How to bring the Scouting Heritage merit badge to life

Scouting-Heritage-Merit-Badge“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Isaac Newton wrote that in 1676; in 2016, the Scouting Heritage merit badge lets Scouts look further as well.

It introduces them to giants of Scouting like Robert Baden-Powell, Daniel Carter Beard, Waite Phillips and more. It helps Scouts claim their own place in Scouting history. And it can, if done incorrectly, be a little dry.

The challenge for Scouting Heritage merit badge counselors is bringing history to life. For Richard Clem, a counselor from St. Paul, Minn., that means offering Scouts an array of 21st-century resources about mostly 20th-
century topics. At, Clem has created a directory of online resources that supplement the merit badge pamphlet. To learn about requirement 2b, for example, Scouts can access primary sources like Baden-Powell’s Scouting for Boys and the 1911 edition of the Handbook for Boys. They can visit the website of Brownsea Island, where Baden-Powell held his first Scout camp.

Ellen Mercante, a counselor in St. Charles, Mo., has found that Scouting artifacts serve as great discussion starters for requirement 3 (discuss how Scouting’s programs have evolved). She has combed eBay and estate sales to find items like vintage merit badge sashes, old issues of Boys’ Life and even a Steve Scout doll (a Kenner toy from 1974) to show Scouts. “The kids are always surprised to see that,” she says. “They think it’s fun.”

Mercante doesn’t just show and tell, though; she encourages Scouts to interact with her artifacts, whether that means trying on a vintage Scout shirt or guessing the names of old merit badges. “It’s interesting to see merit badges that aren’t around anymore,” she says.

While history can be messy, the Scouting Heritage requirements are quite orderly, moving naturally from Scouting’s roots to the present. That doesn’t mean you have to cover them in order. Especially if you’re teaching the badge in a half-day or full-day session. Mercante recommends jumping around, interspersing discussions of history with the old-time Scouting games played for requirement 7. “If it becomes too much like school, we lose them,” she says.

Games like Old Spotty-Face seem pretty dated to most Scouts, but the activity called “Kim’s Game” is something many units still play today. “It’s really surprising to me how little many things have changed,” Clem says. “There are some interesting games and skills and things in early Scout books that are probably just as relevant today.”

Mercante sometimes uses connections between then and now to enrich her Scouts’ interviews with veteran Scouters (requirement 8). She’ll ask Scouts what they like about camping and then encourage them to ask the same questions of their interviewees. “Once they get talking, their eyes will light up, and then all of a sudden they’re thinking about a million questions,” she says.

Those same questions can be a good start for requirement 5, in which Scouts learn about the history of their unit or Scouting in their area. At one recent session, some Scouts were having trouble with that requirement since their troop was less than a year old. Her response perfectly encapsulated the purpose of the badge: “You guys are making the history.”

For more tips on teaching Scouting Heritage — including a free PowerPoint presentation — visit

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