A century after they were founded, Scouts Canada and Girl Guides of Canada continue to teach boys and girls how to have fun while building a better world.
For 13-year old Caleb, fun is the operative word when it comes to describing his scouting adventures.
“Probably our first canoe camp was my best experience because I learned how to canoe there – a lot of fun. I got to fool around in the canoe and caught a turtle. I saw my first wild lizard there and lots of wildlife – and it was really a lot of fun. You got to swim around all day. And we had a jumping rock that we jumped off into the water. I really had a lot of fun.”
Caleb is one of millions of kids worldwide who are finding both joy and fulfillment as a Scout or a Girl Guide while learning how to be good citizens. The fact that these organizations are still going strong a century after they were formed would have pleased their founders, the Baden Powells.
Back in 1907, Lord Baden Powell took some boys camping on an island off the coast of England where they took part in activities such as woodcrafting and lifesaving. There was so much enthusiasm for his idea that two years later, 11,000 boys came to a rally at the Crystal Palace in London. When girls also showed an interest, Baden Powell asked his sister Agnes to start a program especially for them, which was further developed by his wife Olave. The Boy Scouts and Girl Guides were born.
A hundred years later, the two organizations have spread throughout the world, embracing kids of all races, creeds, colours and religions. Scouting programs are now available in 155 countries and Guiding programs in 144. In this country, Scouts Canada celebrated its centennial in 2007 while Girl Guides of Canada will be celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2010.
Along the way, Scouts and Guides have evolved to offer more programs for kids, stay current with the times, and reflect the ever-changing needs and interests of girls and boys.
The missions of the two groups are similar. Scouts Canada’s is to “ build a better world” by helping kids become self-reliant, supportive, responsible, and committed so that they are “self-fulfilled as individuals and play a constructive role in society.” Girl Guides of Canada’s mandate is “to enable girls to be confident, resourceful and courageous and to make a difference in the world.”
For kids, these goals translate into a place where they can meet with other boys and girls to learn new skills, make new friends, explore the world around them, and, of course, have fun.
Scouts Canada offers a range of progressive programs for kids and young adults, from ages 5 to 26 (see sidebar below).
Outdoor activities continue to be a major part of the Scouting program and an important learning resource. Each group holds weekend activities that might include hikes, no trace camping and sports, all meant to encourage an active, healthy lifestyle.
Kids can also earn badges for a wide variety of activities related to nature, the arts, music, leadership and much more.
As the kids progress through the various levels, activities get more demanding. “Camps have gotten tougher,” says Caleb, “badges have gotten harder to earn, and there are many more challenges.”
But with the more difficult activities comes increased self-reliance. Says Caleb’s mom, Lee: “I see the kids in my son’s troop developing their sense of independence, getting to explore the things they are interested in, getting exposed to different things, and being recognized for their accomplishments.”
In Scouts, young people also learn how to be leaders, says Lenore Allen, a volunteer adult development trainer with Scouts Canada. “Cubs in second or third year go back to Beavers (first year) to help the kids with games and crafts, and play a leadership role in the group,” she says. “It’s the same with Scouts, who help out in Cubs.”
All kids welcome
A non-profit organization, Scouts Canada has been co-ed since 1994 and is completely inclusive. “We have children with disabilities and learning issues, and we adapt our programs to fit those special needs,” says Allen. “We welcome all ethnicities and languages.”
Income level is also not a barrier to joining Scouts. If parents cannot afford the registration fee or the cost of the uniform, they can access the Scouts’ “No One Left Behind” program, which provides subsidies.
Scout leader Rick Vermeiren has seen first hand the difference belonging to Scouts can make in a child’s life. He recalls “a young boy who came in to Beavers as a very shy four year old. He blossomed through the program, becoming outgoing and focussed. A Chief Scout at 14, he is now a very successful adult, I think largely due to the influence of being in Scouts.”
Also a teacher, Vermeiren believes that Scouting gives kids a way of connecting and socializing with others that is different from school. With hands-on activities and no exams, kids can express themselves more freely. He says the program gives them a way to explore their own interests, without feeling pushed.
And on a camping or canoe trip, kids are working together towards a common goal.
Caleb agrees with all these sentiments – he has not only met “very nice kids”, he’s also “discovered a lot of things I never knew I’d be good at, like cooking and using the camp stove. I was never much of a cook before but it helped me a lot with that,” he says.
Girl Guides of Canada-Guides du Canada
Girl Guides also offers an accepting, inclusive environment for girls. It’s proud to be breaking through barriers created by language, culture and functional ability, to enable all Canadian girls to participate fully in their programs. Like the Scouts, the Girl Guides offer subsidies for families who can’t afford membership and camping fees.
Girl Guide programs are aimed at girls from ages 5-17+ (see sidebar). Each program features challenge and adventure, giving girls the chance to reach their full potential, discover new interests, learn valuable leadership skills, make lasting friendships and contribute to the community.
Rebecca McKeen has been a volunteer leader with Girl Guides for about 10 years. She volunteered because, “I really liked what the program presented – I thought Guiding was doing things not available elsewhere – the adventures, the badge work, the in-depth coverage of topics, from crafts to song and dance, baking, cooking, conservation, and street safety,” says McKeen.
Ten year old Megan says she’s learned a lot by being a Girl Guide for the past two years. “I think it’s inspired me to try new things and that my Guide leaders have taught us a lot.”
For one thing, says Megan, “I’ve learned a lot about sign language … and how it affects the world, and makes it so everybody can communicate.” It’s a skill that “will come in handy in the future,” she says.
Outdoor activities are a big part of the Guide program and are always popular with the girls. “Each year our community goes to Emily Provincial Park with upwards of 600 people from the surrounding areas,” says McKeen. These kinds of camping experiences have taught Megan a great deal – how to canoe, what to take to camp, and how to make a bed roll. Now, when she camps with her family “it’s a lot more fun for me,” she says.
Guiding also offers girls exciting experiences they might not have otherwise – such as rock climbing, African drumming, snake displays – or a trip to Toronto.
“This year we went on the Great Toronto Scavenger Hunt,” says Brownie leader Rose Goodall. “All the girls from our unit went on the GO Train to Union Station, where we had to find many different things, such as the gold compass that is inlaid in a floor tile. We also travelled by subway and streetcar to visit Riverdale Farm and Chinatown, giving the girls a taste for the urban experience.”
Girls can be girls
No matter what talents or abilities a child has, she will find Guides a warm and inviting place to be, says Goodall. “It is a ‘team’ based program without the pressure of winning as a team,” she explains. “You can bring a variety of skill sets to the program. You don’t have to be the most athletic/musically talented/smartest to learn a lot with Guides and have fun with it. Kids who may not ‘fit in’ under other situations have an opportunity to shine.”
Goodall has watched kids flourish in Brownies. She tells the story of one little girl, shy and quiet in school, who really stands out in Brownies. “This little girl earns all of the badges and sells the most cookies,” says Goodall. “She is so proud of her accomplishments.”
McKeen has found that Guiding is a good place for girls to be “just girls.” The all-girl environment provides them with the emotional safety and support they need while they challenge themselves.
Plus, there is no pecking order, says McKeen. “There isn’t the same peer pressure there can be at school, in particular with clothes,” she explains. “They’re all wearing the same uniform – it makes a big difference.”
And kids who join Guides come without stereotypes and labels. “They can be themselves,” says McKeen, “with different kids from those they go to school with, kids who may see them in a different light.”
Lasting friendships are part and parcel of Guides. “I made a lot of friends” says Megan. She met one special friend, a third year Guide, “when I was a first year. We shared a lot of stuff in common, like the same name, and the same interest in music, and I think that we both got along really well and we worked together really good.” The friend taught her a lot, and now, Megan, in turn, is helping a younger Guide learn the ropes.
Megan loves the weekly Guide meetings, especially the opening and closing choreographed songs. The only downside: “When we take school off for the summer, we don’t do Guides.”
Facing the future
Scouts and Girl Guide programs aim to arm young people with the skills and confidence they need to face whatever the future holds for them. Judging by the outgoing and expressive Caleb and Megan, that goal is being met.
Programs For Every Age Level
Beavers: for boys or girls aged 5 to 7 years, with an emphasis on fun while helping them learn social skills and gain self-confidence through small group activities that include games, crafts, music, storytelling, acting, and more. The group is called a colony, which is split into smaller groups called lodges, with one leader for every five Beavers.
Cubs: for boys and girls aged 8 to 10 years, focusing on six activity areas: the natural world, outdoors, creative expression, healthy living, home and community, and Canada and the world. Awards are given to acknowledge skills and interests. Cubs meet in a group called a pack, which is split into smaller groups called sixes, with one leader for every six Cubs.
Scouts: for those aged 11 to 14 years (with option to remain until age 16) focusing on outdoor and environmental activities, citizenship and community service, leadership, and personal development, with interests and skills recognized through an awards system. Scouts meet in a group called a troop, which is split into smaller groups called patrols, with one leader for every six Scouts.
Venturers: for young men and women 14 to 17 years, with a program that emphasizes outdoor and environmental activities, citizenship and community service, leadership and personal development, and career exploration, with interests and skills recognized through an awards system. Their group, called a company, develops and manages its own program with the help of an adult advisor.
Rovers: for men and women 18 to 26 years, with members participating in adventurous activities such as mountain climbing or white water rafting, as well as helping their local communities by running food drives, park clean-ups, tree plantings, and more. They meet in a group called a crew to develop and manage their own program under the mentorship of an advisor.
For more information, visit www.scouts.ca or call: 1-888-SCOUTS-NOW.
Girl Guides of Canada-Guides du Canada
Sparks: for girls aged 5 and 6 years, usually meeting once a week for an hour doing fun activities, such as crafts, songs and games. Girls are encouraged to try new things, make new friends, and start collecting badges.
Brownies – for girls aged 7 and 8 years, usually meeting once a week for one and a half hours. Brownies is a hands-on program that encourages girls to develop their own identity, gain confidence by learning new skills, and learn the importance of making healthy choices. There are lots of activities such as science, arts, camping, service projects and special events.
Guides – for girls aged 9 to 11 years. They meet once a week, usually for two hours, to develop leadership abilities, work on community projects, camp and teach each other games and skills.
Pathfinders – for young women aged 12 to 14 years, where they plan their own program with the help of an adult leader. Pathfinders volunteer in their community, go on camping trips, explore new interests such as photography, cooking, web design, or travelling internationally, particularly to the Guiding World Centres in Mexico, England, Switzerland and India.
Rangers – for young women aged 15 to 17+ years, promotes leadership and community involvement, by shaping their own program, with the help of adult mentors. Opportunities exist to help Brownies on field trips, go on overnight canoe trips, organize a community service project, and more.
For more information, visit www.girlguides.ca or call the membership hotline at 1-800-565-8111.