Kevin V. Hunt
Scouting Historian, Author and Speaker, Scouting Veteran, Camp Director
For years, I’d been telling leaders how to make the annual planning conference so that it was fun, rewarding and beneficial for all. I knew that the annual Planning Conference makes for a great program. Now I was a Varsity Scout Coach and it was time to again put the planning conference to the test. It was fun to actually test with my own guys the calendaring process that I’d been teaching all along.
Before I get going, I want to say that the program planning principles that I am about to introduce will work for Cub Packs, Scout Troops, Varsity Teams, Venturing Crews, and any other youth, civic, or church group. I invite you to give them a try. Your program will be wonderful and great things will happen in the lives of others in groups you are a part of.
I wanted our planning conference to be in a retreat type setting where the boys would not be distracted by paper routes, home, and other activities. Having an “in” with the Scouting Council, I arranged to use the Camp Director’s cabin at Camp Bartlett. Bartlett was about two hours away and it provided some excitement and adventure not found in our normal camping areas closer to town.
The cabin provided a comfortable setting for our training sessions. It was also secluded enough that we could meet without being disturbed by others. It also provided a variety of program resources for our added enjoyment.
One of my bosses wanted several things taken up to the camp after he learned that I was going up there. He asked that we drive the council’s van up with the supplies.
We had a terrible time just getting out of town. As usual the … van wasn’t quite up to par. It seemed it always worked great until you needed to use it. After a flat tire and other trauma en route, we finally arrived up at camp about ten o’clock that night.
We got into the cabin and there was plenty of room for all of us. The warm heater made it nice and cozy even though I discovered, to my dismay, that in the rush of everything, I had forgotten my sleeping bag and would be spending my night on the couch without it.
Even though we arrived kind of late, my friend George, who was my assistant for that couple of months only, and I met with the guys in an orientation session. We reviewed our plan for the conference; our purpose in being up there and what we hoped to accomplish through our retreat. The guys were mellow and real teachable.
I’ve since been on several planning retreats of this kind and find the Friday evening of the experience to be a good time to train the guys in the basics of the program and to review with them their individual responsibilities within the team organization.
After the short training session we had some fun. We had a brief campfire program (without the fire) and sang a few songs together. We topped the evening off with a feast of “S’mores”.
We culminated the evening by kneeling in a circle for prayer together. This, in itself, was a beautiful experience.
I was glad to learn after the evening’s activities that George had brought along an extra blanket which he said he didn’t need. Even with just the one blanket, I was almost too warm there by the heater.
Normally on a hike it is best to let the guys do all of the cooking and clean-up after meals. With this retreat experience, however, we wanted the boys to relax and kick back a little. We really wanted the experience to be something they’d remember.
Consequently, George and I were up early cooking bacon, hot bisquits and eggs with all the other trimmings for breakfast. The boys soon awoke to that wonderful smell of sizzling bacon. They were dressed and ready to devour the food the second that we had it ready for them.
From our orientation the night before the kids knew we were there to work and that if we got the work done in a timely manner we’d have some time for hiking and fun later on.
We impressed the boys with the fact that by taking the necessary time that morning to plan the calendar for the coming year we’d have a super year packed with fun activities.
We started our first group session right after breakfast. George did the dishes as I met with the guys. We had a real brief overview of the Varsity Scouting program and it’s five areas of program emphasis. We organized the team around those five areas – just as we had earlier with the adults.
Each boy on the team was given a leadership position of some kind. One boy became the Team Captain, and since our group was so small, he was also the Squad Leader. All of the other boys were Program Managers over one or more of the five Varsity programs.
Prior to the planning retreat I’d polled each of the kids with a survey to see what kind of activities they’d enjoy doing. On the list I’d put anything and everything I could think of in the way of activities They then simply made a check mark by any of the activities they personally would sometime like to do with the team at some time.
I had even obtained this list from the couple of kids from our church organization who were not currently actively involved with us. I used their interest sheets that morning as we started the calendaring process.
I had also made a composite tally of all of the survey sheets so that I knew the activities which a majority of the boys wanted to do and also those in which no one had expressed interest. I didn’t make these results public but I knew what they were and could thus interject them at appropriate times in the calendaring process (but done in such a way that the kids thought they were their own ideas).
Prior to the start of our morning session I mounted five large sheets on the walls throughout the cabin. On each sheet was the name of one of the five program areas for Varsity Scouting. There were sheets for Advancement, High Adventure Activities, Personal Development, Service, and Special Events.
I then had the guys start telling us activities they’d like to do. I said, “Just start throwing ideas at us as fast as you can.” Since they had done my interest survey just a couple of days earlier, they brought up many activities from that list plus many others.
By this time, George was done with the dishes. He and I started writing activities as fast as the boys could come up with them. As they mentioned something, we added it to the appropriate chart in whichever of the five program areas it fit best. We did not censure any of the activities suggested by the boys but let them put anything they wanted on the list.
One more thing that we did prior to the conference was the completion of the resource survey sheet which I alluded to in the chapter on Resources. We had taken time in one of our church meetings and had all of the men and women present complete the survey. On the survey, people checked or listed their professions, hobbies, or special interests, contacts and other information that could be helpful to us.
After a perusal of the resource sheets it was quickly evident that the sky was the limit. With all of that “program capability” we could have great activities for two or three years or more and still not do them all. Again, with these sheets I could interject some program ideas into the brain- storming conversation as desired.
We let the guys name all of the activities they could come up with. When we had exhausted their imaginations we halted that part of the program.
By this time the guys were ready for a break. George taught them how to make sling shots and they had fun pitching rocks with them outside for a few minutes. After running around and getting some fresh air, they were ready to plow into it again.
When George got the guys rounded up and back in the cabin they were greeted with large calendars I had posted everywhere. While they were out I had posted a two foot square calendar for each month of the coming year.
Back at home I had previously listed other activities on the calendars in various ink colors. Shown there were key dates of activities for our church, their school, holidays, hunting seasons, community parades, Etc.
I always have to get a song in there somewhere, so after a rousing song or two we were ready for action. I pointed out the calendars and said that we now needed to determine specific dates for some of the activities we had listed on the other charts earlier. We reviewed again the five program areas and stressed the need to build a program with activities from each of the five areas.
When calendared with the other church, school and civic activities it worked out that we could do one activity from each of the five areas within a three month period. The Personal Development area did get a little more space than the other areas since it really is made up of the five additional sub-areas of Spirituality, Leadership, Citizenship, Social Attributes, and Physical Fitness.
As the guys decided upon an activity, we wrote it in big letters into the calendar. Here again, I was able to get the kids to add a couple of the activities in which some of the inactive had expressed an interest. I had suggested a couple of their ideas in the earlier discussion.
The boys very quickly realized that they had to be fairly selective in choosing the activities we would do. There was no way there would be time to do everything on the lists. They had some good discussion about which activities would be the most fun.
By this time I was in kind of a back-seat role. The Team Captain was guiding the team and moderated the discussion. I was just the secretary recording their decisions.
Within a short period of time we were done with the calendar. We’d planned some great activities and the boys were excited about what they had done. “Hey! This is going to be a great year!” one of them said.
The boys were also a little frustrated. There were so many things that they wanted to do that were still on the original lists and with no time do them all. “Oh, well! There is always next year,” I told them. In fact, I had to restrain them a bit so that they wouldn’t over-calendar with more than we could all handle.
With the calendar complete, we sent the guys out under the Captain’s leadership to do a short service project for the camp. They also took a short hike down into “Mosquito Valley” to try out their slings again. George and I had a hearty lunch ready as they returned.
We had now accomplished our task and were ready to return home. Our conference had been a grand success. We had pulled together as a team, we’d had an activity from all of the five program areas, and we had planned some exciting programs for the coming year.
In addition, the guys knew their team organization and where they fit into making it all happen. They knew that now they’d go back home and would work on the specific activities that fell within their program manager responsibilities of the five program areas.
After the heavy lunch the guys soon fell asleep as we trekked home. We’d worn them out! George had the job of talking to keep me awake as I drove.
Best wishes along your Scouting Trails … Kevin
Excerpts taken from Kevin’s many personal journals and Scouting Trails books including “MR. Scoutmaster!”, “Keys to Scouting Leadership,” “Gnubie to Eagle Scout”, and others at his Scoutingtrails website. Connect with Kevin and read his articles on Scouting blogsites such as The Boy Scout, The Scouting Trail and The Voice of Scouting. Feel free to comment on anything you read!
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