How to Go Camping With Your Girl Scout Troop
Washing Dishes, the Girl Scout Way
Camping With Girls
Some of the best memories your girls will have will come from going camping with their troop. It is an opportunity to bond, to safely try new things, and for girls to truly be themselves. For adult leaders, it is an opportunity to show girls that they have the ability to both lead and work together to create a happy and memorable trip.
The goals for a Girl Scout camping trip include:
- Girl Planning
- Skills Development
Secondarily, you may wish to incorporate a badge or Journey Workbook, to move girls forward in earning skill builder badges or to complete prerequisites towards higher awards, but let that be the girls' decision. Troop camping is really the girls' trip, and the decisions belong to them.
Planning a Camping Trip With Girl Scouts
As a troop leader, your job is to make sure your girls are ready for a camping trip away from home and to take the necessary precautions to ensure their safety while camping. Per your training, ensure that you've assessed your troop's readiness for the trip, and then determine what kind of camping trip you'll be planning:
- Backyard in a tent
- Cabin camping on Girl Scout property
- Tent camping on Girl Scout property
- Cabin camping on public camping ground
- Tent camping on public camping ground
Let's assume your troop is ready for a tent camping experience, on a Girl Scout property. You, as a leader, will be responsible for reserving the campsite with your Council and getting the proper approvals. You may need additional insurance if you have adults or children attending who are not Girl Scout members. Check with your Activity Consultant if you have questions or concerns.
What You Need From Parents
For each girl, you will need the following from parents:
- Signed permission slip
- Medical History form (as required by your Council)
- Permission to give over-the-counter medications (if your Council requires this)
Always check with your Council or your Activity Consultant for current rules regarding what forms are necessary from parents.
You will need to create a Safety Management Plan that is specific to your trip. Older girls can help with this, but it's important that adults know what to do in the event that the troop needs to suddenly leave a campground. Some things to consider for safety planning include:
- Your evacuation plan at the site
- Emergency contact numbers (ranger, Girl Scout Council, local troop emergency contact, etc.)
- Nearest hospital location, directions, phone number
- Known risk issues at the site and how you will deal with them
You'll carry the Safety Management Plan with you on your camping trip, along with permission slips, and medical forms. I put everything into our first aid kit, which I carry with me at all times. The other two things I carry with me at all times are my cell phone and my car keys.
Leader Checklist for Camping, Girl Scout Property
- Determine, with your troop, which date(s) work best for a camping trip.
- Check with your Service Unit Activity Consultant for necessary forms, approvals.
- Check with your Council's Property Management desk to reserve a campsite.
- Determine if additional insurance is necessary and send in appropriate forms and payment.
- Create and send out parental permission forms and packing list for girls.
- Create and keep with you a Safety Management Plan.
Example Meal Planning Template, Filled In
Pancakes, Bacon, Eggs
3 dozen Eggs
1 carton—Kalie, 2 cartons—Emma
Orange Juice, Watermelon
2 cans OJ, cheapest brand
1 big seedless watermelon
1 can cooking spray
1 butter (2 sticks)
2 pounds bacon
1 box Pancake Mix, the Krusty kind
1 Gallon Milk
Tip: Keep Girls Busy During Meal Prep
Girls will all want to cook or be involved in cooking by congregating around the camp stove to watch the cooks. Facilitate by keeping non-cooks occupied:
- Decorate placemats, or make small nameplates for each girl.
- Rake ground around tents. This is surprisingly effective, particularly for younger girls. Bring a small rake for two girls to take turns raking the ground around the tents. They can rake a pattern, or rake up leaves, trash or debris.
- Read an interesting book to the girls. A "two-minute mystery" type of book is a good choice, as it keeps girls talking and busy working out the solution to the mystery.
Girl Planning for a Girl Scout Camping Trip
Depending on their age level, it's appropriate for girls to plan as much of their camping trip as possible, including their menus, who will bring what food items, and what activities they will do. Adult leaders may wish to plan how girls will be transported, which girls will be in tents together, and how kapers will be assigned, but every troop is different and it is important to consider the feelings of the girls.
Pick a Tent, Any Tent
Some leaders strongly believe that girls should be allowed to share a tent with their best friends. This often has the drawback of making some girls feel left out, or as though they are not as important as other girls.
One thing to try is to assign tents by "drawing straws," but in a creative way. You could, for example, name each tent for an animal and then have each girl randomly pick a card from a stack. Girls that pick the "Giraffe" cards, for example, would be assigned to the giraffe tent; girls that pick the "Cheetah" cards would go in the cheetah tent and so on. One girl can "lead" this activity by being the holder of the cards.
This "drawing straws" approach also works for car assignments and keeps cliques from forming on the drive to the campsite.
Part of a troop meeting should be set aside for the girls to plan their meals. Have a "meal planning" template that the girls fill out to create their menus and, most importantly, the shopping list and who is assigned to bring each item. You may need to help the girls fill out the template the first time, but they will quickly catch on and be able to do this themselves by the second camping trip.
Girls should plan for breakfast, lunch, dinner, evening snack, and daytime snacks. As a leader, I've found that the girls enjoy meal planning, and they are less likely to be picky eaters while on the camping trip itself.
Activity or Program Planning
The girls should decide how much programming they want for their weekend. It's often tempting for a leader to decide to get a lot of badge work or Journey work done in one weekend, but it can be exhausting for the girls. Likewise, you may want to do a long hike followed by archery, followed by a big dusty service project. Let the girls lead this to the extent possible, and be a good facilitator, willing to step in and give them a break if things get too hectic. Give them an idea about how much time they will need to allocate per activity; this will help them prioritize and choose wisely.
Kapers are chores or duties that girls do while with their troop. Camping kapers include things like dish washing, cooking, cleaning the tent site, disposing of trash, and getting water. The troop leader can make the chart, or have the girls make one during a troop meeting. The girls should definitely fill in who will do what chores. Facilitate by having girls pair up or triple up on kapers, and remind them that there are kapers involved with campfire, too. I've found that very young girls will be too tired to clean up after campfire, so try not to create too many dirty dishes that need washing.
Note: It is very tempting to leave dirty utensils and dishes from campfire snacks to wash in the morning. This will attract wildlife to your campsite or cabin, and will be very distressing to everyone. Always clean up after yourselves, and never leave food out, not even a spec.
How to Cast Animal Tracks
- Quick Set Plaster of Paris
- Paper mixing cups
- Popsicle stick for mixing
- Plastic spoon for measuring
- Water (bottled water or water source)
- Sharpie marker
- Dust mask
- Plaster of Paris mixes 2:1 with water; that is, two parts Plaster of Paris to one part water.
- Before mixing plaster, select the track you wish to cast. If you wish, build up dirt around the track to make a ridge around the track. It may help keep the plaster in place, but it isn't critical.
- Before mixing plaster, cover nose and mouth with a dust mask.
- Spoon two parts Plaster of Paris into a paper cup.
- In a second paper cup, pour one part water.
- Sprinkle Plaster of Paris from the first cup over the water in the second cup.
- Mix Plaster of Paris with water using a popsicle stick. The mixture should have the consistency of pancake batter, smooth and fluid.
- Immediately pour mixture into the animal track, filling it completely. Allow it to harden.
- When hard, carefully lift cast from the animal track. Allow it to dry completely, several hours, before cleaning dirt from the cast.
- Write animal type and date on the back of the cast when the cast is dry.
- Dispose of leftover Plaster of Paris by allowing it to harden in the mixing cup, then throwing it away in a garbage can.
Outdoor Activities for Girl Scouts
Girls may need some suggestions for outdoor activities. Some activities to consider are:
- Art Crawl - With a watercolor pad and permanent black ink pens, take an easy hike around the property, stopping several times to do a timed sketch of the surrounding scenery. Back at the tent site or cabin, break out watercolors to color in sketches in a loose and easy painting style. This usually results in breathtaking and frameable works of art!
- Whose Prints Are These? - Take quick-set Plaster of Paris and plenty of water on a hike to a habitat, like a lake. Study the ground for animal tracks and make plaster casts of what you find.
- Poetry Slam - With writing paper, take a hike to a quiet spot by a lake or overlook. Write poetry and read it out loud. Older girls enjoy this more that little ones.
- A Nest to Call My Own - With permission from your Council, make nesting boxes and install them around the property.
- Let the Games Begin - Play Nerf golf, basketball, giant Frisbee, jump rope, or any number of outdoor sports. Check with your Council Resource Center to see what games or sports equipment they may have.
- Bandana Crafts - Bring plain white bandanas and decorate them with permanent fabric markers. This makes a nice souvenir from the trip.
- Geocache! - Check Geocaching to see if there are geocaches on your property. If there are, use GPS units to find them!
- Outdoor Service - Clear a path, clean a shower, paint a structure or otherwise help maintain Girl Scout property. Check with your Council to see what needs to be done.
Campfire Songs and Activities
Don't forget to have a campfire, cook s'mores, and sing! Campfire is one of the best and most traditional Girl Scout activity ever, and you will want your girls to experience this. Some activities to include:
- Make S'mores - S'mores are probably the best-known dessert to make around the campfire. Use inexpensive, long metal skewers to roast the marshmallows, or try specialty Rolla-Roasters that you rotate to get perfectly browned marshmallows. For very young girls, it is a good idea to limit the number of marshmallows—otherwise, you may find that they "waste" them by burning them up or letting them drop into the fire.
- Make Pies - Camp pies are made in pie irons, sold in sporting goods stores or found online. Spray the interior of the pie iron with cooking spray, line each side with white bread and place a heaping tablespoon of pie filling or Nutella in the center of one slice of bread. Carefully close the pie iron and toast each side until the bread is nicely browned. Allow it to cool a bit before eating as the filling can be molten!
- Sing - Bring a songbook and sing traditional Girl Scout songs like "Make New Friends," "G.I.R.L S.C.O.U.T," "On My Honor," "Old Moose," "Fast Food Song," and more.
- Skits - Have the girls team up in groups of 2-5 and do skits. Popular Girl Scout skits include: "What's in the Box," and "The Candy Shop."
Tradition of the Ashes
Finally, the morning after your campfire, make a point to collect some of the ashes from the fire and save them in small containers, one for each girl and one for the troop. (Not that long ago, we used film containers, but those are now a thing of the past. Craft stores have small acrylic containers for beading, or tin containers with clear tops for organizing that work well.)
The tradition of the ashes is that you save some of the ashes from the campfire and then, the next time you go camping, you add some of those ashes to the new fire. There is a nice ceremony you can do when you mix the old ashes with the new, though girls mostly just like collecting the little ashes containers. After several years in scouting, girls will have a pretty large collection!
More Camping Tips
For more camping tips, see my article Camping Tips For Girl Scout Trips, which includes a useful leader's gear list.
The most important thing to remember is that any time you travel with Girl Scouts, it is their trip, not yours, and the girls will get out what they put in. It's never your "fault" if someone doesn't have a good time. If you kept them safe and got them home in one piece, you did a great job.
Questions & Answers
What's in the Girl Scouts packing list?
It sounds like I may need to write another article about packing lists, or include some packing list examples in this article. For the girls, I kept two types of packing lists, one for readers, and one picture-based list for pre-readers. The picture-based list had images of the following:
- two t-shirts
- two pairs of socks
- a sweatshirt
- a long sleeve shirt
- a bandana
- a sun hat (gloves and a knit hat if needed)
- bug spray
- a toothbrush
- a washcloth
- a small towel
- a flashlight
- sleeping bag
- a teddy bear
I used to have girls pack and bring mess kits, but they often got forgotten, so we changed that and did not have girls bring mess kits. On the text-based list, I just wrote, in words, this same list, plus a note at the bottom that said girls needed to be able to carry everything herself. When the girls got older, I included a “no electronics” note, but parents always sent the girls off with cell phones anyway. The picture-based list, by the way, is something the older girls made in a meeting. It was given to younger troops that were going camping for the first time. I liked it so much that I used it for our troop for several years, even after all the girls could read.