IN THE SAME BOAT: a blog for Scouts BSA parents (subscribe)
May 2020 Update: During COVID-19 pandemic stay-at-home orders and social distancing restrictions, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is offering information, ideas and resources for Scouting at Home. Many BSA Councils are offering online merit badge classes for 2020. You can find a list of the virtual classes in my latest blog.
If you’re like most Boy Scout parents, you rely on your Scout’s troop to let you know about offerings for merit badge classes. Typically, the classes will be announced on the troop’s website or Facebook page, or in email messages. In my Scout’s troop, the listings are almost always for merit badge forums. These are all-day events that offer multiple badges to choose from, and the opportunity for a Scout to earn two or three badges.
In my blog “How to Improve a Boy Scout’s Merit Badge Experience,” I talk about why I think it’s important to not rely solely on forums for merit badge offerings, and briefly list alternative sources for classes. In this article, I want to delve more deeply into that list to show you what a rich source of merit badge classes are out there waiting to be discovered.
Merit badge classes can be offered by a variety of sources, which I have grouped into the following eight categories. The first four categories will be most familiar to you (troop, Council, summer camp, forums). Examples from the last four may be more unexpected to you, and ideas like these have – I think – the potential to provide your Scout with a more fun and enriching merit badge experience.
YOUR LIST OF SOURCES FOR MERIT BADGE CLASSES
Your Scout’s Troop
Your Scout’s troop may offer merit badge classes in conjunction with its meetings, campouts, or other Scouting events. There are usually adults in the troop who have completed merit badge counselor training, and who are able to lead a class for specific merit badges in their areas of specialty. Since joining Boy Scouts, my son's troop has offered merit badge classes that include Geneology, Reading, and Sustainability.
The website for my Scout’s troop has a page that lists its merit badge counselors and their specified merit badges. If a Scout is interested in a merit badge on that list, he can request the Counselor lead a class for the troop or, if no one else is interested, counsel him one-on-one.
Council Merit Badge Program
Check the website for your troop’s Council to see if it is offering any merit badge classes. For example, the Heart of America Council (HOAC) has a Merit Badge Program web page that lists its upcoming classes. Use the search feature on your Council’s website, or call the Council, to find what you’re looking for.
Also, the Council website should have a list of available merit badge counselors that can be searched by merit badge. This is useful if there is a merit badge your Scout really wants to earn and he is having trouble finding either a class or a counselor. Here is an example from the HOAC's website of a merit badge counselor list.
Boy Scout Summer Camp
These camps offer a wide selection of merit badges, typically including Eagle-required ones. In my son’s troop, the adult in charge of rank advancement selects which merit badges the Scouts take at camp for the first few years to maximize participation among the various classes offered. The troop prefers that Scouts don’t earn merit badges somewhere else if they are offered at summer camp. Your Scout may want to find out if his troop has a similar policy.
Merit Badge Forums/Colleges
As described above, these are typically all-day events that offer many merit badges. Visit the Merit Badge Network’s event calendar to search for offerings in your state or area. At such a forum, Scouts are usually able to work on and earn two (or even three) badges in one day. Because of the time constraint, however, there are usually pre-requisites your Scout has to complete beforehand and “demonstrate” to the counselor at the forum.
This is a list that could go on and on, and includes such non-profits as zoos and aquariums, museums and science centers, botanical gardens and nature centers, observatories, animal humane societies, Smithsonian affiliates, etc. You need merely look at what organizations are located in your troop’s area and visit their websites to see if they offer any programming for Boy Scouts (search for “education” or “scouts”). Here are some examples from around the country to get you thinking, with links to their Boy Scout programs:
- Utah’s Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City
- St. Louis Science Center in MO
- Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis
- Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens in Sanford
- Houston Museum of Natural Science in TX
- Health Museum in Houston, TX
- Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, CA
- North Museum of Nature & Science in Lancaster, PA
- League of Michigan Bicyclists in Lansing
- USS Midway Museum in San Diego, CA
- Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.
- Rosenberg Railroad Museum in TX
- Champaign County Forest Preserve in IL
- Musical Instruments Museum in Phoenix, AZ
- Tenafly Nature Center in NJ
- Kopernik Observatory & Science Center in NY
- Strataca – Kansas Underground Salt Museum in KS
- Coastal Pet Rescue in Savannah, GA
- George S. Eccles Ice Center in Logan, UT.
If there is no scheduled event, many organizations are happy to set up a private merit badge workshop for your troop, typically for a small fee.
City, County, State and Federal Governments
This category includes such examples as presidential libraries, national parks, federal courthouses, city offices and departments (e.g., mayor, police, parks & recreation), county and state departments (e.g., health, natural resources), military and more. Use the following examples of government-offered scouting programs from around the country to give you ideas of where to look in your area:
- Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum & Boyhood Home in Abilene, KS
- Thomas F. Eagleton U.S. Courthouse, Judicial Learning Center, in St. Louis, MO
- Gateway Arch National Park in St. Louis, MO
- 19th Judicial Circuit Court in Waukegan, IL
- Pearland Police Department in TX
- Provo, UT, Mayor’s Office
- Naperville Police Department in IL
- Wilderness Park in Arcadia, CA
- Michigan Department of Natural Resources
- West Point City in UT
- Kansas Wetlands Education Center, Fort Hays State University in Great Bend
- Rhode Island Supreme Court in Narragansett
- Middlesex District Attorney’s Office in MA
- Cleland Ice and Inline Skating Rinks, Fort Bragg, NC.
Retail Stores, Businesses, and Recreational Facilities
This list is limited only by your imagination. It includes outdoor retail stores, scuba diving shops, climbing gyms, fitness centers, law firms, aviation and equestrian centers, archery ranges, skating rinks, etc. – all offering programming for Boy Scouts:
- Saddle Lake Equestrian Center in Camp Springs, KY
- Bass Pro shops (see also BSA information)
- Texas Archery
- Kansas City Dive Shop in MO
- Third Coast Aviation in Houston, TX
- IBEX Climbing Gym in Blue Springs, MO
- Sport Rock Climbing Centers in VA
- Cabela’s in Garner, NC
- Alaska Airlines
- Club Fit in Jefferson Valley, NY
- Pole Position Raceway in St. Louis, MO
- Wintergreen Resort in VA
- Magic Valley Skateland in Twin Falls, ID.
There are clubs for just about any interest it seems: stamp and coin collecting, chess, sports, and model railroads to name just a few. Here are a few ideas of clubs that offer merit badge classes to get you thinking about what could be available where you and your Scout live:
- Possum Trot Orienteering Club in Kansas City, MO
- Kansas City Chess Club in MO
- Florida United Numismatists in Lake Monroe
- Wisconsin Federation of Stamp Clubs
- Philatelic Club of Will County in Joliet, IL
- Exeter Sportsman’s Club in NH
- Dragon Boat Club in Norristown, PA
- First State Model Railroad Club in Dover, DE
- Nessmuk Rod and Gun Club in Wellsboro, PA
- Winagamie Golf Club in Neenah, WI.
As with non-profit organizations, many clubs will consider a private merit badge workshop upon request, often with a small fee.
CREATE YOUR OWN LIST OF MERIT BADGE SOURCES
I would like to challenge you to spend some time searching online for upcoming and ongoing merit badge classes in your area that you could share with your Scout’s troop. I typically go online every month or two and spend a little time doing this. You can check out the Merit Badge Network’s event calendar, your Council’s website, and also simply Google “merit badge [your city] 2018” or something similar to find events. You can then share what you find with the troop’s Scoutmaster.
If you’re feeling more ambitious, you might consider volunteering to take over updating this information on your troop’s website. I did this for my Scout’s troop. Here, as an example, are two listings I posted on the Merit Badge Classes web page I created. The first listing appeared under the header Upcoming Merit Badge Classes; the second continues to appear under the header Ongoing Merit Badge Classes.
NAME: The Kansas City Chess Club
MERIT BADGE: Chess
DETAILS: 9:00 AM - 12:30 PM. Details. Taught by a certified chess merit badge instructor. Knowledge of chess rules strongly recommended. Contact Ken Fee at 816-446-3550 or for more information.
LOCATION: The Kansas City Chess Club, 2 South Water Street, Liberty, MO 64068
NOTE: Not offered at Summer Camp; not required for Eagle Scout rank.
DATE: Saturdays upon request; also offer an overnight program (sleep in a KC 135 or Boeing 727, weather permitting)
COST: $12 per scout, $8 per adult; or $27 per person for overnight program (30 person minimum)
RESERVATIONS: Call (316) 683-9242 or email Barb Kramer, Project Coordinator
LOCATION: 3350 South George Washington Boulevard, Wichita, KS 67210 (adjacent to McConnell Air Force Base)
NOTE: Not offered at Summer Camp; not required for Eagle Scout rank.
With a more varied list of merit badge classes to choose from, your Scout’s experience in earning them will hopefully be more enriching and exciting.
If you enjoyed this post, I hope you’ll share it with a friend!
P.S. Do you wish being a Scouts BSA parent was a breeze? It is with the Smooth Sailing eGuide, Planner and Organizer for new and continuing Scout parents! Updated January 2020.