I was looking back over the past 12 months of my Guide unit, and picking out some of the Guides’ favourite activities:
Wide Games – we’ve done several, some in the streets and some in woodland, and they want more
Camp and Indoor Holiday – lots of demand for more of both.
Shelter Building – with groundsheets and paracord in the woods
Cooking on Altar Fires – playing with the fires, eating the produce
Cooking on Stoves – making crepes/English pancakes
Board Games Night – a chilled evening, and a rare chance to have enough people to play well.
Science Night – rotating round various experiments using household ingredients, including making slime, lava and volcanoes
Campfire – singing songs, doing action songs, performing skits and playlets
Cooking – making shortbread, pizzas, zip-bag fudge
We’ve also done some ‘dry’ stuff – discussions and GFIs and Big Brownie Birthday challenge clauses, Promise activities, and activity planning, and teambuilding – and while they haven’t minded them, and have moderately enjoyed some, they aren’t the sort of things my Guides can ever really enthuse about at the time - or will reminisce over later. GFIs especially, can be more chore than pleasure. We tend to do them in a block of 5 weeks, and have an outing the week after, as something to look forward to once the GFIs are done with. The GFIs are meant to encourage the Patrols to choose, plan and carry out for themselves, and they do. But the GFIs the Guides tend to choose are also a reflection of their tastes – Healthy Eating, Globalistic, Lights Camera, Campout, Experimental, Chocolate, Parties, Football, Survival. Anything that involves food or games or an excuse to go outside. Several copies of these have been patched up more than once to keep them in usable condition – which makes it easy to pick out the packs which are still in pristine condition despite being part of the selection for several years now – the likes of Peace, Top Job, Grrreen, Toothbrush, On The Move, Constructive . . .
So, I cast an eye to the exciting new initiatives coming out from headquarters, to keep our stocks up to date and freshen up the selection – there’s been one GFI launched in the past year or two, and they’re working on another – and I ask myself whether the Guides will be excited to get started on these fresh, new packs – and I am sure of the answer. It will be no.
Not because the subject matter of them isn’t important – the founder himself believed that Scouting and Guiding should encourage “active citizenship”. But his big, successful idea was ‘education through games’ – it’s why the first handbook consisted of a series of ‘campfire yarns’ on a given topic followed by ‘practices’ – aka games, designed to make learning the information from each yarn, fun. Yet I look at some of the GFI packs, and it seems that his evergreen idea of learning through games has been forgotten. Where there ought to be skills-teaching games, and fun challenges to tackle, there are - topics to debate or research, posters to make, projects to plan and run. And instead of the ‘dip in and choose 4 sessions’ worth of varied activities’ - in some cases it’s now ‘think up a project and work on it solidly for 4 sessions until you achieve a result’.
So I have to wonder. Is it us? Are my unit a bunch of lightweights and we never even realised it? Are we the only ones playing in the woods and toasting marshmallows on wood fires when all the other units are holding serious discussions or debates, or researching body image and the media, STEM, ‘pink stinks’, girls’ education and place in society in different cultures, local community improvement projects and how to achieve them, environmental protection projects and similar such? Are we unusual in liking outdoor adventure, food, and games, but not caring much for the cut-and-thrust of campaigning, debating, and making posters about ‘issues’?
Or - is it them? Is there a gap between the sort of activities the girls feel are important (or think they ought to feel are important), and will rate as concerns when asked in surveys - and the sort of activities they actually want to spend their out-of-school time in doing - and is this gap something that those devising the new initiatives aren’t seeing?
I’m not saying we shouldn’t do anything about ‘issues’. Of course we should. It is important that the girls learn that the world isn’t divided fairly, and that in most cases they are very lucky to be clearly among the ‘haves’ when statistically there are far more ‘have nots’ on the planet. But we need to find fun ways and activities for sharing those messages. We’re meant to be different from school. Not night school.
I would like Guides to be a place where Overnight Hike and Big Gig both belong. Where there are GFIs for survival and for glamorama. Where we don’t shelter the Guides from the outside world where there are bad things going on as well as good things. But we need to remember that the most effective way is still to cover topics through games - whereas debates, research, and poster making should be kept to a minimum. Or – is it just my unit?