posted Sep 10, 2011, 5:58 PM by Bob Tormey   [ updated Sep 11, 2011, 5:52 AM ]
So you've embarked on the Bear Trail.  Congratulations!  Your first duty is to pick-up your feet, take a deep breath, and look backwards.

Every scouting events offers the chance for lasting memories: telling jokes at a huge bonfire,  roasting smores (burning, really), carving a goofy or scary pumpkin, sleeping in a battleship, polishing the axles of a sure-winning Pinewood Derby car, or launching rockets high into the sky.  The list of accumulated activities in the family, the den, and the pack is impressively long.  Some stand out more than others; rest assured that there will be plenty more as you reach the midway point of Cub Scouting.  Make sure you relish the past as you imagine the future.

1. "Twenty-four Divided by Two" and Your Homework
When you leaf-through the Bear Handbook, its first impression is its heft.  It seems twice as big as the previous one for Wolf.  And it is, ... sort of.

The Bear year in not unlike the Wolf experience.  It differs in that it offers themes and options.  You have twice as many activities from which to forge your own trail, but the half that you select must cover the four  groups: the basic Bear themes of God, Country, Family, and Self.  Your twelve will have options within them, and it is very possible that every scout in your den will take a slightly different route to complete the necessary number of requirements and earn rank in March.  Like Wolf, most of those choices will be made in the family setting.  It is best to decide on the twelve you will pursue as a den, and then form den activities to complement the family and home-based requirements.  As a Bear Den Leader, you may expend as much energy reminding families about their obligations at home than planning your den meetings.

2. In the Elements
The weather tends to dictate the Cub Scout calendar, so beginning with outdoor-oriented requirements in the Fall makes sense.  If you choose Family Outdoor Adventure, remind families to go on a foliage trip, and include a picnic that the scout will plan.  That's one down!  (Family downhill, cross-country, and snowshoe trips in the winter count too if they like snow.)  The one-mile bike ride from Ride Right is a fantastic Fall den activity.  If you plan an inter-Bear sports tournament with basketball, flag football, and STICK BALL, you just nailed GAMES, GAMES, GAMES!  Visit the Trailside Museum for Sharing Your World With Wildlife.  Also, construct a simple bird feeder from common materials with the goal of attracting birds that remain in New England for the winter.

As darkness dominates and cold air constricts outdoor activities, Bear fun simply moves indoors.  The woodshop beckons for Shavings and Chips, Sawdust and Nails, and Build a Model.  The former offers the opportunity to earn the "Whittling Chip" card.  The presentation of a Jack Knife to the scout can be memorable, along with the first-aid that is sometimes required when the scout slips-up while carving the bar of soap.  Scout-made toolboxes are known to last decades, and this year's Pinewood Derby creation will count toward rank!

3. Around Town
The visit to the holding cell at the Medfield Police Station is an annual Bear gathering spot - for completion of Law Enforcement is a Big Job, of course!  The tour will be flush with excitement.  Make arrangements to lower the US Flag while you are there.  A visit to the Recycling Area of the Medfield Transfer Station on a dry, calm winter day will get you close to Take Care of Your Planet.  A visit to a historic home for The Past is Exciting and Important, even in cold weather, can be educational as scouts learn how early settlers kept themselves warm.

5. House of Prayer
Scouts will visit their place of worship and as they complete either Ways We Worship or Emblems of Faith.  The latter may require the Webelos version of the program for the his Religious Medal.  These  medals are formal, and are the only awards worn by Cub Scouts reserved for special occasions.  As such, the scout can take pride in his religious development while growing deeper in his faith through his National program.  If a family decides on the Emblems of Faith route, an early start is recommended to complete their program by March.

6. Beyond the Badge
Your den adapted to the elements, shared in exciting den and combined-den activities, became familiar with woodworking, deepened its faith ..., and your families completed their own, unique path through the program.  You've earned your Bear badge.  What a year!

But wait.  There's more.  And there's much more fun in store.

In all that excitement, your den probably completed more requirements than than the minimum for rank.  Well, every single requirement that they completed outside of those associated with the Twelve become Arrow Points.  You can go back and complete those extracurricular achievements if you want, do bits and pieces as you please, or consider the Electives section of the Bear Handbook.  The number of Bear post-badge activities is HUGE (remember the "heft" reference earlier?), and the scout gets credit for each requirement every time he completes one.  Your scouts can rack-up the Gold and Silver Arrows before they graduate to Webelos.

So enjoy the past and present moments along the Bear Trail.  Your direction will be more singular next year as the Arrow of Light begins to appear on the distant horizon.