Scouting magazine

Everything you need to know about the new Cub Scouting program

Adventure ahead! By now, you’ve heard that Cub Scouting got a big upgrade in 2015. We’ve got your road map to the “new” Cub Scouting program, including what changed (and what didn’t change), the new adventure loops and more details on how the BSA made advancement requirements more achievable with updated requirements in 2016.

The Cub Scout motto is “Do Your Best,” but maybe it should be “Embrace Change.” Since Cub Scouting began in 1930, the program has changed frequently. Age limits have dropped. Tigers have been introduced. Lions have gone extinct. The Webelos Scout program has appeared and expanded. Den mothers have become den leaders, and men and women now serve as Cubmasters. But perhaps the biggest changes lie ahead. Effective June 1, 2015, the BSA made sweeping changes to Cub Scouting — changes that promise to help make the program more fun and engaging.

The Path to Change
In some organizations, strategic plans are little more than expensive paperweights and dust collectors. Not so in the BSA. The 2011-2015 National Council Strategic Plan laid out more than 100 goals designed to make Scouting’s second century as successful as its first. Perhaps the most important of those goals was to update our programs to “reflect the findings of a thorough program review and assessment that clearly identifies those elements that are appealing, exciting and culturally relevant to today’s youth and families.” Dubbed “goal 411” — because it was the first goal of the first objective of the plan’s fourth pillar — this goal has led to sweeping changes to the Cub Scout program. Here’s the path from there to here.

2010-2011: Under the leadership of Utah volunteer Russ Hunsaker, a task force of roughly 75 volunteers from across the country evaluated how well Cub Scouting was addressing five desired outcomes: character development, participatory citizenship, personal fitness, outdoor skills and awareness, and leadership development. The report card was mixed. Cub Scouting offered plenty of fun, but there weren’t enough connections between the program and the desired outcomes. There was too much passive learning and too few tools for den leaders.

2012-2013: The 14-member Cub Adventure Team, led by volunteers Nancy Farrell from Colorado and Ken King from Illinois, began building a revised Cub Scout program around the desired outcomes. The team, which included active Cub Scout leaders with special expertise in education, curriculum design and Scout-leader training, overhauled the advancement program. Separately, in October 2012, the National Executive Board approved a resolution to use the Scout Oath and Scout Law across all programs.

2013: Den leaders in 11 councils across the country tested the new advancement program, offering feedback that the Cub Adventure Team incorporated in its final product. The team continued tweaking the program and wrote new youth handbooks and den leader guides.

2014: Sessions at the National Annual Meeting and the Philmont Training Center (PTC) let volunteers give the revised program a test drive. More than 230 Cub Scouters attended six PTC sessions over the summer. Participants received booklets that included sample chapters from the new youth and adult publications. Additional feedback led to a final set of requirements in September.

2015: New publications and awards began appearing in Scout shops ahead of the official June 1 launch of the revised program.

2016: The BSA announced modifications to the newly released program to make it more flexible for busy parents, den leaders and Cubmasters.

What’s Not Changing?
At one point, rumors flew around the Internet that the Cub Scout uniform was changing. It’s not.

In fact, most things about Cub Scouting are staying the same, including den and pack structures, age and gender requirements, and the emphasis on fun and doing your best.

Cub Scouting will now have seven methods: Living the Ideals (which incorporates the former Making Character Connections method), Belonging to a Den, Using Advancement, Involving Family and Home, Participating in Activities, Serving Home and Neighborhood, and Wearing the Uniform.

All that’s really changing is how the ideals and advancement methods are implemented.

Updated Ideals
Cub Scouting has come a long way from the 1930s, when Cub Scouts pledged to be “square” (considered a good thing at the time!). Back then, the Cub Scout Promise simply read, “I, [name], promise to do my best to be square and to obey the Law of the Pack.” As part of the revised Cub Scout program, the Cub Scout Promise and the Law of the Pack have been retired, and boys will now learn the Scout Oath and Scout Law. This change emphasizes the unity of the Scouting movement and makes it a bit easier for Cub Scouting to live out Scouting’s mission and vision statements, both of which refer to the Scout Oath and Scout Law. The Cub Scout motto, sign, salute and handshake are not changing. 

What’s an Adventure?
Perhaps the most important word in the revised Cub Scout program is “adventure.” In Cub Scout terms, an adventure is a collection of themed, multidisciplinary activities representing enough engaging content for three den meetings and one pack meeting — about a month’s worth of programming, in other words.

The word “adventure” emphasizes that Cub Scout activities should be fun and should take boys places they’ve never been. The adventures focus on learning by doing instead of learning by listening. Requirements are full of words like build, play, go, find, demonstrate and discover, not words like discuss, learn and share.

The Tiger, Wolf and Bear books contain 19 adventures each, while the Webelos Handbook (which covers two years) contains 27. That means there will be plenty of material for year-round fun, even in the Arrow of Light year.

The Academics and Sports Program
Cub Scouts have been earning belt loops for individual and team sports since 1985 and for academic subjects since 1991, and it’s no doubt they enjoyed the bling. Often, however, earning belt loops detracted from the advancement program as some boys (and leaders) focused on easy belt loops over more challenging — and meaningful — achievements.

With the introduction of the new advancement program, the Academics and Sports Program has been retired. However, many of its best elements have been incorporated into the new adventures, and the new adventure loops ensure that boys’ belts will be as jangly as ever.

The old advancement program included a dizzying array of beads, badges, belt loops, arrow points, compass points and activity pins.

Now, each rank will follow the same format. To earn a rank, a boy must complete a mix of seven required and elective adventures.

New Cub Scouts will continue to earn the Bobcat badge before working on other requirements. To earn Bobcat, boys must learn about the Scout Oath and Scout Law and the Cub Scout sign, handshake, motto and salute; they must also complete the exercises described in the pamphlet How to Protect Your Children From Child Abuse: A Parent’s Guide.

Boys receive an adventure loop (previously called belt loops) for each adventure at the Tiger, Wolf and Bear levels, and an adventure pin (worn on the Webelos colors or Webelos cap) for each adventure at the Webelos and Arrow of Light ranks. The recognition items for required adventures are full-color, while the ones for elective adventures are monochromatic. Once a boy completes seven adventures for a given rank, he receives the pocket patch.

To maintain consistency across ranks, boys entering the program in the fifth grade no longer must earn the Webelos badge as a prerequisite for Arrow of Light.

Edited in 2016: The BSA learned that some den leaders had difficulty fitting into their program year all of the adventures required for advancement. This resulted in boys not advancing. After a careful review, the BSA made some adventure requirements optional that previously were mandatory — a move intended to give Cub Scouters more control over their den programs.

Here’s what you need to know about the modifications announced in November 2016 include:

  1. You won’t need to buy any new materials. The new requirements are posted in a free addendum available at This will supplement the handbooks in current circulation and for sale online and in Scout shops.
  2. The number of new Cub Scouts is up in many areas of the country, but rank advancement rates have not kept pace, meaning the BSA’s team of volunteers and staff advisors wanted to react quickly to eliminate a potential roadblock.
  3. The modifications are designed to ensure adventure requirements are achievable by today’s Cub Scout dens within a program year. This means they are achievable by all Cub Scouts, regardless of background or socioeconomic status.
  4. Most of the modifications involve the number of requirements that must be completed, reducing the mandate to a number achievable within the limited time available to many dens.
  5. The changes increase den-level customization. Units that can handle more content, perhaps because they meet more often or for longer periods, can — and should — keep the optional requirements part of their programs. On the other hand, those that have struggled to finish the requirements will welcome these changes as a way to meet their needs.
  6. With the modifications, dens should be able to complete one adventure in approximately two den meetings.
  7. During this program year, a den may choose to continue with the previous adventure requirements or to use the modifications for some or all of its adventures.
  8. Scoutbook, the BSA’s official web app for tracking Scout advancement, is being updated to reflect the new requirements.

See all the modified requirements and more details at

Introducing Ethan
Boys are aspirational by nature. They long to become like their big brothers, their older cousins, and the kids who are a grade or two ahead of them in school.

Starting this year, many Cub Scouts will aspire to be Ethan.

Ethan is a new character who appears in all four Cub Scout handbooks and speaks directly to the reader about what he’s been doing in Scouting. In each handbook, Ethan is a year or two older than the boys he’s addressing. (In the Tiger Handbook, he’s a Wolf, while in the Webelos Handbook, he’s a Boy Scout.)

Ethan introduces each of the required adventures, shares tips from his own experiences and previews what boys can look forward to as they progress in Scouting. While Ethan is a good Scout, he’s not a perfect one. He struggles to master the square knot, he gets scared by a spooky ghost story, and he forgets the jelly for PB&J sandwiches. But he always has fun and is always ready for his next adventure.

New for 2015: Den Leader Guides
The revised program comes complete with four printed den leader guides that complement the youth handbooks. More comprehensive than the old Den & Pack Meeting Resource Guide, these books offer the following resources for each adventure:

Meeting preparation should be easier because the guides are self-contained — there’s no need to search through other publications for games or song lyrics, for example. Leaders who pilot-tested the adventures found that it took them about 45 minutes to prepare for an hourlong meeting.

What About Akela?
In the revised Cub Scout program, Akela will still be a special term for any leader, and the Cub Scout sign will still resemble the attentive ears of a wolf. Cub Scouting’s use of characters from The Jungle Book will be mentioned in the youth handbooks but, beyond that, the TC, Akela and Baloo characters won’t show up. (Keep in mind that The Jungle Book was published in 1894 and that most people’s frame of reference is the Disney movie that came out 48 years ago.)

Back to the Future
As the first Wolf handbook proclaimed, Cub Scouting was born at a time of adventure: “where we read in the morning papers what was done at the South Pole yesterday — where music and speech circle the globe ‘on the air’ — where airplanes wing their swift flight.”

The adventure has only increased in the ensuing 85 years, but the hope described in that long-ago book remains the same: that Cub Scouts “find fun and joy in doing and … give back to the world a life useful and worthy.”

The revised Cub Scout program promises to make that hope a reality for millions of boys.

Find new Cub Scout handbooks, den leader guides and uniform accessories in Scout shops as of May 1 or at