Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Our Outdoor Skills Challenge

Survivor Tribal Council
Most of the girls in our troop love camping. As leaders, we've worked hard to instill this appreciation for nature, progressing from day hikes to backyard campouts to lodge and tent camping. But it suddenly hit me on our last campout that despite having earned not one, but two, camping badges - most of the girls in our troop had never lit a match.

We'd discussed  fire safety and made edible fires. They've watched us numerous times and helped out with laying and tending the fire. And if you asked most of them, they would claim to be firebuilding experts. All of which pretty much guarantees that they'll be voted off the first night if they ever end up on "Survivor."
"Hey team, where's the regulation fire bucket? ... Flint? Nah, my expertise is with a toothpick with a piece of candy corn stuck on the end." 
Yeah, tribal council wouldn't be pretty for these girls.

But that's really our fault as leaders. We've given them a good foundation but seemed to have missed the next step as they've gotten older, moving from theory to mastery. We don't just want girls who can talk about building fires and tying knots - we want girls who are confident and capable in these skills.

So after doing some hunting around, we decided to implement an outdoor skills program this year in our Girl Scout troop. I wish I could say I thought of the idea myself, but there are already some great examples from other troops and councils that I'm stealing from, such as this one from Girl Scouts of Northern California.

We made some tweaks based on our goals for the year, so that in the end the girls will have to demonstrate the following:

  1. Understand and practice outdoor manners. (Brown bead)
  2. Demonstrate that you can pack for the weather and tie a bedroll. (Purple bead)
  3. Knot-tying - Learn how to tie an overhand knot, square knot and clove hitch. (Yellow bead)
  4. Fire Building - Demonstrate that you can lay and light a basic fire. (Orange bead)
  5. First Aid - Know how to prevent common accidents and how to respond with basic first aid. (Red bead).
  6. Plan and prepare a simple meal. (Blue bead)
  7. Orienteering - Use a map or compass to find your way around camp. (Green bead)
  8. Learn a new skill that you can practice in the out-of-doors (archery, canoeing, etc.) OR share some of the skills you've learned with younger Girl Scouts. (White bead)

We've told the girls they have all year to earn the various beads and can move at their own pace. For example, we'll introduce the knots at an upcoming meeting but realize that for some girls it will take more practice.

We've also upped the ante a bit by dangling out a group reward. If all the girls complete the bracelet by the end of our spring camping trip, my co-leader and I promised that we would prepare, cook and cleanup breakfast for them on the last day of the trip - as well as clean the environmental toilets (ETs or latrines), one of their least favorite jobs. Nothing unifies a troop more than a shared goal, particularly when that goal involves some sort of leader embarrassment or torture. Oh, and they asked for ice cream too - they're pretty tough negotiators.


  1. We're planning on doing some outdoor skills even though there is practically zero outdoor skill talk in the program material at the brownie level now:/ Luckily my co-leader is a boyscout leader too, so we're going to borrow heavily from that program as well as the program you posted above (i saved that page and others a while back). Right now i'm in the process of trying to write out all of our requirements. I really wish the current gs program was more "usable" in its ready form. Just going over what we plan to do, we will be doing a LOT of tweaking.

    1. Yeah, we debated how the girls would feel about the program, since it doesn't exactly earn them a badge or Journey. In the end, this is something that the girls enjoy doing and that we think will increase their confidence and abilities to lead younger girls, so it's worth it.

      For resources, I pulled a great deal of info from older GS handbooks - you might check to see if your Council has any. And I actually checked out the Boy Scout handbook from the library (shh...don't tell). I'll also be sharing some of the activities we try here. Good luck - would love to hear what you come up with.

  2. I actually have one of the 50s era books--it is brief but pretty awesome. I have also looked at the UK's girl guides stuff online. I seriously don't know how people did stuff before the internet...maybe they went to the library and looked at books like some kind of animal? :D
    I also found a try-its book that has some outdoorsy stuff, but again, not a lot. Of course, it remains to be seen if our girls are "outdoorsy". We may end up "glamping" if they're not.