Scout method

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The Scout method is the progressive system designed to achieve the goals of the Scouting organizations. The World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM) describes the Scouting movement as "...a voluntary nonpolitical educational movement for young people open to all without distinction of origin, race or creed" with the goals of contributing to the "...development of young people in achieving their full physical, intellectual, social and spiritual potentials as individuals, as responsible citizens and as members of their local, national and international communities."[1]

Scouting organisations include those affiliated with the World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM), the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) and the World Federation of Independent Scouts (WFIS). Other youth organisations may follow the Scout method closely or in part.

Elements of the scouting method

The World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM) describes the "Scouting Method" as being composed of several different educational tools.[2] These are:

  • a law and promise,
  • learning by doing,
  • a team system,
  • a symbolic framework,
  • personal progression,
  • nature and
  • adult support.

The fact that all of these different tools are used as part of the education system is what makes the Scouting method unique.


The principles of the Scouting movement describe a code of behavior that applies to all members and characterizes the movement. The World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM) designates the following three basic principles as obligations:[2]

  • Duty to God (or a higher power)
  • Duty to others
  • Duty to self

These principles are guidelines which give direction to the overall educational policy of Scouting, " the educational approach used with young people and to the way in which the elements of the Scout Method are used so as to give constructive and coherent direction to the development ofthe young person." [2]

Details of the Method

Robert Baden-Powell built into Scouting some innovative educational principles, which forms the Scout method. This method was the higher aim of Scouting, so was compulsory (in contrast to the Scout game). The method included educational tools that the Scoutmaster could judge for himself how to apply to be successful in his own particular Troop. By decentralisation the local leader got therefore a free hand. The principles of the method were a target, so it did not matter so much whether to actually achieve the highest ideals, as long they were high.[3] Although the method is nowadays equally applicable to boy and girl Scouting one must take into account that the original principles were designed for boys in the Scout-age.

The most important original principles were:

  • The first condition for Scouting is an attractive game, but hidden in this game should be an educational goal. The game must be exciting, but at the same time a Scout should learn from it.[4] There should be no preaching. [[3] 13]
  • Scouting is not a high standard of knowledge or only an attractive game, which are merely steps. The final test of success of its education is: "Are they really healthy, happy, helpful citizen".[5]
  • The Scout Law and promise. The Scout Law, acts as a guide to the Scout's actions, rather than a "repression of his faults." The Scout Law is therefore not a list of prohibitions but together with the Scout promise (Oath) a commitment to a code of living.[4]
    • Prohibition. Scouting does not prohibit a bad habit, but instead gives more exciting, better alternatives, that will absorb the Scout's attention and gradually lead him to forget the old habit.[[3] 31] The reason is that "prohibition generally invites evasion since it challenges the spirit inherent in every red-blooded boy. The boy is not governed by DON'T, but is led on by DO."[4]
    • The Scout Law is a code of living based on Scouting’s principles. It is a personal code of living in that it serves as a reference, guiding the way in which each member of the movement lives his or her life today, and guiding the direction of development for tomorrow. It is also a collective code of living in that it is the basis on which the Scout unit functions. The Scout Law is therefore at the heart of the Scout method.[1]
    • Spirituality. A Scout should be spiritual but Scouting is open to all religions. Scouting deals with religions in the practical way: by nature study and helping others which, according Baden-Powell, was part of all religions. Scouting did this by education in life-saving techniques but also by the daily good turn.
    • Good turns. The concept of doing a "Good Turn" is key component of all Scouting movements. In many Scouting associations it is embodied in their Scout oath, law, motto, or slogan; such as the Boy Scouts of America's (BSA) Scout Slogan, which is Do a Good Turn Daily. The intention of this good turn was not so much the turn itself, which could be minor, but to teach the Scout to always pay attention and recognize if he could help someone.[[3] 36, 64, 65]
  • Learning by doing. The Scout game is full of practical action. In the first place because this interests the Scout, secondly because only during practising on its own the Scout will get experience how theory works. Although Baden-Powel put emphasis on practical work and on the Scout learning by himself, he does not rule out instruction by leaders or in books. The phrase "Learning by doing" is nowadays much used in Scouting (although difficult to find in Baden-Powells writings) but could tend to be misused as Learning by only doing, opposing the need of instruction.
  • Individual in a group (Patrol system or method). Scouts are organised in small groups because this is the natural way boys work together.[[3] 18] These small patrols are therefore more important than the Troop and must be kept intact under all circumstances.[[3] 49] In a Patrol, the Scouts learn to work together. The Patrol leader learns responsibility for others and therefore also gives in part of personal interest.[[3] 24] Scouts get this opportunity to learn leadership at a much younger age than is available outside Scouting. But a Scout has his own identity within the group and learns as an individual. Scouting deals with the individual, not with the Company.[[3] 21, 15]
  • Symbolic framework builds on a Scout's natural capacity for imagination, adventure, creativity and inventiveness and serves, for example, to stimulate the development of a sense of identity, cohesiveness and solidarity within the group.
    • Imagination . Scouting plays on the imagination of the Scout, who loves to "make-believe", thus the Scouting themes of imaginative worlds of adventurers, like backwoodsmen, pioneers, sailors and airmen.[[3] 21] It is a non-serious world, taken serious, as the reader of a book or spectator of a movie, who voluntarily make-believes that what he reads or sees is real, while at the same time knowing it is not. The Scout identifies with the personal qualities and collective way of life shown in the symbolic framework, and this can have an impact on the Scout's physical, social and spiritual development. Baden-Powell did build into Scouting a somewhat strange, theatrical and non-serious environment, by words with strange meanings, yells, songs and customs. In essence the uniform is also part of this theatre.
  • Personal progression focuses specifically on helping each Scout to be consciously and actively involved in his or her own development of knowledge, skills and attitudes in all areas and the development of the whole person as an individual and as a member of society. When the Scout's personal progress meets the general requirements of the stage of progression, he or she formally passes on to the next stage.
    • Self-reliance. Baden-Powell wanted a Scout to learn to make his own decisions, without solely following his comrades or leaders as a herd. This would make the boy a man. Baden-Powell wrote that (symbolically) a Scout should paddle his own canoe. Not in a rowing boat, with his back to where he goes, rowed by others and someone else at the rudder, but alone in a canoe: facing the future, paddling and steering by himself [6]. Scouting teaches self-reliance by bringing the Scouts into a challenging, so somewhat risky, environment, without help in the direct neighbourhood. Therefore (while at same time it is attractive) the program is based on an adult, adventurous outdoor life. "A man's job cut down to boy's size."[[3] 32, 15]
    • Self-governing. Giving responsibility to the Scouts is the keystone of Scouting. The Scoutmaster is instructed to "expect him to carry out his charge faithfully. Don't keep prying to see how he does. Let him do it his own way. Let him come a howler over it if need be, but in any case leave him alone". The Patrol is therefore almost independent while the Troop is run by the Patrol Leaders in the Patrols' Leaders Council and Court of Honour.[[3] 24, 32] This changes also the role of the leader: "I had stipulated that the position of Scoutmaster was to be neither that of a schoolmaster nor of a commander Officer, but rather that of an elder brother among his boys, not detached or above them individually, able to inspire their efforts and to suggest new diversions when his finger on their pulse told him the attraction of any present craze was wearing off."[4] Scouting leaders should not direct, but guide (and check on safety).
    • Badge system. Achievement in Scouting is recognized with Class- and Proficiency (Merit) badges. With Class badges the Scout learns the techniques needed for of the Scout game with a final test to make a journey by its own. Proficiency badges are intended to encourage the Scout to learn a subject which could be his work or hobby, so cover many different types of activities not related to the Scouting game. The badge signifies that the Scout has made some progress not that they have mastered the skill.[[3] 56].
    • Self-learning. Education in Scouting should give a Scout the ambition and desire to learn by himself, which is more valuable than only instruction by leaders. This is done by suggesting that the Scout undertake activities that attract him individually. Those could be selected from the suggestions in Scouting for Boys.[[3] 16, 60]
    • Non-competitive and individual. "Scouting is not a formal scheme of serious instruction in efficiency". The badges signify not a certain quality of knowledge or skill as "the amount of effort the Scout puts into his work." The goal is to inspire every Scout, even the clumsy ones, to learn, therefore education in Scouting is non-competitive and individual. The goal is not the quality of the whole group, but every Scout should get attention to proceed on his own level. The standards were therefore purposely undefined. Class- and proficiency badges were not a final goal; but a first step which gives a Scout confidence to proceed by himself.[[3] 28, 57] Also the Scouts should learn because they like the subject, not just in competition to be better than others.
  • Example of the leader. An important part of Scouting education is the personal example of the leader. The Scout is impressed by the leader because of his age, his knowledge, his position as a leader and if he does it right, the leader will be popular. For the Scout the leader will be an attractive goal to reach for, so he will follow his example. The Scoutmaster living the Scout Law will therefore have more influence than talking about it. In the boys' eyes it is what a man does that counts and not so much what he says.[[3] 4, 38]

Patrol method (or system)

The patrol method (or system) is the essential feature of the Scout Movement, and has sometimes been described as "using the gang mentality for educational purposes."[citation needed] "The Patrol is the character school for the individual. To the Patrol Leader it gives practise in Responsibility and in the qualities of Leadership. To the Scouts it gives subordination of self to the interests of the whole, the elements of self-denial and self-control mvolved in the team spirit of cooperation and good comradeship."[[3] 24]

The patrol is a very powerful motivator and for this reason it is essential that Scout patrols are subject to an Honor Court (the patrol leaders in a troop form its Honor Court, along with the Scout leader.)[3] Baden-Powell was not the first to realize that peers are powerful tools in education, and the prefect system of the English Public school (Cf. Tom Brown's School Days) is probably where Baden-Powell had seen it in operation.

A patrol consists of about 6-8 Scouts: the number varies[3] but the standard sized patrol tent sleeps six comfortably. There will be a patrol leader and a second or assistant patrol leader. In some Troops, particularly larger ones, a senior patrol leader is nominated to perform certain functions at meetings. These are usually the oldest in the Scout troop, but age is not the necessary requirement. The patrol will also have a name, usually an animal e.g. fox patrol.

Younger sections, such as Cub Scouts and Beaver Scouts, are also divided into similar groupings, called sixes (Cubs) or lodges (Beavers). While Beaver lodges have no leader structure within them, Cub sixes have a sixer and seconder.

Rationale behind the Scout method

The Scout Law embodies the joint values of the Scouting movement all over the world which binds all Scouting associations together. The emphasis on "Learning by doing" provides experiences and hands on orientation as a practical method of learning and confidence building. Small groups build unity and a close-knit fraternal atmosphere to develop responsibility, character, self-reliance and self-confidence, reliability, and readiness; which eventually leads to collaboration and leadership. A program of progressive and attractive varying activities expands a Scouts' horizons and bonds the Scout even more to the group. Activities and games develop dexterities and provides a fun way to develop skills. In an outdoor setting, these also provide contact with nature and the environment.

These principles are equally applicable to boy and girl Scouting. Common ways to implement the Scout method include:

  • Regular hours spent in firm groups
  • Development of joint ritual
  • Common uniform
  • Tenting together
  • Camping, hiking, backpacking, and other activities done together in the outdoors
  • Domestic and international travel in a group, especially when encountering other Scout groups
  • Equal participation of all in decision-making processes at the youth level
  • Service to the community and developing good citizenship
  • Cultivating a love of the outdoors
  • Scoutcraft

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Constitution of WOSM" (PDF). World Organization of the Scout Movement. pp. p. 2-15. Retrieved 2006-07-10. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Scouting: An Educational System" (PDF). World Organization of the Scout Movement. 1998. pp. p. 9. Retrieved 2007-01-13. 
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 3.17 Baden-Powell, Robert (1919) (PDF). Aids to Scoutmastership, World Brotherhood Edition. The National Council Boy Scouts of Canada. pp. pp. 5, 13, 25. Retrieved 2007-01-07. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Baden-Powell, Robert (1933) (htm). Lessons from the Varsity of Life, Chapter X. Retrieved 2007-01-07. 
  5. Baden-Powell, Robert (1926). Scouting for Boys. pp. p331. 
  6. Baden-Powell, Robert (1930). Rovering to Success. pp. 22. ,