Help! We don't have Den Leaders Yet ... What do we Do? (Spoiler Alert ... don't have "meetings" -- do fun weekend activities)

OK, so even though the Pack Leader's Guide to Recruiting describes steps before Sign Up Events, starting with (1) start a Calendar of Fun Activities that families like, then (2) Recruit Leaders and Helpers ... we know that sometimes a Pack might get more new Youth Applications than the Pack can handle with their current number of trained, engaged Den Leaders able to handle a den.  It happens. 

  • It almost always happens with a small Pack ... because a small Pack usually has a few leaders who can lead Pack activities, but they don't really have full time "dens" of about 8 Scouts of the same age (not more than 10), so when there is a big influx to 40 or 60 or 80 youth, dens need to form, but there are no den leaders yet.
  • It almost always happens with a new Pack ... because usually a new Pack doesn't have 5 or 10 or 15 Den Leaders registered, trained, engaged and ready to go do Den Adventures right after Sign Up Night is over.
  • It happens with a huge sign up night ... when a signup night goes so well that a Pack planned for 40 Scouts and five dens (and has five den leaders plus assistants), but now suddenly it has 120 possible youth and so it needs 15 dens and 15 den leaders plus assistants.

Just Do Meetings?  Just Don't ... Please.  Trying to dive right into doing full "den meetings" without enough Den Leaders -- Den Leaders who are engaged and ready to go with enough helpers, leading dens of about 8 Scouts of the same age (not more than 10) -- is a recipe for disaster.  Efforts like these do not work:

  • Trying to push families off in a group to do a 60 minute "den meeting" with no engaged and able leader in the hope that someone will magically step up and lead the den ... that is a fantasy and will fail.  
  • Trying to have a leader run a 60 minute den activity for 20 or 30 or 40 kids and keep things on course until 2 or 3 or 4 other leaders step up to lead properly sized dens ... not only is that a fantasy and will fail, but that Den Leader may quit because her den is too big.   
  • Absent a really excellent program (like a compelling guest program), trying to do an all hands 60 minute "Pack Meeting" without den organization and leadership is also a recipe for disaster, as there is no Cubmaster who can lead 30 or 60 or 90 kids at one time ... and if the meeting turns into a mere "plea for Den Leaders", most will be afraid and not help.
    • Part of the magic of the "Den Method" of Cub Scouting is that the properly sized den is a managable size for activities.
    • Larger than 8 or so (certainly no more than 10), and it is too easy for a Scout to be lost, and activities to be chaos, and the leader to lose her mind because of the chaos.  
    • That's whey we need able, engaged, trained Den Leaders and helpers leading dens of about 8 Scouts of the same age (not more than 10).
  • And if there are chaotic meetings, parents who want good program will pull their kids out. 
    • So give parents some good program while you give dens time to form.

That's why we give this warning to Packs:  if you don't have enough Den Leaders, engaged and ready to go with enough helpers, leading dens of about 8 Scouts of the same age (not more than 10), please do not attempt to have Den Meetings for those Dens!!!! Not until those Dens have enough engaged leaders and helpers for Den Meetings.

But don't worry, because:  If it's Fun for Kids, Fun for Families, and Safe, then it's Cub Scouting.

So, what does a Den or Pack do until enough Den Leaders emerge? ... the answer is do Easy Fun Family Pack Activities, not Den Meetings, not until those Dens have enough engaged leaders and helpers for full Den Adventures out of the Handbooks and Leader Guides.  Those activities -- picnics, swim parties, local hikes, fishing, bike riding, field trips, movie nights on the square, bowling night, parades, mini golf, OA Trailblazer, Spooky Ree -- can include some of the other methods of Cub Scouting, including the uniform, the ideals (hey, open and close with a recitation of the Scout Oath and/or Scout Law), and can put families together in den-sized groups to get to know each other and to do the fun activities together.  Here's some ideas:

  • At a Pack Picnic, locate the families by grade so that kids in the same grade get to know each other.  
  • Have some games by grade level ... maybe kids against parents!  For ideas, some Games are in the Den Leader Guide Appendix, more at this Supplement, you'll know some too -- a Pack leader can share some game ideas with likely leaders among parents to do "just this game" with the grade.
  • On a Pack Hike in a local park, have the Pack go out "in grade groups" so space out the crowd.   

Here's some common questions and answers about doing Easy Fun Family Pack Activities until Dens can form with engaged Den Leaders: 

  • Question:  I feel bad, like it isn't "Cub Scouting" because we're not "having a meeting" ... is it really OK to do Easy Fun Family Pack Activities instead of just a meeting?
    • Answer:  It is absolutely OK.  If it's Fun for Kids, Fun for Families, and Safe, then it's Cub Scouting.  And if a chaotic meeting in a classroom or a corner of a gym isn't fun for kids or families, then that isn't Cub Scouting ... so don't do that.   
  • Question:  What if our Rank Level in our Pack has formed dens at the right size (about 8 Scouts not more than 10), and we have enough engaged leaders and helpers for Den Adventures ... do we have to wait until all of the other Dens in our Pack are organized before we start having Den Adventures?  
    • Answer:  No.  If your level is organized and sorted out into Dens, do Den Adventures.  If it works, and your families have fun and are engaged, the other Cub Scout grade levels might "see how it works" and get organized in their dens.
  • Question:  So if our Dens are organized and doing Den Adventures, but the other grade levels aren't organized into dens yet and are still doing Easy Fun Family Pack Activities, can we still do those Pack Activities?
    • Answer:  Absolutely!   And you'll be better able to put on a great Den Adventure while at the Fun Pack Activity, so that other grade levels will "see how it's done".

Why do Easy Fun Family Pack Activities?  

  • Because fun is often missing from meetings, but easily found in fun familiy activities.  Especially if you haven't formed a den at the right size with engaged Leaders.  
  • If families have fun with other Cub Scout families at a picnic, swim party, local hike, fishing day, bike ride, field trip, movie night on the square, bowling night or whatever, they they may want more fun that organizing a Den can bring, and that being a Den Leader can bring.
  • If the kids have fun, and hear about another fun event in the next week or two, they will bug their parents to go.
  • While the kids have fun ... you can have some one on one time with parents to try to turn parents into helpers and leaders, and have all parent or den level discussion about how your Pack will organize and take in parent help, including having "The 'We Need a Den Leader' Talk" with parents.
  • As more parents get interested -- especially when some ask about "how do our Scouts earn badges?" -- you can build in time for some "easy" Cub Scout advancement work, like
  • As parents get the hang of leading small parts of what goes into a Den Adventure -- like leading an opening or closing, leading games, facilitating some "talk time", sharing the lead on advancement adventure activities -- you will find it easier to find parents willing to be Den Leaders, engaged and ready to go with enough helpers, leading dens of about 8 Scouts of the same age (not more than 10).

So, if we can get started without "meetings", can we be a Den that just does Easy Fun Family Activities?  Why not?  Whether families bring their kids to a church or school for "meetings" or to a series of destinations for Easy Fun Family Activities, the key is to be sure the families know when to be where for Cub Scouting.  

  • For details, look in the Adventure Plans pages for each Rank to the left of this site ... 
  • ... ideas about easier ways, and outdoor ways, to deliver the Adventure are included.

If one has engaged parent leaders, and a program that is focused on being outdoors and going places (not sitting around a table or in a classroom), one can have a much more exciting and appealing program than a classroom experience.  Call it a TOPRATE program, for Totally Outdoor, Parent Run, Actively Targeting Excellence ...  some ideas from that page are

Being outdoors and doing fun things with families is what you'll find in the Den Adventures from the Handbooks and Leader Guides, so don't do boring meetings, have a TOPRATE Cub Scout Den that does fun activities.  If you're one of the few leaders at that start, be patient and don't worry about not doing Handbook Advancement work at the first few or four or five weekend activities ...

  • A trip to a public swimming location or a zoo can be … a trip to a public swimming location or a zoo. 
  • Families should go to places like this all the time, so it is great if a group of families can go as a Cub Scout Pack.
  • Keep it simple.  If the destination is fun, the families will have fun.   

And when your Parent Run Den gets momentum you'll find it a lot easier to have Den Leaders and Assistants step up from the parent ranks and do everything your Scouts want to do in the Den Adventures from the Handbooks and Leader Guides.   

And it's OK if the Pack (or some of the dens) don't do advancement adventures (or not thoroughly) at the first few destination events, because it would take time for leadership to emerge. 

  • But there is a greater likelihood that families will like the destination events and hang in there as they learn about the program.
  • So there will be opportunities for discussion like “hey, next time, let’s do this that I saw in the Handbook: _____”.

This will work even if it takes a few months of going places and doing things (but not yet completing the Den Adventures from the Handbooks) -- so what if families go places and do fun things for a while, and then turn that fun into Cub Scout Advancement.  So go ahead and “take it easy”, and let the collective fun of the kids and families develop relationships organically, they can chat one on one with families, and listen to what they want to do, and maybe drop some ideas.  Like:

  • At some point, a kid will ask “do I get a Cub Scout badge for this?” 
  • Even better, a parent will ask “is there a badge for my son for doing swimming?” 
  • And if a kid asks, redirect that to the parents … “do you want your son to get a badge?”

Then when the parents want to see their kids get advancement recognition, they can be reminded of what they can do:

  • For example, for water activities, the attached flyer says “the Adventure Advancement Options “if we want” are: for Tigers: Floats and Boats; Wolves: Spirit of the Water; Bears: Salmon Run; Webelos: Aquanaut”,
  • and “’when the plan says  ‘if we want’, that means this is subject to parents organizing a Den Advancement Adventure activity at the event, and Scouts completing the requirements”.

We have a better chance to involve parents if we first let parents take families to fun destination events and participate even very casually in those fun events … and there is a better chance of developing a corps of den leaders and assistants over time, time that they can have even if they just do fun events for months before bearing down to the handbook requirement stuff.