As Girl Scouts, girls will climb to new heights—whether that means ziplining through the rainforests of Belize or ascending to the Highest Court in the Land. Just as important as what girls do, though, is how they do it. When we talk about the “how” of Girl Scouting, we’re talking about the framework of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience, aka the three processes: girl-led, cooperative learning, and learning by doing.
This approach is what makes Girl Scouts different than school and other extracurricular activities. It’s also critical to the way we engage with girls to keep them at the center of their own experiences. If your memory of these processes is a little fuzzy, not to worry! Here’s a quick refresher about how to ensure girls are having fun with purpose, and a few ways to incorporate these processes into your regular troop meetings and outings.
Troops of every program grade level should have a say in the what, where, why, and how of activities they participate in. While the specifics of this will vary depending on girls’ age and ability (Hello, progression!), girls should play an active role in planning and decision-making as much as possible.
What this looks like:
- Your Brownie troop is working on their Bugs badge, and the last step they’ll need to complete has them going on a bug field trip. As a troop leader, you can decide on three feasible options that would work with your troop’s time and budget constraints. Present these options to your troop and allow girls to vote to make a final decision on where to go.
- Your Senior troop expresses interest in going on a troop trip. As a large group, brainstorm possible destinations. Then use the Patrol System to break girls off into groups; each patrol chooses a possible destination to research. Each patrol presents their findings to the larger group, then everyone votes for their top choice.
When girls work together toward a common goal, they’ll learn that every girl has unique skills, traits, and talents that they can share with one another. They’ll also see that their different backgrounds and perspectives are invaluable in shaping how they approach problems and come up with solutions.
What this looks like:
- Ask three before me. As a troop leader, you probably know by now that kids see adults as the default go-to person to ask whenever a problem or issue arises. Of course, they should seek you out if it’s a matter of safety, but for lower-stakes questions like “What’s step two again?” or “Why is my marble machine not working the way I want it to?” girls can turn to their peers for help. Implement “Ask Three Before Me” in your troop—explain your expectation that if girls have a question, they must ask up to three other troop members before they ask you their question. This teaches girls that they can also use each other as resources for support, information, and direction. The beauty of this strategy is that it works across all program grade levels!
Learning by Doing
Learning is more meaningful and memorable when girls are able to have active, hands-on experiences rather than standing back and watching. Learning by doing also encompasses another important part of learning—reflection, when girls think critically about what they’ve learned, and how this information can inform their decisions or behavior in the future.
What this looks like:
- Your Daisy troop is working on their Eco Learning badge, where girls have to learn three ways to protect the environment when they go outdoors. Let’s imagine you’re a Leave No Trace expert—of course, you know what girls need to do to minimize their impact on nature. It would be easier to just tell them what they need to know (“Travel on durable surfaces” and “Leave what they find.”). Instead, you ask them to think of some “rules” they should follow when they’re walking outside in nature (“Let’s not step on any flowers!” “We shouldn’t bug the bugs!”). When you go out for your hike, they can see firsthand the importance of following these rules (“What do you think would happen if everyone just walked wherever they wanted instead of staying on the path?”)
- Your Cadette troop is working on their Silver Award. They come up with a list of responsibilities and a timeline that (to you) seems a little unrealistic. As a troop leader, you want to set them up for success by pointing out these gaps from the get-go. Resist this urge! Learning by doing will (and should) involve failures—failing is a valuable teaching tool that pushes girls to recoup, problem-solve, and try again. When girls stumble, ask them what happened, what they could try instead, and how they can use this new knowledge later.
Let’s be honest—incorporating the three processes into regular troop meetings and activities can take a lot of work. As an adult with many years of real-life experience, it would be so much simpler to take on these tasks yourself. But studies show that girls who regularly practiced girl-led, cooperative learning, and learning by doing outperformed their peers on Girl Scout Leadership Experience outcomes. So, when things get a little messy, remember that it’s the process, not the final product, that truly matters.
Lily Yu –Lily is a Program Resource Specialist at River Valleys. She earned her BA in comparative literature and Japanese from Hamilton College and has a background in publishing and advertising. Though she wasn’t a Girl Scout growing up, Lily is making up for lost time as a volunteer and troop cookie manager for her daughter’s Daisy troop. In her free time, she enjoys going for long walks, reading, and spending time with her family (and rescue dog, Neil!).