The BSA offers four "traditional" Scout programs, as well as three non-tradtional offerings (Exploring, Learning for Life, STEM Scouts). There are more details about all these programs on our Boy Scouts of America page.
Younger Cub Scouts
The "Younger boy Problem." Since the first campout of the first Boy Scout troop, boys too young to join have always desired to camp out like Scouts. The British answer to this desire was Wolf Cubs (now called Cub Scouts), created by Baden-Powell in 1916, and patterned after Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book stories. The BSA called this desire simply the "younger boy problem." Opposition from Chief Scout Executive James West delayed the start of our younger boy program until 1930. At first called Cubbing, the BSA changed the name to Cub Scouting in 1945. Cub Scouts was originally for boys aged 9, 10, and 11. Now the program covers Kindergarten through grade 5.
Differences. The BSA's Cub Scout program has always been quite different from the younger boy programs of most other countries, which are often a modified version of the Boy Scout program. As the BSA's Cub Scout Leader Book says, "Our Cub Scouting is different from the younger boy programs of any other country because it is home- and neighborhood-centered...." The BSA has always strongly insisted that our younger boy program be significantly different from Boy Scouting, out of fear that too early an introduction to camping and other Boy Scout skills would spoil Boy Scouting for the younger boys. An unfortunate side-effect of this approach is that boys who get bored with Cub Scouts rarely join a Boy Scout troop when they are old enough because they believe that the Boy Scout program will be just like Cub Scouts.
Age Range. Cub Scouting's age range during its first 19 years was 9-11. In 1949, this was lowered to 8-10 as all BSA programs lowered their entry age by one year (Explorers from 15 to 14, Boy Scouts from 12 to 11, and Cub Scouts from 9 to 8). From 1986 to 1989, the Cub Scouting Division further lowered the age for each Cub Scout level and changed the primary entry requirement to school grade instead of age. As a result, the Cub Scouting Division uses the following school-grade scheme:
Ranks. Unlike Boy Scout ranks, which a boy may earn as soon as he has passed the previous rank, Cub Scout ranks have always been restricted to a specific age group. The original three Cub ranks were Wolf (age 9, later age 8, now 2nd Grade), Bear (age 10, later age 9, now 3rd Grade), and Lion (age 11, later age 10, dropped in 1967 [the Lion name has been revived in 2017 to apply to the new Kindergarten level Cub Scout program]). At first, a boy who joined the pack at an older age had to earn ALL previous ranks before he could work on the rank for his age. Soon, this requirement was dropped and new Cub Scouts were allowed to begin work immediately on the rank for their age group (after completing the Bobcat joining requirements). Cub Scouts now can earn six ranks: Bobcat (the joining requirements, not considered a rank until 1974), Tiger (replaced the Tiger Cub rank in 2015), Wolf, Bear, Webelos (created in 1977), Arrow of Light (originally called the Webelos rank, created in 1941). The new Lion badge for Kindergartners is not yet considered a rank.
Cub Scouting rank names are an odd mix of native and non-native animals, apparently chosen mainly from animals whose young are called 'cubs'. While some tie in with Kipling's Jungle Book stories (Tiger, Wolf, Bear), the Bobcat (native to US) and Lion (native to Africa) do not. We even have an American 'lion' they could have chosen (the mountain lion/cougar/puma). Plus the tiger ('Shere Khan') was the bad guy in the Jungle Book stories.
Den Leadership. At first, each Cub den was led by a Boy Scout Den Chief with no direct adult involvement in the den (that, by the way, is why he is called the Den CHIEF instead of Den Assistant or some such)! In 1936, the BSA added the optional office of Den Mother (Den Mothers were not required to register until 1948). The handbooks of the late 1930s state that the Den Mother was ready to help when needed "but she leaves the actual running of the Den to the Den Chief." Even after almost 20 years of Cub Scouting, the 1949 handbook still stated that the Den Mother "helps the Den Chief plan Den fun." Not until the mid 1950s did the Den Mother assume full control of the den, with the Den Chief becoming the helper. In 1967, Den Mothers became Den Leaders as men were also allowed to lead dens. In 1967, a Den Leader Coach provided guidance and assistance to the Den Leaders; this office became Pack Trainer in 2009.
Adult Leaders. Until 1967, men could hold any Cub Scout leader position except Den Mother; now men can hold any position. Until the late 1960s, women were generally excluded from registered Cub Scout leader positions except Den Mother. Women have been permitted to be Cubmaster only since 1976, and Webelos Den Leader only since 1988. Today, men and women can hold any Cub Scout leadership position. (It is interesting that the BSA did not allow women on the national Cub Scout Committee until 1969.)
Older Cub Scouts
Transition to a Scout Troop. The need for a transition program from the Cub Scout pack to a Scout troop became apparent early because too many Cub Scouts were failing to make the transition, and because Cub Scout graduates were generally unprepared for the Scout program. The Webelos program offered Cub Scouts the opportunity to learn about Scouts.
History of Webelos. Created in 1941, the original Webelos program consisted simply of a new Webelos rank which boys could earn during their last few months in Cub Scouting. To earn the new rank, Cub Scouts first had to earn Lion, and they had to learn the skills required for the Boy Scout Tenderfoot badge. The Cub Scouts who worked on the Webelos rank were not yet called Webelos, and they remained in a regular Cub Scout den. In 1954, 10-1/2 year olds were organized into special Webelos dens, although they still had to earn Lion to qualify for the Webelos rank. In 1967, Cub Scouting dropped the Lion rank, extended the Webelos program from six months to the last year of Cub Scouting, and created the first 15 Webelos activity badges. In 1977, they added a new Webelos rank (the old Webelos rank was now called the Arrow of Light rank). In 1987, the Webelos program added five more activity badges (for a total of 20), and realigned the requirements of several activity badges to more closely match the requirements for the Boy Scout Tenderfoot rank. In 1988-89, the Webelos program was expanded to cover the last two years of Cub Scouting, though the BSA soon after began encouraging packs to graduate Webelos in February instead of May or June (so they could get started with a Scout troop before summer, and thus be less likely to drop out over the summer).
Younger Version of Scouting. Interestingly enough, in spite of the BSA insistence that our Cub Scout program NOT be a younger version of the Scout program, this has actually been the trend for most of Cub Scouting's existence. Since its creation in 1941, the Webelos program has become progressively more independent of the Cub Scout pack and progressively more a younger version of the Scout program in its insignia, terminology, and advancement. Today's Webelos are properly called Webelos Scouts (not Webelos Cub Scouts), and they now wear the tan Scout uniform (with appropriate Webelos insignia) instead of the blue Cub Scout uniform. Although Webelos Scouts no longer use the Boy Scout Handbook to work on Tenderfoot, today's Webelos Scout Handbook covers the Scout joining requirements (now called 'Scout' rank), as well as the Webelos activity badges. In addition, the requirements for some of the Webelos activity badges have been changed so that a Webelos graduate enters a Scout troop essentially finished with the Scout rank. Webelos dens generally pick a patrol name and wear the Scout patrol patch in place of their den numeral. Similar to Boy Scouts, Webelos advancement is handled by the Webelos Den Leader rather than the parents, and Webelos activities are more parent-son than family-centered.
Meaning of "Webelos." The name Webelos (which is always spelled with the 's') and the Arrow of Light symbol actually date from Cub Scouting's founding in 1930. Webelos was the name of the made-up "tribe" to which all Cubs belonged, symbolized by the Arrow of Light (which was not yet a badge to be earned). When the BSA created a new rank above Lion in 1941, they used the Cub Scout tribe name and symbol (the new rank was called the Webelos award until 1977, when it was renamed the Arrow of Light award and yet another new rank created bearing the name Webelos). From 1930 to 1967, the Webelos name had a double meaning. The consonants in WeBeLoS stood for the Cub Scout rank progression culminating with graduation into a Boy Scout troop (Wolf, Bear, Lion, Scout), a meaning lost when the Lion rank was discontinued. The full name stood for "We'll Be Loyal" (later, apparently because someone felt the final 's' should stand for something, this became "We'll Be Loyal Scouts"). For about a decade after the creation of the Webelos rank, the Webelos tribal name was still applied to all Cub Scouts. During the 1950s, the name gradually became the sole property of the senior Cub Scouts working on the Webelos badge (although all new Cub Scouts must still learn the secret meaning of the Webelos name as a requirement for the Bobcat rank).
Former Tiger Cubs
Tiger Cubs began in 1982 as a means of starting boys and their parents in Scouting one year sooner, and was partly based on the Boy Scouts of Canada's Beaver program (the first such pre-Cub-Scout program). Tiger Cubs was very informal, encouraging activities between a boy and a parent. It was first open to 7 year olds, then open to all boys in First Grade. In 1996, the BSA updated the Tiger Cub program, primarily incorporating them more closely with the pack, a change most packs had already made. Before, Tiger Cubs were supposed to attend only a couple of pack meetings a year, and were not supposed to make Pinewood Derby cars. After, they became fully integrated into the Cub Scout pack, and even had a Tiger Cub rank to earn. As of 2015, BSA eliminated the separate Tiger Cubs program altogether and made it simply the first-year Cub Scout program, with its badge now simply called the Tiger rank (not Tiger Cub rank). The Tiger rank badge was also re-designed, replacing the cartoonish drawing of a tiger cub with a more realistic representation of an adult tiger (which matches how the Wolf and Bear ranks look).
It's interesting that BSA chose not to use the 'Beaver' name, even though beavers are (or were) common in much of the US, while tigers are not found in the US outside of zoos. [Most countries that have created a pre-Cub program call it Beaver Scouts, or identify a young animal common to their country (such as Australia's 'Joey Scouts').]
The Lion Cubs program became available nationwide in 2018, as the BSA created a new program for Kindergarten aged kids. It is very similar to the original Tiger Cub program from 1982. There is more information about Cub Scouts and Lion Cubs on our Boy Scouts of America page and on our Cub Scouting page.
In late 2017, BSA announced a major expansion of its programs by opening Cub Scouts and Scouts to girls (Venturing and Sea Scouts have been coed since 1971). As of 2018, Cub Scout packs may choose to be for boys only, for girls only, or mixed. All dens in mixed packs must be single-gender. More information about girls and adult women in the BSA is available on our Women and Girls in the Boy Scouts of America page.
Last Revision to This Page: 21 February 2021
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