Virtual Programs Set Girls Up for Success
By Annelise Krafft
If you think back to your first-ever day of school, you may remember clinging to your parents’ legs and feeling overwhelmed at the thought of making new friends. With all the nerves that go along with entering kindergarten, imagine how much more daunting it can feel amid COVID-19.
COVID-19 and the transition to virtual learning and activities has disrupted many important educational milestones, particularly for children entering kindergarten this year. School administrators express that now more than ever, “kindergarten readiness” is about mental, emotional and social preparedness – less about shapes and numbers.
Girl Scouts has emerged as a preeminent kindergarten prep session of the year, focusing on one of the top goals parents express for their new students – making new friends and being a kind person.
“Especially during this difficult year, it’s important for girls to feel confident going into kindergarten,” says Tamara Woodbury, CEO of Girl Scouts–Arizona Cactus-Pine Council (GSACPC). “Adjusting to the classroom – whether virtually or in-person – can be intimidating, and we saw a critical need for supporting girls’ social-emotional well being.”
To help fill that need, GSACPC and Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) launched “Make New Friends,” a free virtual series designed to support parents in this transition and to help set up girls for success, keep them safe and healthy, and give them the confidence to tackle new experiences.
“As an expert on girls’ learning and development, Girl Scouts saw that we were uniquely poised to lead fun and impactful events to help girls make new friends, while boosting their social skills and self-confidence,” says Woodbury.
These specialized, engaging virtual events are part of a four-part series that is free and open to all girls who are entering kindergarten – whether Girl Scout members or not. Participants can expect to connect with the same friends each week, as well as Girl Scouts staff and volunteers who will lead sessions around language and literacy, cognition, approaches to learning, and social and emotional learning.
“What’s great about these events is that they give some normalcy and routine as we navigate many unknowns amid COVID-19,” says Woodbury. “Girls can not only make new friends, but know that they will see those same friends week after week.”
In the sessions, girls will practice interacting with other girls, explore new ideas and gain the courage to ask questions about what they see; explore emotions and learn how being persistent can help them achieve their dreams; use their senses to process the world around them while practicing reasoning and problem-solving skills; and learn how to listen to a story, identify key characters, follow a plotline and then share what they have learned.
Multiple scheduling options will be offered through September, with each GSACPC session accommodating attention spans at about 30 minutes long over Zoom. As a complement to the program, Girl Scouts is also offering free national read-along events with authors of some of the most popular children’s books to help girls learn about the world and explore their feelings and dreams.
For Girl Scout mom and troop leader Leslie Thomas, Girl Scouts has allowed her seven-year-old daughter Daphne to continue to grow her confidence.
“Daphne has always been very outgoing, and being involved in Girl Scouts has only helped her continue building her excitement to talk to people and learn about the world around her,” says Thomas. “We’re just finishing up our first year with GSACPC, and I’ve seen such an incredible change in her already!”
As a young girl, Thomas was also involved with Girl Scouts, and her mom was her troop leader. According to Thomas, the programming she experienced equipped her with the skills for a lifetime of preparedness.
“My days in Girl Scouts taught me a lot of outdoor skills, and even now I make sure to carry emergency supplies with me to be ready for any situation,” says Thomas. “The programming has changed so much since I was a kid, and I’ve seen Daphne learn to be prepared for anything and everything life throws at her – including social and emotional challenges.”
Amid COVID-19, Daphne’s involvement with Girl Scouts has allowed her to have an outlet to cope with social distancing and being away from her friends.
“Girl Scouts’ virtual programming has been a huge sanity saver for Daphne,” says Thomas. “She absolutely loves science, so the STEM programming has helped her to not only have a distraction, but also fuel her interests.”
In addition to the “Make New Friends” program, GSACPC and GSUSA are also offering “Girl Scouts at Home,” providing free activities to K-12 girls throughout the nation. To help girls practice ambitious leadership, the program released 24 new badges targeting the crucial areas of automotive engineering, STEM career exploration, entrepreneurship and civics, many of which remain male-dominated fields.
“Through our new and existing programming, Girl Scouts equips the next generation of female change-makers with the breadth of knowledge, skills and experiences they need to take charge and do good for the world, both now and in the future,” says Woodbury.
Girl Scouts has made free self-guided activities from select new and existing programming available digitally to the public, allowing families to stay engaged and connected to their communities.
Girl Scouts is the most well-known leadership development organization for girls, and its programming is proven to help develop strong and effective leaders. Among many positive outcomes, Girl Scouts are much more likely than non-Girl Scouts to take an active role in decision-making (80% vs. 51%), which is a critical aspect of leadership.
“Whether they are fighting cybercrime, exploring how engineers solve problems, or advocating for issues affecting their community, Girl Scouts are learning how to proactively address some of the foremost challenges of today while also building skills that will set them up for a lifetime of leadership,” says Woodbury. “I am so proud that this new programming continues to push girls to be forward-thinking and equips them with the skills they need to make today’s world a better place. We believe in the power of all girls, and we invite them to strengthen their unique abilities by joining Girl Scouts.”
To learn more about GSACPC, register for “Make New Friends” and find virtual programs near you, visit girlscoutsaz.org/join.
Annelise Krafft is a freelance writer and account executive with HMA Public Relations, which represents Girl Scouts–Arizona Cactus-Pine Council.