keeping track of my adventures in guiding!

Catching up

Two weeks to catch up on!

Week one we had a brilliant night with a local women’s circus organisation coming in and running a circus skills workshop. The girls all got to do some basic acrobatics (mainly balancing), as well as plate spinning, hula hoop tricks, and juggling. They all had a lovely time, and it was great to connect with another organisation focused on girls and women, and give the girls a different experience. For our juniors, the activity counted towards their ‘body’ badge, for the seniors, it was just something fun and different!

Week two was a night where I focused on the rangers group, rather than the Juniors or Seniors, which was rather lovely. On the program was international games, which of course led Rangers Co-Leader and I madly googling the night before… and hurrah for the internet, we had a bunch of easy and fun games to play!

The resources we used were:

Games played include sleeping lions (because rangers girls are indeed overgrown tiny people!), big snake (essentially chain tiggy), and moon and morning stars – using a footpath in place of a tree shadow. We were joined by a prospective new ranger (super exciting!), and for about 20 minutes, the upper seniors group, about half of whom are nearly ready to move up. If they all end up making the transition up (and the current ones continue!), we should end up with around 10-12 rangers, which would be brilliant. Still, that’s a little way in the future, and I should *never* count guides before they’re promised 😉


Planning for progression (onwards and upwards!) (we hope)

Final Guides meeting of 2015 a few weeks ago (always a happy/sad day!), and I end the year full of enthusiasm and hope for the coming year.

It’s been a year mainly of growth at our unit – looking back over the year, we’ve had three girls leave, but had ten join us, and I think we’ve kept all our oldest girls, transitioning them up properly to our rangers group (of course, the long summer break may change this, but I don’t *think* so…). Our Seniors group has remained full (enough so that we created a 4th patrol), and our leadership team has really got comfy and reliable, so I feel quite sure that we can handle a large group… and I still want more growth! We’re about to have a bunch of Juniors move up to Seniors, creating nearly a patrol worth of spaces in the littlies, so recruitment drive ahoy first thing next year!

On our final night we had a bit of a party night, playing The Chocolate Game, their favourite outdoor game (‘camouflage’), and doing a scavenger hunt for Christmas decorations, which became their little chrissy gifts (oh, and a suitably themed badge!). It was fairly unstructured, but a lot of fun, and the girls were all pretty excited about it being the end of the year.

Christmas Guide badge 2015

We also had a session for an extra hour after the main group had gone, for girls nearly old enough to move up to our Rangers unit – a bit of a transition taster. It was great fun (lots of ‘minute to win it’ games), and good for both the grade six girls to feel a little special and like there is a reason to stick with Guides after moving up to High School (the primary-to-high school transition is our Recruitment Dead Zone), and also good for the current girls to realise that there are a bunch of girls not much younger who will be joining them soon. The current crop (only 5 of them) have been a little worried that the group is unsustainable at that number, so seeing that there are 7 kids who will (potentially!) progressively move up over the coming months should be reassuring. Ideally, I would love to have a Rangers group that was around 12-15 girls, the kind of numbers where one or two people being away isn’t noticeable – but given the competing demands for time in the teenage age group, I suspect those numbers will be a challenge, even if on paper we should get there by mid-year. I’ve seen enough ups and downs in recruitment not to count my chickens too early!!


Aaaaand go! Start a fire!

First night back at Guides this week, and we celebrated by starting fires!

Well, starting three, very responsibly organised and contained fires. On which we cooked chocolate damper. So, you know, pretty responsible fires 🙂

It was meant to be one fire for the , Juniors, and two for Seniors and Upper Seniors, but the older girls’ fires were so much better that we ended up with several of the littlies using the older girls’ fires, just to ensure everyone got things cooked in time.

Our chocolate damper was originally meant to be apple damper, but AwesomeCoLeader forgot to bring graters, and the kitchen (generally quite well stocked) didn’t have any, so a quick raid of our shed stash yielded cocoa and chocolate buttons. So we added cocoa to the damper mix, and once they were cooked and pulled off the sticks, stuck a couple of the buttons in the hole, which made for a delicious gooey centre! The girls seemed really quite okay with the switch from apple to chocolate!!

Of course, the older girls in particular had much hilarity around the fact that the brown damper mix, when rolled into sausage-y shapes around sticks looked decidedly like poop 🙂

As the first night back, of course retention is the question – how many would return? Well, at this early stage its looking good, as only three girls were not there. One I suspect we may have lost (her attendance in term four last year was a little patchy), but I suspect the other two (sisters) will be back. The older one was apparently on school camp, and I’m guessing its likely her little sister isn’t yet at the stage of coming along alone (they’ve both only been with us a term, and little sister is only barely 7). So, presuming those two return next week, we’re looking pretty good. Extra exciting is the fact that all five of our girls who have moved up to high school have returned, which is fantastic, as that is a traditional major drop off point.

We also had two newbies join us – one a (nearly) 7 year old friend of one of our existing littlies, and the other the six year old little sister of one of our longer standing Guides. Little Sister had come along to try last year (when she only just turned five), but it was all a bit much for her. We meet quite late (6.30pm to 8.00pm), and for a kid just starting school, that’s a really long day.

So, I think we’re set up for a good term and a good year. Always helps when you start with fire 🙂

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As ever, the challenge is retaining

Noodling about the ‘back end’ of the blog reminded me of a post from a while ago,

So one year on, how are we going, and has anything changed?

The differentiation between Juniors and Seniors does certainly seem to help – you can definitely tell when a kid is getting too old for Juniors, they seem to be decidedly ratty for a term or two before going up to Seniors, when all of a sudden they calm down again and are just thrilled to be there. Its to the point that I almost wonder if our hardline about not moving up to Seniors until you are 10 is appropriate (Australian Guiding is very flexible on ages, and each unit makes its own decisions about such things), but on the other hand, at least having a clear line means that we are on ‘solid ground’ with the kids in setting the rules. They do tend to respond better to an arbitrary but consistent rule, than a flexible one.

Our utilisation of Patrol leaders and seconders is still not as strong as it should be, and its probably not helping retention of the girls who might be in line for such roles, particularly at the Seniors age group where the stability of the group (and the fact that the girls elect, rather than the leaders appoint) has meant that the number of kids able to access formal leadership roles is limited. Perhaps this will open up a little next year though, as a we will create at least one but possibly two additional seniors patrols to cope with anticipated numbers, and we should also have a couple of the oldest girls looking to move up to Rangers towards the end of the year, which should create some change in the kids holding positions.

We are still struggling to do ‘girl-led guiding’ in a way which is useful, although we are definitely being more “there’s the instructions, now sort yourselves out”, particularly with the Senior Guides. I’ve found myself being less directive in recent months with the older girls, and more willing to let them just go for it, which they seem to appreciate, even as initially they protest that “but you didn’t SAY!” No, indeed, I didn’t, but given you’ve been a Guide for three years, I expect you to figure out you’ll need lots of small wood to keep that fire going…! I have noticed that once they twig onto the fact that the adults are stepping back, that they do manage to fill the gaps themselves, so that will certainly be an area to continue with, especially as a few of our Seniors start getting ready to move up further. Ideally, if numbers can keep relatively steady, but the end of next year we would have a functioning system of girls three years of Juniors, followed by three years of Seniors, before moving up to Rangers at 13ish. But we shall see – in our eagerness to maintain a Rangers group, we shall have to be wary of poaching the oldest Seniors too early, and undermining the concept.

Looking back over our member lists for the year, I’m surprised to see how few we’ve lost to other activities – of course there are some, but nowhere near the numbers recent years have taught me to expect. Not sure if we’re doing something in particular that’s improved retention, or if its just luck. Probably just luck!! Of course, having several girls having been with us for years creates its own challenge, of being sure to not repeat things too often (apart from things that have become Unit Traditions which give a rhythm to the year), and it also has the added complication of nostalgia “ohhh but when we did X badge it was waaaaaaaaaaay more fun”.

Anyway, shortly it will be the long summer break, and we shall see if this year’s excellent retention holds up. My gut feeling is that we’ll lose 2-3 kids over the summer, but at this stage, I’m not taking bets on which ones. Sometimes you just know, sometimes its not clear. This year: Clear As Mud!







On balance, a good night last night at Guides, as our Juniors learned some basic Auslan (Australian Sign Language), and the Seniors learned to use semaphore flags.

We started off with a bit of a mess though, as I attempted to get the girls to fill out a little survey about which badges they have (and which they might like in future), meanwhile, the new girls who haven’t earned any badges yet were still playing with the skipping ropes and balls, and it was all just a bit chaotic.

(Yes I should have good records of their badges… but the records didn’t get updated for a while, and then one of the other leaders was organising a couple of badges so of course they didn’t update *my* list, and then it was out of date so I didn’t bother… and… oh, look, I just don’t always have the paperwork side of guiding sorted!!)

Anyway, we then had a bit of feedback from the various weekend Guiding activities (the competitive camp, and trip to Scienceworks), before splitting into Juniors/Seniors for our main activities.

I have no idea what the Seniors got up to, apart from it involving Proper Semaphore Flags borrowed from LocalUnit for the night – YoungCoLeader entirely ran the program in the hall with assistance from ParentHelper2, and I didn’t even have a chance to glance in on them! But they all seemed pleased at the end of the evening, so I’m sure it was great 🙂

Meanwhile, I took the Juniors out to the foyer area to develop a few skills in Auslan (Australian Sign Language). The girls were pretty befuddled to learn that while English is used in Australia, the UK, Canada, New Zealand etc, that Auslan is only for Australia, and people using sign language in other countries won’t necessarily understand the same signs.

I went with an approach used previously, and it was just as successful this time – getting the girls into pairs, and having them pull a word out of “the hat” which they then had to spell-sign to their partner. The words were all ‘guiding’ words (things like patrol, camping, friends, girls), and the girls LOVED IT, and kept going long after I thought they would have got bored – none of my backup games were even required!

For those of you who are curious, here is how you say girl guides in Auslan:

(Kind of obvious once you know it!)

And that was pretty much it for ‘main Guides’.

Following that, RangersLeader and I took the (very few) Rangers, plus the oldest of the Senior Guides who had been invited to have a ‘try’ of Rangers for the night, for “pyromania night”. Because, as discussed a lot recently, If In Doubt, Let Them Play With Fire.

RangersLeader had organised a bunch of fabulous fire-starting methods for the girls to try, including making vaseline-and-cottonball firestarters, using cigarette lighters (all our girls are well versed in matches, but none had used lighters until now), trying out fire strikers, and using batteries and steel wool (not very effective, we were not able to get the right type of steel wool).

RangersLeader had also purchased giant marshmallows for toasting (which the girls were in awe of – they were the size of apples!), and I’d brought along some Starburst lollies, which noodling about online had taught me were worth toasting – apparently the girls agreed, as by the time I got there, the lollies were long gone!

We’ve decided to finish up Rangers for the year – RangersLeader is not yet fully qualified, and my little one is imminent, so we can’t really be sure to cover appropriate supervision for in two weeks time. We think we’ll only do one or two Rangers things in term one, but will aim to ‘gear up’ and start growing the group properly from term two – by then a couple of our oldest Seniors might even be getting to the stage of being kinda-sorta old enough to move up.

Next week: a science-themed wide game, including our friends from SisterUnit. I’d better get my imagination in gear, because currently, planning has been pretty much non-existent!!

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Catching up

Well, this has been a poor neglected little blog these last few weeks. Suffice to say life has been a bit full of late with both work and personal life a little busy, and guiding and the blog has had to take a back seat!

So, lets catch up the last few weeks.

Firstly, we had a ‘codetastic’ sleepover with 14 kids from our unit, and 7 from sister unit. It was awful cold and rainy day which made things a bit of a challenge – the intended plan of having each of four patrols light fires to cook their afternoon tea didn’t happen! But we did manage to get one fire going, although it took so long (it really had rained hard, and the wood was soaked through!), that we ended up having the ‘apple crisps’ as dessert instead of afternoon tea!

The wide game for the sleepover was unfortunately not as successful as previous ones, mainly as the slightly more free-form concept of ‘do the activities in any order’ seemed to confuse the girls – they couldn’t keep up with what they were up to. I think if I did that kind of strategy again, I would add a checklist for them to tick off as they went, so they could keep track. The activities themselves seemed quite successful – they included making a shelter, following compass instructions, decoding some fairly complicated codes, and doing puzzles.

Overall, it was reasonably successful (despite the rain), and the girls all seemed to have fun – it was also great to see the girls from both our unit and sister unit blending together so well – by the end, they’d all meshed in together 🙂 Also realised that one of the girls from Sister Unit is old enough for Rangers (although wants to wait until next year), so that is exciting.

Back to normal Guides – last week I (and three lovely mums who responded to our pleas for extra adults!) took the Senior Guides to the local supermarket on the tram to purchase ingredients for the final night’s cooking. It was part of the Lifeskills badge, with the girls having planned the recipes the week before (including budgeting), and then travelling via public transport to get the groceries, and then this week cooking the food.

The girls were all pretty good, although I suspect a bit more cheeky than they would usually be if their mums were not around!!

Finally, this week (final night of term), the Junior Guides had a ‘bathroom’ night as part of their Homes badge, which included a towel turban relay (quite hilarious!), and a bathroom themed version of The Chocolate Game, which had the girls dressing up in a bathrobe and shower cap when they rolled a six.

The Seniors, meanwhile, did their planned cooking – chocolate balls for one patrol, and chocolate cake for the other (bit of a chocolate theme for the last night of term!). Unfortunately for the chocolate cake girls, the oven was broken – the pilot light was out, and we could not get it restarted! So we attempted a bit of alternative cooking methodology, doing some in cupcake cases in the microwave (which looked like it worked, but actually resulted in burnt cupcakes), and some in a slice tray floating in a larger tray full of water, which we boiled on the stove, bain-marie style. Unfortunately, we ran out of time, and it didn’t quite cook, but I think given an extra 30 minutes or so it would have worked, perhaps with a bit of foil over the top to seal in the steam and cook from above as well as below. It was rather fun though, trying to figure out emergency cooking alternatives!

Finally to close out the term we had a Promise ceremony for two girls who joined us towards the end of first term, and a Promise renewal for three girls moving up to Senior Guides, which is always lovely. One of the girls moving up has been with us for more than three years in Juniors, and has been a really fabulous an enthusiastic Guide right from the start – it will be fantastic to have her in Seniors, although it does make me feel old!

And finally finally we had Rangers – four of the five girls came along for ‘Christmas in June’ which was meant to be both crafts and cooking but ended up all cooking as they futzed about and ran out of time! Still, the ginger cookies (which had to be emergency ‘baked’ on the bbq due to the same oven issues the Senior Guides had) turned out edible (although much more like ‘ginger crumbles’ than ‘ginger cookies’), and the non-alcoholic mulled wine was a great success. They all had fun, and seemed keen to be back next term, so all is well.

Non-alcoholic mulled wine:

1 litre orange juice

1 bottle sparkling grape juice

2 cinnamon sticks

5-10 cloves

1 cup of sugar

peel of one orange

flesh of one orange cut finely


Put all ingredients in a large pot or kettle, and bring to the boil. Once boiling, turn down the heat, and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Strain and serve into glasses or mugs. Enjoy!


Let the plotting and planning begin!

Okay, so its not yet 2014, and I probably *should* have better things to do with my few days of holidays before starting The Great Plotting, but, well, I’ve got an hour or so, and ideas have been swirling in my head in recent days, so what better way to preserve them than blogging?!

Firstly: Rangers. I’ve been thinking a lot about what to do about the Rangers group. Since the Rangers leader left very unexpectedly – and with no notice – at the beginning of term three, co-leader and I have managed to keep the group limping along. But how we’ve been going is simply not sustainable. Both of us have been taking it in turns to take the fortnightly Rangers meetings in addition to our weekly Guide meetings. There’s a half-hour overlap between the groups (Junior & Senior Guides from 6.30 to 8.00; Rangers from 7.30 to 9.00), and by the time we tidy up after Guides, whichever leader is helping with Rangers only joins the girls from about 8.15, meaning they have 45 minutes effectively unsupervised. Which isn’t terrible – they’re teenagers (13-16 year olds), we’re in the next room, its hardly like they’re being left alone, but it seems that unless they’re doing something planned by the leaders, or using the kitchen, that they are a bit directionless.

In theory, the Rangers plan their own program, and implement it. But the reality is, without a leader there to keep them on track, they tend to drift. And I’ve noticed that they’re re-enforcing that drift by having poor attendance on non-cooking nights. I think also with growing homework pressure, if what is planned is just ‘games night’ or similar, which they have to prepare, then it becomes easy to just not go.

Co-leader has also commented that she doesn’t really like the late nights – and I know her natural inclination is towards the brownie-aged Juniors anyway, so Rangers isn’t her natural cup of tea.

So, my current thinking is as follows – still to be discussed with co-leader, mind you!:

I’ll take on Rangers as a default, at least for two terms. For ‘week A’, I’ll do as we’ve been doing so far – spending the full night with the Guides, and when that’s finished, moving into ‘lightly’ supervise the Rangers. For ‘week B’ though, I’ll spend the first hour with the Guides, and when the Rangers arrive at 7.30, I’ll join them for the full hour and a half, with the idea that I will run the activities that week – so they only need to turn up and engage. That will leave co-leader ‘alone’ for 30 minutes at the end of the meeting, but if we structure the program reasonably well, that should be fine. We also have a mum who has been helping occasionally, and I *think* she would be willing to commit to helping out on those nights specifically.

I’m also thinking that rather than going back on week two of term one, I’ll see if the Rangers are willing to start week one – perhaps we can have an outing and plan the term – maybe even two terms at once – over noodles?

So, that’s my Rangers thinking. I guess we’ll see how it goes.

As for Guides – well, we’ve already got a camp booked and planned, and 10 girls signed up with deposits (two have actually already fully paid!) (there are 24 spaces available, so 10 already is pretty great!), so that is exciting! It will be the ‘Crazy Critters Camp’, with a nature/insects/bugs theme. I’ll be getting assessed for my indoor camp qualification, which is scary/awesome. 🙂

In terms of programming – I’m thinking we’ll try and get the Seniors to aim for at least one patrol attending Lady Stradbroke Cup camp, which is a competitive, very traditional patrol outdoor camp – we’ll need to increase their outdoor cooking skills, and do lots of knotting and gadget work. I saw some fabulous fun ideas for making mini-gadgets recently, using twigs and fine string, rather than sticks and rope, which looked like a lot of intricate fun – you essentially end up with dollhouse sized camp gadgets! For the Juniors, I know co-leader wants them to work towards the ‘homes’ badge, using the old brownies ‘hostess’ syllabus, which I think they’d really love… and finally, I have an odd hankering to do the ‘numbers’ badge at some point (perhaps in the winter terms), as I’ve had a bunch of ideas around codes, number patterns, counting in other languages, games based on numbers, etc. I think there’s a fabulous wide game in there somewhere too!

So, much to consider. We always lose girls over the long summer break, but I think retention this year should be reasonable – I think of our 24 girls enrolled, we should have about 20 of them return in February… fingers crossed!!


What is “good” retention?

As we start to approach the end of the year (a time when we traditionally lose a few kids), I’ve started once again pondering what is a “good” level of retention in the program.

A while ago I heard that 18 months is about the average retention nationally, but of course, as an average, that includes the kids that came at 5 and stayed to 18, as well as those who only did a term!

The things I’ve found so far that seem to have enhanced retention:

  • Increasing differentiation between our Juniors and Seniors groups, so there is a reason to stay for Seniors. Seniors-only outings and badges seem to have a certain ‘cachet’.
  • Getting kids engaged in earning badges and awards, so they have something “to show” for their time in Guides – our retention seems to have improved since we started focusing on badges.
  • Putting out “expressions of interest” in camps a term before they happen to raise interest, and give a longer term goal.

Things that don’t seem to have made much difference:

  • Patrol structure – originally I thought Patrol Leader and Seconder roles would be coveted, and seen as a reason to stick around, but it doesn’t seem to have made much impact, with a couple of our girls who have left during the year being elected or appointed to those roles prior to moving on. Perhaps the role itself is not well defined enough?
  • Girl-directed programming. Weirdly, the closer we stick to what’s been asked for, the less excitement the program seems to generate… perhaps there isn’t as close a correlation between what they imagined and what we deliver, so it doesn’t seem as fun?

Ideally, we’d have enough leaders to properly split up Juniors and Seniors, so that there was *true* progression through the program, but given we haven’t even got enough people for one of us to be away without needing to call for help, that is a looooong way down the path!

Does anyone else have tips on what seems to have improved their retention?

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Cooking in the cold

Last night’s activities for the food badge (for Juniors) and the be prepared badge (for Seniors) dovetailed nicely into an outdoor cooking evening!

While I usually work with the Seniors while co-leader wrangles the Juniors, last night we swapped about, as when it comes to cooking skills and creativity, I’m decidedly better suited to working with the under-tens! Luckily, co-leader has a bit of culinary flair 🙂

So I had the Juniors cooking “camp donuts”, to a reasonable degree of success, and a high level of independence!

For those of you unfamiliar with the haute cuisine that is the camp donut, allow me to enlighten you: jam sandwiches, drowned in pancake batter, and then fried. Surprisingly tasty! I suppose it’s a bit similar to French toast, really.

We used our handy little gas stoves, and had the girls working in their patrols, which worked quite well. It was a good activity to have the girls working with low supervision – I pretty much kept out of their way, just closely watching them using the stoves. They were able to make the sandwiches alone, mix the batter without any help, and do all the ‘dunking’ by themselves. Overall, they did really well, and all managed to get a turn, get all the “bits” done, and even get (some!) of the clean-up sorted! Overall, quite a success!

Meanwhile, co-leader worked with the Seniors to do some more advanced cooking, making chicken (and tofu) skewers from scratch, and even using a mortar and pestle to make a proper satay sauce! They cooked the skewers on our little metal grill, building a small fire underneath. The girls seemed to have a great time – apparently one even asked where you can buy mortar and pestles so she could do it at home!

Overall, it was a good night, teaching some core useful guide skills, and really helping with drawing a line between Juniors and Seniors, which I do hope will help with longer term retention, as girls feel like there is a reason to stick around, that the program will change and grow as they move through the sections. Interestingly, I spoke to one of our older Juniors, about her moving up to Seniors toward the end of this term, rather than early next term, and she was really excited, which I think is a good sign that the overall strategy is correct… it will also have her spending less time with her two years younger sister, which I’m sure will go down well!

Next week, foot pampering! Should be fun!

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