My son desperately wants to join the Boy Scouts, but I've had to say no due to the local troop's religious agenda.

I've been helping my friend try to come up with ideas for her daughter's new Girl Scout troop, as the activities have been incredibly simplified over the years (there are now only 15 skill badges brownies can earn, compared to dozens when I was a child, and the girls' books contain much more nebulous fluff and far fewer activities).

Is there a challenging, secular program that gets kids together to work on outdoorsmanship and citizenship, and gives them the chance to meet other kids with those values?

Notes: Both children are in elementary school. I'd prefer a coed program, but if there isn't one, a single-sex alternative would be fine.

  • 2
    Is there only one Boy Scout troop option? Where I live there are 5 or 6 Boy Scout troops within as many miles. One of them is affiliated with the local Elks lodge (and is not very religious), two are affiliated with churches, and the others hold their meetings at schools or the local Boys and Girls Club. There are just as many Girl Scout troops.
    – tomjedrz
    Sep 12, 2011 at 14:38
  • My daughter got her Girl Scout Gold Award a couple of years ago. It was very demanding, far more demanding than the Eagle Scout program. I suggest that you look farther along at the Girl Scout program .. they revamped the program to make it more inviting for the young girls, but it gets better. Much depends on the troop leadership.
    – tomjedrz
    Sep 12, 2011 at 14:42
  • To tomjedrz: There were some HUGE changes in the last two years and although I'm sure the bronze, silver, and gold awards are still challenging. The focus of badges has changed from being something that kids were allowed to choose and learn and explore on their own based on interest to fewer badges the whole troop earns together. Jul 9, 2012 at 17:00
  • Related: There's a proposal to open a Scouting Stach Exchange site that we should follow. Sep 4, 2012 at 14:59
  • Recently I discovered that our town has 2 Boy Scout Troops, even though we are small, one of which does follow the traditional path, with a lot of religious overtones. However, we also have one that follows the path and is rather lackluster in boosting anything religious, this may not be talked about but still provide the Scouting experience you prefer without the agenda. May need to ask around. Our Cub Scout pack is pretty lackluster on the religious aspect, and very inclusive, which works for me where I am agnostic and my son is a Buddhist.
    – MichaelF
    Mar 23, 2015 at 13:38

8 Answers 8


I'd like to offer an alternative, which is the B-PSA (Baden-Powell Service Association) (http://bpsa-us.org). I'm commissioner for the association, and we are open to everyone, without exception, youth and adult, boys and girls. Our policy of inclusion provides an environment for both secular (myself included) and non-secular participation. We are a traditional scouting program, based on the same scouting methods and aims laid down by Baden-Powell when he founded scouting in 1907. Our intention is to keep to the traditional, outdoor based program and make scouting available to every youth and adult that would like to participate. We have program sections for ages 5-7 (Otters), 8-10 (Timberwolves), 11-17 (Pathfinders) and 18+ (Rovers).

I'm also the Group Scoutmaster for a local B-PSA group in Missouri; and I would be happy to answer any questions about the program and how we operate. We're very small right now; but have various groups starting up in different areas of the US. I'd be glad to help you setup a new group and get one going in your area as well.

You can get in touch with me via the "Contact" form on the main web site, http://bpsa-us.org or my contact information here. I hope this gives you some more information on your questions; and maybe the program lines up with what you are looking for in a scouting organization.


4-H (homepage, Wikipedia) worked for me and my siblings. I won awards in local, district, and state competitions in public speaking, showing cattle, and cooking while holding various offices in the organization, attend camps and participating in special events and activities. The choices of activities are much less "farm centered" and varied in recent years. The program may be a good option for your children.

Here is more information from their webpage regarding.

4-H is a positive youth development organization that empowers young people to reach their full potential. A vast community of more than 6 million youth and adults working together for positive change, 4-H enables America’s youth to emerge as leaders through hands-on learning, research-based 4-H youth programs and adult mentorship, in order to give back to their local communities

With an expansive network reaching every corner of the country, 4-H is the nation’s largest youth development organization. More than 6 million 4-H youth in urban neighborhoods, suburban schoolyards and rural farming communities stand out among their peers: building revolutionary opportunities and implementing community-wide change at an early age.

4-H programs have taken root in more than 70 countries in North, South, and Central America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. World-wide, 4-H programs operate autonomously but all share the goal of improving the lives of millions of young people and their families. Around the world, 4-H has been proven an effective tool for agricultural and economic development.

  • I also had excellent experience in 4-H and think it is just what you are looking for. There is a large focus on leadership and citizenship and there are a wide range of project areas. If there's no existing club near you, you could learn how to start one by contacting your county cooperative extension office.
    – JayL
    Sep 8, 2011 at 4:07
  • I'm not familiar with the term "4-H" so I googled it and added a link to your post. Their homepage's "find us" feature indicates it's only in the UK? Uh, zooming out of the map I see around New York also, and a single location 400 miles off the coast of Ghana, Africa. Is that a pirate ship?! Sep 8, 2011 at 6:42
  • 1
    If it's off ghana, its probably been georeferenced as 0,0 and is a mistake, not a pirate ship. But there is one off St Lucia, I am told ;)
    – Hairy
    Sep 8, 2011 at 7:47
  • I'll add my voice to the 4-H supporters. I had a great time growing up with my local 4H club.
    – wax eagle
    Sep 8, 2011 at 14:24
  • Actually, the national 4-H convention is near our home in Indianapolis. Sadly, we don't get to spend enough time in a rural area to take part in 4-H. :/
    – HedgeMage
    Sep 8, 2011 at 15:51

What about Campfire? It is co-ed and offers outdoor programs.

Another option would be your local YMCA. I think they sometimes have programs for kids.


If you're near water, an alternative might be a sailing club?

I have great personal experiences with joining a sailing club as a child, learning and working with others, and eventually becoming a volunteer sailing instructor myself. That sailing club was in a rural area and had a very relaxed social atmosphere -- not at all the snobbish pseudo-golfer stereotypes that might come to mind when you hear sailing club.

Granted, there's not much going on with "badges" and such, but you do learn a lot of practical handling of physical things, and tying proper knots(!), and an understanding of the effects of the physical world (principles and effects of wind, waves, inertia of moving objects, safety and rescue, spring/fall cleaning and preparation, and so on).

There's also the important element of teamwork, and meeting others in the club's social activities as well as strangers during regattas etc.

Perhaps other sports clubs can offer similar benefits?

  • I'd second this - at our sailing club the activities for the kids are generally run by the 17-20 year-olds who came through the same program a few years earlier. There is a great sense of community and fun, and nothing is taken too seriously (or very seriously at all TBH, there is a lot of getting wet!)
    – Matt
    Oct 23, 2012 at 16:07

You could also try a local Boys/Girls Club, they often have activities like that as well.

Not for primary age kids, but when they get older you may want to keep Outward Bound in mind.

The Venture Scouts is another option, though its more geared for older kids, as well as boys AND girls.

I had reservations about the Boy Scouts as you, but I have some great memories of them and I never bought into the religious stuff. Checking out my local troop (now that my son is old enough to be in Scouts) I found that there are troops that minimize the religious component so that my son can learn just as much as I did, and still remain a Buddhist.

Even Cub Scouts now note that there are different religions, where there are differing steps for meeting with your religious leader of choice for advacement, so in the past few years there are changes.

  • I was a municipal liaison to a B&GC for a summer. It was one of the best experiences of my life.
    – Aarthi
    Sep 8, 2011 at 13:29

I work over at DIY.org--a community for kids who make. Might be a nice online alternative for kids where they can earn badges and skills by completing challenges for a variety of Skills on the site.


  • This is an interesting site, so don't despair. I'm guessing your answer was downvoted because it's purely online but the asker is looking for a program that gets kids together and I assume she means "together in the real world". Oct 19, 2012 at 11:50
  • 3
    The OP also did specify that she was looking for something that stresses "outdoorsmanship". However, there are plenty of maker projects that could be selected that would comfortably fit into the category of "outdoorsmanship". It just takes a little thinking outside of the box, which is exactly what maker organizations like this are all about! +1 from me, and I'll definitely keep your site bookmarked for when my son is old enough.
    – user420
    Oct 19, 2012 at 12:14
  • Not exactly like the Boy Scouts or Brownies, but I still think this answer deserves to be here! I'm glad I found diy.org! Sep 9, 2013 at 22:51

In the UK people could try the Woodcraft folk.


At Woodcraft Folk we believe passionately in equality and co-operation – everyone is welcome to join our groups.

Every week thousands of volunteers and young people meet in school halls, community venues and a host of other places to learn about big ideas through fun activities like singing, playing and debating.

Our aim is to have great fun, but also to try and develop children’s self-confidence and build their awareness of society around them.

Through our activities, outings and camps we help our members understand important issues like the environment, world debt and global conflict and, in recent years, we have focused on sustainable development.

By encouraging children to think, we hope they will help build a peaceful, fairer world.

Internationally they are part of http://www.ifm-sei.org/ which is perhaps a bit left-wing.


There are several scouting alternatives in the US, though you may have to start a troop in your area yourself as most of these programs aren't yet as far reaching as Boy/Girl Scouts.

Quest Clubs (https://questclubs.com)

Over 1,000 badges & awards to earn. Open to boys and girls. Freedom to run troop as you like. Can sign up as an individual or family & not join or start a troop if there's not one already near you or you don't want to. Preschool to high school. Even adults can earn badges too.

Frontier Girls (https://frontiergirlsclubs.com)

Basically the same as Quest Clubs with a few minor changes. Girls only. Created by the same person who created Quest with all the same badges included but with a couple different special awards. A little less freedom in how you run your troop. I believe you can still sign up as an individual or family if you don't have a troop near you & don't wish to start one. Preschool to high school. Even adults can earn badges too.

Navigators USA (https://navigatorsusa.org)

"Navigators USA is an all gender, secular scouting movement that welcomes all people — children and adults, no matter what gender, race, lifestyle, ability, religious or lack of religious belief." - from the website There are badges to earn & multiple age levels.

Spiral Scouts (https://www.spiralscouts.org)

"SpiralScouts is based on the idea of children and parents of both genders working together. Our program encourages girls and boys to learn, play, and work together under the direction of leaders of both genders as a way of showing by example that both men and women are capable and cooperative leaders." - from the website Spiral Scouts was created by wiccans but is welcoming to all religions & the non-religious. You can create a Hearth with just your family or just one scout or you can join/create a Circle that is run like a troop. Includes multiple age levels.

American Heritage Girls (https://americanheritagegirls.org)

"American Heritage Girls is a Christ-centered leadership and character development program for girls 5 to 18 years of age." - from the website For girls ages 5-18. Earns badges. Is more wide spread than the groups above. I don't know much about it beyond that.

DIY (www.diy.org)

Badges are mostly earned on an individual basis. Clubs may be created as well, but there's no official club structure as with the groups above. It's open to all kids & teens.

Wild Explorers Club (www.wildexplorersclub.com)

"The Wild Explorers Club is a monthly, online adventure program designed to ignite a heart for exploration and wonder in our kids. The assignments are designed for kids ages 6-12, but younger children can certainly participate with the help of their parents." - from the website

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