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I Love Failure

A Guest Blog from Paula Irwin, GSCSA Director of Programming

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One of my favorite parts of our summer resident camp is watching girls fail. You heard me right…I really love it when a kid doesn’t get to the top of the climbing tower or their canoe turns over in the lake (under the watchful eye of our certified lifeguards, of course) or their cabin loses that night’s all- camp game. I’m even OK when campers think they are hopelessly homesick and beg us to call their parents (we don’t).

Do I have your attention? I hope so – bear with me, I have some thoughts about this.

A few years ago, GSUSA (Girl Scouts of the USA) updated the national outcomes for the Girl Scout program and narrowed it down to five – just five things that we believe are some of the most important things a girl should add to her life tool belt:

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Today, I’m focusing on “challenge seeking.”  In the Girl Scout program, girls learn to set goals for themselves, try new things, and not to shy away from things they might deem “too hard.” That means our program – run by dedicated volunteers and staff – must also be the place where they can safely fail. Once they graduate from our program, our girls jump into a world where successes and failures will come in equal measure. We must help prepare them to both seek challenges and get back up when they fail.

The idea of challenge seeking is often used in our outdoor programs, and it is likely where we find the most obvious connections. We recognize that when you drop your girls off at camp – either with our staff for a week in the summer or with your troop volunteers for a weekend – that you are turning over your most prized possessions. We know that you don’t want your children to experience discomfort, pain, or heartache – no one does. But much to your disbelief, we (the camp staff) are OK with campers experiencing a little “pain”. Here’s why: it helps build their confidence, makes them more resilient, and more independent – all things they will need to not only survive the real world but to thrive in it. Take the example of homesickness. We have plenty of campers who are homesick (and let-me-tell-you…it is contagious!) and lots of parents who are frustrated with us when we don’t call them to talk to their camper. I guess I should warn you now: we’re OK with campers being homesick. Our staff are trained to recognize it, help the girl process her feelings, and move forward. 

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The Girl Scout Research Institute (GSRI) has done extensive research on getting girls into the outdoors and on the benefits of outdoor-based leadership programs. In their 2014 “More Than S’mores” report, the GSRI found that 71% of Girl Scouts tried an outdoor activity for the first time as part of our program, 71% improved an outdoor skill, and 29% overcame a fear of an outdoor activity. These girls learned to seek challenges, surrounded by caring, thoughtful adults, who are OK with them failing – and learning from it. A study done jointly by the American Camp Association and the GSRI found that 74% of Girl Scout camp alums said that camp was critical to the development of their ability to persevere in the face of challenges. We can’t be adults that push away all obstacles for girls. We must be adults who will take the time to help girls learn from their mistakes and tell them about our own failures, too, so they know their trusted role models also make mistakes. We have to help them tackle challenges, face their fears, and – most importantly – cheer them on from the sidelines no matter if they succeed or fail. 

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We will never knowingly put your girl in an unsafe environment. In fact, we take extra measures to ensure we are doing everything possible to keep your children safe. All three of our camp properties have accredited status through the ACA which means we have an additional layer of safety guidelines we are required to follow beyond those given to us by GSUSA. However, we are willing to put your girls in uncomfortable situations. When we give girls the opportunity to stretch their skills, explore their emotions, learn to disagree respectfully, and have new and challenging experiences, it gives them the tools to be better and move forward in their lives. We get to see the best version of your girls at camp because we’re willing to let them be a little uncomfortable. Don’t YOU want to see the best version of your Girl Scout, too?

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I am obviously a little biased as GSCSA’s Director of Programming. As a self-proclaimed “outdoorsy girl” myself, I deeply believe in Girl Scouting and the benefits of the program – especially outdoor experiences – for girls. But there is research to back up what I’m talking about. Have a look at these resources from GSRI and others that I’ve enjoyed reading:

Is your girl interested in going to summer camp? Registration opens on January 3, 2020!