Every year, our Brownie unit takes a spring weekend camping trip. As I enter my seventh year as a Brownie leader, I have been reflecting on what I have learned about planning these camp weekends. There are some obvious things, like better food purchasing estimates (we had SO much leftover that first year!) and knowing what types of activities work best at which times of day, but one thing I did not expect was the realization that girls have very different experiences when they camp with or without their moms.
Each year we send out an email in March, asking parents if their daughter will be coming to camp. The first couple of years, we extended the invitation to parents to volunteer, either for the day or overnight. We reasoned that the more hands the better; but an interesting trend emerged throughout these camping trips: it became clear that the girls who had parents present behaved very differently from those who did not. For example, a girl who didn’t have her mother at camp was more likely to search for her own pajamas in her bag (instead of asking mom to find them), to eat what was given to her for meals, finish her own craft, carry her own water bottle on a hike, or even play with the other kids at free time without constantly coming back to “check-in”. Each small act is a boost to independence and a willingness to take on new things—not just in camping, but in their wider lives.
These might not sound like big things—especially if the parent is good at allowing her daughter to complete activities with the other campers—but they really do have an impact. Camping without mom is a very big psychological step for a 7- or 8-year-old. They are used to home routines, bedtime stories, etc., and most are not pushing the boundaries towards independence quite yet. When they come to camp, out of necessity, they are challenged to do things for themselves. We leaders, while we help when needed, cannot come into their tents and search for 15 pairs of pjs, toothbrushes, etc. Each small act that they accomplish for themselves shows them they CAN do things alone. These mini-confidence boosts help them to feel more secure that they are capable of camping (and more)!
This is not to say that there is no value in mom-daughter camping trips, especially since those camps are set up in a different way that includes both parties in activities (also, they are usually for younger groups like Sparks). The effect is not as pronounced when the mom is a regular leader in the unit, since she is then familiar with all of the girls, and not as focused only on her own child’s needs. In our unit, and in GGC as a whole, I think we are primarily about each girl’s personal development and independence, so we like to focus on kid-only camping (even if it is a bit more work for leaders). So, for our troop’s spring camping trips, we will continue to try our best to take the girls without moms, and introduce them to new experiences and new skills that they don’t even know they have.
By guest blogger Guider Kristy (Tawny Owl), 25th Ottawa Brownies. Kristy has been working with the 25th Ottawa Brownies for six years. She works for a company that creates educational websites and games for cultural institutions, and loves to extend this into writing stories, plays and planning interactive activities for her unit. Read her previous post on GirlGuidesCANBlog: The Value of Chaos, Seasonal Party Idea, This Guider Asks, Guides and Scouts: Awesome in their Own Ways.