NATURE NOTE - Number 86                                                          February 14, 2024


Nature study used to be a major part of the scouting experience.  I looked at a 1948 edition of the Boy Scout Handbook, and found 80 pages devoted to nature study.  I looked at a 1998 edition handbook and found 14 pages covering nature. (It is up to 34 in the current version.)  Requirements for Eagle do not include any nature merit badges.  (Sustainment can be earned at the kitchen table.)  Each year a list is published about how many of each merit badge was awarded over the past year.  Nature related merit badges continue to go down sharply.  Certainly, there is more competition for the scout’s time – and leader’s – for non-nature activity and in many cases there is lack of interest and knowledge on the part of the leaders about nature.  That is the whole purpose of NATURE NOTES:  to give you, the leaders, some interest and knowledge you can pass on to your scouts about nature.  One of the relative simple and inexpensive ways to help build some interest at the troop or pack level is to build…

Our Current topic:  A Troop or Pack Nature Center

This is certainly not a “nature lodge” size deal, but a small collection of “stuff” that can grab the attention of a scout and expose him or her to some nature subject he/she has not seen or heard about before.  Every unit has limitations on space, so this nature center will vary from unit to unit.  Maybe a large plastic tub that can be brought out from time to time might work, or a shelf collection, or an exhibit.  Think about what you might be able to do.  Maybe one of the adult leaders or a parent might take the lead in building this.  Maybe a scout might like to help with this as he or she works on a collection for a nature merit badge.  Here are some ideas and…

 Opportunities:  to consider about what might go into you own unit nature center.

Field Guides.  This was discussed in NN # 10.  In today’s environment, printed material is almost out-of-use, but having field guides showing pictures and short write-ups on birds, reptiles, or insects will grab the attention of most anyone quicker that having to go search for an app or Google an unidentified animal or plant.  Field guides are available from used book stores, yard sales, or dusty attics at little or no cost.  Even if they are old, they still work.  Acquire some and make them available to your scouts and encourage them to use them.  Show them how they work.  Don’t assume these young people understand how to use table of contents, an index, range maps, etc. 

Merit Badge pamphlets fit the same purpose as above.  Scouts don’t know what nature merit badges are out there.  A stack of pamphlets in your nature center might very well grab the attention of a scout that didn’t know anything about insects or that he/she could get a merit badges about insects.  While the merit badge pamphlets change from year to year, the basic information inside an old one is usually useful even if the requirements might change.  Use the internet or the latest “Requirement” publication that’s updated each year to find the latest requirements. 

Collections of nature stuff can also create interest.  It doesn’t have to be well organized and labeled in detail.  Consider egg cartons for small items, or shoe boxes for other items.  Think about all the things you can find outdoors that you might add to your collection:  bird feathers, broken eggs on the ground, snake skins, old turtle shells, wasp galls, or wasp nests (use common sense here), old bird nests, unusual rocks, nuts, berries, pine cones, seed pods, and finally a leaf collection pressed and taped onto sheets in a loose leaf notebook.   By just having this collection available and encouraging scouts to add what they find to the collection is an incentive to learning what it is.  Always use caution and common sense in what you collect. Don’t remove living things from nature (leaves are OK).  Most of the above list can be picked up off the ground on a casual walk through a forest.  Your cell phone camera can add to your collection as well. 

Free posters and brochures are frequently available from other nature centers, visitor centers or offices operated by federal or state parks, forests, museums, etc.  Look for them and bring them home to share with your scouts.  These often are very good at explaining a lot of nature subjects and can be used to supplement merit badge pamphlets for a scout working on a merit badge.

Articles from print media such as magazines or newspapers are free and often about something in your local area that might connect the scout to nature.  Clip them out and put in a notebook in your nature center.  Maybe print some of these NATURE NOTES and put in a notebook.  (Wow! Now that’s a good idea!)  Just keep your eyes open for items on animals and plants and the environment.  They are there.  Finally, a list of various videos and apps might be of value.  

Start a set of check-lists for birds or trees or reptiles in your area.  Encourage the scouts to add to the list.  I’ve provided a list of winter birds in NN # 9 that will work as a starter list for most of the council area.  Do the same for trees.  This can become something the scouts can start with.  It’s a lot more of an incentive than starting with a blank sheet of paper.

A couple of other items you might want in your nature center are a magnifying glass to get an up-close look at things, a couple pairs of binoculars for birding, a ruler for some measurements you might want, and finally a notebook to record things you see.

By having something tangible and available that the scouts can see and touch is important in getting their interest.  Often they don’t know of their own interest.  You have to give them a boost sometimes to get them to move.  A unit Nature Center might just help and it might be fun to develop for an adult as well.  Maybe someone will need a Wood Badge ticket item?

Thanks for reading NATURE NOTES.  This site has been available for over three years now and I hope some of you are making use of it help encourage scouts to take an interest in nature.  Please share what you have learned with other adults, and send me an update as well at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Bob Garst