Girl Scout leader makes the case for ‘failure’

Paula IrwinOur Town Kids

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 – I have some thoughts about this.

A few years ago, 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:

Today, I’m focusing on “challenge seeking.” In Girl Scouts, 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. 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. Our staff are trained to recognize it, help the girl process her feelings and move forward.

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.

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

Paula Irwin is director of programming for Girl Scouts of the Southern Appalachians.

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