Picture this scene: a room filled with 15 rambunctious eight-year-old girls on a Friday afternoon. Yep, I said Friday! Take a moment and listen: Is this scene filled with chaos and high-pitched noise? You bet! Increasing our troop size from 12 Daisies to 16 Brownies definitely created some growing pains, but once I learned how to harness the girls’ energy and taught them how to channel it positively, our time together became amazing.
Pin this post for later!
Learn from Kindergarten Magicians
I learned how to manage meetings with a large troop by going to kindergarten—or more accurately, by being a parent of a kindergartener. I marveled at the amount of work that my child produced daily. How on earth did that teacher do it? I was lucky if we could get through our morning routine some days, let alone accomplishing learning activities with 25 kids! Since I know that magicians never reveal their secrets, I decided to volunteer behind the scenes to get the inside scoop. It didn’t take long before the secret was unveiled: the teacher was using stations/learning centers in rotation to move small groups through a variety of tasks to strengthen their skills. Such genius! The backstory is that this genius teacher had trained the students how to move through this system and how to approach problems without immediately approaching the adults. This is great practice in being resourceful for girls of all ages and a wonderful way to keep our meetings girl-led.
Brownie-level badges and above require five steps; using stations can help you complete them easily in fewer meetings. This is ideal for large troops since the girls have a set amount of time to complete a task before they need to move on. It keeps the girls focused and gets them physically up and moving too. Using stations, the girls have a chance to learn from one another and to learn how to help one another. Rotations allow girls to tackle things that are tough and take multiple steps (I’m looking at you, new STEM badges!) This format can help badges start to appear on your uniforms as if by magic.
Leverage the Skills of Your Troop Parents
Parents are your best untapped resource for any large troop. When you request assistance from parents, be specific about what you need. I like to be told what needs to be done so I can choose what I’d like to do, instead of being given a task. You’ll find your parents might feel the same.
When completing the Respecting Authority petal (Daisy) and the First Aid badge (Brownies), troop parents planned and lead the meetings with guidance. I love it when the girls get to see their mom as the Leader for the Day. It’s a win-win-win when the girls, the leaders, and parents work together to create an amazing troop experience. Girl Scouting makes us family and creates opportunities to work closely together, and strengthens our bonds.
Worried that your parents won’t be able to help with earning badges or teaching the girls a new skill? Hand out a parent survey and ask if they or a family member have an interesting hobby or skill set that could benefit the girls. You might be surprised at the rich base of knowledge you have within your own troop. Think creatively and utilize anyone who offers their assistance.
Getting out the word to parents can sometimes feel like being a town crier in the middle of the night. The method you choose to use to communicate with parents is really up to what you like to use and what you feel works best for your troop. I use BAND and am available to my troop via email, text, or phone every day. After our bi-weekly meeting, a newsletter is posted to our site, containing separate sections for different troop topics. Newsletters update the parents on what we did at our meeting and what we’re going to be doing at our next one. There is a calendar of events which is identical to the one on our BAND site. If I see that a parent hasn’t followed up on forms or other essential paperwork, I’ll send them (or a group of parents) a message via BAND reminding them of what’s missing. Keep it simple and keep it coming in multiple ways.
At meetings, we display our calendar of events, and our Events Helper tells the girls about any upcoming events. I want the girls to learn to lead the meeting themselves and I hope that getting used to managing the troop calendar will enable the girls to learn how to manage time. This also helps to get the girls excited about what’s coming. There is no greater motivator than a child who wants something. They can wear down the most stoic parent with their constant drip-drop approach. Kudos to the girls whose persistence pays off when she comes home excitedly talking about this major event that she HAS to attend.
Go with the Flow
As a new leader and an idealist at heart, I truly wanted each girl to have every opportunity possible, and for no one to feel left out. I chased after parents for everything from attendance at events to preferences for days/times of field trips. But then I realized that Girl Scouting is amazing because each girl’s year can be personalized to her interests and her family’s schedule and budget. If the majority of the troop wants to make candles, but your girl wants to learn how to use a pocket knife, that’s awesome! All of the girls should have the chance to attend the event(s) that interest them. As girls get older and their lives become busier, this relaxed format makes it easier for the troop to grow with the girls.
Since I think it’s fun to attend service unit and council events as a troop, our troop strives to attend two events together yearly: marching in our town’s holiday parade and our service unit World Thinking Day event. World Thinking Day is one of my favorite things as each presenting troop chooses a country, sets up a table display about their country and other Girl Scouts rotate around the room to learn about WAGGGS countries. I learn just as much as the girls and we especially love the countries that give out food samples! Tasty, educational and fun; my kind of afternoon! But many events are attended by different parts and portions of the troop, and it works out great. We need to remind the girls (and parents) that Girl Scouting isn’t about how full your girls’ uniform looks, it’s about the experiences that your girl is collecting that are helping her to grow into her best self.
What to do next:
- What are your best practices for running a large troop, and what does that look like for you or your area? Let us know in the comments!
- Know someone interested in starting a troop (or looking to start a second one to accommodate even more girls?) Learn more on how to start a troop.
- No matter what level of Girl Scouts you lead, you need training and support to do your best! Explore our troop leader trainings on the Volunteer Learning Portal.
- Looking for more expert tips on leading a large troop? Check out these blog posts from Girl Scouts River Valleys and Girl Scouts of Western Ohio.
Liz LiVolsi—Liz LiVolsi is a former Girl Scout and now a Girl Scout leader of 16 eager second grade girls. She is a Midwestern transplant who adores everything Girl Scouting: spending time outdoors, crafting, going on quests, and learning. Follow Liz and her troop’s adventures on Instagram: @datroopleada.