By Robert Peterson
The word "training" - like "root canal," "taxes," and "flat tire" - can have a dismal ring. And no self-respecting Cub Scout roundtable commissioner would describe what he or she does as training (although it is).
When roundtable is involved, however, the word "fun" is a far more appropriate choice.
A good Cub Scout roundtable offers much more than training. It gives the most sedate adult the chance to be a kid again, to bask in the fellowship of like-minded volunteers, and to find out what's in store for Cub Scouts and their packs.
But best of all, it's fun. That's why experienced roundtable commissioners like Mary Ruth Lareau and her assistants in the West Morris District of New Jersey's Morris-Sussex Area Council spend a lot of time selecting games, songs, and gimmicks that will entertain (and train) Cub Scouters.
Lareau and assistants Debbie Wickham and Pete Mullaney take from two to three hours to plan each hour-and-a-half-long roundtable.
"But we're not just sitting there beating our brains out," Lareau said. "We're laughing and having a good time."
The planning sessions are held at her home, where she can call on a 15-year accumulation of Cub Scouting literature and past editions of Program Helps for ideas.
For a typical roundtable, they will pick and choose ideas from Cub Scout & Webelos Scout Program Helps, the Cub Scout Roundtable Guide, the Cub Scout Leader How-To Book, Den Chief Handbook, and Cub Scout Songbook.
One roundtable covered the pack theme "Cub Scout Safari." In planning that program, Lareau used the story from the Wolf Cub Scout Book that Robert S.S. Baden-Powell had borrowed from Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Books to use in launching his program for younger boys. The story, read by Debbie Wickham during the roundtable opening ceremony, told how the boy, Mowgli, was accepted into a wolf pack by Akela, the pack leader.
Everyone at the roundtable had at least a small part in the opening ceremony, reflecting Scouting's reliance on learning by doing. Of necessity, the look-and-listen method of learning has to be used for announcements and some discussions, but roundtable attendance is a participatory sport most of the time.
At the roundtable, first-time attendees found that out right away. They were asked to introduce themselves by name, title, and pack number and tell how many children they had, the number of kids in their den or pack, and which vehicle they drove.
"The last one's very important in Scouting," Mary Ruth Lareau said with a laugh. And a cheer went up at each mention of a sport-utility vehicle or minivan; the cheer was especially loud for the owner of a GMC Safari.
All hands joined in singing "Akela's Council" and "Tarzan of the Apes" (from the Cub Scout Songbook) and "My Tarzan Lies Out in the Jungle," with lyrics by Pete Mullaney to the tune of "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean." A song sheet with the words to those songs and others was one of numerous handouts the participants took home.
Throughout the roundtable, a CD of jungle sounds played softly in the background. As district committee member David Marihugh began a presentation on pack public relations, a monkey could be heard chattering on the CD, prompting Marihugh to say, "No heckling, please."
Games are always a big part of West Morris District roundtables. Everyone joined in a rhyming riddle game called "Who's Jungle?" - a modified version of "Who's Zoo?" in the How-To Book.
Den-size groups were chosen to demonstrate "Bagheera's Eyes," an observation game found in Program Helps, while the others tried "Shere Khan" from the How-To Book. (If your recollections of Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Books, or even of the Disney movie, are dimming, Bagheera was the inky black panther and Shere Khan was the fierce tiger in the tales of Mowgli's adventures in the wild.)
The Program Helps for the "Safari" theme suggested some nature activities as well as fun with Kipling's characters. So Pete Mullaney demonstrated how to make tree bark rubbings with crayons on paper.
Afterward, while some participants tried their hand at making rubbings, there was a 10-minute break for theme-appropriate refreshments of "safari" trail mix and animal crackers.
Although the Roundtable Guide recommends a "refreshments and fellowship" period after the closing ceremony, "I think it works really well to have it earlier," Mary Ruth Lareau said. "We don't want them to miss the fellowship, and nobody walks out when they know that more stuff is happening after refreshments."
The West Morris Cub Scout roundtables are timed to the minute, with most elements lasting from three to five minutes. The longest feature in the past "Safari" roundtable was a 15-minute discussion on how to utilize a den chief, led by Pete Mullaney.
"A den chief is one of the best things you can have," he said.
Rich Schrum, who is both an assistant Cubmaster and assistant Scoutmaster, pointed out that while a den chief is older than his Cub Scouts, he is still a boy and should not be expected to be a disciplinarian. "He's an extra pair of hands for you," he said. "He can lead a game or teach knots. But he's not there to be a tyrant or dictator."
Like some other leaders at the "Safari" roundtable, Rich Schrum came in costume. Suspended from his shoulders was a cardboard-carton vehicle suitable for driving on the veld.
Mary Ruth Lareau wore a safari jacket and broad-brimmed fedora. Also in evidence were some binoculars, a pith helmet, and a bandolier.
Cubmaster Glenn Treier of the Denville Community Church's Pack 31 had Kaa, The Jungle Book's python, over his shoulders. Kaa, he said, was actually a clothes washer hose wrapped in green cloth with yellow felt spots and googly eyes.
Treier is one of the West Morris roundtable regulars. "It's a lot of fun, and I learn useful things for the kids in my pack," he said. "And the staffers are good; they make it very lively."
Jeff Mantell, committee chairman of Mine Hill School PTA's Pack 45, also gave the roundtable staff high marks.
"I couldn't make the last three roundtables because we've been busy with a new baby," he said, "and I missed coming terribly. I enjoy it so much - and when I have a problem in my pack, the staff can always give you answers because they've been involved with Cub Scouting for so long."
Another regular, Gina Szarejko, committee chairman of Pack 60, chartered to Our Lady of the Lake Church in Mount Arlington, said she attended roundtables primarily to keep lines of communication open with the local council.
"And," she added, "the handouts are invaluable to take back to leaders who don't attend.
A Scouting magazine contributing editor, Robert Peterson also wrote "The Granddaddy of Klondike Derbies" in this issue.
Trip of the Month
The West Morris District Cub Scout roundtable has a monthly feature designed to stimulate interesting field trips. It's the "trip of the month" - a five-minute report by a leader of a den or pack that has recently visited a place of special interest to Cub Scouts.
The report covers directions to the attraction, why it's of interest, and the cost, if any. Presenters often include a handout about the place for leaders to take home.
Asked how West Morris District's roundtable staffers encourage leaders to attend roundtables, Pete Mullaney chuckled a one-word answer: "Beads."
He was referring to the colorful plastic beads hanging on a thong suspended from a leather arrowhead stamped "West Morris Roundtable."
Roundtable-goers are given beads for attendance, for bringing "show and tell" items, and for anything else commissioner Mary Ruth Lareau thinks up. Regulars wear their beads proudly by hanging the arrowhead from a uniform shirt button.
Staffers and some other Cub Scouters donate the beads. "We're always looking for really cool colored beads," Mary Ruth Lareau said. She buys the arrowheads "as part of my donation to Scouting," she said.
Everything else is donated, too. Packs take turns bringing the refreshments, and Redeemer Lutheran Church in Succasunna allows the use of its gymnasium without charge.
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