Knot Just Cookies
What comes to mind when I say the words “Girl Scouts?” How about “Boy Scouts?”
“Boy Scouts” probably brings to mind images of camping, hiking, tying knots, and being prepared.
“Girl Scouts?” Let me guess. Cookies. Thin Mints, right?
Yes, Boy Scouts camp and tie knots. Girl Scouts sell cookies. But they do so much more. Scouting teaches valuable lessons that prepare children to become business and community leaders.
The origins of the Scout movement lie in the early years of the twentieth century. Robert Baden-Powell, a lieutenant general in the British Army, recognized the army’s need for what he termed “scoutcraft” – the knowledge and skills needed to survive in wild country. In 1899, he published a manual called Aids to Scouting, which, surprisingly, became popular among teachers and youth societies back in Great Britain.
With help from Ernest Thompson Seton, a British-born Canadian-American, Baden-Powell re-wrote Aids to Scouting, removing the military aspects and including survival skills and educational principals. Scouting for Boys remains the fourth-bestselling book of all time. Baden-Powell retired from the army and formed The Boy Scouts Association and The Girl Guides in 1910.
The Scout movement was an instant success. Combining the idea that Scouts are honorable, loyal, and dutiful with practical outdoor activities like camping, hiking, and sports, the Scout movement aimed to aid in a young person’s development, both personally and as leaders of their communities. Seton was one of the key figures in the founding of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), while Juliette Gordon Low, a widow from Savannah, Georgia, founded what eventually became the Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA).
Modern parents worry about their children’s safety. They also want to “help” their children, smoothing their way by emailing teachers, hovering to make sure deadlines are met and projects are completed. While trying to help, they are unintentionally removing opportunities to learn to reason and improvise. Through various badges and programs, Scouts teaches children that they are capable. They CAN do things that their parents are scared to let them do.
Both the BSA and GSUSA emphasize youth leadership. While the adult leaders facilitate and guide, the scouts are responsible for what the troop does. They choose the activities, the badges, and the programs the troop undertakes.
“In my experience, kids are capable of so much more than we give them opportunity to do,” said MaryEmily Pardue, a long-time Girl Scout leader. “[We say] ‘Start this fire – yes, you!’ Or ‘Learn knife skills – yes, I trust you!’ I found when we gave children the opportunity to rise to the occasion… they constantly blew me away, and in turn, they became more confident, too!”
Bryan Jones, an assistant scoutmaster, said that while the BSA activities are structured around camping and knot-tying, there are a lot of life lessons that the scouts learn without realizing it. “There’s a lot of learning snuck into scouting. For example, when a patrol makes a menu for a camping trip, they learn budgeting, cooking, planning… They also learn through failure. If you fail, there’s a lesson – why did something fail and what can you do to be prepared for the next time so you succeed?”
Jones also emphasized the value of one of the “fundamental tenets called the EDGE Method.” EDGE stands for “Explain, Demonstrate, Guide, and Enable.” Older BSA scouts are teachers and mentors for younger scouts. In teaching and guiding the younger scouts, the older scouts reinforce the lessons they learned from their mentors.
Because Scout troops are youth led, this forces children to learn how to work with others. Each child in a troop comes from a different family with different values, traditions, and habits. From the very beginning, Daisy Scouts and Cub Scouts learn how to get along with their peers. They must figure out how to work together to earn badges, to finish projects, and to survive on camping trips. This early training in working as a troop is extremely valuable later in life.
“There is no doubt that Girl Scouts gives these girls confidence to become social leaders,” said Girl Scout troop leader Krista Wiehle. “The program instills leadership qualities that make these girls great social leaders… [and] helps them when they join groups in high school, college or as an adult. They have been practicing these skills their entire Scouting career.”
The BSA continues its focus on the outdoors as a way of teaching character, citizenship, and mental and personal fitness, while the GSUSA has incorporated STEM programs to encourage girls’ interest in science, engineering, technology, and mathematics. The GSUSA also has entrepreneurship programs (apart from the famous cookie sales) that inspire Scouts to start their own businesses while teaching financial literacy.
While all lessons that Scouting teaches are invaluable, perhaps the greatest lesson both organizations teach is that the Scouts are members of a community. The leaders I talked with emphasized that their Scouts learn to give back to their communities. “That’s the biggest lesson that Girls Scouts teaches,” said Katherine Curtis, strategic communications for the Girl Scouts of Texas Oklahoma Plains, Inc. “While [Scouting] teaches working together and overcoming obstacles and life skills, it teaches our girls the value of giving back to the community.”
Through projects that lead to awards in the GSUSA and advanced ranks in the BSA, Scouts learn to identify a need in their community and the ways to meet that need. Whether it’s creating a theater camp for an underserved community for a Gold Award (the highest award given by the GSUSA) or organizing a sock drive for a homeless shelter as a Cub Scout troop, Scouts learn that they are a vital part of their community and that they can make a difference in it.
“No magic button provides the opportunity to learn the skills necessary to become a successful adult,” said Wendy Shaw, CEO/Scout Executive of the Longhorn Council of the Boy Scouts of America. “But Scouting is about as close as it gets.”
Lee Virden Geurkink is a jack of all trades, master of none. She has been a bank teller, a chef and caterer (both in restaurants and in private service), a bookkeeper, a trainer, a legal assistant, and a writer. She is a graduate of Sewanee with a degree in Early European History. (She planned to be a professor but realized in the nick of time that professors have homework, which she never did when she was a student, so what made her think that she would do it as a professor?) While she has not used her degree in her, er, varied employment history, she is fabulous at cocktail parties. Most importantly, Lee is the proud mother of two amazing children and stepmother to three incredible bonus children.