The Troop Meeting Plan identifies the ‘Pre-Opening Activity’ as the first agenda item for an effective Troop Meeting, but many Troops seem to ignore this simple tool. We think that’s a mistake.
The Troop Leader Guidebook describes the pre-opening activity simply as “a game or project”, which provides a great deal of latitude to do different things. This is key since repeating pre-openers, or settling into a rotation, takes away much of the interest and excitement of having something new each week.
Before we consider a few pre-openers that you might try, let me suggest four reasons that the pre-opener is such a powerful tool.
- An effective pre-opener encourages boys to arrive on time. When these activities are interesting, engaging, and new, the pre-opener becomes an anticipated part of the program that boys don’t want to miss. Having everyone arrive before the more in-depth aspects of the meeting begin helps to minimize distractions and keep everyone focused.
- The pre-opening provides a time for key individuals, such as the Senior Patrol Leader and Scoutmaster, to welcome everyone individually. In a busy Troop Meeting, individual attention from the Scoutmaster or SPL are likely to be rare, but the pre opening can allow each boy the chance to enjoy a handshake and a personal welcome form troop leaders.
- The pre-opening provides boys’ brains an opportunity to switch into ‘Scout-mode’. With busy lives, it’s easy for boys to run to a Scout meeting with their minds full of homework, baseball, etc. The pre-opening time allows their brain to settle back into their Scouting rhythm.
- The pre-opener allows boys to greet each other and catch up without causing a distraction. We’d like to think that boys make friends at Scouts, and many of them attend different schools and live in different neighborhoods. It’s natural for them to want to catch up when they see each other, but that can be distracting if it takes place during a flag ceremony or a skills instruction session. The pre-opener provides a non-distracting environment for general greeting and socialization that we don’t want to hinder.
Now that you’re in-tune with some of the ways that a pre-opening activity can help your Troop, let’s have a look at some examples of the sort of things you might do.
Active Games. Perhaps the obvious pre-opener is some sort of active game. Ideally one that each boy can be absorbed into as he arrives. Since the pre-opener is likely to be new, games with complicated rules might be problematic since you’ll have to re-explain the rules to every boy as he arrives.
Crafts. Depending on your group, a craft might be a fun pre-opener. One particularly powerful pre-opener I recall is when the Troop made survival bracelets out of paracord. Other examples might include making a giant card for a sick Troop member, making ‘Why I love Scouting’ posters, etc.
Card or Board Games. These can be a little tricky since you have boys arriving at different times, but several tables set up with different card games or simple board games can be fun.
Magic Tricks. Demonstrating magic tricks and then teaching them to boys to perform at home is a really fun and engaging pre-opener that most boys have never seen before. Use Youtube to learn a few simple tricks and bring them to Troop Meeting to astound and amaze the boys!
Game Shows. With a little preparation, it’s not too difficult to set up a game of ‘Jeopardy’ or ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ in PowerPoint. Categories for questions could be general Scout knowledge or even more specific content based on a merit badge your Troop completed recently.
I’ve often said that a great Troop Meeting is one where a boy wants to arrive early and leave late, and by mastering the pre-opener, you’ll be half way there!