So, Scouts. Out in the woods, cooking on fires, camping…. But with all face to face activities and meetings suspended how the heck do you carry on? Well with a plethora of digital tools at our disposal we've managed to adapt and to some extent overcome but it's been a steep learning curve.
One mistake is to assume that young people who are not at school have nothing to do. They are still being set schoolwork, there are chores to be done and parents working from home who need peace.
Their motivation has also taken a massive knock, camps that they've been preparing for months have been cancelled, hours of planning DofE expeditions put on hold and currently no end in sight. We've tried setting really challenging and involved stuff, hoping it will somehow kickstart the imagination, but it's proved really hard work.
But, after some trial and error we've got something that seems to work. The programme comprises two halves; weekly challenges and online meetings.
We set weekly challenges around the themes of outdoors, creative, practical skills and community and values. The challenges are relatively simple such as, go for a walk of at least 3 miles to the top of a hill, take a photo of nature that makes you feel good, wash your parent's car, check the oil and screen wash, write a letter to a care home.
The challenges earn points which build up over time. We thought hard about how we could recognise achievements, we looked at badges but they are expensive, with large minimum orders and not to mention the risk of falling foul of the infamous Scout Badge Police. In the end we settled upon small wooden rings, engraved with the number of points that have been achieved. These can be worn on the neckerchief above the woggle and these have proved very motivating.
Every Explorer who has participated in the virtual programme will receive one.
Then we come to the weekly meetings via Zoom, we've settled into a rhythm on these, with around 15 Explorers attending each week. The first half is just a bit of fun, quizzes, online games or escape rooms, etc; It's the equivalent of coming into the hall and playing dodgeball.
The second half is more values oriented; we pick on a topical news item and debate it. An Explorer debate should be just that, explore your own feelings on subject but be prepared to listen to others change direction. It's not about winning the argument but listening to the opinions of everyone and reflecting upon how these fit with our core Scout values.
We've talked about some really hard-hitting topics but we keep these within our own space. We need to be prepared that occasionally a teenager will open mouth before engaging brain, they don't get shouted down, instead we reflect back on the values of being a Scout and whether their statements fit with those values.
Working with the 14 – 18 age group the pastoral support has always been really important. During a normal meeting we'd quite often be able to sit down and have a chat about the pressures of schoolwork, relationships, why parents seem unreasonable.
It's been important to make sure Explorers know this support is still there. Even in the virtual world there are safeguarding considerations, we've made specific arrangements that have been communicated to both the Explorers and their parents.
Some Explorers are actually thriving on this programme and there are definitely some lessons to be learned. However, we are not going to pretend that a virtual programme is a replacement for a proper Scouting; if this is the “New Normal” for our movement then count me out! Scouting is about getting away from computer screens into the fresh air with your mates.
There is now a roadmap for resuming proper Scouting, and it can't come soon enough, but until then we will continue to refine our virtual programme and do our best to support our amazing young people. They deserve it.