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Helping Your Son Earn Boy Scout Merit Badges

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Boy Scouts of America values
Courtesy of Boy Scouts of America
Having served as an adult Scouter most of my life as a father, I have seen many young men grow and develop in the Scouting program. Part of the genius of Scouting is the merit badge program. In order to achieve ranks about First Class Scout, a young man has to earn merit badges. As he works on the merit badge requirements, his horizons are broadened and he learns many good basic life skills.

How Merit Badges Work

There are more than 100 merit badges available in the Scouting program. And while they are needed for rank advancements above First Class, they can be earned at any time after a boy is registered as a Boy Scout.

Merit badges are available in many areas of interest. Careers, science, business, citizenship, scouting skills, stamp collecting, geocaching, and more areas of emphasis.

Some merit badges are required for the Eagle Rank, and others are optional based on a scout's interests. The required badges include:

  • First Aid
  • Citizenship in the Community
  • Citizenship in the Nation
  • Citizenship in the World
  • Communications
  • Personal Fitness
  • Emergency Preparedness or the Lifesaving badge
  • Environmental Science
  • Personal Management
  • Swimming, Hiking or the Cycling badge
  • Camping
  • Family Life

The merit badge process begins when a Scout gets a signed Merit Badge Application that verifies that he is registered and eligible to earn the badge. At the end of the process, the Scout must pass off all of the requirements to a merit badge counselor and then have the record of his achievement recorded by the Scoutmaster or troop advancement chairman.

Tips for Parents

As your son prepares to work on merit badges, there are a few things dads can do to help the process work better.

Get the merit badge pamphlet. The Boy Scouts of America has prepared a booklet for each merit badge that offers pretty much everything a boy needs to earn the badge. Sometimes individual scout troops will have a library of pamphlets they have acquired over time, so check there first before you buy one. But be aware that from time to time, the requirements change and new books are published.

Download a merit badge worksheet. One of the best Scouting resources on the web is called the Merit Badge Resource Center. Volunteers who manage this site have prepared worksheets for each merit badge in both MSWord and PDF format. Download and print out the merit badge worksheet so you and your Scout both understand the requirements. Using the worksheet will also help a lot with the merit badge counselor as your Scout passes off the requirements at the end of the process.

Schedule a meeting with a counselor. Merit badge counselors come from all walks of life and have applied to be a counselor with the local scout council. Your Scoutmaster should have a list of merit badge counselors in your area, or he may be able to download one from the council's website. Your son should call or email the counselor when he is ready to start the merit badge and set an appointment.

Use the buddy system. While all merit badge counselors have passed a background check and taken BSA's Youth Protection Training, you should make sure that your son meets with the counselor only with another Scout or with a parent. This keeps everyone within the guidelines and makes sure it is a safe experience for all concerned.

Work the worksheet. After getting some tips and information from the counselor, get started working with your son on the worksheet. Have him complete all the requirements and record his responses and experiences on the worksheet. In some cases, requirements have to be done with a counselor, so help your son prepare for those. When he is ready, call the counselor again to get the requirements passed off.

Take him to merit badge events. Many local councils have merit badge workshops or pow-wows. And if your son attends a council-sponsored summer scout camp or camporee, he can often take merit badge classes there. The more of these he can attend, the more merit badges he can earn with less work from you. So watch for these opportunities, get him registered and help him get there.

Celebrate the accomplishments. After your son has earned the merit badge, find a way to celebrate with the family. Maybe a special meal, a good dessert or a homemade milkshake might be in order.

Close the loop with the Scoutmaster. After the merit badge counselor signs his application card, make sure you get with the Scoutmaster to get the record keeping done. The application card comes in three sections. One is kept by the counselor, one is signed by the counselor and the scout leader and comes back to you. The last one stays with the troop for recording purposes. So make sure that the troop does its job in getting the records updated and always keep your copy in a safe place.

Merit badges can be a great experience for you and your son as you work together and as he explores his world. Take advantage of this educational opportunity and learn along with him. Scouting works best when the whole family is involved.

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