Middle School

5 min Read

Being prepared for guiding and scouting

Ask the parents of a five-year-old boy what they think about Boy Scouts. Chances are they’ll say, “Yeah, I’d like my son to do that. Being prepared. Loyal. Trustworthy. Good deeds. It’s all good.” Ask the five-year-old-boy and he’ll say, “Yeah, I’d like to be a Beaver! We’d playgames and do stuff with our families and go camping!”

Now ask an 11-year old: “Boy Scouts? I don’t think so.”

This attitude includes Guiding. Sparks and Brownie packs abound, full of giggling, happy five- to eight-year-olds. But Guides (nine- to 11-year-olds) and Pathfinders (12- to 14-year-olds)? Their units are few and far between. Guiding and scouting promote leadership and offer a community where kids have a voice. So why aren’t kids flocking to it? Are the scouting and guiding programs driving them away, or is the lure of other activities attracting them elsewhere?

Shauna Klein, manager of marketing and strategic affairs for Girl Guides of Canada, says that most attrition happens in the guiding program around the age of 12. This is the time that girls are choosing from among soccer and dance and Guides and piano and ceramics. It’s also the time when she wants to spend more unstructured
time with her friends. Often Guides just doesn’t make the cut. “Guides started to be not cool around Grade 4,” says Hailey, now in Grade 8. “I still liked going, but the other girls just looked at me like I was from another planet; wearing that uniform, wanting to do all that volunteer stuff, being so goody-goody and hanging out with some of the girls in my unit that weren’t so popular. In Guides, it doesn’t really matter if you’re popular or not ‘cause everyone gets included. But that’s not the way it is at school; you have to watch how you dress and who
you hang out with. So I still go, and I still like it, but I just don’t talk about it at school.”

Guides are taking steps to hold onto those tweens. There is an increased emphasis on the girls telling the organization what they want and need, and Guides are listening. “Girls’ opinions are valued,” says Klein. “We’ve done surveys, within the Guiding units and online, and the girls have told us what they want to do and the areas they want to investigate. We’re listening to them; and our programming is changing to reflect that.”

And what about the guys? Scouts Canada is trying a different, and successful, method of retaining older scouts. “Boys stay in Scouts until age 13 or 14,” says Peter Sundborg, executive director of Scouts Canada. “After 14, there’s a massive drop-off. They’re in high school, with a new buffet of activities available. Involvement is heavy. They may have a part-time job and they discover girls (which creates another interest in life).”

So is anything drawing them back into Scouts? “Vocational Venturers and Rovers (ages 14 – 18) are the two programs that have been growing over the past few years. Sundborg says, “In collaboration with the region’s EMS and police forces, Scouts can discover if they have an interest in either of these two fields. It gives them their required high school community service hours and can lead directly into a career. It’s very successful and very well received.”

Among the multicultural communities – Chinese and Muslim, for example, enrolment is increasing because the values of Scouting are common to the traditional cultural background of many ethnic groups.

“Our biggest membership ever was 40 years ago,” says Sundborg. Since then, it has slowly but surely been declining. Was the attitude toward scouting any different back then? “Oh, I can remember going to Cubs,” recalls one father, 46. “It was very motivating, working for those stars and badges. Once I became a scout, the pack leadership changed, it wasn’t nearly as well run and I left.”

Any program, however stellar, is only as good as its leaders. With volunteers, you take what you can get and are happy to have them; but motivated leadership retains membership. And perhaps, after all, great leadership is the real secret to retention.

In 2010, Canadian Girl Guides will celebrate its 100th anniversary. The goal is still to help girls to become the best they can be. And yet it is constantly changing. In just the past year they partnered with PREVnet to develop the Girls United Anti- Bullying Challenge, awarded 17 post-secondary scholarships to girls, partnered with GM Canada to launch a tree-planting program, participated in the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women and helped 50 girls to go on international trips to participate in global service projects. And yes. They still sell about five million boxes of cookies a year!

From sports, camping and science to eco-activities, fashion design and community projects, Guiding continues to be bold, fun and energetic, along with providing the tools and resources girls need to achieve greatness.

Tara-Anne, a junior leader, says, “Guiding teaches you that no matter who you are, you are special and can offer the world something great.” How cool is that!

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