In the Jobbing Teacher household we have just made the first bold move of 2014 and put our 5 year old’s name on the waiting list for Beavers. He cannot start apparently, until he is 6 but we have been told that there is a huge waiting list usually. Wow! You might be thinking. Why so keen?
Well, I strongly believe that this will be a good thing for my son. One of my closest friends has a 16 year old daughter who has been all the way through the Guides movement and is now an ‘Explorer’. She will be a leader of the Beaver group when my son starts next year. This will be a definite advantage for my boy to know someone, but this is not the whole story. I have been so impressed with the effect that the organisation has had on my friend’s daughter (and her other siblings) over the years. I have seen her develop a strong sense of commitment and responsibility, which has also included volunteering to work at a local Oxfam shop every Saturday afternoon this year. Her sense of personal leadership has developed in response to this and the challenges she has been set during her Guiding years. I compare this to some of the children I teach, and for me as a parent it is a no-brainer to try to encourage my own children to get involved. If I pop down to TESCO on an evening it fills me with sadness to see gangs of teenagers hanging around, getting up to mischief out of sheer boredom.
A couple of weeks ago, I asked my friends daughter if she could babysit for us (something else she has taken responsibility for in recent times) but she politely refused and gave the wonderful reason that she was out Go-Carting with her Explorer’s group and sleeping over near the venue. I again thought about the TESCO kids her own age huddled around the entrance smoking and being constantly asked to move on by TESCO security and I felt a deep sense of sadness that we do not do more to encourage our teenagers to get involved in worthwhile activities.
So, what might be the benefits for my own young children to get involved in the junior version of scouts?
For me, the most important thing is self-discipline. Organisations like scouts are structured, yet fun. Children develop a sense of belonging that develops confidence. Also, the fact that they are ‘service-orientated’ and built around moral principles means that the organisation will reinforce the same principles that we are trying to teach at home. Scouting also seems to avoid the rampant egotism and poor parent behaviour I have seen around youth football!
As an aside, I once heard two Y7 pupils who are heavily into a local football academy discussing the type of expensive sports car they were going to buy when they ‘made it into the big time’. I remember this filling me with a sense of real sadness at the time. Maybe it’s just me!
I can picture now in my mind’s eye two boys I teach at school. They are currently in Y8 so will be 12 or 13 years of age. Both boys are in Scouts. The reason I know this is because both boys have asked me to help them to provide evidence to get particular badges via work they have done in school. The badges, which they have to fulfil set criteria for to get, are then sewn onto their scout jumpers. This might all seem very quaint and old-fashioned but these two boys are highly motivated to succeed and these activities are really having an impact on their personal development. One of the boys, who we will call James (not his real name), joined my school in Y7 as a very timid boy who used to cry every day and needed to be taken to his lessons by an adult. In the space of 18 months I have seen a dramatic change in him and I put part of this down to his involvement in Scouts. He has developed his confidence to the point of volunteering on a regular basis for a variety of roles and jobs in school.
He is always the first in one of my classes to proactively give out books, tidy up the room or offer help to me or his classmates. Scouts seem to have given both boys a sense of achievement, self-worth and pride which has had knock-on effects at school. Both boys are very pro-active and the second boy who we will call Liam (not his real name) has taken up a musical instrument and works hard at this and at over-coming, not only his natural shyness but also dyslexia. His parents have both said that Scouts and learning to play a musical instrument have had a big influence on his self-confidence and progress in school.
If I think back to my own childhood I too was a ‘cub scout’ although my own passion for playing a musical instrument and joining a local ensemble sadly took me away from scouting eventually. However I can remember the first time I attended ‘cub camp’. I had never been away from my parents before, had never had to help prepare a meal and had never had to sleep in a tent with a dozen other boys. I can still remember the experience today. I think it gave me something that at the time I could not put my finger on, but with the benefit of perspective, I can see was self confidence, and a growing self-belief that I was a capable person, who could stand up on his own two feet and get out there to tackle the big wide world. It was hard work, but fun. I want this kind of learning experience for my own children.
As a final word on the subject, I would like to say that there are other organisations that provide the same kind of grounding as Scouts and Guides. My own path was a musical one as I learned to play cornet in a local brass band. If I reflect on my experiences I can see lots of parallels in terms of benefits to a young person’s general character development;
- Scouts and Musical Groups are service-orientated
- They are community-based and do good work for local people (often inter-generational)
- They are usually well-organised by responsible adults
- They are highly inclusive and include a very diverse group of people, some of who’s paths would never cross in any other environment
- They teach values such as team work, personal development and altruism
Food for thought at the start of a new year