David Kampa had a problem. A week before his Webelos den was supposed to launch model rockets, the Bakersfield, Calif., Scouter learned from an alert parent that the city now required a fire department permit for such activities. Kampa got the permit in time, but only because he had planned ahead and communicated with den families — and because he had a friend in city government who could expedite his application.
“If I hadn’t planned that meeting out weeks in advance, then we wouldn’t have been able to do that rocket launch,” Kampa says. “The Scouts would have been there with their rockets ready to go, and I would have been, ‘Sorry, guys, we can’t do that.’ ”
Of course, planning ahead is important whether you’re launching rockets or not. The cliché rings true: When you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
Kampa, who is now a Cubmaster and roundtable staff member, recently shared with Scouting his top five tips for planning effective den meetings.
1. Go by the book. Whether you’re a rookie or a veteran, your most important resource is the Den Leader Guide for your age group: Tigers, Wolves, Bears or Webelos. (The Webelos book also includes Arrow of Light activities.) Unlike previous publications, the current guides include everything you need to plan effective den meetings, including supply lists, craft instructions, game rules, handouts and more. “It’s all in there — everything,” Kampa says. “Obviously, you can adjust it as needed, but it’s all there.” While publications like the Cub Scout Leader How-to Book are still available, you can get by without them.
2. Know your Scouts. The meeting plans in the Den Leader Guide should work well as written for most dens, but, of course, every den — and every Scout — is different. Kampa recommends thinking about questions like these as you plan: What’s going to work with your Scouts? Do they have good attention spans? Can you do more involved activities with them, or do you need to break things down over two den meetings instead of one?
Parents can help you identify their sons’ strengths and weaknesses, but experience is a powerful teacher as well. “As you spend more time with them, you’re going to get to know them better, know how they react, know what works for them,” Kampa says.
Keep in mind that your Scouts are constantly growing and (let’s hope) maturing. “We see them for about nine-and-a-half months solid” during the school year, Kampa says. “They’re going to change in that time.” A type of activity that didn’t work in September might work great in May.
3. Surf the Web. Beyond the Den Leader Guide and other BSA publications, you can find extensive resources online, starting at Scouting.org and CubScouts.org. Those sites are just the beginning, of course; Scouters have created countless other websites, blogs and Pinterest boards where you can find more song, skit, game and craft ideas.
One caveat: Much of the content you find won’t be aligned with the new advancement requirements that went into effect on June 1. You may have to do a little digging to match the new advancement requirements to the projects and activities you find online.
4. Go to roundtable. A great place to find planning support is your district Cub Scout leaders’ roundtable, which Kampa calls a sort of one-stop shop for den leaders. “You’re going to see the program in action,” he says. “You’re going to get to talk to other leaders who know the program really well. If you have any questions or concerns, you’ve got them right there.”
5. Start early. As Kampa’s rocket-launching story demonstrates, a week is barely enough lead time for planning den meetings; working two weeks ahead is better. He also recommends looking out even further than that, at least in terms of which adventures you’ll focus on each month. Review your council calendar and also explore community events that could double as den outings. “I’ll use our county fair as an example,” Kampa says. “There are a lot of Cub Scout-related activities that they can get done at the fair. But if you think about it while it’s going on, you’re not going to have enough time to get everybody together.”
Better yet, plan for an entire year of Cub Scout fun. Whatever you do, don’t wing it and don’t settle for good enough. “We get to be that cool outlet for things they don’t get to do anywhere else,” Kampa says. “Let’s do it.”