3 = CUBS

Grades 4,5 = Webelos

Grades 6,7,8,9 = Boy Scouts

Grades 10,11,12 = Senior Scouts, Varsity

ages 18-21 = Sea Scouts and Venturing

Ages 22+ = Old Fogeys ;)



In regards to Varsity, what are the numbers on them? TBH only time I've ever seen Varsity Scouts was in the Centennial Parade. Also I know when I worked in the scout shop, the only person to have bought any of the Varsity/Venture Pins and letters was when I was creating a HA program at summer camp, and was using them as the recognition awards.

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As UK scouter I'd echo much of what Cambridge skip has said, although I'd take issue with a couple points:

Scouting skills have not been diminished but rather repackaged under the "everyday adventure" slogan,with a greater focus on participation.

Whilst with explorer scouts its taken a while to get the dynamic between group and district right; particularly with rural districts where its harder for the district focus to be created for the young people; I agree that progress has been made.

Having 13 yr old PLs is a challenge!

If you look across the 6-25 groupings you see that original aim of scouting has been maintained. with the patrol concept introduced with beavers (Lodges), developed in cubs (sixes, lead by sixers and seconders) through scouts (Patrols) and on to explorers/network where the groups/leadership become more ad hoc. Likewise as you progress through UK scouting the role of adult leadership changes from an adult lead programme (beavers/cubs/scouts) to a youth lead programme (Scouts/explorers/network).






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Varsity isn't a big thing, it was put in for LDS specifically, and though others could use it no one has an interest to do so. From what I know few LDS use it either due to not having enough boys to have a decent troop size if they split some away to have varsity. I have though seen one or two people with orange tabs and were told those were for Varsity when I asked. We get a roster of all units in our district. We have no varsity in our district.


I am in the camp with the others about BS having to go up to at least 16 for the older boy leadership. Only way I see it working otherwise, is to get something like UK where the older boys from the other programs are coming back to the younger units to be Leaders.. That has not been mentioned how that works by Cambridgeskip or Moggie. But it has been mentioned in other threads that it is odd for older adults to be involved in leadership at all.. Don't know how they got that to become a health thriving concept, but if it is a healthy as mentioned in other threads, that would return the older boy mentoring in some form.


Not sure if it would be healthy in the USA though, our Den Chief is nice when we get it, but rare..

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In 2010, there were 59,863 Varsity Scouts on 8,539 teams (average of 7 members per team) with 22,806 leaders (average of 2.6 leaders per team).


There were 792,202 Boy Scouts in 40,099 troops (average of 20 members per troop) with 493,852 leaders. (It's not clear how many of those leaders are direct-contact leaders vs. holding a district-level post).



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Okay, not having worked with much other than a pack, and my troop work being limited to out sister troop, plus some MBC and camporee staff work...I cannot even claim to be up to par wirth the age structure any of you are proposing, but......


I do have a thought, and realize, this is more due to parents and the way they handle their scouts instead of the scouts themselves.


What if you kept the first 3 years of Cub Scouts the same:


Tiger: 1st grade / 6 years old

Wolf: 2nd grade / 7 years old

Bear: 3rd grade / 8 years old


Then at that point, you are done with your pack. At tis time, you join a Webelos Team. Team is just as much a part of the CO as the pack, but is as distinct as the troop , or crew or ship is from the pack.


Webelos I: 4th grade/ 9 years old

Webelos II: 5th grade/ 10 years old

Webelos III: 6th grade/ 11 years old


Change the AOL by upping the age requirement 1 additional year.


Take the lowest rank ( or non rank) of boy scouts and use that the same as your AoL requirements , and alow the same bridging early at 11 1/2 , 6 months, etc...


Now, the whole reason for this is basically for a better transition to boy scouts.


While we try to carry ouit a Webelos program as a transituion away from regular cub scouting...and we try to make it more about Boy Scouting...we still have our Webelos march in for pack meetings, still have them regulated to pack activities and events at campouts and council camps.


Now, I said that parents are part of the blame. I actually give them a bigger share of that. While the Webelos are going through some changes in the program itself, the parents still see them as Cub Scouts. They still come to den meetings like all the ranks uf cubscouts do. They still show up to pack meetings, B7G events, still wipe their noses and fix their hair.



So other than a hike, a SM meeting and learning the Boy Scout Oath, motto, ect..where is the real transition at?


Again, I have not worked extensively with a troop, but I have worked with a tropopm or two. I'm still friends with many parents and scouts who went to our sister troop and 2 other troops.



I have seen where a coiuple scouts drop out completely, ot take a year off because the adjustment was too much too fast.


So it really isn't so much as getting ready for Boy Scouts as it is stepping away from Cub Scouts


Nah, I don't have a perfect answer, but just some thoughts bouncing around.


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