Yes, I know what you think I’m going to say. No effing and blinding from the Rainbows, and don’t let the Brownies smoke until they are outside the hall. Or something of that ilk.
But actually, you’re wrong. I’m not thinking about activities which are too old or too mature for the girls. But actually, about activities which are too young, too immature, too twee.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve no problem with the Guides or Senior Section occasionally having a ‘silly night’ where they do finger painting, play in sandpits, blow bubbles, and do all the things they loved doing in their nursery days. It’s great fun as a one-off. And of course Rainbows should enjoy singing games, and the younger Brownies enjoy dressing up and imaginative play, for such things are age-appropriate to them. And there will always be a small proportion of girls whose developmental age is less than their biological. But actually, what I’m referring to is pitching the regular unit programme at the right age group and the right level of maturity for the girls in the units nowadays. And as far as Guides and Senior Section are concerned, ‘Silly night’ should be an occasional treat once a year or so, not what happens at most meetings. As an educational charity we’re meant to be focussed on developing the skills of the unit members, and that means maintaining a level of challenge, seeking to have an element of educational value in all of the activities we do, ensuring the girls are progressing and developing their skills and knowledge. That needn’t preclude fun, indeed fun is often the best way to sugar the educational pills, the whole idea behind Guiding (and Scouting) is “learning through games”.
I guess the thought behind this blog post was prompted by a post I saw on a forum the other week. This Leader was looking for Remembrance ideas for her Guide unit, to do at her meeting nearest to 11th November. She had one idea, which was a painted handprint wreath, and she wanted some more ideas to fill the meeting. And my immediate thought was ‘handprint wreath? but it’s a Guide forum – so this is meant to be a remembrance-themed programme for 10-14 year olds, not for 5-6 year olds.’ I recalled what my Guide unit had done to mark remembrance over the last few years – last year we researched the one woman on our local war memorial, a war nurse who had worked in a military hospital in central Scotland during WW1, only to die of flu in 1919. And we made large laminated poppies and then origami peace cranes to stick onto them, these were then laid on each of the war graves in our village’s cemetery. The year before we used the education pack from the Royal British Legion to investigate the different roles women had in both world wars – working on farms and in forestry, working in factories, working in hospitals and rest centres, working as first aiders and fire watchers, serving in the ATC, WRNS and WAAF, working in factories, etc. The year before that, the Guides had made a collage with a background of green fields and blue sky, and each Guide had made a paper poppy and written on it the people they especially chose to remember, before placing it onto the landscape. One year, we told the Guides of how, in 1939 with war imminent, many adults had been ‘called up’ so the PLs should be ready to run the unit meeting the following week. Although my Assistant Leader and I turned up on the night for insurance’ sake, we made it clear that other than in the case of genuine emergency, we were “not there” – the PLs had to run the meeting as they thought best, while we sat on chairs in the corner of the room. I left a bag on a table which contained the attendance register, a G-File and a few other relevant forms/reference books – the sort of thing I might have dropped off at a PL’s house before heading off for ‘somewhere in the country’ – it gave them a feel for the situation that genuinely happened at a lot of Guide units in the first week of September 1939, and though surprised, they carried out the meeting in full, including opening and closing ceremonies.
And I found myself wondering – were we going too ‘deep’? In asking them to think about what some aspect or another of war might have been like, in asking them to take an interest in someone else’s real-life experience, in drawing their attention to quite how many war graves there were for the size our village was in 1914 or 1939 and letting them see what age the people were when they died, of making it clear that if war had broken out in our country both their Leaders were liable to be called up and they would have had to carry the unit on not just for one night but for the foreseeable? Or, perhaps, were others going too shallow, and expecting too little of their unit members? So I again considered the age group we deal with. And I concluded that as the older Guides in the unit are only two years off being able to sign up for the forces themselves, given that Guides during WWII served in after-the-raid squads helping people to recover property from bomb-damaged houses despite the danger and served hot drinks to injured survivors of bombing many of whom would have been traumatised if not slightly injured, given that Guides during WW1 were involved in both making and also laundering used hospital dressings, and worked as confidential messengers for the predecessors of MI5 at the Ministry of Defence and at the Versailles Peace Conference, given that the Guides in the Channel Islands continued meeting in secret throughout WW2 in spite of the occupation of their islands and the threat of execution if they were caught in uniform or gathering – that actually, remembrance is something we can take fairly seriously at Guide age, and we can seek to enlighten the Guides and Senior Section members, to an appropriate extent for their age group, to the sort of real experiences which girls and young women just like them had when war came to the UK. It’s up to us to pitch it at a level which enlightens without unduly upsetting the more sensitive individuals, and to tailor what we do to the age group we are working with whether it be Rainbow, Brownie, Guide or Senior Section – but nevertheless, to fulfil our role as an educational charity, we should seek to educate and enlighten the girls, on this topic as much as on others, and to try to make it as relevant and meaningful as we can.
Thing is, though, it’s not just remembrance that this applies to. We should constantly be seeking to challenge, and stretch, and encourage achievement from the girls in our units in all the activities we do, all year round. And to do that, we have to keep tailoring and tweaking our activities so that they remain at that ideal challenging-but-just-attainable level, so that the girls will get a personal sense of achievement from a tough challenge met, a worthwhile task completed, a genuinely useful skill attained. That can only happen if the tasks we set are at just the right level for them. If too much of the work is too easy or half of it has been done for them, there is neither challenge nor the reward of achievement, and they become hard work of the wrong sort – a chore. Something to get through in hopes of the next thing being something worth doing or something fun. Equally, too difficult can be demoralising. But – as the girls change, so what is challenging changes, we need to keep revising what we do and which activities we use with which age group.
I reckon that if you took any unit’s programme for the term, and stripped out all the obvious giveaways like badgework, you should still be able to tell at a glance what section the unit is in. Literally at a glance. Because the activities themselves should smack loud and clear of the age group they are aimed at, and there should be clear distinctions between the sort of activities which would be done by 5-7 year olds, 7-10 year olds, 10-14 year olds, and 14-26 year olds. There can be a few things in common between the age groups, absolutely, and some things are good fun for any age - but the majority of activities should differ in what type they are, in how they are run, or in both.
So, although I’d agree that Rainbows shouldn’t be effing and blinding, and Brownies shouldn’t be smoking in the hall – I’d also suggest that other than as a one-off ‘nursery night’ theme, Guides shouldn’t be doing finger painting, and Senior Section shouldn’t be playing singing games (unless they are serving as Young Leaders at the time). Because there is plenty of age-appropriate fun out there which they could be enjoying . . .