Recently I was asked to help the leaders of a struggling pack to learn about the importance of planning den meetings, and how to plan them. The Wolf den leaders in this pack are doing great. They are organized and have made out their yearly plan, and follow it. The boys are having fun and getting to rank. But after they turn 9, things are not going so smoothly. The leaders don't have a plan, and sometimes cancel meetings or don't show up. This makes it very difficult for the boys to get their rank, unless they have parents who are paying very close attention and will fill in the gaps. We all know how rare those parents are (but we feel so blessed when we have parents like that!).
So in the process of organizing my thoughts for this training opportunity, I thought I'd write a little about how I would plan my year if I were a den leader under this new Cub Scout program. (I was a Cubmaster when I was involved in an LDS pack, ending 8 years ago -- since then I have been volunteering at a district and council level.I did serve as a Tiger den leader for one school year in a PTO-chartered pack.)
Use Your Resources
To start with, I would have loved to have the kind of guidance that is being offered today in the BSA materials like the Den Leader Guides. Den meetings completely planned, yes please! And from reading through the den meeting plans, I can see that they are pretty well laid-out, planning for periods of activity between short periods of inactivity, to keep the boys engaged. The committee of people working on these materials have done a pretty amazing job.
In addition to the den meeting plans, these Den Leader Guides (one for each den level) have crucial information in the front of the book just before the den meeting plans. Much of this will be reviewed during your Position-Specific Training (either in-person or online), but if you can't get to training right away, the first 30 or so pages of your den leader guide will get you going in the right direction. Even if you do go to training right away, you should read this section.
Planning Your Year
Included in these first 30 pages is information on "Planning Your Meetings." On the next page, there is a chart called "Den Annual Adventure Plan."
On this chart, you fill in the adventures the way they best work for you, the weather, your boys' interests, etc.
One nice thing about being an LDS den leader is that with the boys coming and going from your den at different times throughout the year, you can plug in the required adventures in any order you want. You don't have to worry about getting them all done between September and March like the den leaders in non-LDS packs. So plug them in on this chart, and leave spaces between to plug in some fun elective adventures.
Remember that Wolf and Bear dens have 6 required Adventures and 1 elective to get their rank (1 is the family-based Duty to God adventure), and Webelos dens have 5 required and 2 electives to get Webelos rank, and 4 required and 3 electives to get the Arrow of Light rank (with a family-based Duty to God adventure in each of those ranks).
Make sure you read through the adventures before deciding where they would fit best. The new adventures have included outdoor activities into nearly every adventure, and you don't want to accidentally plan to do the adventure that calls for a day-long outdoor activity for January.
Once you've got your Annual Adventure Plan done, you're all set to begin planning the den meetings for each month as it gets closer. With a yearly plan, you will know that all of the required adventures will be covered over the course of the year, so that no matter when a boy comes into the program, he will complete the ones he needs to get his rank (as long as he is attending meetings.) Lather, rinse, repeat. If you get released from your calling, PLEASE pass on your Annual Adventure Plan to the new den leaders. They will thank you (hopefully).
A Special Note about Webelos Annual Planning
Yeah, it's rough, having to help the boys complete 12 adventures in a year (in addition to trying to get the parents to help them complete the Duty to God adventures at home).
You may feel like your choices are very limited in how to get this done. Each adventure takes 3 den meetings, there are 12 adventures they need to do, this means you never ever get a week off, right?
But with a little careful planning and a longer activity on a Saturday or two, you can take a vacation this summer and still help most of your boys get both Webelos and Arrow of Light ranks.
A friend of mine who is a Webelos den leader, recently posted this on her Facebook page, with pictures that I won't share: "Had an all-day Webelos day with my den today. They completed two adventures and worked on two others. Went on a three-mile hike, working on some camping stuff, did outdoor cooking (solar oven for s'mores, Pringles can hot dog cooker, and bagel pizzas in a solar oven). It was a very fun day, but I am exhausted."
She has also posted about other summer den meetings. During one of them, they did the entire Adventures in Science adventure. Yes she is amazing, but you can do it too. Weekly den meetings are often difficult in the summer, but less-frequent, longer activities might work for your group.
Some Last Thoughts
As you are planning your Annual Adventure Plan, it might be useful to coordinate some of the adventures so that all of the dens are doing similar activities or themes. This may allow you to plan to do field trips with a couple of dens together or even as a pack activity.
You definitely want to plan things so that all of the dens are doing the adventures that require the "pack campout" (a.k.a. pack day-long outdoor activity for LDS packs) in the same month. Then the outdoor activity could be counted as your pack meeting for the month, if you desired.
Happy planning! Remember that planning and preparation results in less stress for you, better meetings for the boys, and a better experience for the parents, too!