A Modern Take on Scouting

A Modern Take on Scouting

Scouting is one of the Charlotte Mason subjects that caught my imagination as soon as I heard of it. It seemed to combine everything I wish I had been taught about self-sufficiency and living a life immersed in nature. But so broad was the scope that I knew I had to put it on the back burner while I tried to master the basics of nature study and all the other Charlotte Mason “essentials.”  By the time my oldest daughter was 9, I felt like I could take it on.

As I studied, beginning with the article from the Parents’ Review, I loved it and was totally overwhelmed. I thought, do I need a national group for this to work? Should I try to organize a national group? Do I need to do every single lesson per category? Should I do them in order? Then I read Robert Baden-Powell’s Scouting for Boys and wondered, how much should I utilize military tactics? Do I talk to the kids about solving crimes? How strict should discipline be with the children? Once my idealism and overachieving tendencies calmed down, I decided that the best thing to do was to simplify: to take every subject down to some basic skills and start there.

I developed a plan for how lessons should be implemented, then I started a group, because that’s the best way for me to be accountable to get things done, and then I started writing the lessons. Those lessons have since been published by A Gentle Feast as Scouting for Wild Ones. Through the rest of this article I will compare my lessons with the plan described for the Parents’ Union Schools.

Originality and Standards
“Scouting gives scope for all sorts of originality, as well as providing a standard to aim at.”[1]

Excellence and originality are often seen to be at odds in our current culture. From some corners we are being told that there should be no standard — no standard for art or beauty or literature — and that there are no right answers (though there are still wrong answers). In a culture that gives everyone a trophy, there is no value in having the trophy and no reason to push limits, have ideas, or innovate. But if there is a challenge that is met or a difficulty conquered, especially for a child, there is reason to be proud. A child who knows he is capable is a child who will take pleasure in accomplishments and will feel compelled to accomplish more.

The skills practiced in scouting are skills with a definite aim. And like other skills, they offer increasing levels of results depending on the amount of time spent practicing the activity. For many of the skills practiced there is an immediate reward that serves as motivation to continue to work hard and move toward the ideal. But these skills are also open-ended, in the same way that learning how to read opens the door to books and to writing. For example, working off of the lessons in Scouting for Boys, I created an entire section of observation skills to train the scout’s vision, hearing, and sense of smell. This is foundational to all other areas of scouting. A child who trains his nose to tell the difference between rosemary and thyme can learn to smell a storm rolling in. He can learn to listen for and identify the yellow-billed cuckoo, though he cannot see it. He looks for clues on the ground to tell him what creature has passed by and what it did there. Before the world can be open to the child, he must first learn to perceive it.

Membership Organization

As I mentioned before, upon reading “Scouting” from Parents’ Review volume 31, I immediately started thinking about national organization. With the Internet and social media I knew that this could be implemented fairly easily, but I also knew that I didn’t want to take on the responsibility myself. I was already in the process of easing out of my work in the greater Charlotte Mason community to begin teaching my third child, and I had recently moved out of town to a property in need of a lot of work. As I considered the idea and thought about what was best for my own situation, I realized that freedom was more valuable to me personally: freedom to choose my own group members, and freedom to do the lessons most appropriate for the season, weather, ages, and interest of the children.

Rather than a national group organization, I recommend small, local groups of like-minded parents with children in a similar age range. My scouting course is not exclusively meant for Charlotte Mason homeschoolers, but for anyone with an interest in outdoor life. This includes homeschoolers of all philosophies as well as students in a traditional school setting. I even know of one school that is using it as part of the curriculum.

In some ways I envy the camaraderie implied in this scouting article and in the PNEU programmes, which had students learning the same things on a national level and similar schedule. But I also recognize my own tendency to feel like a failure if I can’t keep up. For anyone who shares this tendency, I hope that the structure of lessons and freedom to implement them as you wish will be a blessing.

Adventure

Anyone who knows about a Charlotte Mason education knows that it should encompass many different subjects. The particular scheme of scouting described for the Parents’ Union Schools included aspects of nature study, handicrafts, geography, and even physical fitness. Most of these subjects are already included in any of the general Charlotte Mason curricula. So when I decided on the subjects to include in my scouting course, I wanted to focus on the subjects that would seem new and exciting: activities that would be useful in an adventure and may even lead to one.

I remember well my own desire to find adventure in childhood. Growing up in California it was cowboys and wagon trains that caught my imagination. I remember looking out into the horizon and trying to imagine what I would have seen on that landscape a hundred years prior: no houses, no freeway, no people. With a little training I think my focus would have been different. I would have realized that I was looking at the same flowers, hearing the same birds, and sometimes even walking the same trails that people had walked hundreds of years before me. It would have brought a richness into my present, instead of a longing for the past. So it was with this idea in mind that I chose the subjects for my scouting course.

After the lessons in observation, as mentioned earlier, are lessons in stalking. The children learn how to camouflage themselves, sneak up quietly on an animal (or an enemy), and make careful observations. How much more exciting is the story from 1 Samuel 24 of David stealthily cutting off a corner of Saul’s robe to a scout who knows the skill required and the excitement of not being discovered!

The art of tracking is introduced next. Tracking is most definitely one of the subjects that will yield immediate results, but the measure of success will be directly proportional to the amount of time spent in practice. I like to frame tracking around the idea of reading a story. Something happened and the tracks and sign (tracking is much more than just footprints) are evidence left from action, from a story. If we can learn to read this story of nature, we can understand better what creatures are sharing our world and appreciate more deeply the Creator who designed them.

What is an adventure without a journey? Practical knowledge of a compass and map are taught. Whether drawing an accurate treasure map or using a compass to find their way back to camp, scouts learn to understand where they are and how to get where they need to go. They learn to be more aware of their surroundings and more alert. I wonder sometimes how much I am missing, such as cute downtowns, beautiful views, and even shortcuts, by depending on my GPS. I remember when I was a young driver and we used Thomas Guide maps to get anywhere. Every road trip to a new destination had an element of adventure. I had to be on the lookout for road signs, watch my mileage, listen to the radio for traffic updates, and use common sense. The same kind of awareness is fostered in children who learn to use a map and compass. Getting lost is then not something to be afraid of, but a problem to be solved, or even an opportunity for discovery.

As I thought about what to include in this set of lessons, I tried to remember what every adventure story character needs to know how to do. In addition to what is already described, I included lessons on the following skills sets: making camp, starting a fire, predicting the weather, reading the stars, tying a fine knot, and communication.

Most of the adventures my children take at present are on our little property surrounded by woods, but I believe that the skills they are building will carry them through and serve them well into the adventures of adulthood.

Tests

There is just one other area I would like to discuss in this article, that of tests. The PUS article gives pretty elaborate recommendations for testing requirements and the tassel system.

I included tests at the end of each section of my scouting curriculum. It is not necessary for all scouts to test out on the skills. Some families will choose to do the activities for fun and some scouts will be too young to really become proficient in the skills. But for those scouts who really do want to master the lessons, the tests serve as an important evidence of accomplishment. Once the initial lesson is given, mastery of the skill is up to the scout. He must practice in his own time to become better. Testing allows him to showcase the fruits of his labor.

The PUS used tassels to recognize the scout’s accomplishments. Tassels are easy to make and the recommendations are pretty straightforward. They were affixed to homemade patches with the logo of the troop. But we prefer homemade patches outright, made from wool felt and embroidery thread. They make easy and fun handicraft projects for older children and moms. These pins from a recent review are also wonderful! The important thing is that the child have a marker of his hard work and acquired skill.

Conclusion

Writing this scouting course and working through it with our own scouting group has been so much fun. I have greatly enjoyed watching the children take inspiration from the lessons for their play and for the practical concerns of life. It is my hope that many other families and groups will use Scouting for Wild Ones to open the door to their own adventures and achievements. I hope that children will embrace the skills that human beings have had throughout history and that they will serve them well in our modern age.

[1] The Parents’ Review, vol. 31, p. 446.

Brittney McGann is a California hairstylist, turned North Carolina homeschool teacher. She and her family live between a forest and a pasture, on a little property with chickens, rabbits, and guinea pigs. Brittney loves wildflower gardening, caterpillar rearing, and George MacDonald. She is an amateur naturalist, aspiring apologist, and Sunday school teacher.

Copyright 2021 Brittney McGann

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