Feeling energized by this season’s refreshingly brisk air? Or perhaps you’re looking for more excitement following the back-to-school rush? Then it’s time to get outside!
Exploring the great outdoors—even if the “great outdoors” is a section of your local park—instills a sense of adventure in your troop. When your girls’ first outdoor experience is a positive one, they’re more likely to seek out new challenges, which is key to developing their leadership skills.
Though your girls’ activities will vary by age group, our outdoorsy Volunteer Experts have some tips for kicking off your Girl Scout troop year as sweater weather gets underway.
Find out what excites your girls.
Start by asking the girls to share stories of their favorite outdoor spaces and what makes them special in the fall. You’ll not only get them psyched for upcoming fall adventures—you’ll get a sense of their abilities and comfort level and how you might gently nudge your girls to push past that comfort level.
“I was pleasantly surprised with my troop; they love the outdoors,” says Kara Johnson, a Girl Scout Brownie troop leader in western Ohio. “We've had some fear of bugs, but I find education is the best way to fight fear. We did an entire badge about bees and how great they are for the environment. We made bee houses and had the girls create bee habitats at home in their backyard. We [now hear] fewer screams when bees come around.”
As you keep your activities girl-led, ask your troop members how they might connect the badges or Journey they’ve selected to the fall outdoor activities they love. If your Daisies can’t get enough of jumping into piles of crunchy autumn leaves, for instance, you might pique their interest with leaf rubbing art as part of the Daisy Outdoor Art Maker badge. If your older girls need an adrenaline spike after their busy Monday–Friday routine, a weekend of rafting and camping can give them the adventure they seek as they earn their Senior Adventure Camper badge.
Discuss activities and set expectations.
Preparation fuels confidence, so ease into your outdoor activities by explaining to the girls—especially those who are less than enthusiastic about the outdoors—how they can get ready for, and what they can expect during, a given activity.
“Our next meeting will actually be about the Hiker badge, so we’ll [take the time] to discuss how to properly prepare for a hike, and then for our second meeting we will go on the hike,” explains Kara. “Things we will discuss for this badge include where to go, trying out a new hiking skill, picking out the right gear, and packing an energizing snack.”
According to Kara, although it’s generally important to help girls prepare, you don’t need to spend a ton of time preparing younger girls for introductory activities. “Everything we have done outdoors is usually an hour or two at most, so there isn't much they need,” she says. “And I don't want to overwhelm little girls with a lot of information just to go walking in the woods. However, I always make sure girls wear proper clothing and shoes and that they bring water. [Also importantly], on our hike we talk about Leave No Trace and respecting nature.”
For fall-specific activities, you may want to research—or encourage girls to research, depending on their age—local trails and parks that show peak fall colors and/or how to best layer clothing in cooler temperatures.
Adapt badge and Journey activities for the outdoors.
Not all activities require indoor space, as Kara discovered when her troop earned the Senses badge. “It was beautiful weather, so we had our meeting outside and went on a senses scavenger hunt—smelling flowers, feeling leaves, and listening for bugs and birds,” she explains.
If your girls enjoy their outdoor badge work, ask them how other badges might be adapted for the outdoors and see what creative ideas they come up with!
Look for outdoor opportunities on your council’s turf.
“Our Girl Scout district holds a fall encampment every year, [featuring] counselor-facilitated activities, many of them involving the outdoors,” says Lisa Lamb, who leads a Girl Scout Senior troop and a Girl Scout Junior troop in eastern Michigan. “This makes it easier for girls and leaders to try new things outside their comfort zones. From horseback riding to rock climbing, fishing to orienteering, camp is a great first experience in a variety of activities for most girls.”
If your girls are older and/or prepared for camping, encourage them to plan a weekend of outdoor fun. “When I became a Girl Scout leader, it was important to me that the girls I was leading get to experience the outdoors in every season,” says Lisa. “I would encourage all leaders to take their troops fall camping. There are no bugs left to bite you, and it's usually not too hot (although you never know in Michigan). And you never know what kind of weather you’ll experience, so it helps the girls prepare to adapt to changes. In my opinion, it helps them learn to enjoy the outdoors in any kind of weather and realize that you can carry on with the fun even if it’s raining or snowing.”
Be sure to keep troop parents and caregivers in the loop, especially if they’re also new to outdoor activities. “Some worry about allergies, bugs, and poison ivy, so I find it is often just as important to educate the parents as it is the girls. [Informational] handouts usually go home with the girls,” says Kara. She adds, “I often don't need much from the parents, unless we have a large group, then I may ask a few parents to volunteer to come with us. Parents who enjoy the outdoors often happily volunteer.”
And whether you love sleeping under the stars or get squeamish around anything with six legs or more, remember you don’t need to be an expert to lead your girls in outdoor activities. Both you and your girls have so much to gain by exploring the great wide open together, building confidence alongside one another.
Still have questions about where to start in getting your girls outside? Use GSUSA’s outdoor progression chart to spark some ideas and discover how to step up your outdoor game!