I can’t, by a long shot, claim to have solved the problem of a group of Girl Scouts (or anybody!) dissolving into chaos when everybody is excited, we’re trying to do one or more activities, there are various supplies and logistics to be coordinated, and/or there’s some type of distraction! However, over my five years as a leader, I’ve learned a few tactics that sometimes help to stop the troop from spinning out of control:
Always have a start-up activity that girls can do as soon as they arrive, even if they’re a little early. One leader should be in charge of the start-up activity while the other(s) prepare for the main activity or talk to parents. A start-up activity can be singing, playing a game, brainstorming (ideas for field trips or something like that), reading a story aloud, or a simple craft. (Leaders of other troops have advised me that an active game burns off energy so girls are calmer for the rest of the meeting…but that did not work with some of my girls; it revved them up, and then they wanted to play active games for the whole meeting! I guess it depends on the troop.)
For Brownies, consider a ritual to start the Brownie Ring in a quiet, listening mood. You might have the girls form “gates of silence” and walk through them, have a flag ceremony, or hold hands and walk in a circle saying this rhyme (from the 1970s handbook):
Round and round and round about.
Take the hand of a Brownie Scout.
Here we are in a Brownie Ring.
We are ready for anything!
For older girls who read well, consider posting a schedule for the meeting so that all “What are we doing today?” questions can be easily redirected. Also post a kaper chart so girls are aware of their responsibilities and don’t pester you about which kaper they want to do.
Whenever possible, break into smaller groups that work separately on the same activity or rotate through several short activities. This helps everyone keep focused and makes it clear who’s in charge of whom. With Daisies or Brownies, or if the activity is complex, each group needs to be run by one leader or helper. Older girls can work in a group on their own, with a leader just checking in every few minutes. Either draw names to assign groups or pre-assign groups so that troublesome pairs are separated; if you let girls choose their own groups, they may be rude about excluding somebody, and those who choose to be together may be more wild together than they would with girls they don’t know as well.
Be firm about your expectations. When taking field trips, in particular, clearly explain the appropriate behavior before you arrive at your destination.
Use the Quiet Sign frequently. Resist the temptation to raise your voice to be heard. This is difficult but pays off, as girls start shushing each other so they can hear what you’re saying. If you find that everyone is doing the Quiet Sign except for one girl who’s chattering obliviously, say in your nicest voice, “When Ashley stops talking, we’ll be ready to go!”
When there’s a lot of interrupting and/or girls raising their hands wanting to talk, use these three lines:
- “Keep listening, and I’ll probably answer your question.”
- “Do you have something to say about [the topic]?”
- “We are not talking about [tangent] now; we are talking about [topic].”
Discourage the idea that every girl is entitled to voice her opinion in full about every single topic that comes up. Unless your troop is very small, that results in “all talk and no action” meetings. Instead, say something like, “Let’s hear three different ideas for the service project. Jasmine?… Okay, Mandy, do you have a different idea?” Start by calling on the girls who are first to raise hands, but then call on different girls each time…but don’t feel compelled to ask for input enough times that everyone gets a chance every meeting; just try to balance it over time. Try Fist to Five as a way of assessing everyone’s opinions.
Invoke the Girl Scout Law: “Courtney! That was not Friendly and Helpful! Show us how to do it the right way.”
Resist the temptation to chitchat with co-leaders or parents. Stick to talking about business that really needs to be discussed right then, and try to leave the random conversation for another time. This frees your attention for the girls and prevents you from giving them the impression that it’s okay to chitchat instead of participating in the troop’s activities.
Don’t be afraid to discipline (i.e. give firm guidance to) other people’s kids, even when their parents are present. Remember that you are the LEADER: You know how to do these Girl Scout things, and you’re here to teach the girls how–all the girls, not just those unaccompanied by their parents. I’ve learned that leaders whose daughters are in the troop often struggle to balance their parent role with their leader role, and thus they appreciate having someone else “lead” their daughter.
Don’t allow more than two girls to go to the bathroom at once, and tell them to wait until after the business part of the meeting unless it’s an emergency.
Plan clean-up time into the meeting; don’t try to do it after the closing circle. Girls and parents see the closing circle as the clear end to the meeting (particularly if the time is close to the meeting’s stated ending time) and will go home immediately, leaving those unlucky girls whose parents are running late or are leaders to do all the clean-up every time. That’s not fair! Even if you are running behind schedule, insist that at least the most crucial cleaning be completed before the closing circle.
Hand out paperwork after the closing circle. If you do it earlier, girls are more likely to forget to take it home. Mention it as the troop is quieting to begin the closing circle: “I’m going to hand out permission slips after the circle. Don’t leave without getting yours!”
Have a structure for the time immediately after the meeting. Be very clear about the rules for departure (if girls must stay until claimed by their authorized adult, then they need to stay in the room where leaders can see them, not follow their friends out the door) and what girls may do while waiting for their parents. You may find, particularly if the meeting’s activities involved sitting still and being quiet, that the girls totally flip out the moment the meeting ends and start running around and screaming! “Use your quiet voice. No running in the building.” If misbehavior is a persistent problem, you may need to plan an activity to keep girls busy until their parents arrive.
When you’ve tried everything you can think of and just don’t know how to get your troop under control…ask the girls! “We have a problem. Sometimes girls are so noisy and distracted that we can’t get any fun stuff done! It seems like we spend the whole meeting trying to calm down. What can we do?” You may be surprised at how well the girls, even young ones, can think of solutions that will be effective with them. Your troop may have its own cabana bench waiting to be discovered!