8. Keep up to date

Part 8 of my series on developing great leadership skills based on Girlguiding’s article here:

12 steps to becoming a great leader

“Having the latest information is key to leading well, and keeping your email address up to date on Go! will ensure you receive all Girlguiding communications. These, along with our website, will give you the need–to–know on everything from insurance to events.”

I am not one for social media, but for Brownies our leadership team set up a closed group for the parents to keep more informed. Due to this I technically have a Facebook profile, but I keep it clear of friends as I do not want those distractions. What I do use it for is keeping up to date with all things Girlguiding and some other interests too.

I can spend ages scrolling through my Facebook feed, finding out about events tacking place locally for Brownies, discussions from fellow leaders and taking inspiration from what other units have done. We recently got the paints out and each Brownie painted a mini masterpiece following an idea from Facebook – it was messy fun! It all stemmed from one Brownie saying the stain glass paint set we bought her for Christmas went in the bin because her Mum doesn’t let her get paints out. Well, what is Brownies here for!

It also gives us great ideas for trips. We are very close to being within a neighbouring county, and therefore while we don’t receive direct updates about what they are up to we can find out about trips and events they’re offering through Facebook. We’ve joined a few events at venues much closer than the ones offered in our County, and the Brownies gets some great new experiences.

Keeping the parents informed works so much better with Facebook too. On the morning of each meeting I add a status as to what the Brownies are doing that evening. Then in the days following we add a few photos to show what they did. We also use it to remind of consent forms, due payments and changes to meeting times and venues. Plus we can see who has seen the message!

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7. Be inspired… and inspiring

Part 7 of my series on developing great leadership skills based on Girlguiding’s article here:

12 steps to becoming a great leader

“In guiding, we promise to ‘be true to myself’, which means taking steps to be happy in your own skin. Self–reflection isn’t always easy, but it can be rewarding – and being ourselves can inspire others.”

Who the heck am I? And what inspires me?

I suppose I am inspired to make our Brownie unit the best it can possibly be. But I cannot help feeling I am holding some things back, as it isn’t who I am and therefore is difficult / I do not agree with sharing it with the Brownies.

So to start, the good things about who I am and how they impact the group:

I like to challenge myself, and therefore I don’t always choose the easiest option when it comes to planning activities. It is rare the unit uses Baker Ross pre-planned crafts. In the past we have done an owl stitched soft toy on Brownie Holiday – the sewing aspect was quite a challenge. We have also done sequin pinned Easter eggs, not quite so challenging. I think it has been since then, about three years ago, I’ve avoided these sorts of crafts.

Another challenge I give myself when it comes to planning in ensuring we either leave the unit place, or welcome a visitor, at least once per term. In the past year we have been on chip walk (of course), the park, had a visit from a local clay company, a yoga session and visit to Pets at Home. I’m also planning a bouncy castle for the end of term.

I do enjoy a craft, I keep scrapbooks, in the past I’ve made my own cards and bracelets. Oh, and I love to draw! I try to use these things sparingly in the unit though. I know the stigma of the ‘only does crafts every week’ Brownie units. When we do a craft I try to keep it something with some skill. On Brownie Holiday we made awesome dreamcatchers – I will write about those at some point – and for some that was their favourite activity over the on site stuff.

So on the self-reflective side – things I could do better at to help the unit…

Go outside more. I really wish I had the forethought to ensure more of our meetings could take place out on the green during the summer months. We head outside for gardening twice a year, plus sometimes games outside and chip walk. There has been the odd meeting where we decide to spend the entire meeting, circle included, outside. But this isn’t often enough. I hoped Brownie Holiday would tackle this, intending the be outside as much as possible, but some things were just so difficult.

Lead better planning pow-wows. Sometimes I look at the term ahead, a plan decided on by the Brownies, and I wish we could do so much more. But these are the ideas the Brownies have thought of and chosen. I do offer my ideas, but the number wanting to do science experiments and the more educational interest badges are few. There is so much Brownies could do that I never get a chance to lead!

Pamper / girly nights. This is difficult because I just don’t agree with it. I think at Brownies the girls should be playing games, learning about the world and team building. We always do fun activities too. But stopping everything for a pamper evening just seems a waste of time to me. I completely agree with teaching the Brownies how to care for their nails and hair, I recall these things being in my Brownie handbook, but facemasks, nail varnish etc, for a group of nine year olds just seems wrong to me. And I don’t want to encourage an interest in it. Especially when we can run Free Being Me sessions instead.

 

Evenings like this is why I run Brownies

I haven’t much time at the moment, which is why this blog has is very intermittent recently. It is strange that I have less time as last year I completed loads of Look Wider octant challenges, so I should have that time available now, but I’ve dedicated that extra time to drawing and writing my graphic novel. I’m rebuilding my drawing skills and am regularly adding illustrations to instagram. I’m writing my ideas and plans and they’re changing each week as I find new inspirations. If I ever create something concrete I will post it here!

Anyway, my post today is slightly linked to my first paragraph. I’ve mentioned to a few people recently just how many hours a week are required to run a Brownie unit. You could do it on less I suppose, but I want this unit to be really, really good! I want these Brownies to learn and grow and remember Guiding as a positive influence on their childhood. So those people who I spoke to suggested I give it up. I cannot give it up for many reasons. Last night at Brownies though sums up exactly why I run Brownies.

We had an animal handler, Jungle Jo, join us to show the Brownies a range of exotic animals. She was great with the girls and us leaders could really sit back and enjoy the evening with the Brownies.

The reason this was especially great was that two weeks earlier I’d spoken to one of our older girls, she brought up the fact she couldn’t attend this meeting because she doesn’t like animals. She is a lovely girl, been with us since 7 and is now a sixer soon to leave us. She has always stood with me on outings whenever dogs are nearby as she is clearly scared of them too. I asked her to consider coming as she didn’t need to touch anything. Her Mum appeared who insisted she would definitely be attending!

So last night I reminded her she didn’t have to touch anything she didn’t want to and could sit behind her friend if that helped. After some reservations at first, she was touching and holding all sorts of creatures. I could see how proud of herself she was for doing it, she kept looking at me afterwards too as if to check I’d seen her! It was great, she came up to me after the evening to tell me all about who weird it was but she clearly enjoyed meeting them.

All the girls had a fantastic evening, everyone touched some of the creatures, including a couple other nervous girls, and some held everything that came their way.

Jungle Jo brought a cockroach, a stick insect, a frog, two lizards, a millipede, a tarantula and a snake. I held a frog! (Which James would’ve hated!) The frog couldn’t be handled much as it could be unpredictable, which he was when he jumped up my arm!

tarantula Brownie

The tarantula couldn’t be handled much either, so Jo asked who would like to hold her. Maybe 5 arms went up and Jo picked a tiny new Brownie who has only attended about 4 weeks but she is clearly enthusiastic for Brownies,  and willing to try anything. While she held the spider Jo explained how humans are born with 2 fears – loud noises and falling – and fearing spiders was something they were taught. She explained you’re more likely to be bit by a hamster than a spider. After this she asked who would like to hold the tarantula next and over half, maybe three quarter, hands went up! You wouldn’t believe how many primary school kids wanted to hold a giant spider!

Everything about the evening was positive, girls become braver, learned a lot, and they went out of the meeting beaming telling their parents what they’d seen!

We had http://www.junglejo.co.uk join us and I would strongly recommend her!

Celebrate! World Thinking Day 2014 at Alexandra Palace

So our first big Guiding adventure of 2014 is over. But it won’t be forgotten very quickly.

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Celebrate! was a large scale event held over Thinking Day weekend and offered a vast amount of activities to all ages from Rainbows to Leaders. It was held at the mammoth venue Alexandra Palace in London. Here are the details of my two day adventure…

Saturday 22nd February 2014

Mother dearest and I had an early start to get to Alexandra Palace for 8am. The Celebrate event team had requested volunteers arrive from 6am onwards to help prepare the venue for the weekend’s activities. Traffic was a doddle and we parked up at 7:45am.

We entered the venue in shock and slight fear as we heard shouts from the middle of the room. Volunteers were taking orders and helping prepare activities. We sneaked off to the toilets before confronting one of the lead organisers. We were sent off to the largest room to collect supplies.

Mum was designated the Chinese Lanterns as her activity. I think she had been worrying about this task, especially when we found the equipment and before setting it up she was practising her own! A square made up of two long tables the activity was a small one but ready to go.

Next we headed to the Panorama room to set up my activity: Marshmallow Igloos. This proved to be a popular one! As we set up the equipment confusion came over me at the realisation that:

a) we no longer used cups as a base to build the igloos

b) there was no where to collect water for the icing

c) there was nothing to mix the icing in

d) there was nothing to mix the icing with!

We collected some more supplies, confirmed that the girls had to think more strategically to build the igloos and decided to collect water in coffee cups before the event started.

There were a few more activities that needed assistance but it soon closed in on showtime. (After enjoying out bacon or egg baguette breakfast!) I left Mum in the WAGGGS zone;

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and headed to the Passport to Adventure zone and waited patiently with the marshmallows.

The doors opened and not long after the first trickles of Rainbows and Brownies came in. The first group were distracted by the Bollywood Dancing workshop but they were followed by three Brownies who were pointing at marshmallows with their leader. The start was hard going because these girls had to begin making the icing. It took a while, and some Guides joined them, but soon they were all sticking marshmallows together with the icing to create some cool treats.

The activity got popular very quickly to the point it was out of control. I had planned a ‘no seat no activity’ rule as we didn’t have enough space. But soon leaders were pushing their girls into every available spot (and then standing around them so I couldn’t introduce what they were doing or offer down more marshmallows!). By an hour in I wanted to scream and go home. The lead volunteer in the area could see my distress and checked everything was okay. The giant marshmallows were gone within 45minutes and I seemed to get the blame for giving them out too freely. Well, the girls had realised that these made igloos quicker and, guess what, contained more marshmallow to eat than the little ones!

Lunch for me was at 12:30pm and I could not wait. I met up with Mummy and we headed to collect our jacket potatoes. We discussed our activities, Mum’s was a lot quieter and even had leaders using the space as a rest zone while their unit played elsewhere. I complained of the chaos and at this time felt awful about returning. This had become a work day and I was not happy about that.
As we ate lunch Chief Guide Gill Slocombe could be heard on the speakers asking everyone to stand to renew their promise. I put down my cheese and potato and renewed my promise with the other leaders around me. Later Gill Slocombe appeared on the table next to us but this would not be our last meeting.

After lunch the marshmallow igloos got better for a while. There was more control and I achieved my dream of being known as ‘The Marshmallow Lady’. One Brownie made a specially amazing igloo. There were tiny Rainbows making them and adults doing their best to build a roof. But disaster struck at 2:30pm – we ran out of icing sugar.

I spent a long time explaining the situation to leaders and was looking over the crowd for our lead volunteer to decipher if more icing sugar was a possibility. Girls had taken to building without the icing but the activity became much more unpopular with this turn of events. On seeing our lead volunteer I told her our plight and she went off in search of more. Even the lead organiser, Claire, came to me to ask about the situation. One clever Brownie holding a plateful of marshmallows suggested the biscuit decorating stall for more. It was a great shout but there still was not enough. By 3:40pm, 20 minutes before kicking out time, we also ran out of marshmallows. But the crowds had died down so we began operation: clean up.

Mum finished her area long before I did so came to help. After someone stole an instruction sheet, we added new banquet rolls and left everything as we found it we took a stroll past the new Brownie Book designs. Soooo cute! Cannot wait to purchase them.

We helped out a few guiding friends before we hit the road. We had lots of stories to compare but generally both felt happy about our contributions that day. Next challenge, taking 9 girls to the arena!

Sunday 23rd February 2014

After a short sleep mother dearest and I awoke again for our second day of Celebrate madness. A lay in compared to yesterday we left at 8:10am with our fellow leader, Sue. On arrival at the station we found two of our older members already eager and waiting. Our group was a mixed bunch. From tiny 7 year old Brownie, three 8 year old Brownies, one 10 year old Brownie, one 10 year old Guide, and three Brownie Helpers (also Guides) aged 12-14. All arrived on time and we were on the platform by 8:30am and got a train ahead of schedule (not that I was aware of this at the time and went into panic mode later).

The journey was made up of a few short bursts on different trains, all assisted by clever Guide and her trains app. On the way the three groups discussed the activities and chose their favourites, one pointed out rather excitedly “Lunch! I LOVE lunch!”

The walk up the hill to Alexandra Palace was a tough one. We lost Sue into the crowd of Brownies behind us. “I’ve found Blackbird,” shouted hyper Brownie as she pointed across the road to a curious bird.

The rain and wind tried to pull us back but we pushed on through to reach the giant venue. I got our group registered, in the queue, and very quickly we were ushered into the venue.

Our discussions with the groups on their favoured activities went out the window when we arrived. A group of Brownies wanted to try the bungee trampoline but we had to explain the queue was at its maximum but we would return later (unbeknown to us this would always be unsuccessful.) Instead some took to the revolving climbing wall while others met the animals at the petting zoo.

The revolving climbing wall was an interesting watch, most managed to stay on the whole time while. We tried out the bowling, BATAK challenge, duck racing and table tennis. I took the 10 year olds to look around while the younger ones stayed by the ducks. They tried candle decorated, looked at the mosaic that many girls were assisting in creating and tried some Edinburgh rock.

In the village fete zone we queued for the scalextric stand where the girls cycled to power the race cars. As we queued I noticed a lone Guide before us. My girls asked whether one should join her when a fellow leader appeared by my side. “Wow! What’s this! It looks amazing!” She chirped with sheer joy. I looked up to see Chief Guide Gill Slocombe by my side. We discussed the activity before I pointed out there was a Guide looking for a partner to race. She was so filled with excitement that it was contagious. My two girls then took their go and really enjoyed themselves.

As we headed to our midday feast the same lunch loving Brownie had another mountain top moment at Celebrate, “Carpet! I LOVE carpet!” (It was nice under our feet, I must admit.)

After lunch half the girls headed to the funbus (a regular bus but spray painted blue with soft play toys inside) and half queued for the roller disco. I happened to be waiting with the roller disco girls and minutes into the queue the Guides questioned whether I would join them. “No, no, no,” I instinctively reacted. “Come on Brown Owl, please!” The younger Brownies insisted. I must admit, it felt nice that the girls wanted me to join them. I saw other leaders taking up the opportunity and decided why couldn’t I have some fun too?

The roller disco turned out to be my favourite part of the day. It was good to be involved, but mainly I realised I was needed on the disco floor too. One smaller Brownie had never skated before so I became some support while the railing helped her stay up too. During our time in the skates she managed some distance with no support at all. She did fall once, but we even managed to get across the arena without the railing at one point.

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I had a short race with the more able skaters and we all had a good time. But for me, knowing I’d helped a girl have a new experience and face a challenge was the most rewarding and therefore most memorable.

The Brownies and Guides also tried the musical Gamelan workshop, the silent disco, made body scrub, tried Henna art and made masks before we made the journey home. The group had wanted to try the marshmallow igloos but it seems the activity ran out of stock even quicker on the second day. That’ll be an activity for next term I think.

We were all exhausted by the time we returned home. “How are we getting home?” One Brownie questioned as we arrived at our station. “You’d better have a parent waiting here, because we will be off!” We joked with her.

I thought this event was a great experience. As a leader it gives you more time to interact and have fun with the girls knowing you’re not the one with all the activities to lead and questions to answer. As a Brownie or Guide it gave them pure decision making with a vast range of activities to choose between. Plus team work on picking activities together and many challenges to face. Will we see another event like this to Celebrate World Thinking Day? I truly hope so!