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Bigger, better BALOO training for Cub Scout leaders

By Mark Ray
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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 my.scouting.orgExternal Link. 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.
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