Leslie's Guide Programme Ideas

Ideas and inspiration for Girl Guide Leaders


My name is Leslie, I run a Guide unit, and actually, I'm not some kind of super-Guider, and I can assure you I don't run the perfect unit, not by any means!  I just run the best unit I can, which is all any of us can do.  Like all Guiders, I am constantly hunting for new ideas - new ways of doing the things we do regularly, new activities and inspriations, always trying to keep my unit's programme fresh, interesting and attractive (for me as well as the Guides, since I have to enjoy it too!) - and that most important thing, educational.  The founder's idea of learning through games is valid, but Guiding is a movement, and if we don't keep moving and evolving we'll stagnate - so just doing the same old things in the same old way is not an option, we need to do some of the old things in new ways, and the some of the new things in new ways too! 

This site is simply a collection of ideas I've tried and found to work for me and my unit, and knowledge I've gained the hard way - so perhaps I can spare others from making at least some of my (many) mistakes!  It should be noted that everything on here is personal opinion - it's my ideas (some original, some borrowed and adapted to suit me and my unit), what I've found works for us - so far as I can tell it follows official policy in all regards, but any ideas which are suggested should be used in conjunction with both regularly checking the up-to-date guidance in the Guiding Manual (as we know, it changes constantly), and also using your own good judgement of your unit's circumstances, particularly (but not exclusively) in regard to safety.  I'm fortunate enough to be based in a small town where I can let the Guides out in Patrols to do wide games within a limited range of residential streets year-round, and in a patch of the nearby countryside on summer evenings too, and to (usually) have just enough staff to be able to go outside on most weeks the weather allows, but if you aren't in that fortunate position, then you may have to tweak some of the activities accordingly, or occasionally beg extra helpers for a special activity . . . could be an ideal chance for Brownie Leaders to visit and get up-to-date info on Guides to take back and share with the older Brownies in order to get them keen on moving up, or those working on Leadership Qualification with any section to broaden their experience, or some of the Rangers to do some service, or utilising your local Trefoil Guild (they love the chance to have contact with the girls, and not just be doing the AGM teas yet again!) . . .

The site also includes basic instructions for how to do some of the traditional activities which are still used by a large number of units - the sort of thing which many units want to know 'how to do' sooner or later for special occasions, but which it will often be assumed Guide Leaders naturally know how to do, simply because they are Guide Leaders - for some reason, they often don't make it into the trainings - how to get Guides into a horseshoe, how to do simple flag ceremonies, how to build a proper campfire, how to plan and run a campfire programme - and I'm happy to cover any other activities people wish to find out about.  Again, the instructions will simply be for how I do it, it's not to say my way is the 'right' way or 'only' way, for any way which achieves the results in a reasonable (and where appropriate, respectful) way, is equally fine.  

This site will expand as my time and inspiration allows, and as my unit tries new ideas and new ways of doing the classics.  I would be very keen to receive ideas and suggestions from other people too.  What does your unit do?  What works for you?  What have you done recently that the Guides really loved?  What would you want instructions for, but haven't been able to find anywhere?

I also run a Guiding history website - lesliesguidinghistory.webs.com - it contains resources for traditions badge and history resources for Thinking Day and many other purposes.


Some of the clipart on this site is drawn from the 'BOGUK' website, with grateful thanks.

About the age group

Oh, indeed Guides are at an awkward age, aren't they, and we have to appreciate that, and make some allowances at times for their 'growing pains' and the effects those growing pains have.  Their root of the awkwardness can be summed up simply - they are 'on the cusp'. 

They're on the cusp between primary school and high school.  They're on the cusp between dutiful child and independence-seeking teenager.  They're on the cusp between being able to enjoy simple childish fun, and the pressure to act as if they are grown up (even though they are not!).  They're on the cusp between the freedom of childhood and taking on the responsibilities of adulthood.  They're on the cusp between being allowed some independence, yet still being expected to do as their folks say.  They are on the cusp between being innocent children and exposed-to-the-world teenagers, in a world where media images, fashion and peer pressure hold a lot of influence over them.  

And this is something that we, as leaders, have to be aware of, and it's something our unit programmes have to incorporate and reflect - we have to give the members the chance to enjoy the fun and games of childhood while they still have a last few years left to enjoy being children without the cares and responsibilities of adulthood, the childish activities they do still enjoy doing (whether or not they would care to admit it publicly).  But - we've also got to cater for the fact that they are growing up fast (and want to grow up even faster if they can), and they do want to try new and more challenging activities, have new and more involved opportunities, take on new responsibilities, be treated as if they were almost adult, and not as little children.  So it's important that our programmes also cater for the more mature tastes and attitudes which exist amongst the members, especially (but not exclusively) amongst the older Guides in the unit, for the exact transition age from child to teenager to adult varies from individual to individual.  Hence, we need to cater for the young girls in the unit, for the teenagers in the unit, and for those in transition between the two stages.

Our programmes should recognisably sit half-way between those of Brownie units and those of Senior Section units - and a glance at the term's programme should clearly reveal which section and age group the programme is designed for, even if there are no clues amongst the activity headings themselves!  In some ways, the setup of the Guide programme now naturally provides for this, with graded Skills Builders designed to provide bigger challenges and levels of responsibility which the younger ones can look forward to and prepare for, ready for when their turn comes, and UMAs for the whole unit to tackle.  There is also Patrol Camp Permit.  If we allow it, and enable it, then the Patrol Leaders and Seconds can also take on real responsibilities (not just be the token figureheads who are landed with lots of extra chores but no real extra priviledges to accompany them) and can learn the valuable skills to organise and lead teams - and that's the ideal we should be aiming for.  Patrol Leader should be a prized achievement, not a chore one is landed with!  However, we have to balance that with an awareness of the other pressures they face outside the weekly meetings, especially regarding schoolwork, and we have to teach them the skills and give them the experience to help them gradually build towards this, not overwhelm them and expect them to suddenly take charge and cope without any training or preparation . . . and we need to make sure that we don't end up with a 'unit of two halves' where the older Guides get lots of priveledges and the younger Guides feel second-class . . .

Ways of Getting Ideas

I have many ways of getting ideas for my unit programmes - it often isn't easy - so I'll share some of them!

Graffitti Walls - I use these with my Guides every year at the start of autumn term, as they seem to work best for getting ideas out of most of the Guides in the unit, not just the few who are confident enough to speak up in group discussion (or indeed, find it hard to stop talking long enough to give anyone else a turn!) - and it also allows the ideas of the quiet minorities (or even those individuals with distinctive or unusual tastes) to get an equal hearing alongside the vocal majority.  I lay out two long strips of paper (old fax roll or the back of spare wallpaper are ideal) with a selection of felt pens in dark colours scattered around them.  One sheet is marked on either end with 'at the hall' and the other 'outings' (to ensure they don't suggest nothing but exotic outings to the four corners of the world!) and the sheets are left out throughout the meeting (and the unit programme for that night so arranged that the Guides have plenty of opportunity to wander across and write ideas on the 'walls' whenever thoughts occur).  The one rule we use is that anyone can write anything, but there can be no scoring out of what is already written there.  So if someone wrote 'football', someone else could write 'no football' - and both suggestions would stand equally.  We find it generates lots of ideas to work on, even if some are more realistic than others - at the end of each year we put on the notice board a list of all the ideas which were suggested, and mark those we managed to fulfill in some way.  And sometimes, what seems silly or impossible, can be managed in a way - 'climbing mount everest' (a genuine suggestion!) could lead to a theme night looking at what travel would be involved in getting to Nepal, what climate, culture and language you would discover on arrival, what climbing kit you would need (maybe you could find a local hillwalker or mountaineer who would be willing to show the Guides some of his/her mountaineering equipment and explain how and when it's used), you could look at what training you would do, before finally looking at photographs so the Guides could 'see' what the view from the top of the mountain would be like - it could be a really fun and interesting night, even if the Guides never physically climbed any higher than the front doorstep of the hall!


Although we are meant to have 'girl-led Guiding', the suggested level of that for the Guide section is actually a 50/50 balance between the girls' ideas and those from the Leaders, which I think is wise - after all, the Guides can really only suggest two types of activities - 

1) things they've already done before, but would like to do again.

2) things they've heard of, and fancy having a go at. 

They can't suggest anything that doesn't fit into those two, quite narrow, categories.  And there are a whole lot of activities and options which they've never heard of!


What we as Leaders have to bear in mind is - that that leaves so many interesting and fun things which they might well love if they were given the chance to, but  which they can't suggest, just because they don't know the activities exist - so that's where we come in.  It's our job to give them the chance to try a wide range of new and different things (or old things which may have drifted under their radar) so they can try them out, and then find out for themselves whether they like them or not - it can be fascinating to see what catches on with them, and it's sometimes things you never thought they'd be enthused about - I never imagined that they'd get hooked on making tapestry coasters, but it happened!

Also, we're meant to have a balanced programme, so it's also our job to balance off the things the Guides want, so that the meetings aren't dominated by arts, or sport, or outdoors, or whatever it is that the majority of the unit are really into right now (but which the minority may not like at all) - the better the balance in the programme, the more people's tastes it will serve over the course of the term, and the wider the range of characters and personalities who will enjoy being in the unit.  Just as Rainbows shouldn't be doing craft every week (or even every other week!), so Guides shouldn't just be a hillwalking club or a makeover clinic, or a drama group . . . if some of the Guides don't care for this week's programme, they should be able to find something more appealing amongst what's planned next week, or the week after . . .

So we should aim to provide a balance between the things they have heard of and want to do at Guides - and the chance to try things they haven't heard of, but which we think they might like, or might learn from doing.  So where can we get all these fun, interesting, original ideas to put into the programme from anyway?  Well . . .

The Programme - the new programme provides many weeks' worth of activities suggested by Guide Leaders, and tested by Guide units.  They can take up to 60% of unit meetings.   

Facebook Groups - there are now a wide selection of facebook groups - both a general one for Guide Leaders, ones for camps/holidays, ones for songs, for badge-swapping - all of which have active conversations going on, and a growing catalogue of files which provide useful reference material and inspiration.

Guider Webgroups - websites such as Guiders.co.uk (which is currently one of the most active groups) and the yahoo group Girlguiding_UK (with it's linked website, BOGUK) can be great for hearing what other leaders are doing, and getting sources and contacts for things we might fancy trying; they can also be good for 'agony-aunting' - often, if one person has a problem, there are others around the country who can offer a listening ear, support, helpful advice, experience of a similar situation, a fresh perspective, contacts, or solutions.  The official Girlguiding website has started a discussion forum, it doesn't have enough people commenting to have got going properly yet, but if enough people took part and actually commented on things, rather than just 'lurk', it could grow into something really good . . .

Useful Websites - and not just Guiding websites!  The American 'MacScouter' website may be aimed at Boy Scouts in the US, but their games and skits in particular can often be easily cherry-picked and adapted to our purpose!  There are other international Guide or Scout websites such as WAGGGS-L, ANZAGL or Insane Scouter which we can pick things out of - and we can sometimes inform leaders in other countries on the different ways things are done here, as well as the similarities, or update their out-of-date details!  Country and region websites can have locally-produced resources which are of interest to those far outwith their boundaries too - I would particularly recommend Anglia Region for this (no favouritism involved as it's not my patch!)  There are quite a few websites which offer crafts and activity ideas for children and families such as 'activity village' and 'enchanted learning' and some aimed at homeschoolers, and at teachers, such as 'TES' (Times Educational Supplement) - whilst maintaining your discerning eye in terms of quality, suitability for the age group, and avoiding heavy-handedness on the educational side, it does pay to spread the net wide in your search for sources of ideas and resources, and develop your own list of 'pet websites'!  Look also for other Guiding resources such as the 'International Postcard Exchange' - a great way to introduce the girls in your unit to the wide world of Guiding and their sisters in other countries, 'Thinking Day on the Internet (TDOTI)', etc . . . and at the project packs on the WAGGGS website . . .

Activity Books - Guiding has published a wide number of books; literally hundreds over the years - a few are current, lots are out of print but available secondhand - and old Scout books can equally be mined for useful ideas too.  I have used or adapted quite a few ideas from a great Scouting author of the 1930s and 1940s who wrote under the pseudonym 'Jack Blunt' - he was a London Scouter and weekly columnist in "The Scout" magazine, and had at least 3 little hardback books of ideas from his 'Scout' articles published, which can still be obtained second-hand at a very modest price.  'Gilcraft' - the publishing arm of the Scout training headquarters - also produced lots of great reference books on relevant topics in past decades - they're still the best source of information on things like pioneering, backwoods cooking and other outdoor topics, provided you look at them with an eye to the constraints of far stricter modern-day health and safety rules (and be sure to avoid the very outdated first aid hints) - the basics of 'how to do' many of the traditional outdoor activities such as knotting, pioneering and cooking on wood fires, quite naturally, just don't change from decade to decade, the only difference is that we have the option of utilising modern clothing and equipment such as tinfoil, lightweight tents, plastic groundsheets and synthetic ropes if we wish - or, indeed, of using these older books to learn how we could manage without our mod cons at camp!  How many of us have actually made our own tents or rucksacks from scratch, improvised cooking pots and utensils from cans and wire, whittled wooden implements - rather than automatically swell the coffers of the camping shops - and how many of us should have, even if just for the challenge of seeing if we could manage?

Challenge Packs - both ones issued by WAGGGS and by Girlguiding UK nationally (and by it's Regions and Counties), and those packs created by individual Senior Section members and Leaders, often as part of their fundraising for international trips with Guiding.  Again, so long as you are very choosy about which packs you use (as sadly, quality of content and balance of activities for the differing age groups and across the programme can vary wildly) and how often you do packs (like most things, they are fine in moderation as an occasionaly residential theme or backup for the term's focus but, because they follow a single theme or topic, can tend to be very un-balanced), they can be really useful as a source of new ideas to add variety to the programme.  Some interest badge activity packs have started to appear on the Girlguiding UK website recently, too, which can be useful if you have a group who happen to want to all do the same badge.  And of course, once you've got a pack and bought the badges (for that's only fair to the person who put in all the work to create the pack, probably as a fundraiser) you can then retain the best of the ideas in the pack for future use whether the badge remains available long-term or not . . .

The Calendar - there are lots of special dates throughout the year, linked with festivals and causes, which can be used to inspire your programme - the lists on the website of 'Woodlands Junior School' from Kent are wonderfully comprehensive in covering religious festivals of different faiths, national days, traditional festivals, charity events, etc . . . and you can celebrate anniversaries of all kinds (don't forget to check when your unit's own anniversary is so you can plan the exciting birthday celebrations in good time too)! 

The ones I would suggest totally avoiding are Mothers' and Fathers' days - quite apart from the fact that the girls will often already have plans/make things for them at other groups, in most units there will be at least one girl from a single-parent family who doesn't have anyone relevant to give the card or present to, and that perhaps as a recent and very upsetting occurence - no need for us to cause unnecessary hurt or embarassment, or re-open wounds.  Hallowe'en is also a sensitive festival for some - some church hall owners ask people not to organise hallowe'en celebrations, and some parents would withdraw their children from hallowe'en parties on religious grounds. 

Although it's tempting to celebrate some festivals most years - please seek original ideas for ways of utilising these events from year to year if you do mark them regularly - you can have too much of almost anything, and we don't have to celebrate the same set of festivals every year!

District Meetings - the worthwhile District meetings are the ones where you don't just have the County Newsletter read aloud to you then the paper copies handed over - but those where you actually meet as a team to help and support each other.  So if your District doesn't offer this, ask for it or offer to host and lead it!  Whether it's hearing about that contact the Rainbow Leader found for an affordable circus skills workshop, or the Unit Helper's pal who's a dental nurse and is happy to do tooth-care sessions with Brownies, to that great craft website the Senior Section got the bargain cushion cover kits from - the gathering of Leaders at a District meeting can be used to full advantage for mutual benefit with just a little effort on everyone's part, which is especially important if some have had to travel a distance to attend, or pay for baby/grannysitters.  Might some of the Brownie YLs fancy helping at the Guide camp, or some of the SS leaders help with the Guides' Wide Game, or some of the Rainbow Leaders be keen to help with running the BP Adventure because they've always fancied a go at abseilling and don't get much chance with Rainbows?  Can anyone cover the night your Assistant's away on a business trip, or what can the team do about managing the Rainbow Leader's maternity leave?  You'll never know if you don't ask . . . don't assume that just because they haven't opted to be Guide Leaders currently, that it means all the other leaders in the area flat refuse to have anything whatsoever to do with Guides at any time or under any circumstances - perhaps they've always fancied working with the age group and just never dared ask!  And of course, when the Leaders are travelling from across the area - it's the ideal time for the YLs to gather and compare notes, and for Mentors and Mentees to gather in a corner for an updating and signing-off session!

Trainings - it doesn't matter how experienced you are or aren't, there are always new ideas or new ways of doing the usual things to be learned from going to trainings, and I would recommend that every leader makes the effort to go to at least one every 5 years as a bare minimum, at least once a year if circumstances allow.  It's really important to avoid getting into ruts, and to regularly refresh your ideas and ways of doing things . . . also , the more the existing training sessions are supported and book up quickly, the more likely that County will be able to justify running a larger number of trainings, and to offer far more variety of topics - so if you want more trainings, or to have a range of different topics instead of 'the usual' again, then the answer lies squarely with you - could you round up a carload or two from your District or Division to apply and go to the trainings that are held, then while you're there, talk to the trainers about the topics you want covered next time rather than expect them to guess what you might want - and if the trainings you asked for then get put on, then go to them and justify their being put on!  You may even be able to arrange a 'fireside training' in your District or Division, if you can muster a reasonable crowd for the topic to make it worth the trainer's while.  And before you accuse me of vested interest - no, I am not a trainer!

Also - if you get the opportunity to do it, always take the chance to visit other units.  How do the neighbours organise their meetings, what activities have they done recently, how do they manage Patrol Leader training, what balance do they strike between Patrol activities and whole-unit activities, what ceremonies and traditions do they have, what are their favourite games, songs and activities?  What's old hat to you can be brand new to them, and vice versa . . .

Clubs, Societies and Local Experts - in any community, however small a hamlet it may be, there will be various clubs and societies, or local members of district clubs and societies - experts and enthusiasts who would be keen to offer taster sessions of their hobby, often at no cost or just for expenses.  Could someone from the local WRI teach simple cake decorating, flower arranging, no-cook cookery, or how to accessorise basic inexpensive tops with some simple haberdashery trimmings to give them an exclusive look?  Could the local bowls club give the girls a taster session of their sport, and perhaps recruit some junior members as a result?  Could the local choirmaster or church organist help the Guides to learn the tunes of some of the songs in the Guide songbooks, ready for the next big campfire?  Might the greengrocer be willing to give the Guides tastes of exotic fruits or vegetables and let them have a go at cooking some of them in different recipes, or the hairdresser give some styling and general grooming hints?   Could the local gardening society or allotment holders give advice (and perhaps some spare materials) to help the Guides grow flowering bulbs to be Christmas presents for the lonely in the community, or prepare entries for the local flower show?  Is there a local farmer, naturalist or countryside warden who would be willing to take Patrols out with you and introduce them to local wildlife?  Could someone from the local DIY or hardware shop, or a local Joiner, help the Guides to make bird or bat boxes from offcuts of wood and install them locally?  Might a local mechanic do a session on bicycle maintenance, or a community policeman give some advice on cycle safety or personal safety?  Have a look around the list of clubs, sports teams and societies meeting in the local halls and schools, ask around local small businesses, look around your community for hobbyists, and you're sure to find lots of interesting possibilities!

TV - there are a lot of magazine programmes which demonstrate crafts the girls might like to try, simple cookery ideas which can be done quickly and easily, games and challenges, and themes to explore.  It can be wise to watch some carefully picked children's television, and check out the programme websites for extra background material too.  Can be especially good for craft (Art Attack, Mr Maker and the like), themes (Horrible Histories etc) and general items (Blue Peter etc).  Don't stick to just children's television though - could a local dance teacher teach them one of the 'Strictly' dance styles and start them on a simple routine, or a singing teacher or choirmaster help with singing techniques for your 'The Voice' or 'Choir' night?  Could you give each Patrol a similar empty cardboard box and some odds and ends from your craft drawer, and challenge them to do a '60-minute makeover' to turn this dull 'attic space' into a colourful 'bedroom'?  Could they learn some 'DIY SOS' skills?

Pinterest, etc - lots of Leaders are now setting up pinboards, and there are also a wide range of general ones we can pick up ideas and inspirations from - it's a growing market.


Wherever you get your best ideas from, remember to keep looking for new ideas, and especially, ways of dressing up the old ideas to keep them fresh and leave the Guides fondly imagining that they are all brand new - it doesn't just keep the unit's programme interesting for the girls (though it certainly does that), but it also keeps it interesting for you, too!