Troop calendar planning conferences: What works, what doesn’t?

A troop without an activity calendar is like a car without a steering wheel: It lacks direction.

In the Boy Scouts, creating a troop calendar for the next six to 12 months doesn’t happen by itself. It takes dedication from a well-trained Patrol Leaders’ Council — and the right amount of guidance from adult leaders like you.

But how much guidance is too much? What works — and what doesn’t — at a troop planning conference?

I asked Scouters on Facebook and Twitter, and they shared these ideas:

  1. Matt Smith
    Because of the fact that our troop deals with three school systems (each having a different calendar), plus homeschooling, the adults have to be involved to an extent. So, what we tend to do is look at the previous calendar and throw out ideas from that. That begins the list. The Scoutmaster tosses out his ideas, which get added to the list. Then the boys add their own ideas to the list. Then each activity gets a majority-wins (boys only) vote. If there aren’t enough activities, we go through the list again or ask the boys for more suggestions. Our plan for next year (now that the majority of the boys have been in a leadership spot and our troop will have almost quadrupled in size) is to reverse the process and be more watchers until it’s time to look at the calendars.
    Mon, Sep 10 2012 09:32:51
  2. Les Fortenberry
    We use one night during summer camp to compile a list of campouts the troop wants to take during the upcoming year so that when meetings start back at the end of August we have our September campout planned and in place in addition to most of the other monthly campouts.
    Mon, Sep 10 2012 12:17:47
  3. David L McMillan
    It was Thursday night at camp, the whole troop met to disccuss the next year and ideas of where they wanted to go. We had a list of places to go and camping, hiking, etc. Then in Aug the Patrol Leaders Council met with the adults and we put it all on the calender and sent it to the parents…it included Summer camp, hikes, camping trips, council and district events….the youth ran it and the adults made it happen.
    Mon, Sep 10 2012 08:25:28
  4. Phil Tilghman
    Our PLs canvass their members, then the PLC meets for a weekend in August to: evaluate the previous year (strengths, weaknesses, needs), plan action to correct the weaknesses, develop plans for raising the bar for the next 12 months, plan t…he yearly calendar and develop the annual budget. Meeting is held at a camp and includes lots of outdoor sessions as well as indoor (with laptops, projectors, etc.). Program year begins in Sept. Adults provide the support services: cooking, cleaning up after meals, moving tables outdoors and back in, moving boats and canoes into place for “on the lake” sessions, etc. SM has a limited role (motivator, secretarial, safety person (saying no to some camping ideas).See More
    Mon, Sep 10 2012 15:19:16
  5. Rob Coonce
    Council, District and OA events need to be included. Far too often units will claim they are unaware of these events, when most for these are planned far in advance of a unit calendar.
    Mon, Sep 10 2012 09:15:39
  6. prayformarissa
    @scouting adults need to provide a quiet place with little to no distractions & Provide the proper training for the SPL to conduct one!
    Tue, Sep 11 2012 16:02:24
  7. Timothy M Stevenson
    The patrol leaders bring the ideas from the members and at the plc meeting held at camp every year they discuss and arrive at a schedule for the next year. The only thing the adults do is make sure it meets the safe scouting guidelines and it also doesn’t have too many expensive trips the parents would have a heart attack.over.
    Mon, Sep 10 2012 08:36:33
  8. Keith Schoenthal
    Absolutely! There are actually three “rounds”. A brainstorming session (with some guidance about where we’ve been before and possible new locations)(this does include Adult suggestions as we sometimes have a broader view of what’s available). This is followed by a boy run and boy ONLY multi-voting on the suggestions. The final step is at a separate meeting of the PLC to finalize the multi-voted choices and pick dates to plug them in (the Adults do help with dates, due to driver availability ), but not with locations!
    Mon, Sep 10 2012 08:27:45
  9. Joe McDonnell
    One thing that we have done is create an activity catalog based on inputs from the boys and families. It contains campsites, summer camps, things to do (i.e. aquarium, airshow), places to go (I.e. historical sites), and service projects. The patrols reference it leading up to the AP. At the AP (July) the PLC then takes the input from the patrols and determines where they are going. There are calendars on poster boards showing various holidays. The PLC matches up their choices with the calendar and the year is set. It takes about 5 hours with lunch. Adult leaders are present, but encouraged to remain silent. They are there to observe and answer questions only if asked for assistance by the boys. Even then we encourage the boys to find their own answers.
    Tue, Sep 11 2012 12:49:14
  10. Randy Hinckley
    We follow the plan set out by BSA and it works! Establish the goals for the year, and develop a plan that meets and supports the goals. It is an all day event just like Janet said and as an adult it can be painful but in the end, the boys have developed a plan that they are willing to execute. Follow the plan, execute the plan and allow the boys to develop the plan. Don’t let them forget to make their long range plan (Philmont in X years for example). It is easy to focus only on the current year and forget about those things that require more then 12 months. Once the plan is developed, we put it in excel so it looks just like the large planning sheet.
    Tue, Sep 11 2012 13:00:11
  11. Janet Johnson
    Our PLC gets together for an all-day Saturday planning session every September and sets the calendar for the year. Our Scoutmaster hosts it and feeds them so all they have to do is plan. Some of our ASMs attend, but only to throw out ideas and get the boys to think about what’s possible and not to just do what we did last year.
    Tue, Sep 11 2012 12:41:51
  12. Richard Chappell
    Agree – the BSA plan works very well if you let it. I found that I can take the troop (or just the green bars if you have a large troop) to a different site to focus it’s much easier. I’ve often taken them to my house where we make homemade pizza. I have a white board set up, and while making the pizza, we chat about stuff we’d like to do. We capture those ideas and then while the pizza cooks, we start arranging the ideas into months and identifyinig an outing for each concept. Then you’re in the plan where you plug everything into a calendar, and in short order, annual plan is ready to take to the committee.
    Tue, Sep 11 2012 13:35:46
  13. Simon To
    The problem is that most Scoutmasters forget about the principle of Boys Led Troop and they are sitting in the PLC meetings to dictate everything.
    Tue, Sep 11 2012 12:54:24
  14. Troop558Omaha
    @scouting Adults provide the template for the boys to work within. Scout leadership selects campouts, special events, MB opportunities, etc
    Tue, Sep 11 2012 12:43:13
  15. Doug Smith
    Rather than try to plan a whole year at one time, we hold “planning conferences” twice per year (the week after elections are held so the new leaders can kind of put their mark on it) and we just plan 6 months at a time (a lot can change in… 6 months). We do it in a regular hour and a half Monday night meeting. The adults are there for facilitation and guidance. We have a pretty small and relatively young group of guys, so over time I can see them doing more and more leading and needing less facilitation and guidance.See More
    Tue, Sep 11 2012 12:18:20
  16. Doug Smith
    We also keep a running list of outing ideas and locations that we hand out the week before the planning conference so the guys can be thinking about it and generating additional ideas.
    Tue, Sep 11 2012 12:19:57

Other thoughts

  • Check out the Boys’ Life program planning charts, available online or by calling your local council. They make planning the year a breeze.
  • John Copley, a Dallas Scouter, prints out full-size photos of various adventure activities (zip-lining, horseback riding, etc.) and posts them around the room where the planning conference is held. He says seeing the pictures, as opposed to lists of activities, gets the Scouts more excited. This is a great way to make the youth development method work without either getting in the way or totally staying out of the picture. (Thanks to Mark Ray for this tip!)

What do you think?

Has your troop had a successful calendar planning session? Share what worked below.

9 thoughts on “Troop calendar planning conferences: What works, what doesn’t?

  1. I teach troop program planning at our University of Scouting every year. Below is our basic outline. This is done BY they boys, FOR the boys!

    Troop Program Planning
    Step 1 – Gather information
    • School calendars
    • Church calendars (religious holidays)
    • Meeting place calendars
    • Council calendar
    • Community resources
    • Survey the boys (PL’s)
    Step 2 – Assemble the PLC
    • Plan for several hours
    • Make it fun (order pizza) and comfortable (not school)
    • Come prepared!
    o Calendars listed above
    o Markers, wall calendars, sticky notes, tape, flip charts or white boards, etc.
    o Boy Scout Requirements Book (or app)
    Step 3 – Build the Plan
    • Brainstorm activities & merit badges
    o Mix fun MBs & Eagle required MBs
    o Don’t be a MB mill!
    • Construct a calendar
    o Wall charts w/ sticky notes
    o 1 fun activity per month
    o 1 PLC & committee meeting per month
    o 3 troop meetings per month (recommended)
    • Build a budget
    Step 4 – Share the Plan!
    • Handout the DRAFT calendar to the troop committee for approval
    • Once approved, distribute to the families
    • Ask for feedback / compare to other calendars
    • REMAIN FLEXIBLE! Plans can change due to weather, school calendar changes, council calendar changes, etc. The Troop calendar should remain flexible.

    Fail to Plan – Plan to Fail!

    Families are busy. Having a plan will help them get their boys to scout meetings and activities year-round. That will help keep them involved in the troop, and hopefully keep the boys in the program!

  2. We have a meeting where we encourage parents to attend. The parents work with one of our ASMs on working out best available dates and the boys (in another area) come up with the activities they would like to do. We then match activities with dates. This system seems to work well.

    Gary Holewinski

  3. We have used the monthly Roundtable/Boys Life themes as a starting point, then ask the Scouts to opt in or out. Easier than going around the table with boys saying “Whaddya wanna do? I dunno…” Couldn’t find the themes this year, tho.

  4. I’ve been involved with Scouting as a youth and as an adult for over 20 years. I still struggle with annual planning. Fight to keep the reigns pulled in on adults doing it for the boys. Tried having Boys’ Life magazines available for ideas, but when it comes to asking for ideas, we get…movie night, or 2 hour visits to a local climbing wall, or miniature golf. Paintball always gets mentioned. When smoke clears, boys have only enough ideas for three months of the year.

    As mentioned in other posts, we have school calendars, council calendars, etc. Our goal is to have 1 outing per month. I refuse to affirm that our boys are boring. Looking for what is missing in getting boys to come up with ideas. I think the adults would be more than happy to see that they happen (safely and economically feasible).

  5. Perhaps some rules in the troop that the youth earn the money for the campouts through the Troop Fundraiser. That way the Scouts would not be voting for things that would break their parents bank.

  6. Being mostly a cub leader, is it okay for leaders to insist on some events? I’m thinking specifically of camping events with Webelos. Boy Scouts don’t necessarily think of including a camp out or two for rising webelos 2 dens but it’s a key resource for maintaining a strong and healthy troop. Maybe the district provides a camp out like Camporall or Campor-ree just for this purpose.

  7. As I responded already to Matt Smith, ADULTS DO NOT NEED TO BE INVOLVED BECAUSE OF THREE SCHOOL CALENDARS (emphasis not shouting). My troop dealt with 14 different school calendars: public middle school, public high school, and the rest an assortment of private middle and high schools. We had a day long planning session in which we got the year organized. Difficult, Yes. Need adults to help, No.

    To paraphrase BP, Never let an adult do what a Scout can do.

  8. With the internet there should be no shortage of camping trip ideas.

    There are two ways to determine a camping trip: 1.) You want to do something particular. Then you go find a camp site that is appropriate for the activity or in close proximity. Our scouts once wanted to tour Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty on the Saturday of their trip. This November we will have our first Zip line trip. You can plan plenty of scouting activities this way, such as shooting sports, winter sports (skiing and snowboarding), summer activities (the beach), backpacking, cycling, fishing, orienteering…. The list is endless. 2.) You want to go to Camp XYZ. From there you can build your activities for the weekend.

    It seems that the scouts might lack enthusiasm for camping, because they keep using the same ideas. Challenge them to come up with new ideas. Use the STOP – START – CONTINUE Method. After a trip, ask the boys should we continue going here or stop going here.

    Keep a folder for each trip with contacts, maps, agendas, cost. Wouldn’t you like a file cabinet of ten years worth of trips? It would be a gold mine. Wouldn’t it be nice to pass along to a new scoutmaster?

    Plan a year’s worth of activities. Our troop goes to summer camp in July and our calendar ends with the August camping trip. This helps scouts (and parents who might be needed to drive) get these events on their calendar early. Also, it is impressive to show Webelos when they visit where you have been and where you are going. (Wow, you’re going white water rafting!)

    Finally, cost must be considered. When we plan skiing, we stay at a scout camp and have winter or shooting activities for those who don’t like to or want to spend the money on skiing. When we go rafting, we will have a cycling alternative (at no cost).

    Good luck! I hope this helps.

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