Pack 157’s pirate pack meeting began peacefully enough, with Cubmaster Matt Janchar making the Cub Scout sign and challenging his boys to try to hear a pirate bandana drop to the floor. Before the meeting ended, though, Janchar was shouting, “Swim for your lives!” at the top of his lungs. While one parent flicked the lights, another used an electric leaf blower to create a storm at sea, blowing the pirate ships the boys had just made around the floor of the pack’s Weston, Mass., meeting room.
What looked like chaos actually was controlled craziness carefully orchestrated by Janchar to ensure the meeting — like all of Pack 157’s meetings — left an indelible impression on boys and parents alike. Not long after the storm at sea, the boys settled down for a reading from a pirate-themed children’s book.
If you’ve ever felt like swimming for your life — or running for the exit — in the middle of a pack meeting, Janchar has some advice for you. Here are his six steps for planning memorable yet manageable meetings.
Keep Hands Busy
Plan activities that engage boys’ hands — not just their eyes and ears. “You’ve got to have stuff that keeps the boys’ hands busy,” Janchar says. “It can’t be ‘listen to this’ or ‘look at that;’ it’s got to be ‘do this; touch that.’ ”
At the pirate pack meeting, boys made rolling ships with hulls and sails they decorated. Stations around the room offered plenty of tools and markers so no one had to stand in line.
Control the Chaos
Janchar’s pack-meeting toolkit includes pylons to show boys where to line up and caution tape to show which areas are off limits. For times when boys need to sit still, Janchar uses painter’s tape to create two large squares on the floor, each the size of an area rug. Boys sit on the floor within those squares while den leaders hover around the edges. “The Scouts all know that when a pack meeting starts, they’ve got to be in a square,” he says.
Get Parents Involved
With craft activities like making those pirate ships, Janchar says parental involvement is key. He’ll ask a couple of parents to be in charge of handing out supplies while others work one on one with boys at the den tables.
“If you’ve got other parents pulled in to help, that makes the pack meeting more fun because it frees up the Cubmaster to answer questions and troubleshoot, and control the flow of the activity,” he says.
Plan Projects Carefully
Janchar thinks one of the biggest challenges in planning projects is figuring out how much to do ahead of time and how much to let the boys do. If boys finish too quickly, chaos will erupt. If the project has to be finished at home, parents won’t be happy. One way to find the sweet spot: Test the project with your own son at home.
“You really want an activity Scouts can complete within the meeting — but not in five minutes,” Janchar says.
Have Outlets for Creativity
The best projects allow Scouts a measure of creativity. That could mean decorating the finished craft with markers or planning a more freeform craft that uses pipe cleaners and googly eyes.
“Really giving the Scouts a chance to customize something makes a huge difference,” Janchar says. “It engages them, and it engages their parents.”
Have Something Up Your Sleeve
Regardless of the craft you plan, boys will finish at different speeds. Rather than make the fast finishers sit patiently — as if that could ever happen — Janchar plans additional optional activities.
At the pirate pack meeting, for example, he brought out a wooden racing track when he saw the Bears and Webelos were almost finished. That occupied a dozen of them while the other kids were still working.
The alternative to all this planning, of course, would be to have boys sit still like they might do in school, but Janchar argues that wouldn’t work. “The kids would be antsier than if you had them doing something with their hands,” he says. “They [will burn] off more energy that way.”
And that means they’ll go home ready for bed — and for the next pack meeting.
Great guidelines! I also always tried to have a Plan B (or even a Plan C) in case an activity really started to break down or get boring – a game, an active song, or exercise that didn’t need props – to soak up that energy. I always remind CMs to think in terms of multiple shorter activities instead of longer sedentary ones.