Girl Scouts with Riverbend’s box turtles
Girl Scouts never leaves you, even if you leave it.
I was a Girl Scout in elementary school, but unfortunately didn’t have amazing leaders to make the experience special. I quickly dropped out. However, in time’s passing I learned what it takes and means to be a Girl Scout, even if you don’t officially hold the title.
I was lucky enough to get my Girl Scout experience outside the organization, learning the fundamentals of scouting, bonding with other girls my age, and generally enjoying and exploring the world around me. As I got older, one thing stuck with me:
Girls are pretty awesome.
If leaders remind girls how awesome they are and give them opportunities to have fun, enjoy, and explore like I did, maybe other Girl Scouts won’t have the same organizational experience I did. It will be better. I’m trying to do something about that.
Focus on Fun
Girl Scouts return to their tents during an overnight at Riverbend.
When I arrived at Riverbend Park, Girl Scouts were rebranding with new badges and a new mindset. The focus was less about getting badges done and more about exploring the topics and generally having fun with them. I jumped on that and quickly became involved in organizing Girl Scout activities and planning badges to offer local troops. One activity became my favorite: the overnights.
Overnights are wonderful. They’re a chance for girls to bond with their troop, to explore something new, to get away from home for one night, which many of the younger ones have never done.
Riverbend Park hosts Girl Scout overnights. While each overnight has something special, all overnights I run require three main things:
- A team game (more fun than it sounds, ‘cause it’s not what you think)
- A sweet treat (usually s’mores!)
- Repeat songs (This is where the moose comes in.)
A Team Game
Common when I was younger were team games that revolved around either sports or names. I remember being so bored that I would lead the groans of complaints whenever someone said we’d be playing a team game. However, I learned that games don’t have to be about how well you throw a ball or run. There are games about teamwork and games that need everyone to win a round. The stars of Riverbend overnights are games that highlight uniqueness rather than shun it because this is where girls learn the quirks of their friends. Who has the biggest shoe? Who can sing? Who knows the funniest joke? You don’t learn these things during Capture the Flag, but you do learn them at a Girl Scout overnight.
A Sweet Treat
No Girl Scout overnight is complete without a campfire, and no campfire is complete without s’mores. Tired of s’mores? Try Can O’ Crispies, Banana Boats, or Dough Boys. Raining outside? Learn how to make your own ice cream, or make a cold s’more with graham crackers, marshmallow fluff and chocolate spread! If there isn’t a dose of past-your-bedtime sugar, something’s not right.
We are taught at a young age to repeat. Doctors say that’s how we learn speech and behaviors as we grow. Girl Scouts are the super power of repeat songs. If you’ve never heard 150 Girl Scouts singing about a rick-a-bamboo at the top of their lungs, you haven’t lived. I have a book of songs, and I pull them out while around a campfire, hiking on a trail and just going about my day.
Most girls know The Princess Pat. They learn it from other scouts, friends at school, and their scout leaders. Some know Great Big Moose (a song about a moose named Fred who loves to drink juice), a few know Tarzan, and fewer know about Red Rose and the Briar. Singing puts everyone on equal ground. I make sure to sing as badly as possible so that even the least talented singers feel like they’re doing a great job. Singing also creates strong memories for girls, making them happy and confident with themselves and their friends. Everyone must sing at Riverbend Girl Scout overnights, and everyone must sing louder than me, no exceptions.
We have fun throughout the night, and we all enjoy the time together, including the 3 a.m. shriek that a spider is on someone’s pillow.
That’s all very well and good, but the final word? The very best part about Girl Scout overnights? For me, it’s at the end, when everyone’s packing and loading the cars. Not for reasons you might think, though. It’s when girls come to me saying they want to come back tomorrow. It’s when scout leaders say this was one of the best events they’ve attended. Throughout the site, I hear girls complaining they don’t want to go, phone numbers being swapped with new friends, and one last round of the cup game before jumping in the car.
At the end is where you see how much fun everyone had, parents included. When it’s time to go and they don’t want to go, it’s clear the event was a success. There are memories the girls aren’t soon to forget.
So, to answer the question: What is a rick-a-bamboo? The Princess Pat used it to rescue Captain Jack from the Channel 2. We know it’s red and gold, and purple, too.
To me, a rick-a-bamboo
is a Girl Scout overnight
when all is said and done,
and the girls are sad to leave
but primed for a rerun.
Riverbend Park naturalists offer Girl Scout programs and sleepovers at their nature center along the Potomac River in warmer months and at historic Dranesville Tavern multiple times a year.
Programs for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts are held in parks across the county.
Author Michelle Brannon is a naturalist at Riverbend Park in Great Falls.