I often ask myself “where do the years go?” And it is no different when it comes to Girl Scouts. It seems like it was only yesterday when I started leading my daughter’s Daisy troop, but here we are, eight years later starting our last year as Cadettes. As the girls have grown, I have definitely learned that what kept girls engaged as a Brownie troop, does not always work for an older girl troop. Today I share with you a few of my tried and true tips on leading older girl troops:
Find a meeting date and time that works
Many girls today don’t participate in just one sport or activity; they are involved in EVERYTHING. Sports, theater, music lessons, clubs…you name it! When troop meeting times conflict with other school or sport activities, Girl Scouts is often the first thing to go. Before we bridged to Juniors, I met an older girl troop in my service unit who met on Sunday evenings – they found that Sundays rarely conflicted with other practices, games, or activities. As a troop, we decided to make the switch to Sunday meetings ourselves, and for the most part, it has worked pretty well. Since we only meet once or twice a month, it doesn’t take away from too much family time and has become a fun way to end a weekend. Maybe your troop can try a weekend meeting if you’re noticing that other activities conflict. The key is to find a day and time that works for your troop.
Even with a set meeting date, conflicts may come up. A couple years ago, one of our troop members learned that her new cheer practice would be at the same time as our troop meetings. I had two options: tell the family “tough luck, she can’t be in the troop,” or I could be flexible and say, “come when you can, participate in cookies, and attend field trips if you can make it.” I went with the latter and guess what, two years later, she’s still in our troop. A girl can miss a meeting; she doesn’t have to earn every badge or patch the troop works on. It will be ok.
I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that teenage girls like to chat and hang out, that’s been a constant across generations. One of the great things about Girl Scouts is that you can build real-life social networking right into your troop meetings. No, I don’t mean everyone has to talk via Instagram and text messages, what I mean is find some downtime when girls can simply chat and hang out. This is what we do as girls arrive before formally starting the meeting. Simple, yet effective.
Plan and take a trip. Yes, it takes some time. Yes, it may take a lot of work. Yes, it may be intimidating taking a group of middle or high school girls hundreds or thousands of miles away from home, but the payoff…totally worth it! Trip planning with the girls can take one or two years, and what better way to keep them engaged than the anticipation of a fun adventure down the road? Not sure where to start? Check out GSUSA’s Getaways to help brainstorm ideas. We took our first troop trip to Chicago as Cadettes. Next, we have our sights set on the birthplace of Girl Scouting: Savannah, GA.
Overnights as troop meetings
Remember that girl I mentioned who couldn’t make it to our regular meeting time? One way we were able to include her more often was by having a weekend overnight. Instead of our typically twice-a-month troop meetings, we picked two months out of the year and held an overnight instead. We’ve done backyard campouts and stayed at a council property. The girls work on a few badges or awards, cook their meals, and have time to chat with friends. Think of it as two meetings built into one, plus the added bonus of hangout time and a sleepover! Ask any girl in our troop, they’ll be sure to let you know that this has become one of their favorite troop traditions.
I know, I know. The concept of girl-led programming is nothing new to Girl Scouting, but seriously, do it. By the time girls are Cadettes or Seniors, they can be (mostly) running the show. Some girls are eager to lead, and others, not so much. Set out a sign-up sheet and ask girls who are willing to lead a meeting to pick a date and a badge to work on. The rest is up to them! And who knows, if your troop is anything like mine, a few of your quiet or shy girls might just be inspired to tackle a meeting of their own. Leader bonus: your job just got a lot easier.
Girls like prizes. Even tweens and teens. I tried something new last year and created a prize bag. Nothing fancy, just a few simple giveaway items like candy bars, Girl Scout swag, trinkets from the shop (checkout the clearance table!), or items from the dollar section of a certain local big-box retailer. I occasionally bring out the prize bag for various activities or challenges (ex: who completed their kaper the fastest, which group had the funniest skit, who completed the relay races, you get the idea). It is a small way for me to say “thanks for having fun and sticking with our troop.”
A few years ago, I said to the girls that I will plan to stick with them all through high school if they wish to keep the troop going. So far, so good. And if we make it to senior year (and I hope we do), I am sure that day will be here before we know it!
Has your troop committed to keepin’ it together until the end? What keeps your troop coming back year after year?
Emily Schmall – Emily is the Volunteer Services Manager at Girl Scouts River Valleys. She was a Girl Scout growing up and now leads her daughter’s troop of spirited Cadettes, where they share many adventures. Her background is in programming, education, and curriculum development. She has a BA in visual art and attended the M.Ed. initial licensure program in art education, both through the University of Minnesota. She lives in the Twin Cities with her family, where they are busy training their rescue puppy and teaching their old cat new tricks. In her (non-Girl Scout related) free time, Emily enjoys photography, playing the ukulele, and attending the Minnesota State Fair.