Cub Scouts: How to Teach the Outdoor Code and Leave No Trace Principles for Kids

We all know that a great way to connect with our kids is to get them disconnected from all of their electronics, and that Scouts in particular love a good adventure into the woods. The Aims of Scouting are character development, leadership development, citizenship training, and personal fitness; all of which can be achieved in the great outdoors.

A week of camp life is worth six months of theoretical teaching in the meeting room.

Lord Robert Baden-Powell

Of course he’s right! It’s no surprise, then, that conservation is the foundation on which Scouts BSA built itself all the way back in the year 1910. It’s a Scouts obligation to conserve the wilderness, wildlife, soil, water, and even energy. I know that when I think of what it means to Do A Good Turn Daily, I consider the way I’m treating my environment. Am I doing my best to be conservation-minded? Am I doing my best to teach my Scouts how to be good stewards of Earth’s resources?

To that end, I’ve always appreciated the program adventures and awards that put a spotlight on conservation.

  • Lions: Animal Kingdom Adventure: Requirement 3, Choose two energy saving projects to practice in your home for two weeks.
  • Lions: Mountain Lion Adventure: Requirement 3, Demonstrate an understanding of respect for animals and nature when participating in a learning hike.
  • Tigers: My Tiger Jungle Adventure: Requirement 4, Be helpful to nature by planting a plant, shrub, or tree. Learn more about the needs and growth of the item you’ve planted.
  • Tigers: Tigers In The Wild Adventure: Requirement 3, Listen while your leader reads the Outdoor Code. Talk about how you can be clean in your outdoor manners. Listen while your leader reads the Leave No Trace Principles for Kids. Discuss why you should “Trash Your Trash.” Apply the Outdoor Code and Leave No Trace Principles for Kids on your Tiger den and Pack outings. After one outing, share what you did to demonstrate the principles you discussed.
  • Wolves: Call of the Wild Adventure: Requirement 3, Recite the Outdoor Code with your leader. Recite the Leave No Trace Principles for Kids with your leader. Talk about how these principles support the Outdoor Code. After your outdoor activity or campout, list the ways you demonstrated being careful with fire or other dangers.
  • Wolves: Paws on the Path Adventure: Requirement 4, Before hiking, recite the Outdoor Code and the Leave No Trace Principles for Kids with your leader. After hiking, discuss how you showed respect for wildlife.
  • Wolves: Spirit of the Water Adventure: Requirement 2, Explain one way that you can help conserve water in your home.
  • Bears: Fur, Feathers, and Ferns Adventure: Though this adventure does not specifically mention The Outdoor Code, LNT for Kids, or conservation, the entire adventure is designed to teach Scouts about animals, plants, and how to be respectful to the living things we come across in nature.
  • Bears: A Bear Goes Fishing Adventure: Requirement 2, Learn about your local fishing regulations with your den leader or a parent or guardian. List three of the regulations you learn about and one reason each regulation exists.
  • Webelos: Webelos Walkabout Adventure: Requirement 3, Recite the Outdoor Code and Leave No Trace Principles for Kids from memory. Talk about how you can demonstrate them on your Webelos adventures.
  • AOL: Building A Better World Adventure: Requirements 6d and 6e, Learn about energy use in your community and in other parts of the world. Identify one energy problem in your community, and find out what has caused it.
  • AOL: Outdoor Adventurer Adventure: Requirement A5 and B4, Recite the Outdoor Code and the Leave No Trace Principles for Kids from memory. Talk about how you can demonstrate them while you are working on your Arrow of Light. After one outing, list the things you did to follow the Outdoor Code and Leave No Trace.
  • Cub Scout World Conservation Award is designed to inspire Scouts to “think globally and act locally” to conserve and even improve our environment. You can learn more about it here.
  • Cub Scout Outdoor Activity Award requires Scouts to complete some of the aforementioned adventures for their rank and complete other outdoor activities, to include a nature/conservation project. You can learn more about it here.

There are also outside groups who want to help inspire Scouts to value conservation. Here are two of my favorites:

  • Scout Ranger Program: Scouts can visit any National Park and receive an exploration workbook to learn more about the individual park, how to protect the natural and cultural resources on site, and learn more about conservation. Scouts are awarded certificates and/or patches. You can learn more about it here.
  • Central Virginia Waste Management Authority: Sure, this one is local to Richmond, Virginia, but perhaps your own waste management group has something similar. CVWMA offers local youth the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle Special Patch Program,” complete with an adorable patch that can be earned for learning all about recycling, encouraging conservation, and performing a project that teaches others how to be conservation-minded. You can learn more about it here.

The Outdoor Code

In Scouting, when we take our Pokey Little Puppies into the wide, wide world, we talk to them about the Outdoor Code. Added to the Boy Scout Handbook in 1955, the Outdoor Code has become an Oath that each of us takes to preserve nature. It first appeared in Boys’ Life Magazine in March, 1954, in what can only be described as the single coolest image ever.

Seriously, they just don’t make ’em like they used to.

The now retired “Conservation Good Turn Award” was referenced on this awesome image, and honestly it’s a shame to see that award go as it was supported by countless federal agencies and conservation groups that would aid Scouts in performing fairly significant conservation projects in their communities. You can learn all about it here.

Even before the Outdoor Code became official, Scouts were taking what was called the “Conservation Pledge” which was printed in Boys’ Life in most issues from June, 1947, through the publication of the Code as we know it now. That pledge went a little something like this:

I give my pledge as an American to save and faithfully to defend from waste the natural resources of my country – its soil and minerals, its forests, waters, and wildlife.

Love it! You can find more interesting details about the history of the Outdoor Code at the website.

Today we say the following:

Note the underlined C‘s. This is an important part of helping Scouts learn the Outdoor Code. When teaching the Outdoor Code, have your Scouts say those four words as a group several times. Clean. Careful. Considerate. Conservation. In fact, the fifth point of the Scout law is “courteous,” and if you think about it, “considerate” is its synonym. That word is used in both the Outdoor Code and Leave No Trace Principles.

Make a game of it! Who can say the four c words in order correctly? Who notices that every other line includes the word “outdoor”? Print my Outdoor Code Emoji Worksheet and have them fill in the blanks during your gathering time.

Our Pack had a banner made with the Outdoor Code graphic above through an awesome vendor on Amazon. We used Half Price Banners to print a 2’x4′ banner that arrived in two days, was exceptional quality, and now travels with us on all of our Pack camping trips and outdoor adventures as a reminder of our obligation to the conservation of our environment. We recite the Outdoor Code during our opening ceremonies and reference it often. If you choose to print one of your own, please feel free to use the image above. It’s already formatted to fit the 2’x4′ banner.

Honestly, it’s my experience that the best way to teach and learn the Outdoor Code is to include it in all of your opening ceremonies at both the pack and den level. We start each meeting with the Pledge of Allegiance, Scout Oath, Scout Law, and Outdoor Code. I have a printed and laminated copy of it that I held up for my Scouts to read from for a few weeks, and now they seem to have it down pat.

The Leave No Trace Principles for Kids

The Leave No Trace Principles for Kids (LNT) are a series of seven points that were developed to stick in those wild young minds. It dovetails perfectly with the Outdoor Code, so it’s no wonder why Scouts are encouraged to learn and live by the LNT Principles.

This is NOT my image. I have tried to find the original owner of this particular artwork, but it has been shared and posted so many times that I don’t know that it’s possible any longer. To whomever it was that created this and the matching Outdoor Code graphic, THANK YOU, because it’s awesome!

The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics site is chock full of great tips and tricks for learning all seven of the LNT Principles, so instead of reinventing the wheel, I’ll leave this to the professionals.

A new article entitled “The Easiest Way to Learn the Leave No Trace Seven Principles for Kids“, published on October 4, 2019, talks all about the easiest way to teach and learn the seven principles through hand signs. The article includes two different embedded videos showing you the hand signs for kids and the ones for adults. Here’s a quick peek at the kids version.

So cute, right? Plus it’s easy to remember when you make it fun.

What I love about the LNT Center for Outdoor Ethics website is that it even has a Shop built specifically around educational materials, which you can and should visit here. Full of materials like posters, banners, booklets, toolkits, and even special modules that can be used to teach all seven principles through games and stories, the Shop has everything you need to reinforce LNT.

I purchased a giant order of the yellow Kids Ethics Reference Cards, which I had my Scouts clip to their hiking packs and/or keep with their Scouting gear. My older Scouts carry them inside of their handbooks! At a quarter per card, they’re not going to break the bank. They have this particular card in English and Spanish, which I think is great for units to have on hand. They also have cards for specific outdoor activities like fishing, bouldering, hunting, caving, mountain biking, geocaching, and more.

Like the Outdoor Code, the best way to learn the LNT Principles is to recite and talk about them often. Reference them on your adventures, discuss how you used them on those adventures during your wrap-up, and acknowledge it when you see Scouts performing them in the outdoors.

Here’s a great online puzzle to help teach the Outdoor Code and Leave No Trace.

The Teaching EDGE

Don’t forget that we’re leading by example. Just like anything in Scouts, you need to keep it simple, make it fun, and teach by doing.

  1. Explain how it is done.
  2. Demonstrate the steps.
  3. Guide the learners as they practice.
  4. Enable them to succeed on their own.

Give your Scouts every opportunity to really learn these two important conservation mantras. Doing your best should be more than just checking a box in ScoutBook. Really teach them the Outdoor Code and LNT Principles. The future of our natural resources depends on it.

How did you teach your Scouts about the Outdoor Code and LNT Principles? Did any of my suggestions help you teach your den or pack the importance of conservation in Scouting? Tell me all about it in the comments, and don’t forget to like this post and follow Look Wider Still!

Yours in Scouting,

Look Wider Still is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising.


Published by Look Wider Still

Rebekah is the mother of two wonderful sons, Michael and Nate. She and her husband, Mike, married in 2002 and have built their family on a foundation of adventure. Between geocaching, camping, hiking, cooking, fishing, crafting, reading, and snuggling their Irish Terrier, Bentley, they enjoy a long and happy career in Scouting. The boys come from a long line of Scouters, including Eagles on all sides. Mike has served as assistant den leader, treasurer, and Pack Committee member, and Rebekah has served as den leader and Cubmaster for Pack 521 out of Mechanicsville, Virginia.

4 thoughts on “Cub Scouts: How to Teach the Outdoor Code and Leave No Trace Principles for Kids

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: