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Bigger, Better, Shinier: Program Features Grow Up

No one joins Boy Scouting to get his character built. No, boys join to have fun—to camp and hike, to climb mountains and run rapids, to test their boundaries and discover just how far their abilities can take them.

In other words, program is king. Without a dynamic program, boys won't hang around long enough for Scouting to achieve its aims of character development, citizenship training, and personal fitness.

For a quarter-century, troops have used Troop Program Features as a key resource. This publication's three volumes offered 36 monthly themes for troops to use in planning. Topics ranged from aquatics to winter camping, and each included four meeting plans, an outline for a highlight activity, and general information about the skills being focused on that month.

There are just two problems with that model. First, during the last 25 years, both boys and Boy Scouting have changed. Scout leaders today aren't interested in "plain vanilla" resources developed for an earlier generation. And Boy Scouting has expanded to include a host of activities that Troop Program Features doesn't deal with, such as kayaking, geocaching, and areas related to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).

To address those problems, the BSA has begun developing a new resource: Program Features for Troops, Teams, and Crews. This publication, designed for use in Boy Scouting, Varsity Scouting, and Venturing, will also be in three volumes with 48 monthly themes—enough for four years of programming—in six areas of emphasis: outdoors, sports, health and safety, citizenship and personal development, STEM, and arts and hobbies. Volume 1 will be released this fall, followed at short intervals by volumes 2 and 3.

The books will be colorful, using extensive photography to whet Scouts' appetites for adventure. Icons from the world of skiing will guide Scouts to activities that are aimed at three distinct skill levels and make appropriate use of today's technology. For example, Scouts learning about scuba diving might watch a YouTube video of a "tuna tornado," while those planning a living history demonstration might use their iPads to research local history.

Jim Virgin, a veteran Scouter and outdoor adventurer from Vancouver, Washington, is leading the development effort.

"Our team was given the task to update the program features to be relevant to today's youth," he says. "By combining topic-specific material from resources for troops, teams, and crews, we now have a tool that is simple enough for the newest of Scouts to follow and yet broad enough to challenge even the most experienced Venturers. Using principles like the EDGE teaching method and the entire range of advancement of these programs, we are now offering modules that Scouting youth want to do. I hope they have as much fun doing these activities as we did putting them together."

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