One of my favorite things about leading Girl Scout Juniors instead of Brownies is the patrol system. We used it in my Junior troop when I was a girl, but I didn’t realize just how effective and useful it is until I tried it as a leader. Patrols are small groups within the troop. The girls split into patrols when an activity works best with small groups, when we have a big task that can be broken into several parts, or when we need to make several decisions that require discussion and/or research.
Setting Up Patrols
I always have at least three patrols. The reason I don’t do two is that I’ve noticed that when people are split into just two groups, they tend to assume they are rivals and get very competitive or even hostile. Each patrol has at least three members, at least two of whom attend regularly. (This is why I think the troop works better with 12 or more members. We only had 8 the first year, so there was often a patrol with only one member present, so we ended up not doing much in patrols…but in a small troop, there’s less need for sub-groups.)
I assign girls to patrols, rather than let them choose. This prevents conflicts over who chooses whom, and it gives every girl in the troop an opportunity to work closely with every other girl. My usual method for assigning the first patrols of the school year is to put the girls in order by age; put the oldest girl in Patrol #1, the second oldest in Patrol #2, and the third oldest in Patrol #3; and then go around again. Later in the year, I take the girls from one old patrol and put each of them in a different new patrol. After using either of these methods, I look at the result and adjust to meet as many as possible of the following conditions:
- Any two girls who have been annoying or upsetting each other really frequently are separated. They won’t get anything done if they’re always in conflict, and it’s not fair to other patrol members.
- Any two girls who have been best buddies are separated. That’s sad for them at first, but it helps each patrol to work together as a group of equals (rather than “a pair and some spares”) and encourages the girls to think of all troop members as equally valuable. The best friends can spend time together outside of troop meetings, after all!
- None of the patrols is all fifth-graders or all fourth-graders.
- Girls who are new to Girl Scouting or recently joined our troop are mixed in with experienced members.
- None of the patrols has girls from only one school. (My 12 current members come from 4 public and 2 private schools and home-school, but 5 of them go to one school.)
- If there are two girls from the same family in the troop, I put them in separate patrols at first, then see how it goes. They may fall into the “annoying each other” or “best buddies” categories above, or they may interact much like other troop members.
- Girls who have been particularly rowdy and hard to discipline are evenly distributed among patrols. If there are too many of them in one patrol, they tend to get completely out of control and out-shout the other patrols.
- Girls who have been particularly organized, on-task, and good at following directions are evenly distributed among patrols. They help to keep their patrol-mates focused.
- If a girl is very shy or seems uncomfortable, I put her in a patrol with at least one girl who’s been friendly and welcoming to her.
The interesting thing about these criteria is that I’m often able to meet all of them and still do a complete shuffle of the girls every few months! The enemy pairs, best-friend pairs, rowdy girls, focused girls, and shy girls change with time, and the new members quickly become experienced members.
We have new patrol assignments about every three months, usually at the beginning of a new badge. I allow extra time for the first meeting of new patrols so that the girls can choose a patrol name and make a sign with their patrol name and appropriate illustration. After some trouble with excessively long patrol names (I got tired of writing, “We Stealz Yo Cheese Nips” over and over again, and they got mad when I referred to them as “the Cheese Nips”) I made a rule that a patrol name must be no more than three words.
Our patrols don’t have patrol leaders. Other troops do that, but I thought I’d try having leaderless patrols, and it’s worked well; the patrols are small enough that each can function as a group of equals without anyone having to be in charge. This also eliminates the question of who gets to take charge when the patrol leader is absent.
When to Use Patrols
The role of patrols doesn’t have to be the same in every meeting. It depends on what we’re doing.
Our most typical meeting structure is like this: Patrols meet, collect dues, and do some sort of activity. Then Patrol #1 sets up the snack, and we all gather to eat. Once everyone is settled, I make announcements. As girls finish eating, each patrol reports to the troop on what they learned or decided in their patrol meeting; sometimes this involves the whole troop voting on whether or not to accept the patrol’s decision. Patrol #2 cleans up from the snack while Patrol #3 sets up for our main activity. We all do the main activity together. Patrol #3 cleans up. We have our closing circle. I hand out any paperwork for girls to take home. (The roles of the individual patrols rotate each week.)
Before the meeting begins, I set up an area for each patrol meeting: tape their sign on the wall and place under it their dues envelope (we use excess business reply mail envelopes), a pencil, any written instructions for their patrol activity, and any special materials they’ll need. Our meeting room has two window seats, so I put one patrol on each and one on the couch.
The reason we collect dues by patrol is that, when I was assistant Brownie leader, I found it too distracting and time-consuming for one girl or leader to collect dues from the whole troop. Instead, each patrol has a dues envelope, and they write on the envelope each girl’s name and how much she paid. I just toss the sealed envelopes into my bag and don’t have to count the money until I get home!
The patrol activity may be the same for every patrol (but they’re working on it independently), the same process but with each patrol given a different set of particulars, or completely different for each patrol. Here are some of the types of things they do:
- Look over information about potential troop activities and decide which one to recommend. This is a great way to choose a badge: Leaders find a great activity we know the troop will enjoy and a few different badges for which it could qualify; girls decide which of those badges they want to do. (This is a lot easier than just giving them the badge book and telling them to pick one!) Another decision a patrol can make is which weekend activity the troop should do from among the council programs or local attractions’ badge workshops.
- Plan part of an event. They might choose the menu for a meal at camp, write a ceremony, make a shopping list, or plan decorations.
- Allocate money. For example, I once told a patrol that we were going to spend $20 on craft supplies, gave them a list of what things cost, and had them decide what mix of items to get.
- Brainstorm. They might list potential service projects, potential field trips, all the plants and animals that affected their lives today, famous women in history, ways to conserve electricity, or healthy alternatives to popular fast-food items. Brainstorming should relate to a badge activity or troop planning.
- Research. When we do cooking projects, each patrol gets a cookbook or two and a type of recipe to find. When we studied fashions of the past, each patrol got books about a different historical era. For the Plants & Animals badge, each patrol investigated a different domesticated animal and a different invasive species. By hearing the other patrols’ reports, the girls learn more than they would from individual research.
Some meetings don’t follow the typical structure. On a field trip, sometimes we stay in patrols the whole time (for example, when we go to the library to do research) and other times we don’t use patrols at all. Sometimes a whole-troop activity fills the entire meeting time. Sometimes each girl is working on her own project (drawing, sewing, etc.) and they can sit next to whomever they like. Other times we’re in patrols for an entire meeting because all our activities work best in small groups or because one activity requires special equipment and the girls have to take turns using it.
When we go to camp as a troop, each patrol has some meals to cook and some clean-up jobs to do. Sometimes we don’t use the troop’s existing patrols at camp (instead, forming patrols that are just for camp) if the girls attending are disproportionately distributed among the existing patrols–it’s not fair if a group of two has to do as much work as a group of five!
An Example of Patrol Assignments
Another of my favorite things about leading Juniors is that they all know how to read! I can give each patrol written instructions and expect that they’ll understand them pretty well. These are the instructions I gave to each patrol at the first meeting of last year:
We are going to design and make some little bags out of bandannas. There are at least 8 completely different ways to fold and sew a bandanna to make a small bag.
This activity could be used for several badges. Look at the other activities for each badge and decide which badge would be most interesting for us to do:
Creative Solutions (page 145) activity #3
Folk Arts (page 155) activity #9
On My Way (page 25) making a piece of luggage could be a bonus activity added to this badge.
Think about what we might do for some of the other activities for the badge you choose. Get ready to explain your decision to the troop.
Think about what to do for our Investiture ceremony next month. (You aren’t doing all the planning, just thinking of some main ideas to recommend to the troop.)
Look at the story we used for our skit last year. Are there parts of it you want to change? Remember that the skit needs to be 10 minutes or less and that we’ll have only one meeting for rehearsals.
Think about the ceremony other than the skit. We need to:
1. say the Promise and Law
2. give Girl Scout pins to new Juniors
3. give a leader pin to Mrs. Friss.
What can we do to make the ceremony meaningful and interesting?
Your leaders found a bargain price on small zippered belt bags (fanny packs) that would make great first aid kits. Making a first aid kit is an activity for several different badges:
First Aid (page 63) activity 8
Walking for Fitness (page 89) activity 5
Outdoor Fun (page 113) activity 5
Look at the other activities for each badge and decide which badge would be most interesting for us to do. Think about what we might do for some of the other activities for the badge you choose. Get ready to explain your decision to the troop.