Earlier this fall, I attended a large fall camp for 500 Guides and Pathfinders at Camp Wyoka, a phenomenal Girl Guide property near Minto, Ontario. I was an assistant for the first session of low ropes, an obstacle course that encouraged problem solving and teamwork. When we arrived, our lead instructor surprised me when her first instructions was for the Guiders: “Whatever you do, don’t give them any help. No suggestions.”
“What? Why?” I asked.
“Because they have to solve their own problems,” she replied.
The girls then went through a number of challenges, relying solely on each other for support and ideas. I had to stop myself a couple of times: the girl anchoring the rope was surely getting rope burn because she wouldn’t ask for help, another kept her weight too far out and couldn’t keep her balance. The only time our instructor gave any correction was when a spotter fell out of place – everything else was encouragement or questions for the girls to solve. “No suggestions” was winning in interesting ways. The girls were communicating, calling out their needs and ideas for everyone to try.
The last challenge on the course was particularly difficult. The girls had tried many solutions but no one could figure it out until one of the Pathfinders said, “Hey, what about that rope over there?” indicating one they had used for a previous part of the course. This was the key they needed to complete the challenge. Every girl finished the course and no one was left behind.
I left the course thinking of the many other ways that I, as a Guider and a parent, should be letting our girls try and fail in their experiences without my suggestions. When you remove the possibility of failure from the experience, you remove the success as well. When there is nothing for the girls to solve or overcome, it becomes experience without learning.
We are unwittingly cheating our girls out of solving their own problems and learning true responsibility. I was reminded of something that my co-Guider Sunset taught me: that our Guides were more than capable of setting up their tents and our dining shelter by themselves. They can clean up after themselves and the unit without the Guiders doing the majority of the work. They can clean the latrines, maybe not without complaint, but they get it done. I now trust our girls to do so much more than I used to give them credit for.
Later that weekend, when we were getting ready for pick up, I witnessed some Guiders shooing their girls out to go play while the adults swept and washed the floor. They said it was because it was “easier and faster” but I’m wondering how much the girls would have learned if we had let them do it by themselves.
Guest post by Kathleen Dueck. Kathleen is a Guide and Brownie Guider in Mississauga, Ontario. Check out her previous blog post, When compliments are contagious.