Structured Play is not Scouting

Scouts Canada’s new program potentially to be operated by paid leaders

By Scouter Liam Morland, September 1999

Recently, Scouts Canada has been quietly taking some initial steps down a new path. Those of us who read the Scouts Canada web site in detail ran across the mention of a project to develop a "play with a purpose" program in minutes of the May 1999 national meeting. I spoke on the phone with Ian Mitchell of the National Office who provided me with some details about the Structured Play program, now a pilot project in Toronto. This new program is in a new direction is two major ways. First, the program does not use the Scout Method and therefore is not a Scouting program. Second, there is the potential for the program to be delivered by paid leaders, rather than by volunteers. This essay, which is based on my August 1999 conversation with Ian Mitchell, will describe the program and offer some commentary.

According to Ian Mitchell, the idea for a structured play program came out of the recent Angus Reid polling of current Scouts Canada members and the general public. The program is supposed to serve as a recruitment tool to get the word about Scouting out and should not compete with traditional programs. It may serve to get Scouting going in areas were traditional programs have failed to become established. While the program is aimed at being primarily a recruiting tool, it will also serve to get Scouting's values out to those who do not move on to traditional programs.

Structure Play is a program which runs one and a half hours after school. Youth will participate in a single age group which covers ages five to ten, the area presently covered by both the Beaver and Cub programs. Participants will sign up for three month terms, rather than a whole year. The program itself will be very similar to the Beaver program: a mixture of crafts, games, and other similar activities. Outdoor activities such as camping will not be included. The program will incorporate teamwork and Scouters' Fives.

Structured Play will not include several things which are strongly connected with traditional Scouting programs. There is no uniform, no ceremonies, no badges, no promise or law, no lodge/six/patrol equivalent, and no symbolic framework (like the Jungle theme of Cubs). This is where it becomes clear that Structured Play is not a Scouting program.

Scouting programs are programs that use the Scout Method. There are seven elements to the Scout Method: Promise and Law, Team (or Patrol) System, Symbolic Framework, Personal Progression (usually a badge scheme), Nature, Adult Support, and Learning by Doing. (Detailed information about the Scout Method and its seven elements can be found in Scouting: An Educational System, published by the World Organization of the Scout Movement (1998).) The program clearly excludes the first three of these elements and the degree to which the next two are included is unclear. It is said that close is only good enough in horseshoes and hand grenades. "[W]e can only speak of the Scout Method when all these elements are combined within an integrated educational system" (WOSM 1992:8). We cannot pick and choose. If any element of the Method is missing, then the program, no matter how good its intentions may be, is not Scouting.

Leadership for the pilot program will be volunteers just as in currently practice for traditional programs. The same rules for volunteer screening will apply. While it was not stated that this was a purpose of the program, Ian Mitchell mentioned that there may be a potential market to sell the Structured Play program to places like corporate daycare centres, raising money for Scouts Canada. Such centres would still have to follow Scouts Canada's screen requirements, but could decide to pay the leaders who operate the program.

Ian Mitchell stated that the program is intended to be a "program based on Scouting's philosophy" which should expose more people to Scouting so that they will join traditional Scouts Canada programs.

Some serious questions need to be asked here. First, are we losing members nationally because not enough people are exposed to or aware of Scouts Canada's program, or are we losing members because we can't keep the ones we already have? Anecdotal insights and statistical information both suggest the latter: retention is the problem. More recruitment will do nothing to help that. We must concentrate our efforts on providing better programs to keep the kids we already have rather than more recruiting schemes.

Second, should Scouts Canada start down the road of offering non-Scouting programs? (Presently, this is not permitted by the bylaws of Scouts Canada, but is being piloted anyway.) Should we remove uniforms, patrol responsibility, our promise and law, and other things just to make Scouting appear more "cool" to outsiders? Or are we better off concentrating on offering quality Scouting programs and building on the miracle of Scouting's ninety-plus years of world wide growth and educational excellence? Do we really believe that we can no longer succeed on the strength of Scouting alone?

Third, should Scouts Canada make room for paid leaders to run its programs? How many people would volunteer for a position that others are paid to do? Would paid staff have the same spirit as those of us who dedicate our free time because we want to be involved in the education of children? Would Scouts Canada become a daycare program provider and little else?

Ian Mitchell said that a report on the pilot would be available in January. We will have to wait until then for more details, however, to me it is clear that we are potentially on the brink of becoming "just another organization" like BP warned that we might. Scouts Canada's sole purpose should be to assist the section Scouter in providing a quality Scouting program for their section. This is where Scouts Canada's efforts must lie. There is no room in the mix for non-Scouting programs or paid leadership as is proposed by Structured Play.


World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM).
1992. Fundamental Principles. Geneva, Switzerland: World Scout Bureau.
1998. Scouting: An Educational System. (PDF) Geneva, Switzerland: World Scout Bureau.