Monday, 6 November 2017

Celebrating Festivals


That brings a twofold problem.  If we celebrate a number of these international/multicultural festivals in addition to the UK ones we might regularly mark anyway, rather than instead of – do we risk having a programme which simply lurches straight from one festival to another, with little gap between for other topics to be covered and other skills taught?  Or, are there some traditional festivals which we tend to mark every year, but actually could quite reasonably either mark very briefly, or not at all?  Need we always mark Easter, and Hallowe’en, and Christmas, or devote an entire meeting to any of them - if every other club and school is covering them anyway, not to mention the fact the girls will likely do so at home too in many cases?  Is there something original or different that we do at these traditional festivals or is it just much the same things the girls are doing elsewhere?  (Do they need or want every club for three full weeks before Easter/Christmas to abandon all regular programmes in favour of non-stop craft, food and parties?)  Might the child who doesn’t have both a father and a mother on the scene be glad to get a break from mother’s day/father’s day publicity for an hour or so?)  Can it be a balanced and varied programme if we mark the same festivals every single year, in some cases for several meetingsin a row, in a similar way every year?


And as we consider whether to broaden our unit’s horizons, and help the girls think more internationally and more diversely - we then hit the second big problem - our lack of knowledge about the origin and meaning of some of these international festivals which we might opt to mark.  Which means we do run the risk of making mistakes, and causing offence, through that lack of background knowledge and understanding about the origins of the customs in question.  For the thing is, with the familiar festivals we don’t really have that problem.  We’ve grown up with them around us whether our families did much to mark them or not - so we automatically know which ones can be celebrated in a silly/frivolous way without many people minding ‘children having their fun’ – santas and reindeer, dressing up as St George or the dragon, serving ‘mock haggis and neeps’ whilst wearing bin-bag kilts etc.  But we also know which ones ought to have a more respectful approach, giving thought and consideration to sensitive feelings and beliefs - like Easter, or Remembrance, or hallowe’en.  But when it comes to festivals from other countries or cultures, we may not be so clued up on which ones can be marked in silly ways, and which ones could offer scope for significant  offence if we were to misjudge tone.  In the UK we might make poppy crafts in early November – but we wouldn’t have a ‘poppy party’, and we would be very wary of ‘re-enacting’ a remembrance ceremony with people dressed up in costumes and carrying improvised flags and mock wreaths, wouldn’t we?  And yet – nowhere is it actually written down what is and what is not an appropriate way to teach children about remembrance, so someone in another country or from another culture coming across scanty details about ‘this festival that happens in Britain where the people all wear bright red flowers and take part in big parades through their towns with marching bands and flags’ - could easily misjudge the tone of event, form a mental picture of ‘celebration parade’ rather than ‘sombre procession’.  How easy it would be for such a misinterpretaion to be made . . . 


So before planning to mark a festival with your unit, please, do as much research as possible about the background to both how the people celebrate it, and more importantly, why they celebrate it.  Do not rely on online information from children’s activity sites or from books about worldwide festivals, unless it is also backed up by authoritative sources.  Speak to someone who is actually from the relevant country/culture/religion, to find out not just ‘what the locals do’ but why they do it, what significance or message lies behind the things that are done, what is the atmosphere or mood?  Find out which parts are solemn or very meaningful, and which parts might be taken more lightheartedly.  Would the person from that country/culture/religion think it an appropriate event for the children to mark at all, and if so, how might children from that culture or country mark it – and what would be appropriate or inappropriate for children here to do?


Whatever sort of event you mark or celebrate – please also think cultural appropriateness, not cultural appropriation.  Make sure you stay on the right side of the line between marking and mocking.  Be aware of sensitive cultural traditions, and try to be both authentic and respectful - especially of native or cultural art, music, dance and traditional customs/lore.  Seek to understand and then explain ‘why’ to the children, rather than risk it merely being seen as ‘this weird custom they do in this faraway place for some unknown reason’.  There is lots to learn about the world around us and the range of cultures and belief systems followed by the people who share it - if we approach with an open enquiring attitude, and a desire to learn, understand and appreciate.  But before we can teach the girls, first we must take time to learn the background information for ourselves . . . 


And – keep festivals in their place.  As something we occasionally utilise as an excuse for the educational activities we would like to do to broaden the girls’ horizons.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Sectional Silos

Once upon a time, I was attending a District meeting.  And there were two key items on the agenda, the same hardy perennials we discussed every year.  One was girl retention, especially when changing section.  The other was organising the District summer outings for each section - the Rainbows’, the Brownies’, and the Guides’ outings (we don’t currently have a Senior Section unit covering our area although we’re hoping to have one soon).  You’ve probably got much the same agenda each spring yourselves.
We are losing girls between sections, even though all the units meet in the same premises (on different days/times from each other).  We suspect that one of the barriers to transition is ‘the unknown’.  Moving from the familiar to the unfamiliar, from being big fish in small pond to small fish in big pond.  A lot of girls opt not to even give the next section a try – and this seems to apply across all units and all sections, and over many years despite variations in unit leadership and programmes.  Although we try to use the official transition packs and the units are encouraged to do preparation work in-unit, it doesn’t alter the fact that leakage has proved hard to reduce.
And of course, each section also has ideas about what sort of outings they want for their section – for both Rainbow units, for all three Brownie units, and for both Guide units.  And though we haven’t many Senior Section age members currently, we wanted to try and cater for those who are or are about to be Senior Section in some way, so they aren’t “just Young Leaders”, but get to spend at least part of their time as participants.  So there were thoughts about visits to the seaside, or to places of interest, or to public parks with facilities, etc.
And - we suddenly realised just how silly we were being!  Would you believe it, we had these two topics down as separate items on the agenda!
Yes, on the one hand we were talking of problems with transition and linking up the sections, then immediately after we were due to plan entirely separate outings for each Section!  Keeping each age group strictly in their own little silo!  When the logical solution to both questions - would be to have a ‘juniors outing’ for all the 5-8 year olds, a ‘middles outing’ for all the 9-11 year olds, and a ‘seniors outing’ for all the 12+ age group – cutting right across the section boundaries.  If we had these outings on separate dates then none of the Leaders need be involved in more than 2 out of 3 outings, and it would mean the older girls in each section getting to meet and mix with some of those closest in age from the next section, but not the ‘big scary ones’.  That way, come transition time, there would be some familiar faces amongst both the girls and the Leaders from the next section - and the Leaders from the different sections would get to know each other a bit better too.  Also, if the units had all their Leaders present, but some only had half their girls attending, that would leave some Leaders spare to help with doing some of the central work such as organising the activities or catering, serving as central first aider, or providing extra help with the younger girls – while still getting to see their own unit some of the time.  We could choose activities that were targeted to the particular age group, we could get the girls all mixing regardless of their section boundaries, and we could look at some of the activities from Pot of Gold/Brownies Go For It/Move on Up if we wished, as part of the programmes for the days.  It would give the younger girls experience of slightly more challenging activities than they normally get at their units, of the sort the next section would tackle - and would mean there were some girls in the next section who were friends, not just ‘big and scary’.
All this educational value available to us so easily, before we even start to think about where the outings might go to or what the actual activities might be, all for a slight change of thinking, and a willingness to try something a little different.  I wonder what other silos we have unwittingly been slipping into, just out of habit, or from not spotting the links staring us in the face, when there would be real benefits to us stepping back occasionally to see the bigger picture and check it still shows what we think it does?  What other things have we been doing for no better reason than “we always have”, without us stopping to wonder why, consider whether they are still serving a purpose (whether the original purpose or another worthwhile one) - or whether we would be far better to alter or drop them?
So I thought I’d throw a challenge out to others.  Why not start by creating a list of the ‘Town Events’ or ‘County/Division/District Events’ or local customs you have each year.  Then step back and try to look at each one as if viewing it with a fresh eye.  If you were starting from a blank sheet of paper, is this an event which you would choose to invent, or choose to start participating in (whether in the same way you currently do or in another way) - or not?  What, realistically, are it’s pros and it’s cons?  Do you regularly do the same/similar things (whether several times a year, or every year, or in a rotation, it’s still repetition), and has that been reviewed recently?  What educational value does it have now, and are there any things you could do to enhance it’s value by either small tweaks or more radical changes?  To what extent do the girls enjoy it – are they keen to participate, or is enthusiasm low?  If it is billed as a joint event – is it truly joint, with girls from different units actually mingling and mixing with each other, and perhaps those form other organisations too - throughout the event – or are they spending a day doing activities with just their unit, at a venue which is coincidentally hosting other units who happen to be doing similar activities - the only contact between members of the groups occurring by chance in the toilet or lunch queues, not as part of any planned activities at all?  What involvement do the girls have in choosing, planning and preparing – is there girl-led Guiding, or do the adults arrange it all and the girls just ‘turn up and do’?  If you have a regular District or Division competition, is it flexible enough to be fun and interesting and varied each time it’s held, or is it the same thing every year, which girls and Leaders alike find increasingly dull or inconvenient?  (Often it can be easier to have a regular ‘inter-unit’ competition, but with the unit Leaders agreeing each year what topic to compete on, rather than being stuck with having to organise a swimming gala, or make scrapbooks or whatever, every year whether convenient or not, whether popular or not).  Is it a fun and light-hearted contest run in a good spirit - or does it create rivalries, arguments, or is always won by the ‘usual suspects’ regardless of how hard others try?  And finally – how do the adults feel about it?  Is it a pleasure or a burden?  Something they look forward to, or a major inconvenience and barrier to progressing on the activities they want to tackle with their units?  Has it gone from the intended one day a year effort, and become something that units spend ages practicing and preparing for?
The thing about silos is – a silo is not a fully-sealed-up container.  Every silo has small hatch doors in order for it to be both filled, and emptied.  Do you leave your silo hatches wide open – or kept bolted firmly shut?

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Right girls, I've decided . . .?

Children nowadays have a lot less independence than they used to have.  Most don’t get to play outside until the street lights come on, most are ferried to school by car rather than walking there and back.  Free time is spent either in organised classes or in the house.  I’m not interested in getting into an argument about whether the past was the good old days of freedom, or indeed, whether they were eras when neglected children were left to roam wild, for that is a whole other argument.  Though it had it’s downsides, one upside was that children had to learn to be self-reliant.  They had to work out ways to occupy themselves, often relying on their own imagination in the absence of many ‘bought’ toys, because the adults didn’t organise their entertainment for them.  If they had a problem, they had to solve it for themselves initially, there wasn’t an adult on the spot to step in and take charge.   In these modern times when many children don’t go anywhere without their mobile phone connecting them directly to adults, are ferried everywhere by car rather than ever walking by themselves, spend increasing amounts of time in the house playing alone rather than being outdoors with neighbouring children – their scope for self-reliance has been massively eroded.  Many children today have little experience of making decisions unaided and then living with the consequences, or of having to use their imagination to occupy themselves and others in the absence of many toys or gadgets, of being part of a gang of friends who live near each other and play together most evenings and learn to get on or not as the case may be - because most of their friends or potential friends are either away at hobby sessions every afternoon and evening, or in their own houses – if they aren’t themselves.  Hence the default reaction for most of the children to any problem which arises – is to look to the nearest adult to deal with it for them, and if there isn’t an adult at hand, then the sole thought is to find one as soon as possible. 


What does that mean for us as Leaders in Guiding?  Well, it means that we have to be aware of this change, and of the implications for our programmes.  We can be faced with children, (and yes, sometimes with parents too) who genuinely struggle to handle being told that they have to choose whether to sew badges on the uniform, and if they do choose to, they have to choose for themselves whereabouts – because we do not supply diagrams or guidance, and we do not tell them what choice to make.  We demand that they decide for themselves.  They are shocked, they are surprised, and yes, some are genuinely frightened.  Why is it that Guiding makes this demand, when some parents would clearly prefer to be told what to do?  Simply because it is actually a decision with very few long-term implications.  If they try a layout and it doesn’t work – the badges can easily be unpicked and moved.  The decision they make needn’t be permanent or even semi-permanent, it is in every sense, a small decision.  But – if you practice making small decisions, if you become accustomed to making them regularly, it will make it easier when the bigger decisions of life come along which do have significant impacts.  Today, decide whether to sew the County badge on the sleeve of your Guide hoody or on a camp blanket.  Tomorrow, decide whether to hang out with the popular crowd from school even though you often aren’t comfortable with what they do?  Yes, that could easily be.


If the girls are so unused to making any decisions for themselves, does it matter?  Well yes, I’d say it does, because I reckon decision making is an important life skill which everyone needs to develop from an early age.  Life is always going to be full of choices both big and small, insignificant and life-changing – small ones like which clothes to put on this morning, what to have for breakfast, whether to walk or take the bus, whether you will need a raincoat/umbrella or not – lots of small everyday choices we all have to make with small implications.  But life also throws up bigger choices – what subjects to study at school in order to stand a chance of starting a particular type of career, what line of work to aim for, how much time to devote to studying for exams, what to do on leaving school whether study or job-hunting, whether to drink alcohol or not, whether to take drugs or not, when to leave home, who to live with and where, what sort of home to rent/buy, whether to get married, whether to have children – lots of big and important decisions which will have long-lasting implications - whether you make what turns out to be the right choice, or what turns out to be the wrong one.  So I take the view that the more practice we can let the girls have at making small choices unaided from a young age, and learning to cope with the outcomes of those small decisions - the better able to cope they will be when the big decisions of life start to come along, all too soon.  And – their turn at being adults is coming.  Won’t be long before, in the lines of that classic internet tale, they look around for an adult to deal with the problem - and suddenly realise that actually, they are the only adult in the room, and everyone’s looking to them to decide what the group should do about it!


What can we do to help?  The answer is simple.  Hand over as much of the decision making in our units to the girls as we can, so they get practice at discussing pros and cons, handling disagreements or varied opinions, reaching a conclusion, enacting it, and seeing how it works out.  It can start very simply, at the Rainbow stage, which is meant to be 10% girl-led.  Shall we play game A, or would you prefer game B?  Why not let the Rainbows vote sometimes, rather than always just deciding it for them?  We’ve got a new helper starting next week who will need a Rainbow name.  Could the Rainbows suggest the ideas for the shortlist the helper chooses from?  We’re having a party next week - should it be uniform, party clothes, or fancy dress – what do they think?  And of course, there are Roundabout activities to choose, and lots of scope there for offering the girls choices and encouraging them to think about, and voice, opinions, ideas, preferences.  After all, even nowadays, little girls all too often aren’t encouraged to speak up for themselves and express their opinions – and when they do speak up, they don’t always have their ideas and opinions listened to properly or heeded – can Rainbow meetings be an exception to that?  By Brownie age they can be taking on more responsibility in the unit, indeed as much as 25% – choosing activities from the Adventure book, or coming up with ideas for the unit programme.  Having some say about which girls they want to share a room with on Brownie holiday – and perhaps which ones they don’t.  Doing activities as a Six, and having an active Sixer who has genuine responsibility for the girls in her Six and the activities the Six does.  Planning some activities, and having occasional Sixer-run nights.  Having regular Pow Wows or other activities which collect and utilise their ideas, showing that those ideas are listened to, genuinely considered, and acted upon in some way if they can’t be completely followed through.  For if the girls’ suggestions are regularly just snubbed or ignored, they’ll soon stop offering them - and it’s hard to regain that trust once it has been lost.


By Guide age there should be a rapid expansion in delegation, with Guides meant to be 50% girl-led – Patrol Meetings, Patrol-organised GFIs, Guides choosing which Patrol to belong to in the unit, and organising Patrol meetings and activities.  Girls encouraged to consider working for Baden-Powell Award, Commonwealth Award, Patrol Camp Permit, Community Action Badge etc.  As well as unit activities, there should be opportunities to go to large-scale camps in the UK and attend International Selections for camps abroad, Patrol Leader Trainings, Scout & Guide Orchestra and other outwith-unit opportunities.  And for Senior Section?  It’s 75% girl led, but really, limits do not exist.  Youth Parliaments, Guiding Forums, Senior Section Groups, SSAGO, POLARIS, DofE, Leadership Training, Adult Leader Qualifications, voting in national elections, GOLD, gap-year activities – loads of ways to become involved in decision making, become involved in making a difference in the community, wide horizons.  Lets make the girl-led ratios for each section be meaningful.


Yes, in the space of 10 years in Guiding from 5 to 15, we can, and we should, take the girls in our units right through from simply choosing between game A and game B, to planning and running a weekend camp for themselves without any adult aid, or working on a major challenge scheme, or actively campaigning for causes they believe in, or seeking to learn more about the world they live in and their place as active citizens in it.  But – all of this entirely depends on us being brave.  Brave enough to step back and let the girls make as many decisions as possible, large and small.  Yes, it may be that they take 20 minutes to discuss, argue, and reach a verdict on something you could have decided for them in 2 minutes flat with 115 seconds to spare.  But that 20 minutes isn’t wasted if it’s time invested in learning the life-skills of discussing, persuading, bargaining, seeking compromise and consensus, listening to alternative views, reaching a conclusion.  Yes, in the end they may choose what we reckon to be the ‘wrong’ option – but will it turn out to be the wrong option?  And even if it does, will they learn more from experiencing the mistake and it’s consequences, than from being protected from any adversity or consequence? . . .  Yes, from choosing between game A or B right through to being a national representative in a Youth Parliament, it is Leaders like you and I who can provide the guidance and experience and opportunities that open up the path for the girls to confidently handle difficult decisions, and argue capably for the things they believe in and against the things they don’t.  Or – we can take the easy option, make all the unit decisions ourselves, and just have the girls ‘turn up and do’.


What prompted this thought?  A discussion on a forum asking how people sort out the Patrols for Guide camp.  I was shocked to see that the vast majority of the Leaders who commented - would either sort the Patrols by themselves with no input sought from the Guides at all – or would only allow each Guide to submit a couple of names of people they would like to be beside, requests which may or may not be granted dependent on whether their choices happened to suit the Leaders’ plans for the Patrols or not.  There were only 2 or 3 amongst over 30 who even considered letting the Guides try to sort the groups amongst themselves if they could do so amicably.  Most were absolutely certain that their Guides couldn’t be trusted to sort out fair groups without adult interference, and would be sure to end up with some Patrols formed of cliques of pals, and the others containing all those who were not in the clique.  So much for girl-led Guiding!

Monday, 10 July 2017

Are Brownie sashes too small?

A lot of people commenting recently that Brownie sashes are ridiculously small.  The Brownies can’t possibly fit all their badges on them, indeed even the gilets fill up too fast. 


At first this confused me.  After all, a Six Badge, a Name Tape, a Country badge and a Pot of Gold badge don’t take up much space and still leave plenty of room for a Promise Badge – and even once you add three Adventure Badges, a Sixer or Second badge, a GFI Guides badge and an Interest Badge per year, that still leaves plenty room for any extra Interest Badges a Brownie might choose to work on outwith the unit, or ‘nights away’ badges if your Region/Country does them.


But then I realised.  These will be the units whose programmes are led by badges official or unofficial.  Their girls will be doing 2 or 3 badges a term, sometimes more than that, plus getting badges for every outing and residential event they turn up to. 


In recent years there has been an explosion in badges.  We never used to give out badges at Brownie holidays (other than for those who were tested for Interest Badges such as Cook or House Orderly during the event).  Now many units wouldn’t dream of not issuing at least one badge to everyone, ideally several.  We never used to give out badges for those who attended a Brownie outing or Revels.  Now many units automatically do.  We never used to give out badges for those who took part in a unit project (other than to those who hadn’t already gained the Venture badge at a previous event).  Now many units do.  We never used to give out badges for themed nights or terms.  Now many units do.  We never gave out badges for taking part in community activities such as Thinking Day, Remembrance, or Saints’ day, civic parades etc.  Now many units apparently do.  We never gave out badges for activities outwith the unit such as organising or taking part in charity fundraising events, winning national competitions etc where they weren’t directly Brownie-related.  Now many units apparently do.


Yes, the badge sash used to have plenty of room, with even the very keen Brownies able to fit on their last few badges without difficulty, but that was before the explosion in badge giving over the past 7 or 8 years.


So, which situation applies?  Is it that the sash is ridiculously small?  Or is it that the number of badges being dished out has become ridiculously large? 

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Not Quite Textbook . . .

As we know, the Guiding Manual is full of rules which set the minimum acceptable standards.  The minimum number of girls you can have and still have a viable unit, the minimum number of staff you need for an outing with a given section, the minimum qualifications needed to run certain activities.  Although in every case it is clearly preferable to have more staff cover than the minimum, Guiding recognises that that the ideal isn’t always possible.


The rulebook is based, as all rulebooks have to be, on what is considered only-just-adequate for leadership teams which may have limited experience.  Three adults with sufficient training/qualifications is an adequate number to take 18 Brownies away for a week – not generous, to be sure – but adequate.


But when it comes to creating our risk assessments, or indeed, dealing with situations which arise - sometimes the textbook solution is suddenly not available.  For instance, if on your Brownie holiday a child falls and gets a cut which you feel needs stitches, you might naturally plan to take her to the local GP surgery, Minor Injuries Clinic or Hospital.  But – by what means, and accompanied by whom?  Textbook says that you shouldn’t have an adult 1:1 with a child.  But if two adults go with the patient (for instance, one adult drives and another looks after the injured child en route), then that only leaves one adult to take charge of all the other 17 girls single-handed.  (It also presupposes you have a car on site and a driver insured to use it other than the first aider, which isn’t necessarily the case.)  One sensible alternative would be to call a taxi – that way you would have the taxi driver as a second adult (an independent one at that) meaning you could send one Leader with the child and keep 2 adults on site.  On arrival the hospital staff, the other people in the waiting room etc would ensure you weren’t left 1:1 - which would appear the wiser option.


Or if one of the adults on the staff happened to be the one ill or injured (or amongst them) – you would automatically be down by one adult, and depending on the illness or injury you might temporarily be down by two if the injured adult needed to be looked after.  Until such time as that adult was either patched up and fit to continue, or taken home/to hospital, you would be shorthanded.  Once arrangements had been made for the immediate care of that adult you would need to consider your staffing position, and judge whether it would be appropriate to contact the holiday adviser and discuss options – possibly securing another adult to come and join the event as cover, possibly arranging to end the holiday early and get all participants home safely - depending on the circumstances which applied.


Fact is, that no matter how many possible instances and circumstances the rule book might list, sooner or later a situation will arise which doesn’t really fit into any of the example scenarios in the book, and it will then be down to the Leaders on the spot to act as they think best in the circumstances encountered.  You can only risk-assess so far, some things which happen genuinely are not foreseeable, and cannot be prevented by us no matter how much we assess and plan.  For instance, my unit’s meeting hall is surrounded by housing on 3 sides.  On one side there is high garden fencing/hedges, on the other two sides there is a high stone wall between us and the neighbouring houses, too high for us to see over.  One summer night I had organised relay races on the narrow strip of grass which runs round our hall.  I could hear that there were children playing in one of the gardens beyond the high stone wall, but they were totally out of sight to us, and us to them.  It so happened that as one of the Brownies was running down the side of the hall, one of the children in that garden threw a bit of wood which had a couple of rusty nails sticking out of it.  The throw was such that it happened to accidentally soar over the wall rather than stay within the bounds of their garden as they had intended.  And by some mischance, as it dropped towards the ground it happened to fall in the comparatively narrow space between the stone wall and the large expanse of hall roof beyond, and by some mischance it happened just at the exact moment a child was running past that very spot, such that it hit her on the head and caused a wound on her forehead which required some stitches.  The level of coincidence involved in this – that the wood went over the wall instead of staying within the garden, that it fell towards the narrow strip of grass rather than onto the large expanse of hall roof beyond, that there happened to be a child running by that exact spot at that exact moment and not a second before or after – would be considered implausible by the average drama scriptwriter or critic.  But it actually happened.  I know, I was the Leader in charge that night and I had to deal with the casualty and with the children in the garden.


I am not for a minute knocking the Manual in saying this – either the concept of having a Manual, or the current contents of it.  But I am saying that we must not and cannot rely on it alone to provide us with all the answers for every possible scenario, every time.  We have to be ready to utilise it’s contents alongside our own sense and judgement, and be ready to fit the rules provided to the circumstances we find before us, and work out the best possible solution for our specific situation, complying with the rules as far as we can.  Because we consistently find - that many events which happen, in some way or another, are Not Quite Textbook.

Monday, 8 May 2017

"That's what little girls are made of" . . .

Yes, we all remember the old-fashioned rhyme, which gives the answer, “sugar and spice and all things nice”.  And I’m not planning to get into gender debates here about the merits or otherwise of spice versus puppy dog tails.  Simply ponder whether we practice what we preach in Guiding when it comes to food – both the food which we serve, and the food which we teach the girls to make in our food activity sessions.  Should the girls be made of sugar and spice?  Or are too many of those ‘all things nice’ the very ones which we know are not good for them to have?


Yes, I’m happy to accept that our meetings are only 90 minutes a week.  And our catered camps/holidays and outings are only a few weekends a year.  So I agree that what we do has a limited impact on their health in comparison to what happens at home or at school.  And we’ve all heard about “a little of what you fancy does you good”, “all work and no play” and all those old sayings which are usually wheeled out at this point to claim that we needn’t worry a jot how many treats we give out or how often we give them, whether our last three cooking sessions were all ‘cake & candy’ ones which involved a lot of sugar, butter and oil, or whether sweets and sugary drinks were used as all of the prizes and most of the refreshments at the last couple of parties we ran.  Nevertheless – Guiding as a movement claims to promote healthy lifestyles.  We have our Healthy Heart and our Agility badges, our Outdoor Pursuits and our Independent Living and our Sport.  We encourage the girls to do as many outdoor activities as we can muster and appreciate nature, exercise and fitness, and the healthy out-of-doors.  We teach them the first aid and the survival skills in order that they can look after themselves.  And yet . . . do our deeds match all this fine talk?  Are we really talking about ‘treat food’ which fits the definition of ‘treat’ – a very occasional one-off as part of an otherwise healthy balanced diet - or if we are being honest with ourselves, is it actually ‘treats’ we provide most if not all of the time, and are we actually providing the prime example of a rather unbalanced and somewhat unhealthy diet?


Problem is, when we do ‘cooking’ activities with the unit, all too often, the results are food which is very sugary, or fatty - or both.  Often for 'cooking' we can read 'making cake & candy' - whereas cooking savoury food is much rarer, and fresh vegetables almost never appear.  And when it comes to menus for camps and holidays there does tend to be a lot of bread, rice and pasta, which is reasonable and sustaining - but also a lot of fried or fatty food which does not have much merit nutritionally.  As I look at my last outdoor camp menu, it was tinned soup (which contains sugar) and cheeseburger rolls for dinner (burgers fried not grilled, with processed cheese slices).  Hot choc and biscuits for supper (more sugar).  Breakfast was sugar-laden cereal and bacon rolls for breakfast (fry again), with diluting juice and fresh fruit for elevenses (more sugar).  Lunch was a buffet, so salad vegetables were available then – but some girls may have filled their wrap with ham and cheese rather than adding much lettuce, cucumber or tomato (sugar) to it, and a packet of crisps each was provided (so fry again), and a piece of fruit (sugar).  Most of the girls probably only brushed teeth morning and night, not also at elevenses, lunch or after evening meal.  Where camp and holiday menus include ‘fruit & veg’ it tends to be mainly fruit, which contains natural sugars – veg is rarer, and under that category we do tend to mean sweet tomatoes, sweet carrot sticks, tinned sweetcorn in sweetened water, or beans/spaghetti in sweetened tomato sauce.  We tend to serve diluting juice rather than water at mealtimes too.  And if there is a party, then it’s often automatically fizzy juice, crisps, biscuits, sweets, mini sausages or sausage rolls, pizza bites, with perhaps an iced cake too - healthy options are rarely or never offered to the girls at parties.


Yet on the other hand, there are the “childsmile” campaigns about child dental health, the “daily mile” campaign to increase exercise, and the “lunchbox” campaign to encourage healthy snacks, to name but three of the many national health initiatives aimed at children in the age groups we deal with, all intended to tackle the increase in childhood obesity and in dental decay.  Plus there is the question of parental wishes – many of the parents in my area are trying to manage the levels of fat and sugar in their child’s diet, and I doubt that’s unique to my town.  Should we not be supporting and assisting parents in this positive action, rather than potentially undermining them when the children are in our charge and out of their sight?


It isn’t to say we can ‘never’ give sweets to the girls, or ‘never’ serve fruit juice or carrot sticks without arranging a tooth brushing session immediately after.  Of course these and other treat options can have their place occasionally amidst an otherwise healthy diet.  But it is that ‘occasional’ and ‘amidst an otherwise healthy diet’ part that counts.  So where should we target?  First up is tuck shops at unit meetings.  Whilst they can be a useful fundraiser, should we have them every week, or even every month?  Are there always healthy options amongst what we offer, or is it sugar or nothing?  Some units have a snack break every week during their meetings – again, are the children actually hungry and in need of food at that time – and if so, are healthy food options provided, and does tooth brushing follow?  Or is it sugary juice and sweet biscuits with no tooth care afterwards?


Next we could think about our cookery activities – do we alternate sweet with savoury, fried with simmered, roasted with grilled – or could we?  You can do a lot to teach the girls how to prepare and peel vegetables, and can arrange plates of salad to make them look really attractive - the girls could easily learn to peel veg, and make healthy dips.  Pasta can be served with a tomato-based sauce with fresh vegetables through it rather than with a cheese sauce.  Lots of healthy stir-fry dishes can be made in the space of a unit meeting time as easily (or easier) than cakes can.  Teaching them how to make main meals as well as snacks/treats are useful life lessons anyway, with all the age groups – it’s never too early for the girls to learn how to prepare simple meals, with an eye to the day when they have to cook meals for themselves.


As part of our balanced programme, can we also adopt a healthy lifestyles aim and balance in the food we serve and the food activities we do all the time, not just when we’re doing a health-themed badge?  Avoiding “Don’t do as I do, do as I say”?

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Rewards for Church Parades

So you had a low turnout at the church parade outing.  And you’re vexed.  Perhaps if you offered a badge or something, or offered points to reward the attendees it would pressure some of the others into turning up next time and reduce your embarrassment?


But – would it be fair?  No, actually, in every sense, would it?  After all, was everyone who attended necessarily doing the right thing in being there?  And was everyone who did not attend automatically in the wrong for not participating?  No.  For the only girls who can ever attend any outing - are those whose parents who not only give them permission to attend, but then also arrange the means.  The rest cannot attend, keen to or not – so it can't be fair to criticise or disadvantage the girls for something which is mainly or entirely out of their hands.  And equally - if parents insist a girl will attend then obey she must, even if against her wishes and despite her objections – to then reward her for having attended is illogical.  In both these instances, it is the parents who have decided whether their girl will attend or not, so it is parents who would be due any rewards or demerits, if such are given at all.


Then there is the question of who is ‘behaving’ or ‘misbehaving’ by being present, or indeed absent - before making any decisions about that we should consider:


  • Were any absent because their folks were unable to make arrangements for them to attend?
  • Were any absent because the content of the event was inappropriate for their beliefs, such that keeping their Promise meant absenting themselves?
  • Were any absent because they were attending their own place of worship instead (despite the temptation to truant for rewards)?
  • Were any absent because they were away from home that weekend, but they nevertheless attended an equivalent event where they were?
  • Were any absent because they had a regular or prior commitment at that time, and believed they should honour that prior commitment?
  • Were any absent because they are from split families, and were scheduled to visit the ‘other parent’ at that time (perhaps even were obliged to)?    
  • Were any absent despite fully intending to be present, because an unexpected emergency arose which had to take priority?
  • Were any absent due to illness, or to accident (theirs, or a relevant other person’s)?
  • Were any absent because their folks refused to sign the permission form (regardless of the reason)?
  • Were any absent because the girl’s family had a prior commitment at that time?
  • What about the ones who couldn’t take part in the parade, because they had other duties at that church instead (e.g. choir, crèche helper, bellringer etc)?
  • What about the ones who attended with their families (in uniform or in plain clothes) instead of with the unit group?
  • What about the ones who attended with another club they belong to, rather than with your unit/in your uniform?


So, given all the possible and plausible scenarios – can you say with 100% certainty just why each individual in the unit did or didn’t attend, enabling you to judge whether they should share in any rewards, if rewards there be?  By attending, or by not?  It’s complex.  And that’s the reason why there has never been a ‘Church Parade’ attendance badge in Guiding, and almost certainly never will be.


That leads to a further question - what if no reward were given for ‘just turning up’ at outings (any type of outings)?  No “I turned up” badges, no extra treats or activities ‘tagged on’ before or after an outing in order artificially boost it’s turnout?  No, each outing treated as the optional extra it is, regardless of outing venue or programme - and required to be viable or not on it’s merits?  Wouldn’t that be fairer all round?  The only badges issued at outings being those earned by actually tackling challenging activities or mastering new skills whilst at the event, not merely dished out to all regardless of their level of participation – that would fit our ethos as an educational charity, after all.  A church parade was originally just those who cared to attend a particular place of worship opting to wear their uniforms instead of their ‘Sunday best’ outfits, and arranging to meet up outside in order to go in and sit together, rather than with their families or on their own - so why not let it be simply that once again – suggesting that any who care to go to a particular place of worship on a particular day and time might arrange to meet up outside and go in together, the only reward being the company of friends, the insights the preaching might offer, and perhaps a bit of progress towards ‘faith awareness’ badge if the individual chooses to work towards that particular interest badge?


Ah, but it could make the outing unviable?  To which the natural response is, if any outing isn’t viable on it’s own merits – then why run it?  There is no such thing as a compulsory outing.  There are no outings which have to be run X times a year regardless of whether anyone attends them or not.  Church outings have never had any link to Guiding membership, they have never been necessary in order to keep the Promise, they have never been compulsory or anything near it (indeed, for long enough, all joint parades of units were directly discouraged in Guiding).  For many years, the only thing that was special about church outings was - that they were the only non-residential outing you needed to get specific parental permission from parents for – and that’s been a requirement right from 1912.  Because Guiding was determined that no member should be asked or encouraged to attend any act of worship which ran contrary to her beliefs.  And still is, neither more nor less than then.  Does running the same outing several times a year fit in with the requirement for us to run a balanced and varied programme?  After all – what other sort of outing would you run several times a year, to the same venue, to do much the same activities?


An even more important question we should consider is - what do the clergy want?  Are you certain the answer is “a dozen bodies in the children’s pew at any price, from mild persuasion/coercion right up to tangible rewards/bribes”?  Or - would the clergy prefer to have the 2 or 3 children who genuinely want to be there, who are curious or interested to see what happens and hear what the preacher might have to say, who may enjoy singing the hymns or joining in with the children’s story, who are keen to find out more of that religion and it’s beliefs?  All the clergy I’ve chatted to would 100% prefer the 2 or 3 keen or curious children to a dozen bored ones, reluctant ‘bums on seats’ who provide a token pound in the collection bag but are as likely to be put off as be enthused to make a return visit – maybe the clergy in your area take the same view?  And if your aim in taking the girls to an act of worship is to give thanks for generously-discounted hall rental, as commonly seems to be - then there are a wide range of practical good turns you could do which would be far more effective and useful to the church than a handful of children making embarrassingly token donations four times a year.  With many hall rents typically being £10 per hour or more, your unit’s £5 a visit 4 times a year may actually be backfiring – potentially perceived as cheek rather the token of gratitude you intended it to be! 


So why not covering/repairing books, polishing brasses, making up Christingles/poppy arrangements/daffodil bunches, hanging decorations for festivals, labelling up new robes, folding newsletters or orders of service, collecting donations for the parish charity box, taking responsibility for the care of the war memorial, cleaning the vases ready for special events, wrapping the presents for the crèche party, recording and delivering the ‘talking service’ or magazine through the doors, helping with clearing up refreshments after events, helping at the coffee morning or fair, making and delivering greetings cards to lonely parishioners – those and plenty of other options would all be practical good turns for a place of worship as a token of thanks for discounted hall rents.  Or – or you could pay your way.  Churches are charities too, and gone are the days when they could afford to make large donations to community groups – why would you be treated different to all the other clubs which hire the hall?


If your argument is that you want the girls to learn more about the church building or what happens in it – wouldn’t that be easier to do on a separate visit to the building, where they could get to explore the building and have it’s features explained, be able to ask their questions without disturbing others who are trying to concentrate, where what is done and why at certain ceremonies could be properly explained, rather than cryptically Chinese-whispered along a pew mid-service?  A congregation can usually arrange for someone to open up the building, and show the girls round, answering their questions, on a weeknight.


All this, of course, doesn’t even touch on the possibility that attendance at church service outings may not be straightforward for the Unit Leaders either – attending the church may run contrary to their personal beliefs and cause them embarrassment or conscience issues.  They may have commitments elsewhere on Sunday mornings which they have to miss in order to staff this optional outing.  They may have to take time off work (perhaps unpaid) in order to attend, or have to swap shifts or turn up tired straight after working a full night shift.  They may have to give up yet more time away from their family commitments, or organise (and pay for) childcare or elder care (at Sunday rates).  Is this a realistic expectation or demand for us to make of our scarce and valuable volunteers?  After all, it was only a couple of hours on a weeknight plus the occasional outing or residential that the Leaders volunteered for – regular Sunday mornings in church were never part of the deal.


So, that’s why I think you should give it a little bit more thought.  Will giving out sweets or badges for attending church parade be fair, or unfair . . . and if turnout is consistently poor, should you consider whether holding a Church Parade should happen as often, or perhaps, even happen at all?