Tag Archives: Girl Scouts

A Rick-a-bamboo And Other Girl Scout Secrets

Girl Scouts with Riverbend’s box turtles

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.

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:

  1. A team game (more fun than it sounds, ‘cause it’s not what you think)
  2. A sweet treat (usually s’mores!)
  3. 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.

Repeat Songs
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.

Unwrapping The Milky Way at Riverbend Park

The Milky Way Galaxy can be seen on dark,clear nights. Photo by Derek Rowley.

The Milky Way Galaxy can be seen on dark, clear nights. Photo by Derek Rowley.

A few months ago, in anticipation of our upcoming Winter Astronomy festivals, Assistant Park Manager John Callow and I shook a year’s worth of cobwebs off of Riverbend Park’s Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, lugged it down to the Potomac riverbank and proceeded to explore the night sky at 100x magnification. It was a cold, clear December night, perfect for stargazing. As the sun set and our eyes adjusted to the darkness, the stars appeared one by one. At the last hint of sunlight I remember looking up and staring in amazement at a faint swath of billions of stars banded across the sky: the Milky Way.

As a D.C. resident, I’m usually attuned to an orange haze that descends when the sun goes down and thousands of my city’s streetlights reflect off of clouds. At Riverbend, it feels like I’m a million miles away. That December night was the first time I had seen the Milky Way in the Washington metropolitan area, and the first time I could appreciate what a special place the park is both at day and at night.

The fact that viewers can observe the Milky Way at Riverbend is astonishing when you consider the park’s proximity to urban, highly developed areas. The swath of parkland that separates Riverbend from the hustle and bustle of communities further away from the river is complimented by the semi-rural character of the park’s immediate neighbor, Great Falls. When night falls at Riverbend, inky shadows, starlit islands and moonlight reflecting off the water dominate the landscape. The singsong of birds and occasional rumble of traffic is replaced by the ambient noise of Great Falls downriver and the occasional hoot of an owl. But what really draws folks to the park at night is the unfiltered view of the night sky; it helps when we have a powerful telescope to explore it.

The sky, telescope and a variety of activities and demonstrations are on full display during our Winter Astronomy festivals, held monthly from November to March. Riverbend alternates between hosting festivals for Girl Scouts and for the general public.

A crowd of close to 300 Girl Scouts was at the park on a recent January weekend, and they had great views of the festival’s “featured planet,” Jupiter. A look through the powerful scope, purchased for us by the Friends of Riverbend, revealed the planet’s four Galilean moons and suggestions of Jupiter’s famous red bands. While a film of clouds prevented a clear view of the Milky Way that night, scouts and their families enjoyed constellation tours, arts and crafts, constellation stories around the campfire and, of course, hot chocolate.

Nights like those show the worth of shaking off cobwebs and exploring what’s in, and above, Fairfax County parks.

By Ethan Kuhnhenn, park/recreation specialist, Riverbend Park

Here’s more about astronomy programs in the parks and about programs at Riverbend.

Girl Scout Leaders Find Resourceful Partner in Park Authority

A Girl Scout works on an art project in a RECenter.

This blog post is my first. That means I’m open to the possibility of any result ranging from a great success to a disaster. That’s quite fitting, as it follows my first Girl Scout meeting as a Girl Scout leader.

Don’t misunderstand. I have been leading Girl Scout programs and helping scouts, both boys and girls from ages 5 to 17, fulfill their requirements for badges for more than 10 years. Six of those years were with the Park Authority while I was based at Cub Run RECenter.

I have always enjoyed teaching scout programs, especially programs for Girl Scouts. I love to tell them that I am a scientist and a girl, and that I get paid to go to summer camp with friends every year. I love reminiscing about when I was a scout. In those memories, I went to sleep-away camp, toured fast food restaurants and learned about other cultures. I love scouting and all it stands for.

However, it is a whole new thing to be a scout leader.

I thought my experience leading Girl Scout badge programs would make this a snap, and that my girls could save some money because I could lead their badge programs. But Girl Scouting is so much more than that. I thank God for my two (yes, two) co-leaders. I won’t even go into the paperwork and training requirements, and any Girl Scout leader reading this blog is probably nodding along at this point.

During my first meeting as a leader, I asked the girls what they wanted to do as Girl Scouts. The GSUSA is very adamant that we encourage the girls to lead in any way possible, even my kindergarten troop. The girls chose a nature walk. With my past experience, I could guide that.

No problem.

Then they chose singing and dancing. I could guide that.

No problem.

Then they said gymnastics and a tea party and a bike rodeo.


Girl Scouts meet a horse at Frying Pan Farm Park.

It was then that I knew how a troop leader feels. That also was the moment that I understood why scout leaders come to this vast pool of resources called the Park Authority. I have a new resolve in my position with the Park Authority to give those scout leaders and their scouts the best possible experiences of nature in my role working with our nature centers, and I am resolved to encouraging other park sites, like RECenters, to offer scouting experiences in which those site personnel excel.

No one person can do it all. No one park can do it all. But it sure is great to know that the parks are out there looking for ways to help scouts have positive experiences, try new things, learn new things and to participate in their world.

Written by Tammy Schwab, manager of education and outreach for the Resource Management Division, Fairfax County Park Authority.

Scout leaders can find programs for scouts at Parktakes Online. Type “scout” in the keyword search box.