Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How the Boy Scouts Work


The Scouting Life
A Boy Scout washes a car.
A Boy Scout washes a car.
GSO Images/Getty Images

Life for the Boy Scout revolves around camping, merit badges and community service. The Boy Scouts organization believes outdoor activities, such as camping, water sports and hiking, develop the character traits -- leadership, courage and self reliance -- they wish to nurture. It believes that outdoor activity helps develop character, citizenship and personal fitness.

Merit badges are an integral part of the Boy Scout organization. There are over 100 merit badges that a Boy Scout can earn, and they range from communications to camping to first aid. A Boy Scout may earn whatever merit badges he wishes; there's no requirement to attain certain levels or rankings in order to receive a merit badge.

The process of earning a merit badge is the same for all badges. When the scout decides which badge he would like to earn, he speaks with his Scoutmaster. The Scoutmaster arranges for the scout to meet with a volunteer leader who is trained and knowledgeable about that badge. In this meeting, the leader will explain the expectations and requirements for the badge. In this and all other meetings in the Boy Scouts, the Buddy System -- a policy initiated to reduce the risk of sexual abuse -- is used. This means that whenever a child meets with an adult, a friend, family member or other scout must be present.

The scout works on the expectations for the merit badge, and when he believes he's ready to demonstrate proficiency, he gets together with the leader who's advising him on the merit badge. The Boy Scout demonstrates what he's learned, and, if he meets the merit badge expectations, the leader will sign off on the badge, and the Scoutmaster will order the badge.

The skills required to earn a merit badge vary. For example, the fire safety merit badge requires that the Boy Scout:

  • demonstrate the "stop, drop and roll" method
  • explain how injuries from burns can be prevented
  • name the most frequent cause of fires
  • draw an escape route from his home in case of fire
  • demonstrate the safe method to set up and extinguish a cooking fire, camp stove and lantern
  • describe a fire-related career that interests him

­

In addition to targeting and obtaining merit badges, Boy Scouts do a lot of camping. There are many types of camps available to Boy Scouts. Some camps are short term, like an overnight or weekend camp. Others are long term and run for a week or more. Camps may be local, or the troop may travel to regional or statewide meetings to participate in a camping trip. Three camps are given the designation of National High Adventure Areas with the Boy Scouts of America. These include:

  • the Philmont Scout Ranch in northern New Mexico, where campers participate in a variety of backpacking treks in the high country of New Mexico
  • the Florida National High Adventure Sea Base, which allows campers to participate in aquatic programs and activities in the Florida Keys
  • the Northern Tier National High Adventure Program, which offers wilderness canoeing and cold weather camping adventures.

Regardless of whether a Boy Scout is participating in his first overnight camp, or spending a week in the wilderness areas of New Mexico, the organization believes that camping helps develop character, leadership skills and physical training.

Camping and merit badges are only a piece of the scouting life. Boys also work toward awards and honors.