Choosing the right den meeting activity for energetic Cub Scouts

After nearly a decade of leadership in a large suburban pack, a Cubmaster prepares to move on to Boy Scouts. To help his successor, he hands over a file box containing notes on how to run a pinewood derby, organize a blue and gold banquet, and divide territory for the annual Scouting for Food campaign. Then, with a smile, he carefully adds his most valued pack possession: an old stuffed sock on a rope.

Bucket races are a great way to entertain energetic Cub Scouts in the outdoors. Photo by richtpt, via Flickr.com.

Veteran Cubmasters know how to have fun in low-stress ways that require little preparation or money. And the Sock on a Rope game, a favorite with our former Cubmaster, Skye Schell of Pack 1533, Fairfax, Va., is a perfect example.

Stuff one old sock into another one, then tie the sock to one end of a 12-foot rope (clothesline or thicker). The Cub Scouts form a circle around the leader, then try to jump over the sock and rope as the leader swings it around at an ankle-to-shin level, slowly at first, then faster. The last boy touched by the sock or rope wins. (It’s even more fun when parents take a turn.)

Simple pleasures

Packs across the country have found that the best games for Cub Scouts are often those that are the least complicated, use inexpensive materials, have rules that take less than a minute to explain, and require minimal setup.

“Marbles are my favorite,” says veteran Cubmaster Dwight Havens of Pack 428 in Arizona’s Grand Canyon Council. “They’re so easy to play as a gathering activity game. Every kid can participate, and it keeps them busy at one end of the auditorium while we set up at the other end.” (The basic rules for marbles, plus terminology and additional resources, are available in Cub Scout Academics and Sports Program Guide, BSA Supply No. 34299.)

The recycling bin is another useful resource: Give those old newspapers a new look, in paper hat and paper airplane competitions, newspaper palm tree and ladder design. (Check out the Cub Scout Leader How-To Book, Supply No. 33832, for these ideas.) Or try indoor cross-country skiing. Just rip the newspaper into 8-by-12-inch strips and have the boys “ski” across the floor (school cafeteria floors make ideal skiing surfaces) in den competitions. Boys’ feet must stay connected to the “skis” as they scoot along; any boy losing a ski needs to start over.

Wild but safe

Of course, there’s more to a great game than simplicity; the best choices have lots of boy appeal, and that means plenty of exhilarating activity.

“Beat the Bear was a favorite [game] with our pack,” remembered Eagle Scout Malcolm Johnson at a recent Order of the Arrow lodge fellowship weekend. Johnson, a high school junior and Amangamek-Wipit Lodge vice chief in the National Capital Area Council, described his former pack’s game as a sort of “Duck, Duck, Goose” with a loosely rolled-up newspaper for swatting the ‘bear’ on the backside.

The appeal to kids is obvious, said Johnson—they get to swat someone. And adults like it, of course, because the boys won’t hurt each other with a newspaper.

Bombardment is another popular game for helping young boys have fun while working off excess energy. Tom Lawrence, in his fifth year as Cubmaster of Pack 119, Asbury, N.J., marvels at the fact that “month in and month out, the Cub Scouts love it. We use large sponge balls that don’t hurt the kids at all, lay some yellow tape on the floor, split the kids up into two groups, and let the games begin.” (The rules for Bombardment are found in—you guessed it—the Cub Scout Leader How-To Book.)

Everybody plays

One common ingredient for all popular pack games is involvement. The ideal game should include everyone, with nobody left out to invent alternative activities in the back of the meeting room. If the boys need to play in shifts, make sure the game is as much fun to watch as it is to play.

Past Cubmaster Jerry Franks of Olathe, Kan., understands all about large group management: His Pack 3288 had more than 130 Cub Scouts.

“We made sure all the dens were represented in our games,” he says. “That way, all the boys had someone to cheer for during the action.”

One reason the Sock on a Rope game had such appeal for our pack was that it kept the attention of all boys, even after they had been eliminated. Much like spectators watching the progress of a tightrope walker, they just had to see how the Cub Scouts who remained would continue to fare in evading the spinning sock.

Make it fun for every boy

To ensure that every boy has fun, you must remember that every boy is different. If your featured game one month is physically rigorous, appealing to the best jumpers and runners, consider a game for quick thinkers for the following month.

Another of Cubmaster Schell’s favorites with our pack was Memory Game, a variation of the classic Kim’s Game, a testing of visual recall.

Den leaders bring objects from home that relate to the month’s theme and spread them on a table in front of the seated Cub Scouts. A boy from the first den comes to the table, picks up and names an object, then puts it down. In order, the boys from the other dens follow, each holding up and naming a different object. However, each boy must also pick up and name each previously selected object, in the correct order. The winner is the boy who can name all the objects in order—quite a memory feat.

“The game helped the boys improve their powers of concentration, kept the noise level down, and, best of all, reinforced something important from our theme,” said Schell. “If we were talking about camping skills in advance of the parent-son weekend, the objects could all be things a boy should remember to put in his pack: extra socks, mosquito repellent, flashlights, and canteen. And the suspense really grew as the list of objects to remember expanded to 25 or 30.”

Too unwieldy? Try it!

These ideas sound like fun, you may say, but your pack is just too large and unwieldy for them.

Such concerns about keeping order in a crowd of 100 Cub Scouts and their families can cause some Cubmasters to opt instead for a monthly meeting filled exclusively with skits, songs, and awards. But after a decade of gleefully hurling sponge balls and hopping over whirling socks with the rest of my pack, I’m convinced there is a place for everything, especially games, no matter how big the pack.

Even if you only offer a 10-minute game, and follow it with a calming song (“John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt” works well to quiet the boys down after a lively game), you’ve given the Cub Scouts some fun to remember.

And, in an age of high-priced toys and glitzy electronic entertainment, Cubmasters can remind families of the great times they can have without spending a dime.

That’s a pretty good deal.

Scouting magazine contributing editor and veteran Scout leader Cathleen Ann Steg lives in Fairfax, Va.

HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT GAME FOR YOUR CUBS

Choose Wisely

Not every game is right for the meeting, though. It’s a good practice to discuss a new game with your pack committee before using it at a pack meeting. Make sure your games fit the goals of the Cub Scout program:

Games from older books or games suggested by adults who may have played them as children should be approached with caution. Some old games have names or content that can be hurtful to people of various ethnic or racial groups. Before choosing a game that may be suspect in this regard, be sure the characterization in question enhances respect for that group or don’t use the game.

When you do choose a game, either give a fun-filled award for the winning den (a styrofoam ball on a string for the “snowball fight” winners, for example) or offer the best award of all: the fun of having played the game. Not every activity needs a tangible, material reward.

Finally, make sure physically active games are appropriate for the age-group. Some Scouters may suggest games they played as Boy Scouts, such as British Bulldog (which is among the games in Troop Program Resources, BSA Supply No. 33588, a book for the Boy Scout program). Such games may be dangerous for Cub Scouts, who do not yet have the size and strength of the average Boy Scout.

Remember Roundtable

The monthly district Cub Scout roundtable gives leaders a chance to pretest the ideas suggested in Cub Scout Program Helps or learn new games that can include boys and adults.

One of Pack 1533’s favorite competitive events, Make a Turkey, was first learned at roundtable. At a November pack meeting, each den transforms an adult into a “turkey.” Bring such supplies as a large black plastic garbage bag, construction paper, a paper bag for the head, and plenty of tape to put it all together. No advance design work is allowed; when the Cubmaster says “Go!” each den begins building their turkey.

After 15 minutes, the creations are finished and the adult “turkeys” come to the front of the room to gobble for the crowd. The frantic pace during the turkey-making period allows for great fun, while the boys and parents work to rip colored paper into appropriate feathers, gobbler, and feet and tape them onto the plastic bag (the turkey’s body).

A similar contest for an October meeting is Make a Mummy. Each den wraps a willing adult or den chief in toilet paper, then sends the “mummies” up front to dance to the “Monster Mash.” Everyone in the room gets involved.

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