“The patrol system is not one method in which Scouting for boys can be carried on. It is the only method.”Lord Robert Baden-Powell
It’s true! The patrol system truly is the singular method in which we adult leaders pass the baton to the youth in our charge, providing them with their own leadership skills and accountability to their peers. Both of those are character points that I feel set Scouting apart from other youth organizations and, having introduced my own gigantic den of Scouts to the patrol method, I can attest that they are well prepared for their bridging into a Troop this spring.
What Is The Patrol Method?
So what is the patrol method and why is it so important?
The patrol method is essentially a living lesson in group dynamics, citizenship, and equal participation. It’s a means in which Scouts learn to be responsible, accountable, and good stewards of the 12 Points of the Scout Law through peer support and encouragement. Essentially, when a Scout bridges into a Troop they are no longer under the direct leadership of an adult who plans and provides for every last detail of their Scouting adventures. Instead, they are what is often referred to as “Scout Led”, forming small patrols of Scouts who govern within themselves and formulate their own goals and plans.
The point of a patrol is to partner Scouts with similar interests or who can easily relate to one another, allowing them the opportunity to elect their own leadership team (Patrol Leaders and Assistant Patrol Leaders – PL’s and APL’s, respectively), placing the responsibility on the youth themselves, and teaching them how to manage it. It builds tremendous leadership skills and, ultimately, confidence.
Organizationally, most Troops consist of two types of patrols; “New Scout” patrols are made up of recently bridged AOLs and newly recruited 11-year-old boys and girls, and “Regular” patrols are made up of those Scouts who have completed their first year in the Troop and have earned their First Class rank requirements. By separating Scouts by age or skill-level, the patrol method also makes more manageable sized groups out of a larger Troop, and removes that mob mentality that overtakes youth when they’re en masse… meaning, splitting them up into patrols removes at least some of their desire to run around and play tag for an hour and a half.
“What are we? Humans? Or animals? Or savages?”William Golding, Lord of the Flies
Yep. I just quoted “Lord of the Flies.” It’s more appropriate than any of us would like to admit.
Patrols hold elections to determine who will serve as PL and APL. At that time, the Patrol will normally choose a new name, like the Galloping Clydesdales or the Nuclear Taco Narwhal’s, a yell, and even design their own flag. Working together to determine their own Patrol culture is a tremendous part of what unifies their group, and is an important piece of their Scouting experience. This is all referred to as Scout Spirit, is the ticket to patrol pride, and should be decided without adult intervention… unless, of course, they go off a deep end and surface with an inappropriate name, yell, and flag.
Patrols are for Troops – What Does This Have To Do With Webelos?
A Scouts motto is “Be Prepared,” and Baden-Powell would tell you that there is no better time than the present. He might also tell you that there’s nothing worse than a Scout bridging into a Troop without having learned the very basics of upper-classmen Scouting from their time in the Pack. The Cub Scouting program is built to prepare the youngest Scouts for the responsibilities and privileges they earn at the Troop level, and your Webelos are more than ready to shoulder and appreciate some of them right now.
I would argue that a Webelos needs the patrol method in Cub Scouting to prepare him or her for MORE than just Scouting. In fact, the camaraderie of a Patrol is nothing but priceless when you’re entering middle school and feeling like the smallest fish in the big pond. Being reliable and able to rely on others will go a long way toward feeling confident in a brand new school with greater academic and social expectations. It makes you a better friend, a better project buddy, a better student, a better teammate, and in turn a better Scout. Because the patrol method is all about leadership, and Webelos are just starting to realize that their actions have a real affect on the World around them, it’s a developmental need that is filled by Scouting.
Patrols are also an opportunity to break your den down into smaller, more manageable groups. A 4th and fifth grader has zero patience for a long, drawn-out adventure explanation, especially when a leader is dealing with a large group and a quarter of the Scouts lost interest and are talking amongst themselves. Sure, some of your meeting should involve everyone all at once, like your opening, closing, and special announcements. Breaking your Webelos out into patrols can alleviate a lot of the distractions and help your Scouts work together on their own advancement.
Arrow of Light “Scouting” Adventure
Webelos and patrols aren’t just a good idea, they’re a program requirement. It’s like the folks that develop the Webelos and AOL adventures know a thing or two about guiding Cubs along their path to advancement. The Arrow of Light “Scouting Adventure” is built to prepare your AOLs for their bridging and Troop citizenship. Here are the requirements:
Cool! Now I’m Overwhelmed.
It’s a lot to take in, for sure, but there are countless helpful resources out there for you, of which I am one.
There are ways to build-up to and finally support a patrol structure within your Cub Scout Den. I instituted Denners and Assistant Denners when my Scouts were Tigers through Bears, and finally a full-blown patrol system for the final two Webelos years.
Denners and Assistant Denners
My first piece of advice would be to encourage leadership early on in your Dens career. Consider instituting the Denner and Assistant Denner positions into your Den as early as your Tiger year. These are temporary leadership positions at the den level, meaning they are instituted years before you consider patrols. I instituted this in my Den as Tigers, and I decided who would serve in each role for one month terms. Those Scouts were initiated into their Denner positions in a brief ceremony, usually led by our Den Chief (a trained Troop-aged Scout who volunteers in your Den), and given cords to wear for the month. They then pass those cords on to the next set of Denners and Assistant Denners.
Our ceremony looked a little something like this:
[ Den Leader ]
_______________ and _______________, please step forward.
These Denner Cords represent the Spirit of Scouting. It takes a team effort to keep the spirit alive. You have been chosen to be members of that team. As Denners, your duties are to assist your Den, Den Chief, and Leaders. During the week, you will set a good example for the other members of our Den by demonstrating the 12 points of the Scout Law and showing true Scouting Spirit. You will care for your cords and will help to pass them on to our new Denners next month. Do you accept these responsibilities?
[ Den Chief ]
Please repeat after me.
“I promise to do my best
To help the Cub Scouts in my Den
To do their best
Not sometimes, but all of the time.”
Cords are presented to the Cub Scouts by the Den Chief. They are pinned to their left shoulder with the cords under his arm.
Full-Blown Patrol System
The summer before my Webelos I year, I researched the patrol method and structures until I was cross-eyed. My 20-Scout-Strong den was just begging to be split into patrols and since I knew we’d spend two years working on shared electives, I figured it was the best time to get into the swing of things instead of fumbling through it in our final year of Cub Scouting.
In its simplest form, I separated my group into four patrols using the Random.org online list randomizer and assigning one of our trained adult leaders to, well, lead each one. As I worked on our Webelos I adventure plan for the year, I looked for the requirements that needed to be done as a full group and determined the requirements that could be done as patrols, and planned accordingly.
Immediately following our meeting opener at our first Webelos I den meeting of the new year, I split them into their new groups and set them to task learning about patrol elections and choosing their own PL’s and APL’s. Guys. It went over beautifully and was truly the start of our best year in Cub Scouting! Even at 9 years old and in the 4th grade, these Scouts were more than ready for the responsibility. I was impressed by how thoughtfully they chose their leadership team and how confident each Scout was as they lobbied for their spot in the ranks.
As the year progressed and we completed our required adventures, I provided the patrols with two elective adventures to vote on for the next months worth of meetings. They eagerly discussed the adventures as a patrol and placed a patrol vote for the electives they wanted to work on together. Because they were invested in the adventures, they went above and beyond my wildest expectations of their efforts. They genuinely enjoyed working together to come up with a fun patrol name, yell, and flag! The Scout Spirit was strong.
Now, as AOLs, they are working as patrols to plan and provide materials for their required adventures and it’s going beautifully. They know exactly what to expect from each other, what’s expected of them as individuals, and snap into action without an awful lot of prodding by their adult leadership team. In fact, much of the wild “Lord of the Flies” behavior has dissipated and they seem eager to get to task during our meeting gathering time. It’s a great example of the EDGE Method at work.
A fair election is key to a happy patrol, and there are some things you can do as a leader to ensure all is well. A well-planned and explained election is, after all, their first taste of American democracy and an early example of their duties to their country.
Consider holding elections every other month, giving each Scout a real opportunity to lead. Keep it simple! Explain to your patrols that they will be choosing a PL and an APL, describe the roles of each, and give each Scout time to talk amongst their patrol about their leadership goals and how they would choose to fulfil them. Have them vote in a way that suits their patrol best; we have a patrol that prefers a written vote, and others that prefer a show of hands. If they determine how a fair election is held, they will be better prepared to accept the results and stand behind their new leadership team.
We provided our Scouts with the following election information:
Patrol Leaders (PL) report directly to their adult leadership team. They are elected by the peers in their patrol. Their responsibilities include:
- Planning parts of den meetings, as determined by the adult leadership team
- Taking patrol attendance
- Keeping patrol members informed about any tasks they are assigned
- Keeping patrol members focused during meetings and activities
- Maintaining the Patrol Tote and bringing it to every meeting (will be discussed in detail below)
- Showing patrol spirit
- Working with other PLs when necessary
- Living by the Scout Oath and Law
Assistant Patrol Leaders (APL) report to the Patrol Leader. They are elected by the peers in their patrol. Their responsibilities include:
- Supporting the PL
- Completing any assignments given to them by the PL
- Showing patrol spirit
- Living by the Scout Oath and Law
- Filling In for the PL as necessary
- Each patrol has an election every two months to decide their PATROL LEADER (PL) and ASSISTANT PATROL LEADER (APL)
- Scouts will be allotted time before each election to talk with fellow patrol members about their desire to serve as either PL or APL.
- Each patrol member will write their vote for PL and APL on one piece of blank paper, which is then folded in half and placed in the election bag, box OR vote by a show of hands. The election method is chosen by the patrol.
- The Adult Leader for each patrol will tally the votes and determine the new PL and APL.
- The Adult Leader will announce the new PL and APL.
- Scouts can only serve as PL and APL once in the YIS. The two month term will be logged in a Scouts leadership log on ScoutBook.
Look Wider Still: Patrol Totes
B-P said, “Look wide, and even when you think you are looking wide, look wider still.” (If you’ve got a little extra time, swing by my post entitled “Why I Look Wider Still: How Becoming A Scout Leader Has Changed My Life!“) With the basics under your belt, it’s time to look wider still. There is a tool in my patrol arsenal that I want to share with you.
You may or may not know that, once they bridge into a Troop, your Scout will at some point be responsible for a Patrol box. At that level the box will likely be full of stuff like decades-old pancake mix and pans with six campouts worth of grease layered on them. It will be disgusting but it will be their job, and scrubbing everything will be a great lesson in the 11th Point of the Scout Law.
At the Webelos level, it’s important to provide them with the opportunity to be responsible for something similar. I developed a Patrol Tote that holds everything a PL would need to keep their patrol focused and running smoothly.
Knowing I’m dealing with 4th and 5th graders who are still working on building upper body strength and also tough as nails on everything they touch, I knew I needed a tote that wouldn’t overwhelm them but could withstand their abuse. I chose the Sterlite 12-Gallon Latch & Carry Tote (link updated 3/18/21) for several reasons, not the least of which was the price. A Scout is thrifty, after all! What I like about these totes is that they are heavy duty without the heft and that little hands can fully grasp the handles on each side. The top snaps down into place easily and because it’s 12-gallons, about half the size of a traditional storage tote, it’s just the right size for the goodies I put inside without being completely unmanageable for a smaller Scout to carry.
I’m absolutely obsessed with organization and feel that a good, solid binder is the key to most success. (I’m also a giant nerd, so it should be no surprise that my most popular blog post to date is entitled “Three Rings to Bind Us All” and applies a Tolkien perspective to Cub Scout organization.) I picked up a Wilson Jones Flex Poly Binder for each patrol tote, choosing a different color for each patrol. I printed very specific materials for each binder; a copy of the Pack calendar, patrol election information, adventure-specific information, a copy of the Cub Scout Knots guide, and patrol planning sheets. I also included information about Leave No Trace, The Outdoor Code, fire safety, the Whittling Chip, and Snake Safety.
I spent a lot of time working on 20 knot boards to put into these patrol totes, as well. I think there are few aspects of the Cub Scout program as exciting and important as knot-tying and worked hard to ensure my Webelos would bridge into a Troop with strong knot skills. Read all about how to teach your Scouts these skills and how to make your own knot boards on my post “Cub Scout Knot Tying: The Good Details PLUS DIY Knot Boards“. Along with the knot boards, I included 3′ lengths of paracord and encouraged patrol members to take them home to practice when they have some free time. Of course the paracord matched the individual patrol binder colors. I’m that lady.
In anticipation of the First Responder adventure requirement #6 (put together a simple home first-aid kit. Explain what you included and how to use each item correctly.) I picked up hand sanitizer and a 5-pack of the Glad Small Snack Food Storage Containers and placed an empty container in each tote that they later filled with first aid items. That little first aid kit is supposed to be with the patrol at all times, be it in the tote during den meetings or in a backpack while on a hike.
Each tote includes a plastic Sterlite Pencil Box that I use to store pencils and Crayola fine line markers. The pencil box keeps other loose items like glue sticks, tape, and scissors in check. This might seem a little ridiculous, but as a den leader I can attest that NOT schlepping these items around in my own bag or being responsible for them throughout a meeting makes my job a lot simpler. Trust me on this one!
You’ll see a white sheet of foam paper in some of these pictures. I picked those up at a local craft store for under $1.00 each and had my patrols use the markers in their pencil boxes to make their own patrol flags. They fit perfectly in their totes and won’t bend or tear like paper. Plus the markers show up clear and bright!
What I love best about the patrol totes is that it’s the PL’s responsibility to maintain and house them between meetings. I take them back each summer to update the binder materials, repair the knot boards, and make sure the pencils are sharp, but for the remainder of the year they are out of my hands.
That’s patrols in far more than a nut shell. Did you hang in there with me? Did you glean any wisdom that you’ll take with you into your den plan for the year? Will you try or have you tried patrols? What about the patrol totes? Tell me everything!
Yours in Scouting,
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