United States Boy Scout Activities

Figure 1.--Games are favorite activity for Cubs and younger Scouts. One popular game is a pillow fight on a log. This was a activity at a regional Scout show in 1983.

Early American Boy Scouting had a wide range of activities that are now seen as traditional Scouting. Central to early Scouting was hiking and camping. There was of course much more involved. Thanks to Dan Beard there were many frontier skills like archery, camp craft, hunting, riflery, stalking, and outdoor skills. Beards' books The Boy Pioneers and the The Sons of Daniel Boone! were an important source of activites for early Scouts. Earnest Seaton helped introduced Indian lore including ceremonies, dancing, and handicrafts. His book The Birch Bark Rollwas another important source of activities. Many skills were adopted by Scouts around the world, such as cooking, First Aide, knot tieing, and swiming. Scouting has evolved over the years. Boys are esprcially interested in technoloy. Thus as new technologies developed, they were added to the Scouting program, including" computers, morse code, radio, rocketry, and much more. There also have been special activities such as in time of national emergency.



Scouts bands seem to have been very popular in the early years of Scouting. We notice quite a few photographs of Scout bands. We do not, however, know much about them. They seem to have been formed at the troop level. Apparently the BSA also organized Scout bands among the U.S. contingent to World Jamborees. We note an American Scout band at the 1951 World Jamboree in Austria. For some reason Scout bands declined in popularity in America. We rarely see Scout bands by the 1960s.


Camping was at the beginning of the Scout movement the most popular activity. Scouting was a first organized around camping. The camps were at first makeshift affairs held in rural areas with the permission of local landowners. Gradually as the movement gained momentum, local Scout groups purchased land and built permanent facilities for camping. Pergapd the best known American camp is the Philmont Scout ranch, but many Scout Councils now operate camps throughout the country. Most camps had regulations about the uniforms to be worn. As the major season for caming was the summer after school was out, many camps selected the short pants uniform. American Scouts, especially Scouts in the northern states, did not wear shorts until the 1970s. This often meant that the boys had to buy a special uniform for thde camp. Early American Boy Scouting had a wide range of activities that are now seen as traditional Scouting. Central to early Scouting was hiking and camping. There was of course much more involved. Thanks to Dan Beard there were many frontier skills like archery, camp craft, hunting, rifelry, stalking, and outdoor skills. Beards' books The Boy Pioneers and the The Sons of Daniel Boone! were an important source of activites for early Scouts.



An important oart of camping is cooking. This was especially the case in the early days of camping when dender roles were more nrrowly established.


We note some essay competitions that Scout groups supported. Often the esay competitios were set up by various civic groups. They were not all just for Scouts. We note both competitions for Scouts and others which are not exclusively for Scouts, but in which many participate. These appear to have commonly been local competitions and varied over time. We think that essay competitions were an activity from the earliest days of Scouting. And the tradition has continued. A good example of these contests is the Natan Hale Essay Contest sponsored by the Freedom Foundation during the the 1950s. The Veterahbs of Foreign War s (VFW) sponsors the Voice of Democracy Essay Contest. It is open to all high dchool students, but quite a number of the participants are Scouts. The American Legion also sponsors an essay contest. Osprey Packs, a company manufacturing camping equipment runs an essay competitiion in hich many Scouts participate. Scouting News in recent years has been primoting an essay contest being conducted at ascoutis.org. It is an essay contest that hopes "to encourage scouts to look at their own lives and those of their fellow scouts. The essays focus on the living of the Scout Law and living Lives of Service. The essay contest was started as a way to remember Nigel Clarke, who died last Halloween at the age of 15. Nigel was a star scout who lived the Scout Law in his daily life. As part of his memorial service, his father answered the question for his son, 'How have you lived the Scout Law since you last Scoutmaster Conference?'

First Aid

First aid is the first assistance help or immediate care given someone who has suddenly sickened or been hurt in an accident. First-aid training was an important part of the early Scout in Britain and was adopted by the BSA in the United States. The original Boy Scout Handbook had a chapter on first aid, but it didn't go into detail or explain any first aid. It did explain how to get a course and take the exam through the YMCA. Subsequent editiins gradually expanded coverage. And it has been an important part of the BSA program ever since. One of the first 11 merit badges was for First Aid and soon after another badge was offered dealing with Frst Aid for Animals. At Scout camps there were commonly First Aid actgivities and opportunities for boys to work on their merit badges. In addition, there was alot of opportunities for practical application of the skills learned. Boys were incouraged to bring personal First Aid kits.


All manner of games are popular Scouting activities. Some games are more suited for camping environments than the weekly meeting. The most popular are outdoors wide games, but there are many other outdoor games when a large area is not available. Many popular indoor games as well suitable for all levels of Scouting.



Indian Lore

Earnest Seaton helped introduced Indian lore including ceremonies, dancing, and handicrafts. His book The Birch Bark Rollwas another important source of activities. This is a major difference between American and other Scouting programs around the World Baden Powell's program, especially the Cubbing program, gave considerable emphasis on Africa and Powell's experiences with military Scouts during the Bohr War. The American program had more of a focus on American Indian lore. While this emphasis is much less important today, Indian lore is still a Scout merit badge and Indian lore continues to be used in both BSA Cub and Scout publications. Some Scout Troops have shown a real interest in Indian lore and have organized Native American dance teams which give demonstrations at campfires and other Scouting events.

Knot Tying

Morse Code

National Emergencies

There also have been special activities such as in time of national emergency. The American Boy Scouts were founded in 1910. Thus they were a very new group at the time of the War. The idea of youth grouops was also quite new and the program just begining to evolve. In fact one of the issues the young organization faced were complaints from pacifists that it was too militaristic and from the more patriotic that it was not sufficently militaristic. The competing American Boy Scouts took a more militaristic approach with a strong emphasis on rivalry. Thus there was no set program for how to support the war effort. We note Scours involved in a range of efforts. t. The BSA after the entry of America in World War I, begins home-front service in 1917 with the "Help win the war". The Scout motto, "Be prepared" was put into action. The Scouts persued many home-front activities. This included agricultural labor and vegetable gardens to hrelp produce food. Scouts planted "war gardens" with the logan, "Every Scout to feed a soldier". We notice the Scouts during the 1910s-30s assistung in various natural disasters like floods and drought including the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. They often worked with the Red Cross. We have only limited information here, but we do have some information on Scouting during World War II. World War II broke out in Europe during September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. America entered in 1941 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The NAZIs had abolished the Scout movement in Germany and Austria, absorbing it within the Hitler Youth movement. As the Whermacht invaded and occupied country after country, the Scout movement was banned or restricted in these countries. At home the Hitler Youth movement engaged in a variety of support activities, but as the war began to go aginst German they were used in Civil defense and to man anti-aircraft guns. Eventually whole units were formed with older Hitler Youth boys. In addition, Hitler Youth boys were used in the home guard, the Volkstrum, in hopeless to defend German cities. Many German boys, many very young, in these pointless actions. Scouts in occupied countries often supported or actively participate in the Resistance. Separated by the Atalntic Ocean from the Germans, World War II never touched America in the same way as the Europeans. Boy Scouts in America were never involved in the combatent activities like the Hitler Youth in Germany. American boys did actively participate in a variety of useful activities.

Public Service

Scouts participate in a range of public service activities. This includes a variety of activitis which could vary depending on the age groups. One common activity was litter pick up. This could be a range activities. One common one was trash pick up. This could we along roads, parks, or other public facilities. Scouts also participated in paper drives. They have also participted in planting tree seedlings and other gardening events. Recyclining has become a popular activity. Scouts helped hand out circulars and flyers for public events. They may collect food for the neddy, including food banks. Thy might hand out programs and bulletins at organization meetings. Scouts commonly participated in flag events at schools. As the number of Scouts and Cubs has declined in recent years and they have become less associated with schools, the nature of the public service ecents have changed. They today are more likely to be service activities relted to the sponsoring organization.



Scouting was founded at a time when Christianity was a dominasnt influence in American life. The country in recent years has become much more secular. Even so, deeply woven into the the ethos of Scouting is references to religion and faith. We see this in the purposes, oaths, laws and values of both Cub Scouting and Boy Scouts. We see several references to God and the importance of religious education and observances. The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is non-sectarian. Initially there was rather a Protestant edge to Scouting, but Catholocism increasingly was accepted as well. Jewish Scouts were more of a complication. At first there were Jewish troops, but as many packls/troops were sponsored by schools and other seculasr troops, the Scouts became more inclusive than many other American institutions, And as America has become more diverse, we see other faiths involved. The BSA does encourage religious observances. There are special religious paches. They can be earned for wearing uniforms to church or synagogue, especually during Scout Anniversary week. An honor in Scouting is to be awarded the religious emblem of their faith. Before Scouts can advance in ranks, they have to show an understanding of how their own faith and religious observances compliment the foundational values of Scouting. This hasa caused an issue because many Scouts come from secular families without any interest in religion.


Riflery has been for years a popular activity in Scouting. For many years it was an non-contoversial part of American life. Advertisement for guns were common in Scout publications such as Boys' Life. In more recent years it has become more controversial as guns have become a less accepted in many American homes. In this case there are differences among urban and rural troops as well as regional fifferences with guns more acceptable in the West and South. A major part of the continuing Scout riflery program is gun saftey training as well as developing shooting skills. Some boys grow up in families when guns and hunting are an important part of family life. Other boys would have had no opportunity to be involved with riflery had it not been for Scouting. Many Scout camps have rile ranges.





We note quite a few Scout groups taking trips. This seems especially common among pre-World War II Scouts, perhaps because the Scout camp system was not as well established. We see quite a number of Scout grops taking long trips to a variety of attractions. Especially popular were visits to national parks. Some of them wre major trips, including cross country journeys. These must have been real adventures because the national highway system was only beginning to develop in the 1910s ad 20s. These would have been larely camping expeditins. A good example is a 1929 trip made by 12 Scouts and their scout leader, the school principal of Pompton Plains, New Jersey. They went on a 9,000 mile tent camping trip by truck out West and around the United States along with their mascot, an English bull dog.


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Created: 6:12 PM 12/3/2003
Last updated: 7:11 PM 10/12/2017