After all the planning that youth and Scouters put into an adventure and all the time they spend learning skills, things still go “off script”. These situations create teachable moments: the opportunity for youth to learn from their mistakes, or to adapt to changing circumstances. This may happen when the stove is broken and you can’t cook, when the poles aren’t in the tent bag, or when you find out the canoe isn’t sea worthy after the 4 hour drive to Algonquin. Sometimes the youth will do something unwise, either unaware that it’s a problem or knowing that it’s not Scout-like behaviour. Either way, how we choose to approach these teachable moments will determine how much we learn from them. One thing I’ve learned from nearly a decade of Scouting adventures as a youth is that when things inevitably go off script they become some of the best learning experiences, and are always fondly remembered afterwards.
One of the best ways I’ve ever seen a Scouter approach a teachable moment was on a nature hike my Cub Pack went on one year. When we got to the pond, some of the Cubs rushed over to start catching frogs because that’s what they wanted to do. Of course, catching frogs with bug-spray and sunscreen on your hands isn’t exactly Scout-like behaviour, but the Cubs weren’t aware of this at the time. I’ll never forget how my Akela handled this situation, because it had a lasting impact on all of the youth in my Cub Pack. Our Akela was known for having a big, booming voice – he’s the one everyone can hear at Kub Kar Rallies – but he also has a soft spot for nature. Akela quickly but calmly called the Pack to bring everyone back together. From here, I watched the magic happen. He got down on the ground with us and started asking questions that fueled our curiosity. He started off by asking us what was on our hands and skin: the bug spray, sunscreen, and sweat. Then he went on to ask if anyone knew how frogs breathe, and how their skin works. He explained how touching frogs with sweat and chemicals on your hands can be very harmful to the frogs. This got us even more fascinated by the frogs and nature in general. From there he started teaching us about the impact we can have on nature and the Leave No Trace philosophy, laying the framework for our appreciation for nature that we carried with us through the Sections.
Now, imagine how we can be wise in the use of teachable moments like:
- The canoe tipping during the summer canoe trip… backpacks and all
- Trackers pitching their tent next to the fire pit so they can make a fire to stay warm at night
- Forgetting to strain the macaroni before adding the cheese
- First Year Venturer Scouts pulling an all-nighter by the fire on the first night of camp
While it would have been easier to simply tell the Pack not to touch the frogs, and would have got us back on track sooner, think about the lesson we would have missed out on. Learning comes from exploring the subject at hand, be it frogs, water proofing gear, fire safety or mac and cheese. What made our Akela’s approach so impactful was that he came down to our level – literally – and got us thinking. He worked with our curiosity, rather than snuffing it out. He was wise in the use of that moment, and we all benefitted from it (including the frogs). When Scouters can see a teachable moment as just that – a valuable opportunity for organic learning and lasting impact, Scouting magic happens.