For those of you who are new to scouting or who’ve never had this explained to you, here’s a few simple things you need to know about earning Merit Badges.
1. Get a Blue Card!!
If you’re in an LDS troop, there’s a possibility this is not the first step made. There’s even a possibility that this step is NEVER made. I’m hoping this will be a thing of the past as training of LDS Scout leaders continues to improve.
**Insert Blue Card Horror Story Here**
I had a very interesting conversation with a woman in my ward who has been our Stake’s Eagle Scout coordinator for years. I’m sure her official title is something different, but the point is she is the one who acts as a liaison between boys who are applying for their Eagle Scout Award and the Boy Scout of America Council.
You know, they’re the ones that say YES you’ve earned your Eagle Scout Award or NO you haven’t.
Unfortunately, she has seen cases where boys have done ALL THE WORK to earn their Eagle Scout Award, but because of an error with paperwork and because the boy does not have his blue card to prove he earned certain merit badges, the boy DOES NOT GET HIS EAGLE SCOUT AWARD.
That is a sad, sad situation. She’s seen it happen more often than she’d like.
**End Blue Card Horror Story**
Obtain blue card from the scout leader or a member of the Scout Committee. If you run into difficulties or delays, don’t be afraid to be the squeaky wheel. If necessary, go to your local Scout Shop and purchase a pack yourself.
2. Get the blue card signed by the scout leader or assistant scout leader.
There’s a place for this on the front of the card. This should be done before any work on the merit badge begins.
3. Determine who the merit badge counselor is going to be.
Oh yeah, every merit badge earned must be supervised and approved by a merit badge counselor. This may be any scout leader (including the Stake Young Men scout leaders and Ward Bishopric member over scouting), scout committee member, or registered merit badge counselor.
4. Earn the merit badge.
An obvious step, but there you are.
I highly recommend checking out the official merit badge pamphlet for each merit badge earned. (They’re called pamphlets, but if you’ve never seen one these are more like booklets. Well worth what you pay for them.) You can buy them at the link provided, at your local Scout Shop or you might be able to check them out for free at your library. Look for used copies online or in used book stores.
These pamphlets are written specifically for the boy earning the badge. Reading the pamphlet will give him more depth and meaning to the experience than merely checking off a list of requirements. The pamphlets often give tips and ideas for fulfilling some of the requirements.
Make sure your son has access to the pamphlet and encourage him to read it.You could always read it too, or give it a good skim.
There’s a place on the blue card for the counselor to sign off on individual requirements as they’re passed off. Depending on the boy, the merit badge and individual circumstances, a merit badge may be earned in as little as a few weeks or take as long as a few years. For merit badges that may take longer to earn, encouraging your son to get a signature for each requirement as he goes will make sure your son doesn’t have to do work over again at a later date.
5. Obtain the Merit Badge Counselor’s Signature
Once the work for the merit badge is completed, the counselor signs and dates the blue card.
Keep in mind this is considered an official document by the BSA.
Once the merit badge is earned the blue card is separated into three parts, along the perforated creases. One part goes to the BSA along with other paperwork. (This is, or should be, handled by your ward’s scout leaders and committee. I’m told much of this is now done online.) One part is for the counselor to keep. One part is for the boy to keep or, more likely, the boy’s mother. Which brings us to the final step…
6. Keep Good Records
The date on the blue card is the date the merit badge is earned, NOT the date paperwork is submitted to council or the date the boy receives the award in a Court of Honor.
Keep your son’s portion of his blue card in a safe place. When he is awarded his merit badge in a Court of Honor, the badge will be attached to a card indicating when the merit badge was earned and will have signatures of leaders as well. Keep this card too.
A Final Word
Boy Scouts is different from Cub Scouts in that most of the work for rank advancements and merit badges is done outside the home. Often, your son will earn merit badges at his weekly meetings and at scout camp without you having to do a thing. All the steps above are taken care of by your son and his leader. Hooray for leaders!
In those cases, all you need to do is make sure you have your son’s portion of the blue card in hand when it’s all said and done.
Pester those leaders for it if you have to.
You did read the horror story above, right?
For merit badges your son wants to do in addition to what’s being done with his troop, see if your ward or stake maintains a list of merit badge counselors who are willing to work with boys on specific badges. My stake has a list with at least one name under just about every merit badge offered. This is a great resource if your son is interested in something like Aviation or Veterinary Medicine. If you go this route, just make sure the rules about the buddy system are being followed at all times. You can always be a buddy and accompany your son to meetings with his counselor if necessary.
Most of all, keep to the spirit of merit badges. The point is not to collect badges to sew on a sash but rather to give boys a positive and challenging experience while they learn new skills and explore interests.