How can you take 5-10 boys, between 1st and 4th grades, for one hour a week, teach them something, have them create something, express themselves, enjoy themselves, and still maintain your own sanity? That's a question den leaders have often asked themselves. This section hopes to offer some suggestions to help make it all possible. Trying to maintain control of a group of active cubs isn't easy--but it's not impossible either.
The first and most important thing you can do to maintain order in your den is to prepare yourself. Take advantage of all the resources available to you -- the Cub Scout Leader Book, the Den Leader How to Book and any other Scout literature you can get your hands on. Attend Basic Training, Roundtables, Pow Wow, and Workshops. Scouting has more than 75 years of resource to draw upon--take advantage of them! These sources will provide valuable information about what to expect from Cub Scout aged boys. The more you know and understand the Cub Scout program, the more confidence will be communicated to the boys. They will know that you are really in charge.
Be prepared for your den meetings, too. Plan your meetings in advance and make sure you have all the materials ready and waiting for the boys. They will find something to do while you are off looking for the scissors, and it may not be what you had in mind! Have an extra song or game planned, just in case things move along faster than you expected. Spare time can be a disaster! If you have something for the boys to do every minute they will be less likely to get into trouble.
Don't forget to make use of your Assistant Den Leader and/or Den Chief. They are valuable resources. They can occupy the boys with a game or a song while you record dues and advancement. An extra pair of helping hands are always welcome at the craft table, too.
Emotional Needs Of Boys
The emotional needs of boys between 1st and 4th grades are basically the same. All boys (in fact, all people) have:
- The need to be loved.
- The need to be accepted.
- The need to be noticed.
- The need to belong.
- The need to be praised and encouraged.
- The need to be safe and secure.
- The need to let off steam.
- The need to express themselves.
- The need to experiment (and make some mistakes in the process).
- The need to have fun.
How each boy tries to fulfill these needs is what really makes him unique. One boy may be very timid and quiet and another loud and rowdy, but both are afraid they won't be loved. We usually notice the rowdy one, but both need our care and attention. If a boy wants to be noticed and receives a lot of attention from you when he misbehaves, his need to be noticed is fulfilled. He will probably continue his inappropriate behavior because it best fulfills his need. Well then, what's a den leader to do? Boys will be boys and will probably get into trouble. How can you deal with misbehavior, build up their self-esteem and still maintain some kind of order in your den? You need a plan of discipline.
Discipline is not punishment. Discipline is setting boundaries and sticking to them. Discipline is making the child responsible for his own behavior - - telling him that if he chooses a certain course of action, what the specific consequences of that action will be. Discipline is training given to a child to mold or correct his behavior.
Children need to realize they have choices. If they act one way, this will be the result. If they choose a different action, the result may be different, too. They can choose how things will go for them.
As a den leader, you need to spell out for the boys what is acceptable behavior and what is not. Also, let them know the consequences for acceptable and unacceptable behavior.
Den Code Of Conduct
At your first den meeting sit down with the boys and discuss what a den meeting will be like and what you hope to accomplish. Introduce the cubs to the Cub Scout sign. Let them know that you have no intention of wasting your time screaming or hollering at them (the boys will appreciate that too!) and you will only be using the sign to get their attention. (A whistle is nice to use for rowdy outdoor games)
Have the boys tell you what rules they think would be appropriate for den meetings. You will be surprised to learn that the boys will be harder on themselves than you would be. They'll be delighted when you decide to throw a rule or two out. Here's a sample Den Code of Conduct written by boys:
- Don't interrupt.
- No nasty jokes.
- No punching or kicking.
- Listen to Akela and don't talk back.
- No cussing.
- Don't stick your tongue out or spit.
- No talking ugly about other people.
You might add a few things, like:
- Wipe your feet at the door.
- No running or yelling in the house.
Write all the rules on a poster board and display them at every meeting. You might find you need to add something later. You may also wish to review them from time to time.
Once the den rules are established, you will need to find a system to enforce it that will work for you. One system that works well is "THREE STRIKES - YOU'RE OUT". The first time a boy breaks a rule he gets a warning. The second time, the boy spends 5 minutes in Time Out. (Time Out is an interruption of a child's unacceptable behavior, by removing him from the scene of the action.) A chair off to the side, out of the activity of the den meeting, can serve as the Time Out area. After 5 minutes the boy is asked if he is ready to return to the group. If a boy doesn't control himself in Time Out, he moves on to his third strike. When a Cub commits his third infraction of the Code of Conduct, he is excused from the meeting and must call a parent to come and get him. Have a conference with the boy and at least one parent before he can return to the next den meeting. Be sure to explain the Den's Code of Conduct and the consequences of breaking the rules to the parents of boys in your den at each of our den parents meetings.
There are a variety of ways to keep track of each boy's conduct. The best ways to track individual conduct are the ones that accentuate positive behavior instead of the negative behavior.
TICKETS - Use carnival tickets or homemade ones. Give each boy three tickets when he arrives and have him sign his name on each ticket. When he breaks a rule, he has to give you a ticket. For each ticket lost, follow the procedure in the "Three Strikes--You're Out" format. The tickets he has left at the end of the meeting can be placed in a bank. At the end of each month, count how many tickets each boy has in the bank. Reward the boy with the best behavior (most tickets) with a special treat.
MARBLES JAR - Give each boy 3 marbles at the beginning of each meeting. Take marbles away for unacceptable behavior. At the meeting's end, the boys put their remaining marbles in a jar. When the jar is full, take a den field trip as a reward. Don't make the jar too big. The goal will be too hard and the boys will lose interest. A month is about the right amount of time to work toward a field trip. Adjust the size of the jar accordingly.
CARD PUNCHES - Give each boy an index card at the beginning of the den meeting. Have him sign it. If he breaks a rule, ask to see his card and punch a hole in it with a paper punch. If he has no punches at the end of the meeting, give him a special treat.
DEN CANDLE - Light a candle at the beginning of the den meeting. The goal is to keep the candle burning. If a boy misbehaves, the candle is blown out. When the candle has completely burned down, you can celebrate with a field trip or a special treat. The disadvantage with this method is that one boy's misbehavior can spoil it for the whole den. Also, it's hard to keep the candle lit if you are meeting outdoors.
COUP AND BEADS - An Indian coup and beads can be used in conjunction with any of the above methods. The boys can make their own coups out of leather or vinyl. They could be worn on their belts or around their necks. The boys can earn beads for:
- Attending a den meeting
- Coming in uniform with their books.
- Pack meeting attendance
- Participation in pack events (Pinewood Derby, fund raisers)
- Participation in district or council events
- Having no "strikes" at the end of a den meeting
Here are some proven methods that you may want to try with your den:
- Use the Cub Scout sign. Don't raise your voice! If you use the sign consistently, the boys will respond to it. If they seem to be becoming lax in their response, make a contest out of it. You could give a special treat at the end of the meeting to the boy who was first the most times.
- Make den awards really special. Have a ceremony for Instant Recognition, Passing of the Denner Cord, etc. Just because these awards are made at a den meeting doesn't mean they aren't special and important.
- Have a special opening and closing ceremony for each den meeting. This can set the tone for the meeting as well as signal to the boys that the meeting has started. Know your boys! Knowing them will help you understand him better. REMEMBER , every boy is different. LET BOYS BE BOYS! Let them be rowdy when appropriate. Be sure to give them a chance to let off some steam through songs and games (especially if you meet right after school).
- Use a TALKING FEATHER (or stick). A talking feather is a large feather that the boys can pass around. Only the person with the feather may speak. The boys really respect this because they all want a turn.
- Make sure your projects are suited to the age and ability of the boys in your den. Don't make it so easy that they could become bored. On the other hand, don't make it too hard.
- Supervise ALL activities. Don't just send the boys outside to play. Utilize your assistant den leader and or den chief.
- Deal calmly and reasonable with any problems that may arise. Give the boys a chance to tell their side of the story. Your example of fairness will carry over into other aspects of their lives.
- Explain the reasons for your rules. Let the boys know there are choices that are made by the leaders and choices made by the boys. Be aware of your limitation. As a leader you may never know what an impact you could have in a boy's life. However, some things are beyond your control. Do whatever you can do to help a boy but realize that you can't do everything. He will be aware of and remember your kindness and caring.
- I like you!
- I can tell you really worked on this.
- I'm glad you're here today!
- Way to go!
- I'm glad you're in my den!
- That was the best ever!
- I thought of you during the week.
- I think you're neat!
- That's right!
- Nice job!
- You figured that out fast.
- I knew you could do it!
- Now you've got the hang of it.
- I'm proud of you!
- You're really sharp today!
- I like the way you did that.
- Good thinking!
- Thank you for helping.
- I'm glad you thought of that.
- You're on the right track now.
- You must have been practicing.
- You are a good listener.