Bigger, better BALOO training for Cub Scout leaders

If you’re a movie buff, you know the sequel is rarely as good as the original. For the longest time, that was how Cub Scout leaders felt about training, too. Longtime trainers Matt Markham and Jessi King-Markham found that volunteers who willingly attended Basic Adult Leader Outdoor Orientation to learn to take their Cub Scouts camping often balked at signing up for Outdoor Leader Skills for Webelos Leaders (often referred to as “OWLS”).

“One of the challenges we ran into with splitting the course out into OWLS was that people wouldn’t go, because it was another course that they had to take,” Markham says.

There seemed to be a lot of overlap in content, too, so the couple’s district in the Northern Star Council ran a hybrid course that covered both syllabuses. The overnight event allowed leaders to get hands-on training in outdoor skills for Cub Scouts and Webelos Scouts.

That hybrid has now become the official approach. The latest BALOO syllabus, released last fall, covers what Cub and Webelos Scout leaders need to know. And it does so in a single 30-hour weekend — all day Saturday and Sunday morning, for example.

What the Weekend Covers

The new BALOO is not a mere mashup of the older courses. Cub Scouting has changed significantly in the past few years, most notably with the introduction of a new advancement program in 2015. That meant significant changes to the syllabuses, especially on the Webelos side. OWLS was built around the old advancement program.

What’s more, Markham says, is that Cub Scout camping has evolved with the advent of activities like geocaching.

“There’s a whole lot of people that want to do it that have no idea how, and there wasn’t really a way to teach them,” he says. “Now there’s actually a course that captures some of those newer outdoor activities and newer methods.”

Those new activities and methods help explain why the new course is longer.

“We had a lot more skills to fit into the program, so we needed to take more time,” says Dennis Kampa, who has overseen BALOO as a member of the National Cub Scout Committee since 2000.

Online and in the Field

The weekend experience is just part of the new BALOO. For the first time in volunteer training, the BSA is using a blended approach with the new course. The course begins with eight brief online modules, available at Each module lasts 10 minutes or less and covers basics like the benefits of the outdoor program and health and safety considerations. Once you’ve completed those prerequisites, you’re ready for the weekend.

Of course, knowledge is only part of BALOO’s goal, King-Markham says.

“If we can get Cub Scouts camping, they’re going to be lifelong Scouts,” she says. “They’re going to be people who want to save the outdoors. They’re going to be people who bring their own families into the outdoors.”

Making the Most of BALOO

Here are some tips for making the most of your BALOO experience:

  1. Take your time with the online modules. While you could zip through all the modules in little more than an hour, try to go at a slower pace. Step away from the computer between modules, and take time to explore some of the online resources provided. Also, review any sections you find confusing. Each module includes a table of contents that allows you to repeat previous sections. Just click the TOC button at the bottom of the window.
  2. Bring your questions — and your skits. Several of the online modules preview weekend content and will probably prompt questions you’ll want to ask. Bring those questions to the weekend, as well as skits or songs to share during the campfire program your class will plan.
  3. Arrive with an open mind. If your idea of roughing it is a motel without high-speed internet, try to view the content through the eyes of your Cub Scouts. They’re thirsting for adventure. On the other hand, if you’re an expert camper, remember the purpose of the course is to prepare you to lead den and pack overnighters — not rugged backcountry excursions.


    • Comparing the learning objectives between IOLS and BALOO, they are very similar.
      Becouse this is so similar and there are limited district resources, we are combining the two courses. Just makes sense.

    • Right! I agree! I just did this program this last Fall and not I’m looking to do IOLS since my son moved up in December!

  1. Scouting needs to start looking at how it can combine trainings. We want to retain kids but also leaders and we are increasingy asking leaders to take a day or more and get trained on some of the same skills they need in both groups. The new Cub Scout program is designed to build into Boy Scouts yet there is outdoor and skills training for both levels that leaders have to take in order to be trained. Combining trainings would make more effective leaders at the Cub level, especially Webelos, and make them more open to being an ASM or SM when the time comes. I understand we all need to be safe, and slight differences exist, but all the trainings drive new leaders away.

    • I would agree on the leadership load. Especially when I repeatedly get responses from leaders after in person training that the training takes twice as long as it should. This isn’t the message we want to convey. Scouting should be working harder to embrace multiple models for training. Not everyone learns best from textbooks or teacher-student setting. A mix that includes a Mentor relationship would be more aligned to the scouting ethic.

    • As a new leader, I was hungry for all the training I could get. I understand the importance of training and retraining due to new methods and technologies. The thing that is driving me away from being a volunteer leader is the uncooperative parents! If anything, there needs to be training offered to all the parents, not just the volunteer leaders.

  2. I’ve put off BALOO as Cubmaster because my weekends are precious and we have someone trained in the pack. Now I have to give up an entire weekend? I’ve been a scouting leader for 8 years and have to question the necessity of this. Scouting is already a second job for me, now this. I am very dedicated to our scouts and giving them a quality program but BSA needs to get realistic about the demands you place on your volunteers.

    • I agree with Marc. I thought the one-day BALOO curriculum was spot on for Cub Scout leaders. It taught the necessities for safe family camping, and good tips for outdoor cooking and camping. I never saw OWL as necessary, and I don’t think our Pack or our Webelos Dens have been for want of the additional training. This new 30-hour BALOO training is overkill. I will struggle to get any of my leaders to commit that type of time away from their kids and families. I’d be shocked if more than a year passes before the 1-day program is reintroduced.

    • You don’t necessarily have to do it if you have an adult in your unit who is willing to be a BALOO trained volunteer at pack overnighters. You are absolutely right that being a scout volunteer is a second job and it’s a sacrifice.

  3. Sign me up! Although I’ve spent many weeks in the field over the course of a 20-year military career, camping with Cub Scouts is not the same thing—different environment, routine, and purpose. Plus, this can be a great excuse for us to take a break from our families over a weekend. I’m looking forward to attending and being better prepared for the upcoming Pack camping trips. YIS

  4. I have already completed both BALOO and IOWL training. As a Cubmaster I like the approach of combining the two. Example: Cub Scout leaders at the Tiger, Wolf and Bear rank will be ready for Webelo and AOL camping without missing a beat. Allows your leaders to move forward with your scouts with no interruptions.

  5. I just did the new course two weeks ago. As someone involved with a brand new Pack and new to Scouting, but not to camping, I thought it was fabulous. There was another group doing IOLS at the same time, camped adjacent to us; we had meals together and did a shared campfire – other than those two things, the IOLS group covered a long list of different materials from what we went over. I was pleasantly surprised that I got so much out of it. Definitely time well spent.

  6. Marc is spot on.
    And it is even more critical from my point of view. I am cubmaster of a very new pack. I struggled to get two leaders baloo trained barely a month prior to our first campout. Now one is no longer active with us. I am the sole baloo trained member. If my work schedule doesnt allow for a particular timeframe for a campout, we wont be able to go. I had, and have, enough challenge to recruit even a barely minimul volunteer staff, consisting only of den leaders. I cant imagine getting them or my nonpaying parents to step up for a 30 hour weekend.
    Interesting enough, i took baloo last fall. If it had been the newer overnight weekend course, i possibly would not have made it, and quite likely could have been forced to cancel the campout.

    • I know the scout training site says BALOO is mandatory for overnight campouts, but why? Can someone point out where in the BSA insurance policy it says someone won’t be covered if there isn’t a BALOO certified adult present? As several have already mentioned, the BSA needs to be careful with the requirements it puts on its VOLUNTEER leaders. We already donate a ton of our time to our kids. And if a Pack does have a family campout without a BALOO certified adult and someone gets hurt I would like to see coverage denied. That happens and they can kiss fundraising from that Pack goodbye.

    • exactly correct.
      our pack has one baloo trained leader and when this was a daylong course we could not get people to take it, now the training requires an overnight? its a recipe to kill cub scout camping in our pack and i’m sure others.

      the best part for me was when i reached out to our council to ask about the changes the program director don durbin completely blew me off.
      the more time i spend around the scouts (and i have a lion scout, a boy scout and a venturer,and am active with all 3 groups) the more i realize that the less contact with anyone about the district level, the more i like being a scout leader

      making this training last thru the boy scout program would certainly help get people to take it.

    • I want to add, that I thoroughly enjoyed the one day course; it was outstanding. And I imagine the weekend overnight course would likewise be great.
      My issue is simply the time expected to be given up. If my pack misses some camping opportunities, I’m guessing I’ll lose some scouts.

  7. My District training team took a different approach: we saw a lot of overlap between IOLS and OWLS, so we combined those and stressed the age-appropriate guidelines. It was valuable for the Webelos leaders because they A) experienced more advanced patrol-focused outdoor skills and skipped the Pack-level program management stuff, B) saw a bit of a preview of the Boy Scout program, C) mingled with ASMs, and D) didn’t need to repeat the whole thing through IOLS in one/two years. Our approach helped them more seamlessly transition into Boy Scout leaders and, in turn, helped them prepare their Webelos patrols for Boy Scouts. We always got great feedback on this approach from the attendees.

    We offered all 3 trainings on the same weekend in the same location (usually Camporee weekend) and would bring the BALOO members over for lunch, equipment, and campsite inspection. Other than that, BALOO and OWLS were separate because they served completely different purposes with almost completely different modules.

    We always optionally invited BALOO attendees to stay overnight (for free) to see campfire, cracker barrel, Scout’s Own, etc., but NO ONE ever took us up on that offer. They were there for the day and that’s all they wanted. I am not sure how well this BALOO overnighter is going to turn out, but I am not excited about it. I have already heard some grumblings, but I guess time will tell once we’ve been through a few seasons…

  8. As a BALOO Trainer for 13 years, I welcome the change. The one day was good, and did change with the advancement change in 2015, combining BALOO and OWLS will be a nice change. I completely understand the frustration expressed about giving up a weekend away from family, my hope is that this will be a good networking time as well. I think the more in depth training will be very helpful.

  9. It seems that many leaders and parents see training as necessary to check off a requirement. They resist committing the time to an in person course in favor of completing an online course.
    Trainings such a BALOO, IOLS, Woodbadge are more than completing the course. These course are an opportunity to live the experience we should be delivering to the Scouts. #4 should be added to the “Making the most of BALOO”. The weekend is an opportunity to meet other leaders, share knowledge and experiences, and develop relationships with other Packs. Fellowship is an important part of Scouting and delivering the program. I have attended many trainings over 30+ years as a leader and always learn from the others in the program. I find that making new friends and sharing our experiences gives me new energy when I return to address our challenges.
    Making time for a weekend of training is difficult, but when balanced against the benefits it is a good investment that pays off in a quality program.

  10. Perspective on OWL training. It is much better aligned to IOLS as the Webelos and Arrow of Light ranks are truly preparatory for Scouting. I would have preferred that Webelos leaders take IOLS . . . prepares some of those leaders to fleet up to assistant Scoutmasters fully trained. Pushing it downward into BALOO was not a good idea and should be reconsidered.

  11. Why is there no date on this article other than the comments?

    Also, I agree, IOLS and BALOO should be combined — no real reason to have them separate.

  12. Our BALOO and OWLS were combined but, no one bothered to tell me when I signed up for “BALOO”. It was a long day, but it was done in 12-13 hours and I only lost one day. I do wonder what is added to double the hours of training. Maybe some overkill. I am still trying to finish up “retaking” the Pack Committee Training. It is WAY more extensive than the old one.
    I like the ideas I have seen to keep BALOO for Cub Leaders and have Webelos leaders take IOLS. Most Webelos
    Leaders I know end up crossing over with their boys. Plus, you can Keep It Simple and Make It Fun for the newbie Cub Leaders/Parents so they don’t get Training Fatigue.

  13. Requiring an overnight campout is overkill. Having it the first weekend in March is even worse. Family time on weekends and health are key concerns. Erie Shores council in Nw Ohio, this is going to drive volunteers like me away. Poor choice BSA.

  14. I’m with the group that sees this as a kill point for Cub Leader training. Getting enough Cub Pack Leaders to have Baloo to cover their outings is hard enough and running the OWL every two years we have been keeping the WEBELOS-AOL leaders on track but with the rapid (relative) change over of Cub families it often falls on the dedicated leaders to shift and cover so that outdoor activities can be held for the Pack. Now requiring them to have a weekend course to stay current will be a turnoff for all except the most dedicated volunteers at that level. Remember they have Cub scout age children and covering their needs & schedule, often with a single parent family will be hard if not impossible. Too often the Trainers, who are dedicated people, heavily involved, don’t take into consideration the willingness of the Casual family member to volunteer.

  15. Our District decided to combine BALOO and IOLS into a one day course that uses the same staff to teach rotating courses throughout the day. When a ‘Den’ rotates into a class, the instructor focuses on the BALOO curriculum; likewise, when a “patrol’ rotates into the same class, the instructor focuses on the IOLS curriculum. Our volunteer scouters time is precious and our instructors are limited. It makes sense to combine two courses.

  16. How does this affect people who have already taken BALOO? If you took the old BALOO, with the understanding that you would need to take OWLS later, do you just miss out on the things that would have been covered in that training? Or do those trained with the old version have to retrain with the new one?
    Has the course number changed? I actually took (and enjoyed) the weekend version through a neighboring council, while ours was still offering the one day version, so if they just go by completion date, that won’t be accurate for me.

  17. Adults who achieved Eagle Scout as a boy should be exempt from BALOO. I understand the need for training, but 30 hours? No wonder BSA is losing interest from boys and their parents! Parents are BUSY people. In addition to my job and scouts, I have to take care of my mom with MS, fitting this in will be difficult at best. Our pack is chronically disorganized because we don’t have enough people who have the time to volunteer. This only makes a bad situation worse.

    • I would have to respectfully disagree as the program changes, and an Eagle Scout from 20 years ago may not be current on the methods of Scouting, program changes, etc. I’ve had Asst Scoutmasters that received Eagle many moons ago and were still in that mindset. They should have this training, if nothing else, to get a good refresher.
      I do however, agree that the time restraints are long and would love to see this evolve further in that we can combine all three together, and someone who only want BALOO would be free to leave at “X” time, with the understanding that if they do continue to stay in Scouting they would then be required to take the full weekend course. I think we can “marry” these three training’s to make it easier on everyone.

      • Thank you, Sue, for saying that nicer that I would have.
        Combining the programs, however, seems unlikely, for several reasons. The cost would have to be higher; why would someone needing BALOO want to pay more for the longer outing? And while there is some overlap, the BALOO focus on Cub Scouting and the limitations on what the little guys are expected to do, is notably different from what is covered in IOLS and what the older boys can handle. And converse to the first point, someone only working with older boys really wouldn’t need to take extra time to go over the limitations of the younger ones, and the extra work that is expected of the adults. Unless the content is diluted (not optimal), combining would not make the entire process shorter, but longer, which would not be an improvement.

        Also, Brendon, keep in mind that part of that 30 hours is SLEEPING. It is only an evening and a day. When I went a few weeks ago, I didn’t have to leave work early, and was still able to attend church on Sunday.

      • The official training material really doesn’t focus much on the limitations of Cub Scouts. It’s mentioned, but it’s not really like it has its own chapter. Cub Scout-related programs are gone over, but the basic knots are the same, meals are the same, program planning is the same, duty to God is the same, cooking and sanitation is the same, etc.

        The main difference is that you’d allow Boy Scouts more latitude with cooking for themselves, etc. But then the same would be true for more mature Cub Scouts who may have also already started cooking at home. I made my first pot of macaroni and cheese by myself at about 6.

        I don’t think it would be a very big deal to combine IOLS for Boy Scouts and BALOO for Cub Scouts. In either case, it’s training for adults not training for the kids, and the adults will likely know best just how capable their kids actually are.

      • The fact that 30 of those hours is sleeping, though, is problematic for single-parent households. Instead of asking them to find childcare for a day, we’re asking them to find someone to watch their kids overnight.
        Given how seriously we take Youth Protection, setting up a situation where leaders are asked to have someone else watch their kids overnight (without any oversight, two-deep leadership, or rules about alcohol) seems like a bit of a conflict to me.

  18. I’m a BALOO course director and I do my best to make it as fun as possible, because I know that people are giving up a weekend. I see BALOO, IOLS, and Wood Badge as a training path each with its own purpose. BALOO is truly an introductory course meant to teach the basics of outdoors safety and for many volunteers it is the first time they have ever set up a tent or cooked outdoors. IOLS might be the first time they hear the word “patrol”. I tell people to do IOLS before Wood Badge, because you don’t want to learn the patrol method at Wood Badge when you could be focusing on your patrol instead. If you are a seasoned scouter, Eagle Scout or former scouter, please be paitient with your BALOO staff. We are there to encourage safe and fun camping in the cub scout program. Show your scout spirit by participating and having fun! If you see room for improvement, offer feedback. A good staffer will welcome feedback.

  19. IOLS in our district is a 2 weekend course with an indoor and outdoor component. We have a 2 week break to plan a campout as a patrol. I can’t imagine combining the training. As the BALOO sylllabus stands right now, there is no way I could stuff in patrol method and orienteering. They added geocaching, acquatics, meal planning, knots, lanterns, fire building, knives, campsite selection, and Scout’s Own. The new round robins are intense and the course is stuffed full during the day and a half. We are covering more than I covered in BALOO or OWLS collectively when I took the courses.

    • A combined BALOO and IOLS may not be as difficult as you suppose especially if you look at it from the learning objectives perspective. It is not too difficult to add in the BALOO objectives and cover them. We hold an early evening session to cover some material so that the outdoor portion can concentrate on those items that are best done outdoors.

  20. I’m not sure that Cub Scout leaders are particularly interested in learning how to set up an axe yard, pack for back country trip, orient a map, purify water, or learn how a boy scout patrol works. I think maybe my IOLS was different? I just don’t see fitting this all in. My BALOO agenda is already stuffed full. It’s going to be a hectic weekend. There are 10 people on staff and 40 participants.

    • Sara is correct. I’m involved with Cub Scouts only and that is unlikely to change – I don’t have a child in the Pack. Plus, combining BALOO & IOLS would be information overload and likely make it difficult to keep the different requirements for the different levels separate in your mind.

    • Under the Adventures program Cub Scouts do now, most of those things are included. We just taught water purification last night to our Webelos and the “essentials” list grows at each level. I don’t think it is a bad thing to have too much information, especially since this program builds to Boy Scouts so well.

      • But are you going to teach your Webelos to use an axe or orient a map? I can’t imagine a Webelos scout even having the patience to learn that. And it’s hard enough to teach the cub scout basic knots at BALOO without also adding the the boy scout basic knots. We had to build an outdoor shelter during our course. Anyone who is interested in being a Scout Master or ASM should take IOLS, but not everyone is going to go on that leadership path. I did it as part of my Wood Badge ticket and had a blast. I had been in scouting for only 6 months when I went to Wood Badge and decided that as part of my ticket I would get as outdoor trained as possible, because I was sick of freezing to death in my tent on October Wisconsin nights.

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