Leslie's Guiding History Site


Teaching Guiding History

Teaching Guiding History

Even if you are enthusiastic about the history and keen to share your knowledge, the girls can find 'Guiding History' to be a bit of a dry subject and rather school-like, unless you can find a way of making it seem interesting.  So - what's important is finding a way to generate that spark of interest which helps the girls to relate to some aspect of the history and how it is similar - or different - to Guiding as they have experienced it, and about which they have a reason to be interested and curious.  After all, to them, 1919 and 1999 are both equally ancient history, even if they don't seem so to you!  The obvious starting point would seem to be the Brownie and Guide 'Traditions' badges, but there are other options too . . .


A posh phrase, but basically it means doing things the way they would have been done at a specific date in the past.  So some Counties have held special camps where the girls get to dress up in period uniforms or replicas, use genuine or equivalent equipment, and try to camp in the way they would have done in 1910, or 1940, or whatever era is chosen. Even a camp from more recent decades will feature aspects which some of the girls will find quaint - back in the 1980s, toilet blocks on campsites were rare and Elsan toilets to empty at lat pits were the norm at most camps, an experience which few who had to use them would forget!  We had pots of tea at every meal, diluting juice occasionally, and never fizzy juice other than at parties!  Although re-enactments take a lot of work in terms of acquiring and organising equipment (and researching in order to keep things strictly 'period'), the girls really enjoy going 'back to basics' and learn a great deal from it (of general social history as well as of specifically Guiding history), and period books, old logbooks, textbooks and camping catalogues/adverts can be obtained to help work out what equipment was available in a given era, and what could have been in common usage - and it's worth asking around for memories, as often there will be someone who camped around that era and can give you an idea of how things were managed, what sort of food they had, and what sort of activities they did.  How did they cope with camping during blackout days, when all the fires had to be out by twilight and only shaded torches used?  What sort of beds did they have before sleeping bags and foam mats were commonplace?  What sort of menus did they have?  What activities did they do?  What were the bathroom arrangements, and what was a daily programme like?


In September 2009 I held a '1939' Guide meeting, utilising all the media coverage of the anniversary - the week before, the Patrol Leaders were warned that there was a growing risk of WWII breaking out, and that if it did, then both of the Guiders were liable to be called up for war service at short notice due to being in the relevant age group (which we actually were), so the Patrol Leaders should plan and be ready to run the Guide Meeting the following week.  In accordance with modern rules the Guiders were (of course) physically there, but literally sat in the corner, declined to answer questions, and would only have intervened if it was a question of safety.  I left the roll books, the readings book and other necessaries and resources on a table -  the sort of things I might have dropped off to one of the Patrol Leaders just before I set off for my 'destination unknown' - it was up to them to run the whole programme from start to finish, opening, closing and all - a challenge, but they enjoyed it, and it gave them just a taste of what they could have had to do week after week, as Patrol Leaders in wartime, in order to keep their unit going in the absence of adult leaders . . .

Dressing Up

For younger age groups especially (although it can be fun for some Guides too) actually trying on old Brownie or Guide uniforms, seeing the equivalent old books they had, and finding out about what they had to carry in their pockets and why can be really good fun.  What equivalent things might the modern Brownie be carrying in her 'pockets'?  Were they better placed to 'Lend a Hand' or 'Be Prepared' with the equipment they carried and the skills they had to learn, than we are now?  Often, there is shock that in the past Brownies wore thin cotton frocks 12 months of the year - but then, children in that era weren't used to double glazing and central-heating in their houses either - when considering history, applying the context to what they did where you can, is always vital!


Acting out 'scenes' can also work well with younger age groups - if they get to act the part of the young girls who were enviously watching their older sisters heading off on the Guide Hike while they're stuck playing in the garden at home, they feel a similar burning urge to campaign for a 'Junior Guides' group - that the 8-10 year olds back in 1910 - 1914 allegedly did!


It can be fascinating to challenge Brownies or Guides to have a shot at some of the challenges girls of their age group would have been tackling in decades past - can the Brownies pass the 'ball-throwing test' or learn knitting, would the older Guides love the chance to plan and carry out a 'First-Class Hike'?  Would the Rangers relish doing some of the 'Home Emergency Service' challenges - or are they surprised at the sort of things that Rangers were expected to take on, and the sort of responsibilities they shouldered, especially during wartime with it's own dangers - operating a stirrup pump as the incendiary bombs fell all around?  Making up and dispensing medicines to patients in hospital?  Going into bombed buildings in order to help people recover their possessions from amongst the rubble and dust?  Working on mobile canteens which were travelling into newly-bombed areas in order to supply food to people made homeless and still affected by shock and minor injuries from an attack only an hour or two ago, whilst the rescue work is carrying on all around?

Board Games

Board games can often be adapted into fun teaching tools for our purposes - could you create a 'scenarios' game of snakes and ladders where a problem arises but the Brownie who has remembered to bring her pocket kit has the means to solve it and so goes up the ladder?  Could you use pictures of old and current badges to make a pelmanism game?  Create a form of Trivial Pursuit or Taboo quiz for Guiders or Trefoil Guilds, or have a World Badge Beetle night?

'When We Started' Night

One common option for units who are celebrating unit anniversaries is to hold a meeting in the way it might have been done back when the unit started - even if the unit has only been going for 10 or 20 years there should be some differences compared to how you do things now, and if it has been going longer there could be many more . . . !  Pictures of old uniforms can be had, and with your County Archivist's help (particularly if you give them plenty of notice) it may be possible to borrow actual uniforms, and access books of games and songs which were published in the relevant era so you can try some of them out with your unit - they might catch on and be added to your current repertoire! 

I'm currently developing some pages on the website which will give an idea of what each section was up to in a given decade - the testwork, typical games, songs and activities from books published in the relevant era - to help with this.

Time Capsule

A time capsule is a container in which you store items and artefacts from 'now' to share with unit members of the future - by which time they will have become historical.  If you have plans to actually bury it in the ground, then you would have to buy one of the special canisters which are purpose-made for burying, as otherwise the contents would certainly be damaged by condensation - but you could opt to prepare and seal up a plastic or tin box, and store it, marked with the date when it is to be opened, in a cupboard within your hall, which would be easier and more economical, albeit less thrilling than actually digging a hole for 'buried treasure'!  The best things to include are the things which are seemingly ordinary and everyday now - the prices of things like a pint of milk or loaf of bread, a current newspaper or magazine, catalogues of the current 'latest technology', clothes catalogues showing current fashions, details of what the girls' ordinary life is like and notes of their hopes or ambitions - as these are the things which are most likely to change over the course of 10, 20 or 30 years, and become quaint, and thus fascinating.  And whether you actually bury it in the ground or not - make sure you keep a safe note of where it is located, and arrange a reminder of when it is due to be opened to be passed on to future generations of the unit, so you don't forget it or lose it!


Often, a tray of seemingly random objects, or some books on a table, or some old clothes on coathangers - is quite dull and barely worth a glance, whereas having things explained, (or to use the jargon, 'interpreted'), can make all the difference to the level of interest generated - a camp blanket or a photo album can come alive if someone can point out that "that one is a hostess badge which I got for learning how to make tea, and look after guests, this one is an animal lover badge I got for showing I knew how to look after my pet properly" or "we had no choice but to use those lat toilets in that photo at my first camp - I dreaded it, but we were there for a week so sooner or later you had no choice but cope with the chemical smell - and the noise of opening that long zip on the tent meant that everyone knew what you were there for,  it didn't matter how casually and discretely you had happened to stroll in the general direction!"


Another great option is for the girls to meet 'old Brownies or Guides' - could your unit visit an older Trefoil Guild group, or visit some of the residents in a residential home for older people, to chat to them and find out what they remember of what it was like for them to be a Brownie or Guide or Ranger - what sort of activities they did when they were young - how they compare? They may have memories of Guide meetings, camps and rallies they'd love to share,  remember favourite games or songs - and they'd be keen to hear what the units do nowadays too, maybe some things haven't changed very much after all - it could become a really interesting exchange for both groups to learn from each other . . . 


Logbooks are basically about recording your own unit's history - for the use of the Guides of the present, and especially the Guides of the future.  So just as it's important for us to remember the fun we had at last year's camp, the in-jokes that started and the funny incidents that occurred, as well as the meaningful and moving bits - so it is important that future generations can look back and see what Guiding was like 'way back in the 2020s'!  In this regard, it's far more important to record the mundane and everyday things - what actually happens at your opening and closing ceremonies, the instructions for those favourite games you mention, the words and music for the songs at your campfire, what you actually do and say at Promise ceremonies - than the more spectacular things like one-off trips or special awards gained, or County events attended, though of course they have their place.  But also - think about how to record it - computer systems date so quickly (it's not so many years since the rewritable CD Rom took over from the DD or HD 3.5" floppy disk - but how many computers now take either?  Blogs were current for a while, but have started to date.  USB sticks won't be around forever.  Whereas, so far at least, paper records from many hundreds of years ago survive and can be read almost as easily as when they were first written . . .)  That said, the best option of all is more than one option, so there are backups.

Old Guide Books

It can be fun to get hold of old books or magazine articles, and have a go at the activities - are the games quaint, or actually still really good fun?  Could you try out those backwoods cooking recipes or try that hike idea or nature game?  Sometimes there's no telling what will catch on - at a recent Guide event girls from my unit have been fascinated by making tapestry coasters on plastic canvas - such that the leaders had to absolutely insist that their sewing must be put away while the dinner plates were on the table, while at another a group came across a Guider doing crochet during the rest hour - and she found herself getting out some spare crochet hooks and wool oddments, and taught them how to make 'chains' . . . and some things are always fun, especially if they involve food!

Display Boards

Particularly where you have regular access to space such as a notice board, then displays can be a useful way of sharing different aspects of Guiding history - but although it may be tempting to do it all yourself and create a display you think looks good, the best ones are often the ones where the girls themselves are involved in creating them, and they get to choose what sort of things to put on show.  What topic to they think it should cover, what items do they think should be displayed, what colour schemes do they reckon work best?  Sometimes it's fascinating to see which things they would choose to pick out for display, which things they find interesting, and think other people would too . . .

Relay Game

There are various versions of this relay game, some of which contain major factual inaccuracies, so with apologies to whoever was the originator, here is a version which is, so far as we can tell, historically accurate:


Give each group, pair or individual a name: Robert Baden-Powell, Agnes Baden-Powell, Olave Baden-Powell, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Girl Guides.  As each name is mentioned, the relevant players runs down the room, round a chair and back to their places – first back scores a point for their Patrol/team.  If you wish, and your hall is roomy enough to allow it, when Thinking Day is mentioned every team can run!


In 1907, the famous army officer Robert Baden-Powell ran an experimental camp on Brownsea Island, in England.  He had been working for many years to adapt one of his army manuals for use by boys’ clubs, and wanted to test and see if it would work.  The following year, he published the book ‘Scouting for Boys’, and soon, all over the country, gangs of boys were meeting, and calling themselves ‘Boy Scouts’.  But it wasn’t just boys – girls saw what their brothers were doing, sneaked looks at this exciting new book, and formed Patrols of ‘Girl Scouts’ too - and soon it was spreading quickly!


At first, Robert Baden-Powell was keen to see the development of both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts – but then he faced complaints from some members of the public, who were not happy about girls hiking about the countryside by themselves, or camping out, or about rumours of mixed activities.  Robert Baden-Powell feared that the negative publicity of this type might harm the growing good image of Boy Scouts.


Finally, at the great Boy Scouts’ rally at Crystal Palace in London, the newspaper reports focussing on the group of several hundred Girl Scouts present, including a small group of girls who had gate-crashed the event because they hadn’t applied for tickets, forced him to act.  He asked his sister Agnes Baden-Powell to adapt Scouting to make it acceptable to girls’ parents – without putting off the existing Girl Scouts!


Agnes Baden-Powell quickly started work on the tricky task, and in 1910, the new group for girls was founded – with a name change, for they were not to be Girl Scouts, but Girl Guides.  In 1912, Agnes Baden-Powell wrote ‘How Girls Can Help to Build Up the Empire – a handbook for Girl Guides, adapted from her brother’s book, ‘Scouting for Boys’.  That year, Robert Baden-Powell began an 8-month long international tour by ship, to visit Boy Scouts and Girl Guides abroad.  On the ship he met young Olave St Clair Soames – not long after returning from the tour they were married, and she became Olave Baden-Powell.


Olave Baden-Powell quickly became involved with Scouting, but it wasn’t until 1916 that Olave Baden-Powell first became involved in Guiding, as County Commissioner for Girl Guides in Sussex.  Within a few years, Olave Baden-Powell had taken over the running of Guiding from Agnes Baden-Powell, and in 1930 Olave became World Chief Guide.


The curious thing is that although they were not the same age, Robert Baden-Powell and Olave Baden-Powell did have the same birthday – 22nd February.  Because the World Chief Scout and World Chief Guide shared the same birthday, that day was chosen to be the international Thinking Day.


So now you know that Boy Scouts were founded in 1907, why the Girl Scouts became Girl Guides in 1910, that they were based on the idea of Robert Baden-Powell, which was adapted by Agnes Baden-Powell, that Olave Baden-Powell was World Chief Guide for many years, and finally, why Thinking Day is celebrated on 22nd February every year!

Traditional Activities

One thing we shouldn't overlook is that many of the activities we do nowadays - are traditional.  These include Brownie Ring/Guide Horseshoe, campfires, outdoor cooking and backwoods skills, wide games, camping and Brownie Holidays, ceremonies for special occasions, games, good turns, Thinking Day, and so many more.  It's very easy for us to take these for granted and think of them as normal, and not realise that actually, every time we do them we may be 'doing heritage' too!  So promoting Guiding history can be as simple a thing as carrying on your own unit's customs and traditions.