Youth-led is one of the Four Elements of The Canadian Path, but it is also an element that Scouters may struggle with facilitating. While youth leadership has been part of Scouting since its early days, it is often a challenge for us, as Scouters, to ‘let go’ and allow the program to move in a direction that is unique to a particular group of youth, rather than following what the ‘ideal’ program may be according to the Scouter.
For 6th Dundas, the transition to a youth-led program for the Troop was a little easier than for our other Sections. Prior to The Canadian Path, the Section was already running with a Court of Honour—what we now call the Troop Leadership Team. This team of Scouts was consulted on programming, but the majority of the detailed programming was being done by the Scouters. The transition to The Canadian Path involved strengthening the planning process and having the entire weekly schedule planned – and for the most part implemented – by the Troop Leadership Team. For 6th Dundas, the key to that success has been having a Troop Leader lead that process each year, providing a positive example of youth leadership to the Troop’s Patrol Leaders and their assistants.
With the Troop Leadership Team taking the lead, it quickly became very apparent that the Scouters no longer needed to plan Troop meetings to the extent that they had been. Our adult team of Scouters instead became more focused on how best we could support the Scouts’ Troop and individual journeys, as opposed to jumping through all the hoops to keep weekly programming running.
Were there missteps? You bet! In one program cycle, the planning became focused on expensive adventures: climbing walls, escape rooms, etc. – that weren’t in the initial Troop budget. Participation in some of the adventures began to drop off due to some of the costs involved, but when the next planning cycle rolled around, the youth were able to recognize that a better balance was needed with more affordable adventures. In the end, the youth learned a lot about planning and proper budgeting.
While the Scout Troop had early, quick successes, the Beaver Colony at 6th Dundas had a longer road to travel. The Colony Scouters struggled with how to implement an age-appropriate, youth-led program with Beavers. The Colonies weren’t utilizing Lodges, weren’t engaging the White Tails and were struggling with behaviour issues. Engaging our White Tail Beavers was the first step in the right direction.
For an enthusiastic group of White Tail Beavers, sitting down around a table and talking about program was not going to work. We started with the youth drawing some of their favourite activities from past years, and as they were doing that we invited them to talk about which ones they might want to revisit, and what new things they would want to do. Some very creative ideas came out of that, and the team of Scouters was able to capture those ideas and identify a few common themes. With the help of the Lodges, the Scouters came up with a list of activities that fueled the program for that cycle. The Colony never looked back after that.
Again, there were some challenges – Beavers do have a limited period of attention even for drawing and brainstorming. The next session we limited the brainstorming time and had fewer fidgety White Tails.
In the end, however, we have seen that the more we run with this format for all our Sections, the better the program as a whole has become. Our youth have done some really fun adventures that we likely would not have thought of in a Scouter-led model.
Bill Kowalchyk is a Colony and Troop Scouter with 6th Dundas. He is also Scouts Canada’s Deputy National Commissioner – Program.