keeping track of my adventures in guiding!

Sewing, science, and skyscrapers

Fun and delightfully planned-by-others night at Guides this week, as we split the girls up into three groups (rather than the usual two), separating out our high schoolers (who we refer to as ‘upper seniors’)  from our seniors, and having separate programs for them, and separate again for the juniors.

The Upper Seniors had fun in the kitchen, doing crazy masterchef style ‘molecular gastronomy’ experiments – making ‘cordial caviar’, ‘fruit fettucinni’ and various other concoctions! It was basically science via food, and they all seemed to really get into it.

Meanwhile, the Seniors were working in patrols to tackle a series of skyscraper challenges, building towers out of skewers and marshmallows, legos, straws (strong enough to hold a tennis ball), and various games based on towers, like jenga. I peeked in a couple of times and they were all really engaged, with lots of giggling, plus a bunch of gentle of teasing the opposing patrols.

I was mainly working with the Juniors for the night, doing sewing. Newest co-leader (leader #6, yes, we’re super lucky!!) had arranged for the girls to sew little echidna shapes out of a stretchy fabric, which was then filled with dirt and grass seed, with the idea that with a bit of love, care, and water, will end up having echidna ‘spikes’ of grass in a week or two!

Once again, the juniors were fantastic at the sewing, really engaged, and quietly focused. They all did both hand-sewing of two button eyes (and even our littlest 6 year olds managed this just fine), plus at least some of the machine sewing of the pieces together. We did have a few sneaky cheats to help progress – a mum helper got a production line going of pre-threaded and knotted sewing needles, so we didn’t have to fuss about that, and our new junior leader (well… not yet official, as she’s not *quite* 14) was fabulous at wrangling the filling of the echidnas with dirt, and generally trouble-shooting. Anyway, a great night, and one where all of the girls seemed happy and settled.

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A new term!

Back for term two, and a great night with lots of different things happening – Juniors playing a whole bunch of traditional games all roughly on the theme of ‘fruit salad’ (the name of one of their favourites), Seniors playing with fabric and making costumes, and lots of Rangers running about like pre-schoolers playing hide-and-seek in the dark!

Our Juniors’ games included variations on duck duck goose, ladders, oranges and lemons, kim’s game, and a few others. It was a nicely chilled out sort of night, and they all seemed to have fun. As always on these sorts of nights, the tricky part is knowing when to call a game over – trying to hit that sweet spot of when they’ve had enough goes for it to be fun and understood, but not so many that they get bored!

Meanwhile, our Seniors group were playing with a whole bunch of donated fabrics (as in, full bolts!), making ‘national costumes’ for their patrols… which probably didn’t end up quite getting there in terms of that particular aim, but they all seemed to be having fun, and being a bit creative, and trying different approaches to construction, using needles and thread, and knotting, and draping etc etc etc. So it terms of an explorative activity, it totally hit the mark!

We also had our Rangers group back together, including most of the Upper Seniors girls, which gave us a group of 11, I think. Anyway, plenty enough to spend nearly the full hour and a half playing two different versions of hide-and-seek in the dark with torches. Which they were all completely into, because apparently nothing entertains a bunch of teenagers like being allowed to pretend to be back in kindergarten!!

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Stitches and stuffings

For me, this week just gone was an easy and simple affair – I was in charge of a mere seven girls, and had three adult helpers with me!

The reason for these odd numbers? We were playing with sewing machines, where you really do need to keep things to a very high helper-to-kid ratio, especially when those kids are all the under-nine set.

Of course, this wasn’t all the unit was doing – our Senior group was out in the foyer area with two of my lovely co-leaders, making “swaps” for three of our girls to take to an upcoming interstate camp (with, I gather, decidedly mixed results… oh well), and the other half of the Juniors group was in the kitchen making gingerbread girls.

So anyway, back to the sewing. AwesomeCoLeader had found a great fabric recently which had this oversized print of stylized paper-doll style girls, and bought it “as I’m sure we’ll think of something to do with it!” – well, we did. Each Guide cut out one of these ‘dollies’ with a reasonably generous seam allowance, and then cut out a matching shape from our stash of bright fabrics left over from various previous projects. They then sewed the two sides together using the sewing machine (leaving a gap at the feet), stuffed them with cushion stuffing (of which I now realise I insanely over-purchased, in fear of not having enough… so need to come up with at least three more projects using stuffing…), and then the girls could choose whether to sew up the feet using the machine, or by hand.

It was a lovely, peaceful, chilled out evening, and all the girls were just delighted with how their cushion/dolls turned out (they looked a  bit like matroyshka dolls), and it was lovely to have three helpers (two mums and a grandma). I don’t often like to call on the parent cohort for help (I know there are mixed views out there on this, but I don’t generally think that just because I enjoy volunteering that others should be made to sign up!) but it was nice to have help for a discrete task like this, and two of our three helpers were ex-costume makers, so this was right up their alley!

Next week- the Juniors are doing the same again (but switching, so those who baked last week sew this week and vice versa), and the Seniors will be cooking outside on the campfire. Fingers crossed its not too rainy!!


Sewing peaceful guides

A lovely quiet, calm, and useful night at Guides last night, as YoungCoLeader and I taught/facilitated the Junior Guides with sewing. Most of the girls had brought along their sashes, badges, blankets or bags and so had a ‘project’ to work on. The few that didn’t have anything of their own to sew helped add to the ‘unit’ blanket I’ve started for just such a reason, and which now has our unit name in (slightly wonky) felt letters across the middle, to add to the patchwork shapes sewn on last year – an on-theme trefoil and a random rainbow striped heart!

YoungCoLeader is very patient and methodical in teaching skills like sewing, so she quickly set up in a space with girls who didn’t know what they were doing and gave them very detailed instructions on how to thread the needles, and how to do a basic stich. Unfortunately, being quite a proficient sewer herself, she told the girls they didn’t really need to knot the ends of their threads, which is certainly true once you know what you’re doing, but possibly isn’t the most practical of instructions for seven year olds who’ve never tried to sew before! Ah well, it did give them practice at threading the needles!

Meanwhile, I floated around, providing advice on “what to do next”, “how do I sew in the middle of my blanket?” and “uh oh I sewed together both sides of my bag…”.


After about 40 minutes, three of the girls got a bit bored and started up a game off in the corner – I would have let this go, but a running game when other people are using scissors and needles isn’t a great plan! So I made the three of them sit down, each with a different age handbook, and said “I haven’t had a chance to look through these properly, could you all please have a look and see if there is a fun game we could play?” which, amazingly, they got right into! After a few minutes, I headed back over and asked if they’d found anything, only to be informed “there’s no games!!” “oh, drat… well, are there any cool activities that might be fun?” “Yes!!” and they proceeded to show me instructions on making a plaited friendship bracelet, a little keyring with beads, and instructions on knotting. Interesting! So I immediately said, well, we don’t have those type of beads at the moment, but we have a box of wool in the cupboard, would you like to try the plaiting or the knotting? “YES LETS DO PLAITS!”, and so they very happily settled down with the wool box, and got stuck in, eventually being joined by a couple of other girls who had finished up with their badge sewing. It was a really nice little moment, re-directing their boredom towards something that was at least sort of on-topic, but via their own choice. Also an excellent justification for the sheer volume of STUFF we have on hand for guiding!!

Meanwhile, AwesomeCoLeader was in the kitchen with the senior guides, doing a superhuman job of wrangling 12 girls plus four lots of cooking. While the kitchen in our hall is very well equipped, like most kitchens it only has a single stove, which can make cooking quite challenging given you don’t want a crowd around it. But during the week AwesomeCoLeader had a bit of a brainwave, and decided that we should get out our little butane camping stoves, and set up two of those on the other side of the kitchen, so that she could have multiple cooking stations around the space, and apparently this worked really well! She was able to split up the girls into four groups of three (two using the main stove, which is quite large, and two using the camping stoves), and basically give them their recipes (one for cheese sauce, one for chocolate sauce) and tell them to go for it. As she said later, “cooking is an equipment game”, so if we can figure a way to give the girls enough of the essential items (enough chopping boards, sharp knives, measuring cups etc) then we can scale up activities much easier, and they won’t get frustrated and bored.

So, all in all, a good night. Also exciting was two newbies (both prospective Juniors), who both seemed to have fun, so that could be good – we’ve got  few girls moving up to Seniors soon, so a couple of littlies is could be handy 🙂


Buttons and blooms

Interesting night this week, as the Seniors took on almost a Rangers sort of vibe, while the Juniors built their ‘dining room’ skills.

Firstly, the Seniors. We were down a bit on numbers this week (3 away, which makes a real dent in the group), but given we were doing sewing, this wasn’t a real problem. We went upstairs into the little room I’ve been using as the Rangers room, which is quite cosy, and gave a nice vibe to sitting about and sewing. The girls had been asked to bring an item of clothing which required repair – buttons replaced, hems fixed, that sort of thing, which they mostly did (two brought badges to sew instead, which… wasn’t quite the point but oh well). We had a quick chat about why the planned task might fit into the Lifeskills badge they’re working towards (they all agreed replacing buttons and sewing in general was a pretty useful skill), and also agreed with a little prompting that repairing rather than throwing out also fits into the law to “make choices for a better world”.

Meanwhile, AwesomeCoLeader and YoungCoLeader (NewCoLeader is probably no longer appropriate a term or so in!) had the girls learning some very traditional skills to set up the dining room – including setting knives, spoons, and forks in proper order, making floral centrepieces, and polishing silver! Polishing silver is one of those activities that our very modern Guides turn their noses up at, and then end up totally adoring – I guess there is something satisfying and a little magical about seeing the bright silver emerge from the tarnish!


Here’s one of the Juniors patrols’ very beautifully set tables:



What do we teach? (Part 2)

A while ago, I pondered ‘what do we teach?’ inspired by a post at Trefoil Knot.

Today, I noticed a similar post, by a retiring South African leader:

It’s a fabulous post, which draws out some of the skills/benefits of Guiding – the focus on games and play which is often not competitive, or is competitive for ‘no reward’, the basic ‘life skills’ which somehow are so novel now – lighting matches, threading sewing needles, etc – and the way that Guiding tends to encourage and enable a certain about of ‘try it yourself’ led failure, which is the only way to figure out how to do it better next time.

Well, at least I hope those skills and qualities are what we are teaching… and that I manage to live up to them myself!

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A tale of two parts

Guides tonight – both happy and sad.

Firstly, the usual unit had a great night – Juniors were in the kitchen making gingerbread biscuits with awesome co-leader and lovely American helper. And they rose to the challenge of doing a better job than the Seniors did two weeks ago! Unlike the Seniors, the Juniors actually managed to ice and decorate their biscuits, and even had time to have a couple of quick games while the biscuits were baking!

Meanwhile, the Seniors (a reasonably small group) were sewing – and actually were doing a really good job, fabulously engaged. Even our usual noisy ones were reasonably sensible, and they all worked independently on their badges without bothering each other. District leader called in to visit, and was rather charmed by how focused they all were 🙂

We also had five girls back for a second try after last week’s bring-a-friend evening, which was pretty exciting! And mostly Juniors, where we’re a bit thin on numbers, so that is great 🙂

Later though, things were not so great.

Those following this little blog will know that Rangers Leader sent an email two weeks ago resigning. A further email later said she would not be returning for this week’s scheduled Rangers meeting, and that the girls did not know. She promised to send them all an email… but it was very clear this evening that had not happened.

So co-leader and I had to sit down the girls and break the bad news. We were nice enough to at least bring crackers and soft drink to soften the blow! Luckily, they were all pretty calm about it (better than I expected), but were of course pretty worried about what would happen to the group. Apparently they had kind of figured something was up, as former Ranger leader hadn’t done her usual email to them with reminders of what to bring for the evening. Anyway, the girls seemed reasonably okay with the idea that co-leader and I would help out for the rest of term, and they all promised to start asking anyone and everyone they know if they would be interested in being a new leader!

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Sew good… and not sew good.

Guides last night was a mix of very peaceful and successful (me and the Juniors sewing) and utter chaos (co-leader and fractious Seniors cooking)!

Lets start with the good…

All 10 Juniors were in attendance, and all but one had managed to bring either their blanket or sash and spare badges for sewing! And the one who had forgotten was totally fine about helping other people, until we found a blanket started last time by girls who had forgotten, which they’d started sewing on various bits to – we’ve decided to make that a unit blanket, and forgetful guide had a lovely time adding to that one!

All the girls were patient, quiet, focused… being helpful towards each other, waiting for assistance from myself and new helper… Just delightful little people!

As an aside, I’ve found a good way of managing competing help requests is to say “Yep, I’ll be there soon, you’re third in line! I’ll just finish helping Sally, then I’ve got Lucy, then I’ll be with you” – seems to help them wait more patiently, without getting agitated that their problem isn’t dealt with immediately.

So, all in all, good sewing night. And one of them even picked up that “it was good we were doing sewing, as it uses your hands, and we’re doing the hands badge this term!”. Indeed kiddo, good pick up!

…And now to the bad!

Well, the biscuits got made! But poor co-leader was just about going spare with the Seniors – one of our older ones ended up in tears as she wasn’t getting her way, two of the quieter ones were being marginalised by the louder ones, they weren’t cooperating in patrols, didn’t listen properly to instructions and then got frustrated when things weren’t working…

I think in many ways, the older girls struggle more with complex tasks than the younger ones do, as they’ve learnt enough that they’re used to being able to figure things out themselves… but they don’t really have the full knowledge to apply. For example, they didn’t know that “creaming the butter and sugar” does not, in fact, result in cream…

It probably also didn’t help that of the two Seniors away, they were both sensible PLs who might have been able to calm things down a little!

It will be interesting to see how the dynamic plays out in two weeks time when we switch the program around, and have the Seniors sewing, and the Juniors cooking… fingers crossed I have delightful sewing Seniors!

Ah well. Problems for another day.

Hopefully next week will be fun – we’re having an open night/bring a friend night, with all the activities based around glow sticks! Hopefully we’ll get a couple of newbies out of it – not that we need many… maybe one or two extra Seniors (preferably around the 11-12 age), and two to four Juniors, preferably aged 6 or 7.

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The Secret to Quiet Guides (at least Junior ones!)

We’ve finally cracked the secret of how to keep the Juniors quiet as tiny little obedient mice – sewing! 13 of our 15 Juniors were there tonight, and all but two remembered their equipment (although, I suspect that is a bit of a generous interpretation, as the newest girls didn’t actually have anything to bring), so, it was broadly a success!

It was about eighteen months ago when we realised that although we kept encouraging the kids to bring along a blanket to sew their badges onto, it just wasn’t sticking, and probably only one kid in 15 or so had anything even close to a blanket. So, Ikea to the rescue, we decided to purchase each kid a pale blue polar fleece (about $4 each), and slowly, they’re starting to look like proper blankets! My usually anti-Juniors co-leader was helping out (if you don’t get in early on facebook with the task allocations, you miss out!), but she was pleasantly surprised, as the girls were engaged, focused, reasonably independent… just brilliant! We’ll convert her to the tiny ones eventually!

It was honestly one of the easiest and most satisfying nights working with just the littlies for a while, as they all developed their skills, and really helped each other out, not just relied on the leaders when stuck. One of our PLs had forgotten her blanket, so we particuarly asked her to help out, and she did an absolutely brilliant job, going around and actively asking the other girls if she could help, showing a couple how to do stiches, and generally *helping*, not being at all bossy. It was just great.

Meanwhile, we split up the Seniors and Upper Seniors (we’re trying to keep it clear that there is a difference between the two groups, and give the oldest girls a reason to continue… success has been mixed, but hey, the kids we do have are pretty engaged). Anyway, the Upper Seniors went with younger co-leader out on a scavenger hunt around the local streets (worryingly, apparently they’re NOT so great at map reading, so I’ve rather glad I made the boundaries reasonably small – and didn’t go with my initial idea of letting them out without an adult!) – and they apparently had a marvellous time, running about, getting lost, and arguing about what they were seeing.  I suspect we’ve had a pretty tight rein on some of the girls for a while though, as one of them asked during the opening circle ‘so, its just in the grounds, right?’ ‘nope’ ‘really?! cooooooool!’ – its amazing what enthusiasm a tiny bit of freedom will do!

Also meanwhile, the Seniors were playing MasterChef in the kitchen, with a bit of a mystery box challenge – I was asked to be the independent judge at the end. And well… hmmm. We ended up with hot chips with marshmallow dip (eeew), and ‘bubblegum cake’ (a flatish cake with a marshmallow and sprinkles topping), with a marshmallow pyramid side dish which had to be finished just prior to consumption with a hot chocolate (milo) sauce! None of the dishes were really my cup of tea, but they all seemed to have had fun, and hey, sometimes its fun not to have to follow a recipe too closely!

In other developments:

  • We’ve decided to draw a line under two of our patrols – no more Brumby or Kangaroo for the moment. In a move to try and re-establish the mix of  Upper Seniors as a single patrol, they are are now Galah, and have elected a PL and Second. So, progress in that department, no crying over lost girls, moving onward and upward!
  • I’m wondering if we may have been premature in splitting the Juniors into three patrols – two of the girls (who were MEANT to be becoming seconders) have had appalling attendance (very strange – both seem to love it when they’re there…), and two of our tiniest ones will only be around until mid to late August, as they’re going overseas to live for a while. Oh well, we’ll just have to recruit a couple more – and the old patrols really were far too large to be manageable.

Next week – planning for Term 3 (earth/world) over the weekend with my lovely co-leaders, and then on Wednesday, the Seniors & Upper Seniors are doing a penny hike, and the Juniors are cooking cupcakes (girl led Guiding – its what they SPECIFICALLY requested last term – love it when we can actually deliver!).

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