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The Girl Scout Experience

Girl Scouts was founded in 1912 by trailblazer Juliette Gordon Low, the original G.I.R.L. (Go-getter, Innovator, Risk-taker, Leader)™ powerhouse. We are the largest leadership development organization for girls in the world and a member of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, a sisterhood of close to 10 million girls and adults in 150 countries. With programs from coast to coast and across the globe, Girl Scouts offers every girl the chance to practice a lifetime of leadership, adventure, and success. 

Who Can Join Girl Scouts—and How?

Girl Scouts is about sharing the fun, friendship, and the inherent power of girls and women in an inclusive, supportive, girl-led environment!

Girl Scout volunteers are a dynamic and diverse group, and there’s no one “type” of volunteer. Whether you’re a recent college grad, a parent, a retiree, or really, anyone with a sense of curiosity and adventure (female or male, who has passed the necessary screening process), your unique skills and experiences help make Girl Scouting a powerful leadership experience for girls. 

What all members share are the Girl Scout Promise and Law, as well as our extraordinary strengths as go-getters, innovators, risk-takers, and leaders. Each member also agrees to follow safety guidelines and pay the annual membership dues of $25. Adults have the option to purchase a lifetime membership for $400.

Girls at Every Grade Level
Girl Scout Daisy (grades K–1)    Girl Scout Cadette (grades 6–8)
Girl Scout Brownie (grades 2–3)   Girl Scout Senior (grades 9–10)
Girl Scout Junior (grades 4–5)          Girl Scout Ambassador (grades 11–12)
The Girl Scout Leadership Experience

At Girl Scouts, everything centers around the girl: Activities are girl-led, which gives girls the opportunity to take on leadership roles and learn by doing in a cooperative learning environment. It’s what makes Girl Scouts truly unique—our program is designed by, with, and for girls. 

The Girl Scout Leadership Experience (GSLE) is what girls do and how they do it.  When girls participate in the GSLE, they experience five measurable leadership benefits or outcomes that will fuel their success. And although girls may start building their leadership skills in school and on sports teams, research shows that the courage, confidence, and character they develop as Girl Scouts stay with them throughout their lives.

What girls do in Girl Scouting all fits within three keys: discover, connect and take action. 

  • When girls do exciting badge activities, earn a Girl Scout Journey award, attend an amazing event, or go camping, you are helping them discover who they are, what they care about, and what their talents are. 

  • Girls connect when they collaborate with other people, learn from others, and expand their horizons. This helps them care about, inspire, and team with others locally and globally. 

  • With your guidance, these budding leaders will connect with and care about others, and they’ll be eager to take action to make the world a better place.  

As for how they do it? The GSLE draws on three unique processes that help girls unlock the leader within. 

  • Girl-led means girls of every age take an active and age-appropriate role in figuring out the what, where, when, why, and how of all the exciting troop activities they’ll do. The girl-led process is critically important to the GSLE—when girls know their voice matters, they feel empowered to make decisions and they stay engaged in their activities. 

  • Girls enjoy hands-on activities and learn by doing. Then, after reflecting on their activities, girls gain a deeper understanding of the concepts and skills the activities require.

  • Through cooperative learning, girls learn to share knowledge and skills in an atmosphere of respect and cooperation as they work toward a common goal. 

As a volunteer, you’ll draw on these Girl Scout processes as you lead girls of any age. Girl-led at the Daisy level will look very different from the Ambassador level, of course. What’s most important is that girls make decisions about the activities to do together and that they also make choices within that activity. As they learn from their successes and failures—and gain a major confidence boost in the process—their girl-led process will give them the opportunity to lead within their peer group. By the time girls are Cadettes, Seniors, and Ambassadors, they’ll be using the leadership skills they’ve developed in order to mentor younger girls. 

One last tip about using the processes: Girls’ time in Girl Scouting isn’t a to-do list, so please don’t ever feel that checking activities off a list is more important than tuning in to what interests girls and sparks their imaginations. Projects don’t have to come out perfectly—in fact, it’s a valuable learning experience when they don’t—and girls don’t have to fill their vests and sashes with badges. Because what matters most is the fun and learning that happens as girls make experiences their own, don’t be afraid to step back and let your girls take the lead.

Reflection

Was a badge-earning activity a resounding success? Or was it derailed by something the girls hadn’t factored in? No matter an activity’s outcome, you can amplify its impact by encouraging your girls to reflect on their latest endeavor.  

Reflection is the necessary debrief that reinforces what the girls learned. As they explore the “whats” and “whys,” girls make meaningful connections between the activity at hand and future challenges that come their way. In other words, reflection gives girls the confidence boost they need to pick themselves up, try again, and succeed. 

Reflection doesn’t need to be a formal process, but you can kick-start the conversation with three simple questions: What?, So what?, and Now what?  

  • Go over with girls the what of the activity. For example, ask, “What did we do today? What part was your favorite? If we did it again, what would you want to do differently and what would you repeat?”    

  • Then move to the so what elements. You might ask, “So what did you learn by doing this activity? So what did you learn about yourself? So what did you learn about your community (or environment, school, or others) that you didn’t know before?”  

  • Lastly, review the now what with the girls. Say something like, “Now that we’ve done this, what would you like to do next? Now that you know this about yourselves, what would you like to try next? Now that we did this Take Action project, what do you think we should do next to make sure it continues on?”   

What?, So what?, and Now what?—or whatever style of reflection you choose to use with your girls—are powerful elements of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience, and they’ll carry these lessons with them for the rest of their lives.

Progression

Although program elements—like outdoor expeditions or entrepreneurial ventures—align across all grade levels, Girl Scout Brownies and Juniors won’t be doing the same activities as seasoned Seniors and Ambassadors. But with your support, they will get there! 

Girl Scout programming is designed to be progressive, and it’s what makes Girl Scouting fun and effective! By building on the knowledge and skills they gain year after year, your girls’ confidence will grow exponentially, and they’ll be eager to take the next steps. As a volunteer, you will cultivate a supportive, nonjudgmental space where girls can test their skills and be unafraid to fail.   

Keep in mind that good progression drives success for girls. We’ve outlined some suggestions that will help you determine when your girls are ready for their next outdoor challenge or their next troop trip

Inclusion

Girl Scouts has a strong commitment to inclusion and diversity, and we embrace girls of all abilities and backgrounds into our wonderful sisterhood. 

Inclusion is at the core of who we are; it’s about being a sister to every Girl Scout and celebrating our unique strengths. Part of the important work you do includes modeling friendship and kindness for your girls and showing them what it means to practice empathy. Here’s how you can nurture an inclusive troop environment.

Equal Treatment: Girl Scouts welcomes all members, regardless of race, ethnicity, background, disability, family structure, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, and socioeconomic status. When scheduling, planning, and carrying out activities, carefully consider the needs of all girls involved, including school schedules, family needs, financial constraints, religious holidays, and the accessibility of appropriate transportation and meeting places. 

The National Program Pillars

At Girl Scouts, girls lead their own adventures and team up with their fellow troop members in an all-girl environment to choose the exciting, hands-on activities that interest them most. Girl Scouts focuses on four areas (pillars) that form the foundation of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience: 

  • Outdoors: When girls embark on outdoor adventures, they learn to confidently meet challenges while developing a lifelong appreciation of nature.

  • Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM): Whether they’re building a robot, developing a video game, or studying the stars, girls become better problem-solvers and critical thinkers through STEM activities. 

  • Life skills: Girls discover they have what it takes to become outspoken community advocates, make smart decisions about their finances, and form strong, healthy relationships. As you help girls plan their activities, give them opportunities to explore and up their game in each of the pillar areas.  

  • Entrepreneurship: By participating in the Girl Scout Cookie Program or fall product program, girls learn the essentials of running their own business and how to think like entrepreneurs. 

The Volunteer Toolkit (VTK) can provide inspiring ideas so you can engage your troop in an exciting mix of activities all year long. For example, if you want to take your girls outside when doing a badge activity, look for the evergreen icon, which tells you that activity can be taken outdoors.  

The Important Difference Between Badges and Journeys

Journeys and badges are designed to give girls different leadership-building experiences, all while having fun!

  • Journeys are topic-specific experiences through which girls explore their world by doing hands-on activities and taking the reins on age-appropriate Take Action projects. Because of their leadership focus, Journeys are also a prerequisite for the prestigious Bronze, Silver, and Gold Awards.  

  • Badges are all about skill building. When a Girl Scout earns a badge, it shows that she’s learned a new skill, such as how to make a healthy snack or take great digital photos. It may even spark an interest at school or plant the seed for a future career. Please remember that we don’t expect you to be an expert in the badge topics; just have fun learning by doing with the girls!

If they choose, girls can pursue the badges they’re excited about and Journey awards in the same year; encourage them to find the connections between the two to magnify their Girl Scout experience! While you’re having fun, keep in mind that the quality of a girl’s experience and the skills and pride she gains from earning leadership awards and skill-building badges far outweigh the quantity of badges she earns. 

The Difference Between Community Service and Take Action Projects

As your girls look for meaningful ways to give back to their community, you can help sharpen their problem-solving skills and expand their definition of doing good by discussing community service and Take Action projects. 

  • Community service projects are all about making an impact right now and filling an immediate need in the community.

  • Through their Take Action projects, girls change the world—or their part of it—and make it better, going forward. Take Action projects focus on creating a lasting, sustainable impact. 

Both projects serve important needs, but at different levels. If your troop members want to pursue their Bronze, Silver, or Gold Award, they’ll need to understand the kinds of projects that qualify. To make Take Action projects even more impactful for your girls, set time for them to reflect on their projects. When girls make time to internalize the lessons they’ve learned, they’re more likely to find success in their future projects—or anything else they put their minds to.  

Traditions, Ceremonies and Special Girl Scout Days

Time-honored traditions and ceremonies unite Girl Scout sisters—and the millions of Girl Scout alums who came before them—around the country and around the globe and remind girls how far their sisters have come and just how far they’ll go.

A few of those extra special days, when you’ll want to crank up the celebrations, include: 

  • Juliette Gordon Low's birthday or Founder's Day, October 31, marks the birth in 1860 of Girl Scouts of the USA founder Juliette Gordon Low in Savannah, Georgia.

  • World Thinking Day, February 22, celebrates the birthdays of Girl Guide/Girl Scout founder Robert, Lord Baden-Powell (1857–1941) and World Chief Guide Olave, Lady Baden-Powell (1889–1977).

  • Girl Scouts’ birthday, March 12, commemorates the day in 1912 when Juliette Gordon Low officially registered the organization's first 18 girl members in Savannah, Georgia.

Whether you are making cool SWAPS to share with new friends or closing your meetings with a friendship circle, your troop won’t want to miss out on these traditions, ceremonies, and special Girl Scout days.

Highest Awards

As your girls discover their passions and the power of their voices, they’ll want to take on an issue that’s captured their interest and is meaningful to them. Encourage them to turn their vision into reality by taking on the ultimate Take Action projects in order to earn Girl Scouts’ highest awards.  

The Girl Scout Bronze, Silver, and Gold Awards honor girls who become forces for good and create a lasting impact on their communities, nationally and around the world. 

  • The Girl Scout Bronze Award can be earned by Juniors who have completed one Junior Journey.

  • The Girl Scout Silver Award can be earned by Cadettes who have completed one Cadette Journey.

  • The Girl Scout Gold Award takes making the world a better place to a new level by solving society’s grand challenges. Seniors and Ambassadors who have completed either two Girl Scout Senior-level Journeys, two Ambassador-level Journeys, or one of each can pursue their Gold Award. 

Did you know that a Girl Scout who has earned her Gold Award immediately advances one rank in all four branches of the U.S. military? A number of college scholarship opportunities also await Gold Award Girl Scouts. A girl does not, however, have to earn a Bronze or Silver Award before earning the Girl Scout Gold Award. She is eligible to earn any recognition at the grade level in which she is registered.

Ask your council about the Gold Award Girl Scouts in your community and how they’re doing their part to make the world a better place. For some serious inspiration, consider inviting a local Gold Award Girl Scout to speak to your girls about how she took the lead and made a difference. You’ll be inspired when you see and hear what girls can accomplish as leaders—and by the confidence, values, and team-building expertise they gain while doing so!

Girl Scout Travel and Destinations

From their first local field trip as Daisies to exploration of another country as Seniors or Ambassadors, girls will find that Girl Scouts is the best way to travel. They’ll challenge themselves in a safe environment that sparks their curiosity, and they’ll create lifelong memories with their Girl Scout sisters. And the Girl Scout Cookie Program can help to make travel dreams a reality! 

Traveling with Girl Scouts is very different from traveling with family, school, or other groups because girls take the lead. As they make the decisions about where to go and what to do and take increasing responsibility for the planning and management of their trips, girls build important organizational and management skills that will benefit them in college and beyond. 

Girl Scout travel is built on a progression of activities, so girls are set up for success. Daisies and Brownies start with field trips and progress to day trips, overnights, and weekend trips. Juniors can take adventures farther with a longer regional trip. And Cadettes, Seniors, and Ambassadors can travel the United States and then the world. There are even opportunities for older girls to travel independently by joining trips their councils organize or participating in Destinations. There’s a whole world of possibilities for your girls! 

Planning Ahead for Adventure
Get in touch with your council as you start thinking about planning a trip. They likely have training programs that will raise your confidence as a chaperone as well as an approval process for overnight and extended travel. 

A “day trip” is defined as any activity planned outside of the group’s regular meeting place, time and date AND does not include an overnight.

“Overnight travel – non-camping” is defined as any activity or event that takes place beyond the normal meeting date and/or time and lasts for at least one (1) night but no more than three (3) nights. NOTE: group travel of three (3) nights or more requires the purchase of additional Girl Scout insurance EXCEPT when the travel is during an official federal holiday.

“Overnight travel – camping established site (including Adirondacks and screened cabins)” is defined as any activity or event that takes place beyond the normal meeting date and/or time and lasts for at least one (1) night but no more than three (3) nights AND camping in an established site that is missing one or more of the amenities listed in “overnight travel – noncamping.”

NOTE: group travel of three (3) nights or more requires the purchase of additional Girl Scout insurance EXCEPT when the travel is during an official federal holiday.

Any adult traveling with girls must be a currently registered member of GSUSA and have successfully completed a criminal background check.

At least one registered adult accompanying the group must have completed the required training.

A signed parent/guardian permission form is required for each girl for activities that take place beyond the normal group meeting date, place and/or time OR for any activity or event that could be considered sensitive in nature.

Notice must be submitted, and approval received, for any activity that includes an overnight.

Safety Activity Checkpoints regarding overnights and travel will be observed for all activities.

The Annual Permission Slip and Health History provides parent/guardian permission to travel to, attend and participate in troop and council-sponsored activities that are not more than three (3) nights AND not considered high-risk activities or sensitive issues as defined in the next section and outlined in Safety Activity Checkpoints.

If a parent/guardian chooses not to sign the Annual Permission Slip and Health History she will need to sign the Event Specific Permission for each activity or event that takes place outside of the regular group meeting place, time and date that is not more than three (3) nights.

The Event Specific Permission form is to be used to obtain parent/guardian permission allowing a girl to travel to and from, attend, and participate in activities considered high risk or sensitive in nature, as defined in the next section and outlined in Safety Activity Checkpoints.

Not sure where to begin? Check out the Girl Scout Guide to U.S. Travel. This resource is designed for Juniors and older Girl Scouts who want to take extended trips—that is, longer than a weekend—but also features tips and tools for budding explorers who are just getting started with field trips and overnights. 

Once girls have mastered planning trips in the United States, they might be ready for a global travel adventure! Global trips usually take a few years to plan, and the Girl Scout Global Travel Toolkit can walk you through the entire process. 

Safety First
If you’re planning any kind of trip—from a short field trip to an overseas expedition—the “Trips and Travel” section of Safety Activity Checkpoints is your go-to resource for safety. Your council may have additional resources and approval process. Be sure to follow all the basic safety guidelines, like the buddy system and first-aid requirements, in addition to the specific guidelines for travel. 

Note that extended travel (more than three nights) is not covered under the basic Girl Scout insurance plan and will require additional coverage. 

Girl Scout Connections 
It’s easy to tie eye-opening travel opportunities into the leadership training and skill-building your girls are doing in Girl Scouts! Your girls can use their creativity to connect any leadership Journey theme into an idea for travel, like a Sow What? trip focusing on sustainable agriculture and, naturally, sampling tasty food!

There are abundant opportunities to build real skills through earning badges too. The most obvious example is the Senior Traveler badge, but there are plenty more, such as Eco Camper, New Cuisines, Photography, and, of course, all the financial badges that help girls budget and earn money for their trips. 

Looking to incorporate Girl Scout traditions into your trip? Look no farther than the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace in Savannah, Georgia! Your girls also have the chance to deepen their connections to Girl Scouts around the world by visiting one of the WAGGGS (World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts) World Centers, which offer low-cost accommodations and special programs in five locations around the world. 

Travel to an Epic Girl Event 
And there’s no better way to combine travel and Girl Scouting than by attending the epic G.I.R.L. 2020 convention, taking place October 23–25, 2020, in Orlando, Florida! It’s the world’s largest girl-led event for girls, young women, and everyone who supports them. This premier gathering for Girl Scouts happens every three years, and they’ll meet fellow go-getters, innovators, risk-takers, and leaders from around the country and the world—it’s an amazing opportunity your girls won’t want to miss! 

Are your girls looking to stay closer to home this year? Then ask your council about council-owned camps and other facilities that can be rented out.

Lift up the Girl Scout Leadership Experience at every opportunity in your planning, but limit your role to facilitating the girls’ brainstorming and planning, never doing the work for them. Share your ideas and insight, ask tough questions when you have to, and support all their decisions with enthusiasm and encouragement!  

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