The Boy Scouts of America is piloting a new Scouting program aimed at kindergarten boys. It's called the Lion program and is available through select councils in the fall of 2016.
What is Lion Program?
The Lion program is a fun, age-appropriate program that delivers traditional Scouting concepts such as character development, leadership skills, personal fitness and citizenship. Lions are in dens of 6 to 8 kindergarten-aged boys and their adult parents.
Just like Tigers, Lions must be accompanied by an adult for all activities.
In 2008, the Northern Star Council, with the permission of the BSA, developed an early version of today's Lion program. Other locally-developed programs were piloted in the Hudson Valley Council and the Western Massachusetts Council. Because these programs looked promising, the Boy Scouts decided to create a national pilot.
Why Develop a Kindergarten Scouting Program?
BSA is piloting the Lion program to determine if "Scouting can and should serve kindergarten-age boys." Over the next few years, the program will be monitored to determine if boys stay in the program longer if they join as a Lion. Data will also be collected "to determine program quality, parent involvement and its overall fit into the Scouting format."
There are many opportunities to get your child involved in extracurricular activities. Soccer and karate, among others, are open to kids as young as 3 or 4.
By the time many boys reach the age to join Tigers, the family has already committed to another activity which may exclude their participation in Cub Scouts. This negatively impacts the Cub Scout pack's recruiting efforts. Having a program available at the time parents are selecting activities may help reverse this trend.
In addition, we know that Scouting is good for kids. If we can get children involved at an earlier age, the results are even better.
What Do Lions Do?
Lions will "explore their world, themselves, their families and their neighborhoods" through a series of "adventures." They will use a series of "adventures" during their exploration. Similar to adventures in the Cub Scout program, adventures are comprised of themed activities, but the requirements for them are scaled down and age appropriate.
The Lion pilot program has a total of 12 adventures--five that are required and seven electives. It's likely that these will change as feedback is collected from the pilot Lion dens.
The adventures can be completed in any order, but it is recommended that Lion's Honor be completed first.
Lion Required Adventures:
- Lion's Honor
- Fun on the Run
- Animal Kingdom
- Mountain Lion
- King of the Jungle
Lion Elective Adventures:
- I'll Do It Myself
- Pick My Path
- Gizmos and Gadgets
- On Your Mark
- Build It Up, Knock It Down
- Rumble in the Jungle
- Ready, Set, Grow
The Lion adventures are designed to be completed in one den meeting and one outing. The plans for the meetings and outings are in the Lion Parent and Leader Guidebook, which is only available to those participating in the pilot.
Lions will attend only two or three pack meetings each year. The Lion Guide should work closely with the Cubmaster to ensure that the activities during those meetings are appropriate for kindergarteners. When Lions are in attendance, the Cubmaster should ensure that they are recognized and welcomed.
What Can't Lions Do?
Because of the age of Lions, there are a few activities that they are not allowed to do. Lions should not participate in pack fundraising such as selling popcorn. They can't camp overnight, and they can't take part in shooting sports. BSA's rationale for the limitations is "those experiences, and others, are more appropriate for older boys..." By telling the boys that they get to do all these fun things when they become Tigers, they may be more likely to continue in the program after they finish their Lion experience.
Currently, the Lion uniform is a special t-shirt, only available in pilot-approved Scout Shops. Just like the Cub Scout uniform or the Boy Scout uniform, these t-shirts will help the boys feel a sense of belonging and camaraderie. Lions shouldn't wear the Cub Scout uniform until they officially "graduate" to Tiger at the end of the school year.
The Lion Adventure Book is the official handbook. Like the Lion Parent and Leader Guidebook, the Adventure Books are only available to pilot participants.
Lion Cubs don't earn adventure belt loops at the completion of each adventure like the Cub Scouts do. Instead, they earn stickers that are put into his Lion Adventure Book.
Unlike other ranks, Lions do not have to complete the Bobcat rank. They'll do that when they become a Tiger.
The Lion program is designed around the "shared leadership concept." Each family will take turns leading the den meetings and activities. But parents won't have to figure it out for themselves. Instead, the pack will select an experienced Cub Scout den leader to serve as a "Lion Guide" who will serve as a mentor to the den. The Guide will help recruit Lions and will assist parents in facilitating the meetings.
The Lion Guide will be responsible for the first Lion den meeting. During that meeting, parents should sign up for the meeting they would like to lead. The Guide will work closely with each parent to plan and run the meetings.
Reception of the Program
The nationally developed Lion Cub program was piloted by a few councils over the past two years. This is the first roll-out of the national pilot. However, it is already drawing some criticism. An earlier start to Scouting will cause boys and parents to burn out and discontinue their Scouting involvement sooner, critics say. Proponents counter that a fun and engaging program (or lack thereof) is more likely to impact retention than the length of time a family is involved.
Many leaders have been frustrated by the lack of a program for younger boys.
The Girl Scouts of the USA has had a program for kindergarten girls since the early 1980s, so supporters are happy that boys will now be able to join Scouting at the same time as their female classmates.
Early pilot participants report two major positive outcomes of having the Lion program in their packs.
- They are able to identify future pack leaders. By observing how adults manage their Lion meeting responsibilities, Lion Guides know which families are more engaged. These adults are more likely to volunteer for leadership roles, and if they don't volunteer, they are less likely to say no when asked.
- The packs have "very strong Tiger recruitment" the next year. While the current Lions graduating to the Tiger rank accounts for part of this, it's likely that parents and boys are sharing their experiences with friends and neighbors who then decide to join.
Local Boy Scout councils may apply to be part of the pilot program. If they're accepted, the council will provide feedback to the national development team. Anyone who is interested in the Lion program should contact their local council to find out if it will be participating in the pilot.
According to BSA, "this pilot expansion is designed to develop good, measurable data to determine program quality, parent involvement and its overall fit into the Scouting format." The organization will review results and feedback over the next few years. One of the important learnings will resolve the question of whether an earlier start will negatively impact retention.
BSA has said, "It is important to pilot new Scouting programs in order to gather critical feedback from parents, volunteers and youth. As such, the organization has outlined a process to ensure newly developed programs are tested and evaluated. They must meet BSA’s high standards in driving character and leadership outcomes. Piloting is a critical part of that process. The data and what we learn this fall will guide the next steps."