In the world of Boy Scouts, merit badges can be adventures, but they also direct a course of study. Earn the first aid badge, for example, and you'll master every aspect of basic injury care, from the scratches and bruises of city life to potentially life-threatening gashes, breaks and wounds that can happen in the outback. That said, some badges that are required for Eagle Scouts are considerably more fun to do than others. Some can be done in a matter of days, while others take three months, minimum. And some are best done at Boy Scout camp, not at home.
So here are insider tips on how to get those 12 Eagle-required badges done in a timely fashion, without driving either the Eagle applicant or his parents crazy.
- Pace the Work: Although civics, life skills and wilderness survival comprise the knowledge base every Eagle should have, some of the Eagle-required merit badges are pretty dry affairs. Important, yes, but not necessarily thrilling fare. So encourage your Scout to do two or three per year - not 12 at once - and accomplish as many as possible at Scout camp.
- Get the OK: As for any merit badge, make sure your scout signs up with a merit badge counselor and gets his "blue card" - the paperwork required for every merit badge - launched before any requirement work commences. Most troops will not give retroactive credit for merit badge work.
- Do It As a Troop: Some troops hold badge-o-ramas or other daylong, troop events where scouts can work on advancement projects and get one or two Eagle badges started. This is particularly helpful for badges that don't really fit the 7-day Scout camp format, such as Personal Management, Family Life and some of the Citizen in the (Fill in the Blank) badges.
- Emergency Preparedness or Lifesaving: Only one of these badges is required, but many teens find the material so fascinating and exciting, they end up completing both. Emergency preparedness is a a great badge to complete at Boy Scout camp. If your child is a lifeguard, he may find lifesaving the no-brainer option. Either way, this is one of those badges that kids - and parents - love.
- Environmental Science: Do. It. At. Scout. Camp. Seriously. The material is vastly more interesting in the wilderness, and the environmental observation exercises are tedious beyond belief when the only "wild animals" back home consist of ants and mosquitoes.
- Swimming, Hiking or Cycling: Only one of these badges is required. If your child is a member of a swim team or goes to Scout Camp, swimming is the easiest, most straightforward choice. The hiking badge is a good option for non-swimming, nature-loving kids who enjoy serious, long-distance hikes. Don't even consider the cycling badge unless your child is a die-hard, century-riding cyclist whose idea of fun is riding 20-30 miles every weekend.
- Camping: Like the Emergency Preparedness badge, this one is beloved by nearly every Scout. Its lessons are so central to everything in Scouting, chances are that most of the requirements will be finished over the years simply as a matter of course. But like every Scout merit badge, it is critical that your child get signed up with a merit badge counselor before any requirement work commences, or it will not count.
- First Aid: This Eagle-required badge is actually one of the more interesting, action-packed badges for teens, but it's not a good one for solo work. It's best done at Scout camp or as an organized troop activity.
- Citizenship in the Community/Nation/World: While the material involved in these three local, federal and global civics badges is valuable, attempting to do all three at once is a recipe for disastrous levels of boredom. The better option is to get the community and/or nation badges started during a troop event or Scout camp and finish on one's own. The Citizenship in the World badge can be done entirely on one's own, with guidance from a badge counselor.
- Communications: Much of the work of this badge can be done on one's own, with guidance from a badge counselor, but one component - the speech - requires an audience, which makes it a good option for a badge-o-rama event.
- Personal Fitness, Personal Management & Family Life: All three of these "personal" badges are straight forward, important learning experiences that can be done entirely on one's own. Teens who are involved in high school athletics, in particular, will find personal fitness a breeze. Where it gets tricky is that each badge requires 3 months of activities and record-keeping to track all that exercise, budgeting and/or household chores. Teens typically have no quibble with the tasks, it's the tracking that gets them and failure to stay on top of the record-keeping means having to start over. Laying out a good tracking system - an Excel spreadsheet, for example - is critical. Once in record-keeping mode, your teen may find it easier to do all three badges at once.