WESTFIELD-While local Girl Scouts have begun conducting virtual meetings to earn badges, Girl Scouts of the USA has launched Girl Scouts at Home, a national online platform where all girls and families – not just Girl Scout members – can access free, self-guided activities.
“For 108 years, Girl Scouts has been there in times of crisis and turmoil,” said Sylvia Acevedo, CEO, Girl Scouts of the USA, in a press statement. “And we are stepping forward with new initiatives to help girls, their families, and consumers connect, explore, find comfort, and take action.”
With Girl Scouts at Home, families can access self-guided, free activities to keep them engaged and connected to their communities and the larger sisterhood of girls. The platform lets both members and the public enjoy a variety of activities that cover STEM, entrepreneurship, life skills and the outdoors.
The age-specific activities for girls of all grade levels are delivered through guided videos, text-based instructions, and downloadable information, making it seamless for families to incorporate into their daily lives.
In Westfield and the surrounding communities, troops are still meeting – but now conduct their gatherings virtually.
“We started the virtual meetings six weeks ago when the schools first canceled,” said Heather Huizenga, co-leader with Laura Harlow of Westfield Girl Scout Troop 65088. “I immediately changed from the more outdoorsy badges we had planned to work on this spring to the digital badges and started figuring out the best way to do it virtually.”
The women conduct their “Daisies” meetings on Facebook Live. Programs for daisies are geared for grades kindergarten and first grade.
Huizenga notes that the shift to virtual meetings has been “different” but “still fun.”
“I know it’s a struggle to adapt in these times,” said Huizenga. “I wanted to make it as flexible as possible.”
The girls have an option to watch and participate live during a virtual meeting or tune in later when it’s convenient for them.
“Because they’re so young, ages 5-7, the parents have been much more hands-on than they usually are at the meetings,” said Huizenga.
The girls recently completed the Daisy Coding for Good series and earned three badges – Coding Basics, App Development, and Game Development.
“These were designed to be unplugged, so that’s what we’ve been doing, but there are digital enrichment options as well,” said Huizenga. “They’ve fit in great with the digital learning.”
Another recent project that the girls participated in was for the “What Robots Do” badge. The girls started the meeting by playing “pin the antenna on the robot,” and then talked about the role of robots, how they are made, and some of the “neat things” they can do.
“The girls either went around their own houses to find pictures of things that were and were not robots, or drew their own robots that had a variety of different abilities,” said Huizenga.
Huizenga said she finished the meeting with videos on robots used for Mars missions, and a LEGO robot competition.
“Now the girls are moving on to a three-badge set about robots,” said Huizenga. “In the end they’ll build a model robot with things from around their home.”
Some of the girls were eager to share their enthusiasm for the Girl Scout program and earning badges, including Abigail Maxwell, a kindergarten student at Southampton Road School.
“I’ve learned how to make games and see my friends,” said Maxwell.
Alessandra Cusack, also in kindergarten at the Highland Elementary School, said she has “learned how to code apps and games.”
“I’ve learned how to make a game with things at home,” added Emelia Bard, a kindergarten student at Highland Elementary School.
Charlotte Harlow, also a kindergarten student at Highland, said she has learned “to follow instructions to draw a picture that matches everyone else’s,” and Rozalynn Fuller, a kindergarten student at Munger Hill Elementary School, said she has learned “how to make a maze game with things at home” and enjoys being able to still talk to her friends.
For Patricia O’Connor, who oversees several troops in Westfield, she conducts virtual meetings with the girls every other week.
“While we spend some time on talking about badges, many of the girls prefer to use this time just to say hello to each other and share what they’ve been doing,” said O’Connor. “I also have a website for my troops that includes information, badge activities, and more. This way, when we do our virtual meetings, we spend some time talking about badge topics and then have more time for relaxed conversation.”
O’Connor added that following the virtual meetings, the girls can then focus on completing the badge activities and requirements as their personal time allows, and share what they’ve done and learned at the next virtual meeting.
“My girls come from four towns and several different schools, so they all have different demands with their learning requirements in addition to the families having their own challenges regarding juggling work and family,” said O’Connor.
O’Connor’s Brownie/Junior Troop 64804 members are walking and hiking with their families in conjunction with a Trail Adventure Badge, while others in Daisy Troop 64936 have started seeds at home as part of their “Responsible for what I say and do” badge. Also, Morgan O’Connor of Troop 40222 has earned the Ambassador First Aid Badge, as well as her College Knowledge Badge.
Girl Scouts of Central & Western Massachusetts, based in Holyoke, has program specialists who have adapted existing badges to allow girls and their families to engage in the Girl Scout experience from home during social distancing, according to Dana Carnegie, communications manager, Girl Scouts of Central & Western Massachusetts.
“The virtual programs can be found on our website, gscwm.org,” said Carnegie. “Each week, program specialists have released new digital activities, one focusing on a badge and the other a fun activity or patch program.”
Additionally, parents are invited to join a virtual information session to learn how to unlock their daughter’s potential with exploration, adventure, and skill-building. Virtual information programs are slated May 4, 6 and 7, at either 10 a.m., 1 p.m. or 7 p.m. To sign up, visit gscwm.org for details.
For more details on the Girl Scouts at Home program that is free for families to access, visit girlscouts.org.