Some of my fondest memories as a kid were the adventures I had in my boy scout troop. In addition to learning basic survival techniques in the Australian bush, I forged many strong friendships with people who I know I could still rely on today. When my daughter is old enough, you can bet she'll be off with the girl guides, making friends and doing all the things, kids should be doing. I'm a strong believer in getting your kids out and back into nature, and learning skills that will have them grow into well-adapted adults. I don't always fully agree with the political stance some of these associations have taken in recent years, but I do believe your kids will greatly benefit from joining a troop. Here's why.
Spend time in nature
It's not right that an average kid spends six hours a day in front of a screen. To me, that's crazy. You need to ensure they enjoy, understand and appreciate the natural world, whether it be roasting marshmallows on a campfire on a starry night, or fishing in a local pond. If your kids aren't outside "playing, " they're missing out on a rather large part of their childhood.
Do something offline
Nearly all of the activities in scouts are geared towards learning a new talent, enhancing their physical abilities, teaching a new skill or simply tackling a new adventure. The best part about all of this, is that it gets them away from a tablet or a smartphone and the constant stream of Facebook, Vine or Snapchat updates, and your kids can learn what it is they really like to do. You may just discover they've got a passion for horse-riding or sailing, and you can support them to develop it.
As your kids learn new skills their confidence grows. This reinforces the mindset I want to teach my daughter, that she can do anything. Every sailing class or archery lesson they're developing new skills which prove their capable, and helps them to learn and grow. Plus, when they're away on trips they've got to get themselves prepared, which empowers a child to make decisions and take care of themselves. One thing I'd make sure to give them before heading off on a trip is our rescue card. It's a multi-tool that will be the envy of all their friends, with 16 different functions it's far more useful than a simple pocket knife. You can get yours here
Push their boundaries
Being part of a team that's consistently being challenged teaches your kids not to avoid good-old-fashioned hard work. Your kids start to thrive off the feeling of achieving a difficult goal, which will help them not only in the real world, but academically as well. Once they learn how to set a goal, and are willing to put in the work to achieve it, they're going to go far in life.
Teaches valuable skills
It wasn't until I went on a corporate retreat that I realized just how sheltered the rest of the world has become. We had a team of management from 50 different countries together, completing challenges like building a rope bridge out of logs across a creek, setting up pulleys to haul gear across canyons, and a ton of other activities that left most of these "leaders" scratching their heads. They'd never had to do anything like this. Basic stuff that I'd taken for granted my entire life, like knowing how to tie a proper clove hitch, set me apart and I stepped up to help lead our group to win the overall challenge. In a grid down situation, I worry that too many people are going to be lacking the basic outdoors skills they need to survive.
Make quality friends
Through the scouts your kids get to make friends with people that don't necessarily live next door. On the trips they get to meet other people from all over the state, helping your kids to hone their social skills and make quality friends. This interaction helps make them more socially confident overall, and many of the bonds they make through the scouts will stay with them for life. I've still got a handful of people I'm in contact with, despite living on the other side of the country, who I know I could call at a moment's notice and they'd be there for me. That's the kind of friendships you forge.
Learn to work as a team
One thing that I really enjoyed during my time with the scouts was the focus on team-oriented activities. Everything you do, requires you to work together, from setting up camp at a new location to tackling a particular obstacle on a course. This teamwork helps you to develop working social skills as well as the ability to step up and lead, while reinforcing the friendships you make.
Create memories for life
The fun and adventures your kids have with their troop will also create strong memories that they'll cherish for life. Whether it be spotlighting bullfrogs or just the shenanigans they get up to on their first camping trip with no parents, the environment scouts creates is geared towards self-discovery and learning, and they'll look back fondly on these times for the rest of their life.
But, prepare for the time commitment
Now with everything there's always a downside, and one thing you've got to realize is there's a significant time commitment required to do it right. Both the parents and your kids need to ensure you're able to get to the meetings, and are available when they've got weekend trips or activities planned. There's only so many hours of free time available, so you've got to ensure that you're both willing to get the most out of your time in the troop. If you're interested, my advice would be to reach out to your local boy scout or girl guide chapters, and learn a little more about the programs on offer. Find out the types of activities they do, and get your kids involved too. You want them to be excited about joining, and definitely not feeling like their crazy survivalist dad has pushed them to join because it's what you want. If there's anything I've learnt as a father, it's that you've got to get your kids to think the idea was theirs to join from the start. Good luck!