General Training of the Senses




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General Training of the Senses
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By Gillcraft

"One of the most important things that a scout has to learn, whether he is a war scout or a hunter or peace scout, is to let nothing escape his attention; he must notice small points and signs, and then make out the meaning of them; but it takes a good deal of practice before a tenderfoot can get into the habit of really noting everything and letting nothing escape his eye."

So says the Chief Scout in Scouting for Boys, and he ought to know, as he has been a war scout, and a hunter, and a peace scout; "but it takes a good deal of practice before a tenderfoot can get into the habit." It is the practice which leads to the habit that we have to consider now. Too frequently we dash ahead at things without taking the trouble to see that all the work we have already put in is remembered. Some tests - Kim's Game, for instance - seem so easy that it is not worth while to pay attention to them, and so, as Scouters, we give them no practice, and, in consequence, our boys do not get into a habit of observing.

"Sign" in tracking, and in life in general, affords the clue to the desired information. The "sign" is meaning less to us and of no use as a clue, if we have not been trained to observe beforehand, since, ten to one, we will miss at least half of it.

Major Hesketh-Prichard, a noted traveler and big-game hunter, writes of the modern scout in his book Sniping in France:

"First and last, I suppose that Burnham was the greatest scout of our time. Physically a small man, he was amazingly well knit, and very strong, and his many feats of hardihood owed much to his compact and untiring build. His name will live on account of two feats - the first, his passing through the entire Matabele Army and shooting the M'limo, the witch-doctor, who was responsible for the Matabele War; and the second, his dash through the Boer lines, when he blew up the railway on the far side of Pretoria,

"The first article of Burnham's faith was absolute physical fitness, and his idea of physical fitness was much more rigorous than that of most athletes. It was not with him a matter of merely keeping his muscles of speed and endurance in good fettle, but - which is a much harder thing - the keeping of all his senses at their highest pitch of efficiency. Thus, apart from his hearing and eyesight, which were very keen, I have never met anyone else, except one Indian, who possessed anything like his sense of smell. He could smell a small fire in the open at an extraordinary distance, and he told me that this power had often been of the greatest value to him."

There seems to be no doubt that civilization, as we know it, has a tendency to dull the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. They become dull because we are not so dependent upon them, and because the opportunities for their use have been lessened.

Town dwellers specially suffer in this respect. Vision is limited by walls and roofs, and sight is harmed by artificial light. Hearing is dulled by the continual crash and bang of modern traffic. Smell is clouded by the fumes of petrol and oil that hang about the streets and by the smoke from factory chimneys. Taste is lost by the cloying messes that are dished up as sweets and such like! Touch is the attribute of a few skilled trades and professions only, and is never called into play by the average person.

In talking of observation all these senses come into the picture, because "sign" is not confined to things that can be seen, but includes also things that can be heard, smelt, tasted and touched.

Again, not only have the senses to record an impression - automatically or unconsciously perhaps - but they have to telephone that record to the brain so that it can act upon it. An observation is useless unless it is crystallized in the memory. That is a saying difficult to illustrate, but possibly you can remember an occasion on which a companion on a walk has said something like this: "I wonder why that horse we passed was lame." As he said this your memory has wakened up. "By Jove, the horse was lame, and I never realized it till you mentioned it." Observation must not be divorced from memory, if we are going to benefit at all. So it is that our general training of the senses must include the training of mental alertness.

Our job, as Scouters, is to think for ourselves in the first place, to reason out statements for ourselves, to discover the whys and wherefores of a Scout activity for ourselves, helped to a certain extent by the advice and experience of others, but not dependent on others. In the second place we have got to apply the same principle to our Scouts. We want to lead them to think out things for themselves, not to accept blindly but to reason, whether it is a Scout activity, a school lesson or religion. They must comprehend, observe and analyze!

With your observation games and practices, therefore - of which I shall say more in the following chapters - should be incorporated a certain number of games and practices which can be classified as mental tests.

Many educational authorities now make use of mental tests in their ordinary school curriculum, but that is no reason why we should disregard them, although that is the way we sometimes argue. If a subject is dealt with in school, say some, then we should not touch it in Scouting. They forget that it is sometimes the atmosphere which makes all the difference, and that a boy of his free will may select an activity which he would, and does, hate when set him as a task. They also forget that we are amateurs and should be glad to follow a professional lead.

I do not want to go into the question of mental tests scientifically, or criminally for that matter; they are used vicariously to test intelligence, to make psychological experiments, and to secure the confession of a suspected criminal; but all we want to use them for is in training in quick thinking. I will, therefore, merely mention a few of the many tests which it is possible for us to utilize.

They have a very definite use. Generally they are popular amongst boys. They need little in the way of rules or material. They can be played by Patrols. They can be utilized to calm spirits down after a rowdy game. They can fill up odd corners in a Troop program, or keep a few boys quiet when others are occupied on something else. They help to pass a wet afternoon in camp. They are good for intelligence, observation, memory and knowledge.

First of all let us take Sequences. You can write on the board, or on a piece of paper: 2, 4, 6, 8, 10; or 1, 4, 9, 16, 25; or Z, a, Y, b, X; and then ask the Scouts in a given time to add, say, five more figures or letters, as the case may be. For instance, our first example, when you have counted ten, should have been completed thus: 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20. A very easy test to start with, but one which can be made increasingly difficult as progress is made.

Then Rearrangement can be tried. In this case a lot of jumbled names are written down, and, again in a given time, the Scouts have to write these names out in alphabetical order.

Time is of great importance in these tests, but, working progressively, a fair amount should be allowed at first and afterwards be cut down by degrees. It is a mistake, however, to allow too much time, even at first, since the element of competition against time will be missing, and the boys will not be on their mettle. From the beginning let them realize they have something to beat, even if it is only your watch!

Then Rearrangement can be applied to the order in which things happen. For instance, how would you arrange - Second, Scout, Troop Leader, Patrol Leader; or, Rover Scout, Scouter, Scout, Cub? There is a little catch there, for whether it is in order of happening or in order of importance, the Scouter comes last!

Rearrangement can be applied, too, to the order of inclusion, as in the example: Pocket, match, shorts, box.

It needs quick thinking to decide, against time, whether the right-hand word in the column below is the opposite of the left-hand word, or the same, or has no connection:

Morning Evening.

Remove Restore.

New Knew.

Show Demonstrate.

Analogies are also useful, either when the fourth word is left blank, and has to be filled in a hurry, as -

Foot is to Boot as Hand is to

or, when a choice is given of several words, the correct one being underlined or written down: Scout is to Cub as Frog is to Pond, Fish, Tadpole, Bank.

In a similar kind of way sentences can be read out in which the missing word has to be supplied:

The Tenderfoot fell into the stream and his clothes.

In place of the blank a number of words can be inserted from which a choice is to be made. The order of words in sentences can be upset and the victims asked to say quickly whether the statements are true or not:

The sea in the water is salt. . . . True. False. Not Known.

The Scout Badge Kings is a Woodman. True. False. Not Known. Animal there is Mars in life. True. False. Not Known.

The classification of words is another way of racking the boys' brains. Either the correct word can be added or the wrong word can be struck out, as in these two examples:

Book Page Print - Counter, Shop, Cover, Name. London, Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester, York. (Here all towns are in England except one.)

There are many mental tests in connection with words that will occur to you. The craze for crossword puzzles is a case in point. There can be no doubt that it did stimulate people to think, it gave them knowledge, it added to their vocabulary, even while it did increase the sale of dictionaries. Word Building and Word Taking, Magic Squares, Buried Words, Anagrams, Transformations, and others of a like nature - the parlor games of yesterday - have some use in mental training.

The use of codes is also very valuable in mental training. The members of each Patrol should be encouraged to communicate with each other in some simple code, either one where a number has been substituted for each letter of the alphabet, or the letters of the alphabet have been interchanged. Each Patrol should be encouraged to make its own secret code, while the Troop as a whole might adopt another! Various means will suggest themselves by which codes can be utilized in other ways for mental training. A code message can be found, part of which has been translated en clair, and the Patrols try and worry out the whole code that has been used. As progress is made, the codes used can be made more difficult and complicated. Secret messages, secret orders, and so on, all have their place in the scheme, and will interest the boys.

Finally, mention might be made of rapid fire observation questions. Here are a few I turned up the other day, but I cannot remember their source:


A leopard has a spotted skin;

A cat has whiskers;

A wild rabbit has white underside to tail; Some dogs have bushy tails;

Camels have humps;


Draw the Great Bear as seen any night between 9 and 10 p.m. during the latter part of June. Draw the new moon.

In what months do you expect to see the following flowers: Chrysanthemum, Iris, Daffodil, Primrose, Snowdrop, Poppy, Wallflower, Sweet pea?

Draw from memory: A dog's footprint; A cat's footprint; Six footprints of a fowl; Six footprints of a sparrow; A cow's footprint; A sheep's footprint. (This question is a bit advanced for the stage we have so far reached!)

What do the se letters mean : R. S . V .P . ; R.M.S .P . ; cf. ; e .g . ; A .B .; B.A.; N. S .W.; W.S.W.; G.R.I.?

To these may be added one or two general knowledge questions on current events; even the question "Who is the Chief Scout?" has produced many erroneous replies from Scouts!

If we get through some of that kind of preliminary training, we shall be laying a foundation for future training and practices. If we really think of the odds and ends of time that are at our disposal, it is wonderful how we can work some of these practices in. If the Troop is going to camp by train, jot a few tests down in your notebook. They may be useful in relieving the tedium of the journey or in filling in time during a wait at a station. I know that it sounds very unheroic, but one can do some adventuring in the brain as well as in the world!

Training in Tracking

Outdoor Skills






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What Is It All About? ] [ General Training of the Senses ] Observation Indoors ] Observation Outdoors ] Training in Tracking ] Human Footprints ] Booted Tracks ] Human Tracks ] Human Tracks: Characteristics ] Tire Tracks ] Animal Tracks: General ] Animal Tracks: Characteristics ] Bird Tracks & Snow ] Tracking Rules ] Appendix ] Foreword ] Author's Note ] Scouts Cubs ]

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Last modified: October 15, 2016.