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School Presentation for Recruiting Sixth-Graders

By Rick Seymour

How can your Troop consistently recruit 12-20 sixth graders every year?  Try offering a Scouting Presentation in your local school.

Most importantly, remember that from a boy's point of view, the "Three Aims" of Scouting are: CAMPING, CAMPING, CAMPING!  

As a recruiter, you are not there to talk about the Aims of Scouting beyond providing a reference point for the adults that may have invited you to speak.  I usually mention that 1) Scouting was invented to teach citizenship, 2) citizenship is membership in a community, and 3) their "community" will be a Patrol in which they decide where they want to go camping and what they want to eat.  When they go camping they will shop together, pitch their tents together, hike, sleep, and explore the wilderness together.

Your entire focus must be to convey the excitement and adventure of GOING CAMPING!

Of equal importance to anything you might say, is a big bag of camping toys.  Don't skimp on this, especially with six graders.  

Long before he invented Boy Scouts, Baden-Powell referred to his camping gear as his "toys,"  and he then went on to write, "May it not be that our toys are the various media adapted to individual tastes through which men may know their God? (Matabele Campaign).  Your missionary recruiting fervor should be nothing less.

Meet with the Principal and try to get access to the school auditorium. Don't be timid! An auditorium is the best (if not only) environment for this presentation. See if the sixth-graders all have a home-room study hall  period or even a gym class period in the normal school day in which you can make your presentation.

Schedule the presentation as early as possible in the school year.  After the first academic progress report is mailed home, many parents will begin pulling their sons out of extra-curricular activities.  At that point consider scheduling the presentation just before summer vacation with a summer program for your new recruits.  Many of them will be unable to attend summer camp on such short notice.

For the presentation you will need:

bulletPine Incense: Arrive about an hour early and light some incense right away (mention this to the Principal first). Close the auditorium doors so as not to alert anyone with the smell of smoke.


bulletArtificial Campfire: I use a couple dozen neon "candle flame" bulbs arranged on a teepee of sticks. These neon "flicker" bulbs  never burn out.  They are easy to find during the Christmas season, but are also available all year in larger lighting departments or specialty stores.  A flickering red bulb inside a teepee or log cabin arrangement of sticks will also work (See Council Fire Period).  Don't underestimate the importance of an artificial campfire, some boys always ask if it is a "real campfire."  Years later, some of my older Scouts tell me that their earliest Scouting memory was the smell and look of the artificial campfire in the recruiting ceremony.


bulletBackpacking Tent (free-standing): Set this up on the stage with the campfire (you should be standing down on the floor, a couple feet from the first row).


bulletBack Pack: sleeping bag, backpacking stoves, pump water filters, compass, maps, first aid kit, cool flashlights, camp vest, knife, saw, axe (check school weapons policy first),  snow shoes, skis, rock climbing equipment, used rifle targets and shotgun shells from summer camp, etc.


bulletPortable CD Player: find a non-musical environmental sound recording of a forest.  Currently, I use the Allegro Corporation's "Nature's Rhythms: Peaceful Forest" CD (70 minutes, $4.95).


bullet6-8 Clipboards (one for each row of seats): each with a pen tied to it with string.


bulletSign-Up Sheets: for each clipboard titled: "YES, I WANT TO GO CAMPING!!!" Include four columns: Boy's Name, Phone Number, Parent's Names, and Favorite Camping or Outdoor Skill. Also leave wide margins for special notes when you call each parent.  Calling the parents is very important, otherwise all of your other efforts will have been wasted.


bulletBoy Scout Handbook


bulletA Real Canoe (OK, this one is optional).


bulletTroop Information Flyer:  Maybe 2% of these will make it home.  This is human-nature, or boy-nature anyway.  Before you morn the passing of the "good old days" when boys were more dependable,  the Depression-Era Scoutmaster Handbooks reported the same fate of flyers during that era as well and suggested that the cost of mailing information home was worth it.


bulletTroop Activity Uniforms: (We wear our Olive Drab nylon "zip off" cargo pants with a BSA Uniform Shirt--minus the red shoulder loops).  Dress like you are ready for High Adventure, NOT a Court of Honor!  

The Presentation

Dim the house lights WAY down (to dusk level) before the boys arrive.

An effective presentation can be done with the Scoutmaster and Senior Patrol Leader, but you can also make use of Scouts who want to get credit for the new First Class recruiting requirement.  I handle the first part of the presentation myself. Make sure that you get them pumped up on High Adventure.

Remember what I call the 3 B's: boys like anything that BITES, BURNS, or BREAKS.

Hold up a Scout Handbook and tell them that when "you" (all of them, of course) become a Scout, this will be your "Book of Rules".

Rules about how to handle bears, rattlesnakes, and white water.

How to sharpen your knife, use an ax, rappel down a cliff, and follow a map & compass into the wilderness with a backpack.

How to apply first aid so that you can save the life of someone you know (I hold up the BSA Certificate of Merit that one of our Scouts was presented for saving his Dad's life with CPR).

How to cook a meal over a campfire that you started with a spark tool (I pull out my BSA Hot Spark and strike the steel against the flint rod a couple times, sending sparks into the air. This looks very dramatic in the dim light, and every boy will want to own one.  Let them try it after the presentation).

I tell them they will all need to buy one of these Hot Sparks, a knife, pack, and clothing for the wilderness (I point to our way-kewl $20 Olive Drab Nylon Zip-Off Cargo Pants, and my polypropylene).

Tell them that they will have to learn how to use other tools like LED flashlights, camp stoves, water filters, etc (holding them up).

Mention at that point that you have fund-raising events where they can earn the money to buy them.

Tell them that you camp every month, and that you have weekly meetings to learn the camping skills that they will need at the campout.

List the trips your PLC has planned, and that the Scouts planed these trips, and that the Scouts run the program.

Ask them then for a show of hands of "who thinks they might want to go camping next weekend?"  This is important for using peer-pressure to your advantage.

I stress that it is important that they write clearly because if we can't read the phone numbers, we won't won't be able to ask their parents if they go camping.  One idea is to take the unreadable sign-ups to the school's secretary so that she can check the numbers against the school's database.

At that point my SPL and any additional Scouts answer questions while I circulate the clip boards. Q & A is perfect for young public speakers because they will be able to answer most of the questions from their own experience.  

Boys like the role of expert consultant.  Even if he has stage fright and can't get a whole sentence out in front of a crowd at first, there will be another 20 arms staining in the air, desperately trying to ask a question that just can't wait!

The most important part of the process comes next:   

That night call all of these parents "to see if they have any questions." If your presentation went well, the boys will be pestering their parents about joining Scouts and the parents will be glad that you called.  

Surprisingly, even the most motivated boys will have forgotten to give their parents your informational flyer.  Often the parent will have to dig through their son's backpack while they talk to you on the phone.  

I like to ask about hobbies and interests on the sign-up sheet, so that I can personalize each conversation with their parents.  While talking on the phone, I keep notes in the margins of the sign up sheets.  Make sure to follow up if they tell you to call back.   Don't give up after investing so much energy in the initial presentation.

About 20% will "forget" to show up the following night.  You may want to call them again if they indicated that they were interested.  I have found that with great persistence you can finally get these initial "no-shows" to later meetings.  However, those who don't show up to the first meeting are sometimes the most dysfunctional of my new Scouts.  Recently, I have begun asking the boys who did show up as to their opinions about the ones who did not.  I trust their judgment as to which of the "no shows" they want in their Patrol.  

I like to arrange my school presentations for the day before our Troop Meeting, to lessen the  time lag between their initial excitement and that important first meeting. You should ask the parents to bring their sons into the first meeting (if possible) to get the application forms, and an  "Equipment List for your First Campout." 

This list should be designed to get the boys to camp without buying any new equipment, while discouraging the purchase of ANY new camp clothing with cotton content.  We do require a closed-cell foam mat ($7) for the first campout if they will be sleeping on the ground.

At this first meeting the SPL shows the contents of his pack and explains what they need to bring camping, and how to pack it.  I let the new parents watch this, but ask them to hold their questions for an adult Q&A session while the Scouts go to the gym.  This gym session can be very important if you are watching for natural "Patrols" to form in the choosing up of teams.  

It doesn't hurt to explain to parents what Scouting is.  I usually say  that Scouting is training in citizenship on a natural small Patrol level.  The team faces natural hardships like bears, snakes, weather, and the power of white water in small groups that offer each other support to the extent to which they can depend on each other to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, trustworthy, etc.      

The second week's meeting is a shakedown in which the new Scouts are signed off on Requirement #1 in their new Scout Handbooks.  That weekend, they are in the woods.

I like to include the Scout Handbook the joining fee so that the requirements can be signed off on this first campout.

Sometimes we just go fishing or hiking.  In the past we have also offered a round-robin "Tenderfoot Campout" in which many of the Tenderfoot Requirements can be earned in a single weekend. Have your best Scouts work with only a few boys at a time, so that each new Scout gets individual attention and doesn’t get bored or lonely.  Keep the groups moving on to a new instructor at least every 20 minutes.

Also make sure that the PLC sets aside enough time for exploring the camp.  Try a wide game on Saturday night.  

They will leave exhausted on Sunday but with a bunch of new skills. A few Scouts may quit at that point (more so if it rained--it doesn't hurt to rent a cabin for this critical campout at the last minute in case of bad weather), but the ones who stay sure like to go camping!

On Peer-Pressure & Being Cool

The biggest myth of Scouting is that "modern" boys would rather play video games than to camping.  Others tell me that peer-pressure works against the values of Scouting so that boys won't join Scouting because it isn't cool.

Don't try to understand peer-pressure.  Concentrate instead on knocking them off-balance! 

I try to convey the hint that Scouting might just be too dangerous for some sixth-grade boys.

Shamelessly confuse and ensnare their senses:

Smell: the pine incense (suggested above) evokes this appealing but often subliminal aspect of camping.

Hearing: the audio CD of forest sounds is literally the call of the wild.

Sight: dimming the lights intensifies these non-visual cues, and the power of your spoken word on their imaginations. Lowered light levels also make the effect of the artificial campfire and the striking of the spark-tool more dramatic. I can't overemphasize the importance of these two trivial-sounding items -- the attraction of boys to fire is beyond any accounting. The same is true for the display of camping equipment, they say "Boys love their toys," but all human males have an uncontrollable genetic attraction to tools.

Touch: be sure to allow enough time for them to try out your spark tools after the presentation.

Taste: I have toyed with the idea of offering some kind of camping food, such as home-made jerky. Cooking in the woods is surprisingly attractive to boys, so be sure to at least mention it as you point out the camping equipment you set up on the stage.

Most importantly, to shatter peer-pressure emphasize anything dangerous and forbidden: bears, rattlesnakes, knives, axes, matches, gas stoves, white water canoeing, repelling off cliffs, and primitive camping as an encounter with natural forces beyond our control.   

Be sure to mention any local Scouts who saved a life: all boys dream of being a hero.  In this light potential recruits can see instruction in first aid and life-saving as the essential training they need to be a man.

The primal drive to grow strong and to be the master of any situation is the desire for certainty and confidence, the very root of peer-pressure itself.

If you recruit boys who love camping, the other Methods of Scouting will magically fit into place.  


The Outdoors is the primary attraction, never forget that.


It is natural for boys in any culture to organize into Patrol-sized groups and for a leader to emerge  


Advancement is really outdoor skills instruction in a systematic fashion.  


The Uniform gives them a place to pin the patches that result from Advancement, Leadership, membership in a Patrol, and past Outdoor adventures.   


Surprisingly, the Ideals will emerge as a natural consequence of struggle in the great outdoors.  Try linking these experiences in a deliberate manner by using the Scout Spirit Scavenger Hunt

See Also: Recruiting Statistics

Adults in Scouting






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Last modified: October 15, 2016.