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Merit Badges

Unique Value Project Idea: Presidential Active Lifestyle Award

1 July 2012

If you’re not familiar with the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award challenge, it is worth your time to check it out. Geared for citizens of all ages, this is a great way to encourage physical fitness by setting and meeting goals appropriate for your current level of fitness.

A fantastic idea for the Young Women Knowledge Value Project.

Also not a bad idea for mom and dad, or younger and older siblings, or leaders, or… well, you get the idea.

Because it’s what I do, here’s a handy list of how this award can help children and youth fulfill requirements in other programs:

Webelos Athlete Activity Badge.

Cub Scout Physical Fitness Belt Loop or Pin, not to mention the multiple athletics-oriented cub scout belt loops and pins.

Boy Scout Personal Fitness Merit Badge, not to mention the multiple athletics-oriented merit badges, Varsity pins, and Venturing awards.

Deacon Duty to God For the Strength of Youth Physical Strength.

Must-Do Merit Badges

10 June 2012

When you’re a new scouting parent, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. It may not help that there are currently 130 merit badges scouts can earn. Where to begin?

First of all, recognize that boy scouts is different from cub scouts in that boys should (and will) take more responsibility for their own progress. Much will be done without you, and that’s a good thing! Keep in touch with the scout leader to find out what support they may need you to offer.

Second, understand how blue cards work and why it’s so important to keep track of them. You may leave this in the hands of your scout, but it’s not uncommon for parents to make sure completed blue cards are in a safe place. For more about blue cards,  how merit badges work, and how to avoid becoming the next blue card horror story (seriously), see my post here.

Now, on to the point of this post. With so many merit badges, which ones are on the must-do list?

1. Family-Oriented Required Merit Badges:

These are required for Eagle (see #2 below) and have requirements scouts must fulfill at home. Offer encouragement as a parent but let them be in charge as much as you can.

Family Life

Personal Management

Personal Fitness (this could be done with the troop, but a parent will need to arrange the doctor exam to fulfill requirement #1)

2. Eagle Required Merit Badges

Scouts must earn these required merit badges to earn their Eagle, and will work on a number of these as they advance through Star and Life. They’ll do many of them with their troop or at camp, but as a parent, it’s good to be aware of this list.

In addition to Family Life,  Personal Management, and Personal Fitness (above), Eagle-required merit badges are:


Citizenship in the Community

Citizenship in the Nation

Citizenship in the World


Swimming OR Hiking OR Cycling

Emergency Preparedness OR Lifesaving

Environmental Science

First Aid

3. Whatever Merit Badge Interests Your Scout

Merit badges are a GREAT way for scouts to explore new interests. Let him go with what interests him, not what would interest you. If he chooses a topic not likely to be covered in his troop or at camp (say, Aviation) get a hold of the merit badge counselor list for your area and hook him up with a counselor. His scout leader or the office of your council can get you the list. (Don’t be afraid to call the council office. They’re there to help.)


Before your scout works on any merit badges independent of his troop, check with his scout leader. The troop may already have plans to work on one or more of these in the near future, there may be upcoming merit badge clinics (hopefully good ones and not the dreaded merit badge mills), or there may be certain merit badges that are good to work on during scout camp (such as Environmental Science or First Aid).

America Jane Gets Brave: My Adventurous Plein Air Painting Workshop

15 May 2012

I began full of vigor. Never mind that I’d never taken a painting workshop before. (Never mind that I’m not a painter!) Here was an opportunity to try something new, to feel adventurous, to seize the day! I had my canvas tote packed with soft paint brushes, untainted watercolors, a new watercolor pad full of promise – even snacks! Oh yes, I was prepared for a bold, new experience. Carpe diem!

As you may recall, I like to foster my fantasies about being an artist (see my posts here and here). So after the instructor (who I happen to know) encouraged me to take his two-day Plein Air Painting Workshop at Saguaro Lake Ranch (I also happen to know the family who manages the Ranch, one of my favorite places locally) I decided to go for it.

Did I mention I’m not an artist?

Well, you’ll want to take note of that.

Day One:

After the introductory formalities and opening instructional lecture, we were told to pick a location to paint. This was, after all, a Plein Air workshop. (Plein Air is the French term for painting outdoors. Of course, doing anything in French automatically makes it more adventurous, right? Carpe diem!)

I went right for the crown jewel of Saguaro Lake Ranch. I chose a scene with the famous ridge mountain (yeah, okay, I don’t know the actual name of said mountain), framed by a sweeping mesquite tree and rustic fence line.

Praise the gods I decided to leave out the horses.

The beginning stage went well. Frame out the underpainting with a quick sketch and wash of color. Blues, greens, and browns filled the paper with ease.

This isn’t going too badly.

I started to add detail: the black, twisted trunk of the mesquite tree; a few more shades of greens and yellows in the foliage to add interest. I kinda liked it.

Then came the hay bales.They weren’t coming out quite right. I decided to come back to it.

I painted in the fence. Looked a bit, urm, juvenile (even more so than the rest of this amateur’s painting). That’s okay. I’d fix it with some highlights later.

Then came the mountain. Such a beautiful, peace-inspiring mountain. Unless you’re trying to paint it. Then it becomes the bane of your existence, the blob of lifeless brown on your formerly pristine watercolor paper.

The instructor came over to check on me. He liked the tree too. He gave me some guidance regarding the mountain. At first he wanted to demonstrate right on my painting! Oh no. This was my painting. So he humored his inexperienced, A-type personality of a student and demonstrated on a spare piece of paper. I marveled at his technique, tried to retain what he’d said and done, and went back to work.

Fast forward 20 minutes.

Those mountains were still a mess. This time, when the instructor came to have a look, I gladly handed over my brush and painting.

Paint on instruction...

He completed one section of the mountain, explaining as he went, and I tried to duplicate it elsewhere. It wasn’t great, but I learned something and had a better concept of what I could try.

The class took a break for lunch and the scenery went from a challenge to be mastered back to a source of serenity. I especially enjoyed visiting with Charles, a retired Navy man who never lost his taste for traveling (he’s been to Indochina, southeast Asia, the Caribbean, all over) but now he sometimes adds in his penchant for painting. He’s taken workshops all over the country, looking to paint “places I’ve never been.”

He reminded me why I was there. Here was a man full of adventure. I want my own adventures too.

After lunch we hauled our stuff down to the river and selected new scenes to paint, this time sheltered by the shade of the trees lining the banks. Having learned my lesson, I switched from a broad landscape to a smaller-scale water study.

Again, the drawing and under colors went on easily. This felt familiar and I didn’t take as much confidence from it this time around.

I painted in the rocks and a few reeds and decided I needed to darken the water. Big mistake. One bold stroke and it was way too dark. When I saw what I’d done, I didn’t know how to fix it. I was desperate for the instructor to come save me.

In due order, he did. He didn’t think it was a mistake at all, and carried the color through the central section. He gave me courage to be bold and add movement and color to the water, along with how to paint the reeds on the bank.

I was resisting the urge to say “Don’t you just want to finish it for me?” After all, he was doing such a good job.

But I didn’t say it and he left me, alone with my painting. I guess I’d have to finish it myself.

I sat down on a rock to get my brain back in the game. After a few quiet moments, I studied my painting from afar. I looked at the river and reminded myself what I originally liked about the scene I chose.

Isn't it lovely?

Despite my lack of developed skills, I still really wanted to try to capture what I saw.

I thought about what the instructor taught me. I focused on a corner of the painting and decided I could try to add a group of reeds there. I can do that much. So I did. And it was fun. I moved to the other side of the painting and added more reeds. I liked the top, but didn’t know what to do with the bottom. Some grass perhaps?

That was when I discovered (shock) that I don’t know how to paint grass.

I abandoned the blob – I mean grass – for the thing I knew. I pulled my leather journal and pen from my canvas bag, returned to the rock, and began writing about my day. Ahhh. What a relief! Maybe the instructor wouldn’t notice.

I got away with my truancy for a good 15 minutes before he came back, declared his pleasure at my improvement, said “It’s starting to look like a painting now,” and made me trade in my pen for a brush.

He turned my blob into grass and I decided the painting looked good just how it was. No further tinkering required from this girl!

He saw I was done – mentally at least – laughed, and dismissed me to my rock.

I sat for awhile, listening to the instructor talking quietly with Navy Charlie. The river was flowing soft that day, gently soothing away any agitation I’d felt. My little alcove under the shade of the trees shielded me from any thought of the outside world.

The painting called to me.

Perhaps a little more grass…

And Now, the America Jane Angle You’ve Been Waiting For:

Talk about a unique value project idea! For youth interested in art, workshops like these or ongoing classes offered at school or in the community, are a great way for youth to expand their knowledge. Painting, drawing, pottery, glass (oh, Boise has an amazing art glass center I’m so hoping I can afford one day!), sculpture, photography, fiber arts, or what have you. The arts are great! Even for those of us not necessarily gifted or looking to make a career out of it.

Creating art, even mediocre art, can be strangely fulfilling. I guess it’s that desire we all have to express ourselves.

So whether you’re a Young Woman looking for a unique Divine Nature or Knowledge value project idea, a Scout planning on earning one of the many arts-oriented awards (merit badges are offered in Art, Graphic Art, Photography, Pottery, Textile, and Wood Carving), a Venturer working on the Arts and Hobbies Bronze Award, or an adult just looking to be brave, go ahead! Gather your courage, and dive into the arts.

As for me, I’ll be diving in again this summer for a workshop at the Grand Canyon. Oh yeah.

Carpe diem, my friends.

Special Eagle Scout Patch for 2012 Only

5 April 2012

Following the hugely successful run of commemorative patches for BSA’s 100th Anniversary, young men who earn their Eagle Scout Award in 2012 can receive this commemorative patch marking 100 years since the first scout earned the rank of Eagle.

That scout’s name was Arthur Eldred. Check him out:


Here’s a photo of his medal, after quite a few years:

If you want to read more about Arthur Eldred, BSA’s first Eagle Scout, go HERE. The link also has a cool photo of Arthur’s merit badge sash, which includes now-retired merit badges such as Business, Civics, Firemanship, First Aid to Animals, Interpreting of French,  Poultry Farming, and Dairying, alongside our more familiar Horsemanship, Electricity, and Cycling, among others.

Since its inception, over 2 million young men have earned their Eagle Scout Award.

How many more will join those ranks in 2012?

I don’t know, but they’ll have a pretty cool patch to mark their achievement.

Book Review: Beginning Boy Scouts

1 March 2012

If you’re a new parent or leader in the Boy Scout program and want a thorough overview of Boy Scouts, this book has it all.

Obligatory disclaimer: author Jeremy Reed (who wrote Beginning Boy Scouts along with wife Heather Reed) sent me a copy of the book to review, however I’ve received no compensation and the following opinion is my own. (I don’t understand why no one includes chocolate when they send me books. It’s very strange.)

Anyway, Beginning Boy Scouts covers just about everything you’d want to know about the Boy Scout program, and is geared specifically for new parents and new leaders. If you find the program confusing at times, this book can help set you straight.

One of the best chapters (which makes the entire book a worthwhile investment for parents) is chapter 10, “Setting Goals and Keeping Track.” Reed and Reed give great advice for getting boys started in the program, motivating older boys who’ve lost interest, and keeping track of boys’ achievements. In a very America-Jane-like way, the authors have a handy list of requirements leading to Eagle which take awhile to complete (i.e. the 30-day fitness tests for the Tenderfoot rank, the 90-day log of chores done at home for the Family Life merit badge, and so on). It got my little list-making self a tingling.

Want more lists? The camping essentials checklists in chapter 11 ought to do you good.

For non-LDS parents (or LDS parents considering placing their son in a troop outside their ward), there’s a helpful checklist of things to look for in a successful troop. While there isn’t necessarily a lot of explanation about why these things are important, I’ll add my voice of experience to theirs and encourage novice parents to use the list to their advantage. I’ve always been of the mind that a program run well is an incredible asset for young men, while a poorly-run program is too often a waste of everyone’s time, if not downright detrimental.

For new scout leaders, there is a wealth of information in this book that will make your transition into the leadership role much more comfortable. For LDS leaders who may feel overwhelmed, un-informed, and under-supported in their new calling, this book is a quick, excellent overview of those things you need to know (which someone may or may not have thought to tell you). I especially appreciated the chapter about the Patrol Method, which is BSA-speak for “the youth are in charge.”

It wouldn’t hurt parents to read that chapter either. Scout troops function so much better when parents understand the program.

I don’t know if the authors are LDS, but there are several interjections about the distinctiveness of the LDS Scouting program which Mormon parents and leaders will find helpful. However, this book is by no means limited to an LDS audience, as the authors cover the full breadth of the program (including elements that don’t apply to LDS readers) and inclusively mention other organizations that sponsor high numbers of scout troops (the LDS Church, United Methodist Church, and Catholic Church are the top three supporters).

The last chapter walks parents and leaders through the steps to earn the rank of Eagle Scout. It’s a worthwhile read, just be aware that BSA recently modified some of the requirements for the Eagle Scout Leadership Service Project.

My only issue with this book is I think it would’ve benefited from professional editorial guidance. Even so, it’s a good resource for new parents or new leaders in the Boy Scout program.

In fact, it really seems a pity not to pass this book along to someone who could use it. Since no one in my immediate circle is an obvious recipient (whereas I eagerly shared We the People with my homeschooling friend) I decided this is the perfect opportunity for… (drum roll please)

America Jane’s First Giveaway!

Ooooooh! Aaaaah!

Okay, now I’m just being silly. Stay tuned for more details. Meanwhile, if you can’t wait to get your hands on your own copy of Beginning Boy Scouts, you can order it online here.

UPDATE: See details about my first Giveaway HERE!

Journaling with a Heart: “Tap Tap” Journals for Charity

24 February 2012

"Tap Tap" Journals

There are many journaling requirements sprinkled throughout the LDS youth and Scouting programs (see below), so why not pick up one of these “Tap Tap” journals and do some good while you’re at it?

I came across these adorable journals when I discovered Project HOPE Art yesterday. They’re only $14.99 and $5 benefits Project HOPE Art and their work with Haitian orphans. How can I help but spread the word?

Also available are the “Tap Tap” Journals in white and the Haiti Mural Journal composed of mural art created by Haiti children:

That’s the one I ordered and I chose the blank page option (you can also get lined, dots, or planner pages). I think I’m going to use it to try some of Kathy Barbro’s projects, which I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. She has some new projects at her website which look like fun.

LDS Youth and Scouting Program Requirements Involving Journaling:

Faith in God – Preparing for Young Women #3

Bear Scout – Family Requirement #8f and Jot It Down Requirement #18c.

Webelos – Scholar #5

Cub Scouts – Communicating Pin #2 and Reading and Writing Belt Loop #3.

Boy Scouts – Communications Merit Badge Requirements 1a or 1b and Personal Management Merit Badge Requirement 8c.

Duty to God requirements often encourage journaling, and a general requirement of the Personal Progress program is to keep a personal journal.

Venturing – Religious Life Bronze Award requirement 4b.

Review of Boy-Scout Friendly Homeschool Curriculum

21 February 2012

For all you homeschooling parents, or for parents wanting to enrich your child’s education, Homeschool Legacy offers once-a-week unit studies which (wouldn’t you know it?) knock off Boy Scout Merit Badge requirements along the way.

I’m all about efficiency, so I thought that was a great idea. Sharon Gibson of Homeschool Legacy very kindly sent me the unit of my choice to review (I choose “We the People: Getting to Know Your Constitution”). I’ve received no other compensation, coercive threats, bribes, or chocolate, and give you my honest opinion. Keep in mind, however, I am not a homeschooling parent.

I found the material well-organized and consistent. Each unit is divided by week. Each week has a list of library reading/video options which relate to that week’s subject matter along with an (often short) list of supplies needed for the week. The week’s study always includes “Daily Activities” (usually consisting of reading relevant material), and a weekly “Family Devotional” relating the week’s topic to Biblical themes.

These units were designed to be used just once a week, but sometimes the material/activities seemed an awful lot to cover in one day. That may just be my inexperience talking, though.

I liked the variety of the format from week to week. One week may have an art appreciation activity, another may have a drama activity, while another may have a “copy and cut” game like “Preamble Scramble.”

These units are designed to be user-friendly and prep free. A huge amount of planning and prep work has gone into these books. What you’ll find is a fully-designed series of lessons that even include instruction scripts and question prompts. Pretty cool.

I don’t think “no prep” means “go into it blind,” however. I would advise parents wanting to use these books to go over the instruction scripts ahead of time, before starting the unit. I would either delete or be prepared to explain items mentioned in the instruction (for example, there is passing mention made of things such as Cicero’s Principles of the Natural Law, and the Iroquois Confederacy). There may be certain things you want to cover in more depth, possibly before starting the unit.

You definitely want to pay attention to the “timeline” activities, as dates for events and/or people are not always provided. (This was the one oversight I saw, in terms of prep work being done for you.)

There are lots of cool extras sprinkled throughout the lessons, including “Stump Your Dad Trivia” and a link to see Howard Chandler Christy’s acclaimed painting, Signing of the Constitution. (Said link also provides a neat “scroll over” feature which names the signers shown in the painting, and gives more information about the signer if you click on his name.)

Being the art lover I am, I would flesh out her art appreciation activities a bit more, but I think her suggestions make for a great starting point. Flexibility in your own curriculum is one of the beauties of homeschooling. Given that, I think her units can be used however parents please, either as a framework for customizing their instruction, or as a “ready to go” unit parents can follow page by page and week by week.

I chose this particular unit to review because I wanted to see how she incorporated the requirements for the Citizenship in the Nation Merit Badge, one which I’ve seen “milled out” in a rather disappointing way. This is an Eagle-required badge for a reason. When properly done, I think young men earning this badge gain a deeper respect for their country and feel an increased measure of responsibility toward their own country. When improperly done, it is a mind-numbing experience beginning with mindlessly filling out a workbook and ending with receiving a merit badge that means nothing to the recipient.

If you want your young man to experience the former, the We the People unit study is not a bad way to go.

Here are the merit badges you can earn via her unit studies, as of this writing:

Birds of a Feather unit fulfills requirements for the Bird Study merit badge.

Forest for the Trees unit fulfills requirements for the Forestry merit badge.

Horsing Around unit fulfills requirements for the Horsemanship merit badge.

Weather on the Move unit fulfills most of the requirements for the Weather merit badge.

Knights and Nobles unit fulfills requirements for the Art merit badge. (Interesting! Makes me wish I’d checked it out!)

Native America unit fulfills requirements for the Indian Lore merit badge.

Early Settlers unit fulfills requirements for the Reading merit badge.

Revolutionary Ideas: the Story of the American Revolution unit fulfills most of the requirements for the American Heritage merit badge.

We the People: Getting to Know Your Constitution unit fulfills requirements for the Citizenship in the Nation merit badge.

Christmas Comes to America unit fulfills requirements for the Music merit badge.

Unique Value Project Idea: Blog Mania!

27 June 2011

I came across the fabulous blog, Mutual Insanity, ran by a young woman who’s been chronicling her journey through the Young Women program for over two years now.  Isn’t that a great title for a blog? Along with her blog she has tabs for mutual ideas, handout ideas, Girls’ Camp and more.

What a great project idea!

In fact, I think the initial set up of a blog (which can be pretty time-consuming depending on what you do) could count for a project in Knowledge, while running the blog for awhile could be a separate project for Individual Worth.

Lest the boys should feel neglected, this would be a creative way to fulfill some requirements for the Communications Merit Badge, which is required for Eagle, not to mention the Computers Merit Badge.

Another option for the boys is to create a blog to fulfill the hobby section of the Arts and Hobbies Bronze Award in the Venturing Program.

Gee, all this talk about blogging makes me want to start a blog!

Oh wait. I did that already. Nevermind.

Win a Robotics Merit Badge Patch That’s Actually Been in Space!

8 June 2011

That’s right folks. For a limited time only, Boy Scouts aged 17 years and younger have the opportunity to win one of 100 Robotics Merit Badges that launched into space with the Endeavor STS-134.

What a great way to acknowledge BSA’s latest merit badge!

Scouts need to earn the badge between April 12 and Sept 30, 2011 and submit their entries to the contest online. Go here to enter.

Winners will also receive an official Endeavor STS-134 mission patch, certificate of authenticity and photo of the shuttle crew.

New Robotics Merit Badge

6 June 2011

Well the details for this highly anticipated new merit badge came out a little later than expected, but I’m sure it was well worth the wait. As a bonus, NASA’s getting in on the robotics action. The details about that are forthcoming.

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