Same Age vs Mixed Age Patrols

Created: 06:20 PM on Friday, November 08, 2013


I have been Scoutmaster for 5 years, after spending 5 years as Assistant Scoutmaster. On becoming Scoutmaster, I knew that I wanted to change our same age patrols to mixed age. I had seen the negative aspects of same age patrols, and could imagine how mixed age might improve this situation. As it turned out, my older son Jimmy, went through Boy Scouts with same age patrols, and my younger son John, went through with mixed age patrols.

Same Age Patrols

The same age patrols that I saw as ASM had problems with Patrol Leadership. Patrols composed of newer scouts, had a patrol leader that was the equal of other team members. The PL did not know anything about Boy Scouting, and Leadership. Why should he? He's just as new as his peers. For new scout patrol members, the PL was ineffective (not his fault). I saw substantial Adult intervention, sometimes out of frustration. On camp-outs, new patrols could not cook, clean, perform a flag ceremony. Ants were all over the new scout patrol chuck box by Sunday Morning. You name it, and new scout patrols would fail at it. They knew it, and were not having fun.

The new scout PL was not able to coach other members in scouting, advancements, discipline etc. Patrol members knew that, and so the PL was largely ignored. Being PL for a new scout patrol is very frustrating. Of course, the new scout PL gets no checkoffs for all his effort, because he's too low in rank.

For patrols with older boys, the patrol leader position was meaningless. The PL was again dealing with peers, but with older scouts, they don't need leading, or help with advancements. Patrol members had long ago sorted out how to cook and clean at camp outs. For patrols with many members in High School, most don't go camping anyway. I saw patrol leader elections for older same age patrols go like this: “Who needs leadership to get promoted? Ok, you can be PL”. They earned leadership doing nothing. Fewer older boys attend camp-outs (high school participation in band/sports/clubs intervenes). When an older boy from a same age patrol wanted to camp, he had to find another patrol to camp with – further discouraging older boys from attending.

Same age patrols get smaller with age. Jimmy was a Wolverine. He was the only Wolverine to make it to Eagle. In High School, there were two other Wolverines that slowly faded away. Of course Patrols can be reorganized. What I saw was that once in High School boys didn't worry that their patrol had few members. The wolverine patrol went away when my son left at 18.

The one argument I've heard for same age patrols is that when asked, the scouts choose same age patrols. Part of that (that boys should decide this) I'll discuss in a separate article. My Troop's PLC voted for mixed age, FWIW. Please add comments below if you have more arguments to offer.

Mixed Age Patrols

With mixed age patrols, patrol leaders are experienced senior scouts. Patrol leaders can be expected to coach younger scouts in the ways of camping, scouting and advancement. PLCs have more experienced scouts attending, giving better input, and providing meaningful help (and we don't have to stop to explain everything to the new guys). With mixed age patrols, at PLCs, the SPL can periodically ask patrol leaders what they've done to help members get advancements, or how they encouraged members to go camping etc. There is significant difference in the responsibility now born by the PL. With Patrol Leaders now exclusively being senior members of the Troop, PLC pride and camaraderie is also up.

Camp outs showed the biggest change. Camp-outs with mixed age patrols are much more calm. Every patrol has older scouts that know how to cook/clean/camp. Younger scouts listen to the experienced patrol leader and older scouts. The older scouts spend time teaching the younger, and enjoy doing this (the young scouts really look up to them). When an older scout decides to camp, he can be confident that there will be other patrol members there.

It's important that, with mixed age patrols, the new scouts first camp-outs are successful and fun. For retention, it's important that they not start their boy scout journey with multiple failures.

The boys quickly realized that mixed age patrols mean permanent patrols. They like the idea that they may come back in 20 years and see their patrol. Patrol pride is way up. I encourage new scouts every year to embellish their patrol flags, so the flags show history. Patrol awards (e.g. golden spoons) hang from their flags reflecting the patrol personality. They're proud of that identity. There's enthusiasm from new scouts trying to figure out what patrol they want to join.

John is a Lumberjack. The Lumberjacks are a mixed age patrol. They initially had 8 members, grew to 13 in the second year, then to 18 the third (the troop grew to 120), at which point they had to split. When splitting, both patrols wanted to be Lumberjacks, chains of friends were split, and so some tough decisions had to be made. There were some hard feelings, but I was secretly proud of the love they had for their patrol and their patrol mates.

Patrol leader tenure has definitely lengthened. When patrols find a good leader, they want him to continue leading (i.e. now he's elected based on merit).

One risk is the increased opportunity for bullying (e.g. older scouts making the youngers do the work), so you should be alert, but I saw very little.

Troop Guides

I believe Troop Guides continue to have an important role with mixed age patrols.. Troop guides can and should be an important help for assimilating new scouts (and parents) into the organization.

However, for same age patrols, I don't think the Troop Guide should be expected to fix all the problems .

Reorganizing patrols

I diasgree with reorganizing patrols periodically (I know some that reorg every year). I strive to make scouts proud of their patrol and their patrol's identity. Patrol pride works well with the Patrol Method – a basic ingredient of Scouting. I also don't agree with random patrol organization (pull names out of a hat) or any adult directed organization. Scouts usually move to a mixed age patrol with a friend, or to a patrol that already has a friend/relative.

Summary

Clearly I'm in favor of mixed age patrols, and have tried here to explain why. If you're seeing some of the problems I saw from same age patrols, you might want to try making the change.

I know some of you are very happy as you are, and accordingly I wish you all continued success.

I'm anticipating writing related articles, so be sure to check those out.

Jim Brisson

A few related references:

http://www.whitestag.org/patrol_method/

http://scoutingmagazine.org/issues/0809/d-flin.html

http://www.scouter.com/forum/open-discussion-program/2351-single-age-vs-mixed-age-patrols

 

 

Comments
Posted:12:09 PM on Thursday, June 11, 2015 by

Hi Jim,

Great post, seriously. Our troop makes new patrols every year, but we are considering changing that. How exactly does a new Scout join a patrol? I would think the Scout would need some time to get to know the different patrols before picking one, but if it's entirely up to the Scout, then I could see everyone joining one or two patrols and they'd get unbalanced numbers. If the patrol has a say in who joins, then what happens to the Scout that none of the patrols want? He needs the program most of all, but the younger patrol members might not have the necessary perspective yet.

I haven't been able to find anything specific in the SM, PL, or SPL handbooks. If it appears somewhere else, I'd appreciate a link or reference.

YiS,

Dave





Articles

  1. Sewing on Boy Scout Patches Mon, Nov 07, 2011

  2. Clean Backpacking Fri, Aug 31, 2012

  3. 2012 Advancement Guide Changes Thu, Jan 17, 2013

  4. Homesickness Sun, Sep 01, 2013

  5. Same Age vs Mixed Age Patrols Fri, Nov 08, 2013

  6. Boy Led Sat, Nov 09, 2013