Many years ago, my husband and I started an Outdoor Service Guides (formerly BPSA) group so our kids could experience scouting. We founded a local group where our kids could all scout together, regardless of gender, and experience the great outdoors. Nearly, nine years later, I still think this is one of the best things we’ve ever done.
Outdoor Service Guides has the motto, “Scouting for Everybody” which is important to us. The majority of our group is made of kids who are neurodiverse homeschoolers. We have a few scouts who started with us at age 4 and are now serious scouts at age 12. In our group, they have a community, a place where they can take risks, learn skills and be themselves. It has made all of our lives richer, but it has also helped our kids gain a lot of skills that they wouldn’t get otherwise.
What does scouting do that school never could?
Sure, you can be confident in your math facts, but it isn’t the same as knowing you can take care of yourself in the woods for a weekend. Lighting a campfire with just 2 matches and then cooking your dinner over that fire gives self-sufficiency a whole new meaning. Lots of kids have joined our group that have never cooked before. It didn’t occur to their parents to let them. But on a camping trip, every kid gets to help cook and clean. At camp, they are necessary and exciting, but you can do them at home, too. Having life skills helps kids feel more confident and secure because they know they can take care of themselves.
Failing and Trying Again
We don’t just ask a kid to do a skill once and move on. In our program, we do hard things. This means that sometimes kids fail. They don’t learn the knot the first time they try it, and that’s okay. We give them lots of opportunities to learn skills and repeat them. And when a child becomes good at a skill, they get to teach it to their peers.
In our program failure doesn’t mean anything bad. It just means you get to try again! This is something kids today don’t get enough of. We might say failure isn’t a bad thing, but where else do we hand kids matches until they manage to light a fire?
Age Appropriate Programming
With the Guides, the programming is designed to be age-appropriate and not emphasize skills like reading and writing. Instead, we get outside and play games, learn about nature and go hiking. Those are things kids can do at 5 or 15 if you just do it at the right level.
Having our kids grow up as Guides means they got to spend time as otters (age 5-7) watching adults do the work of camping that they were too young to do. At ages 8-10 as timberwolves, they did the work alongside the adults. And once they turned 11, we taught them to do all the work on their own. The scouts that have grown up through our program are ready to set up their tents, light the campfire and get cooking. Best of all, those kids teach new scouts who join us how to do those things.
One of my favorite thing about our program is that we encourage the kids to accept leadership roles and make plans for what they want the group to do. Where else can kids decide what they and their friends will do? Our pathfinders (ages 11 and up) have chosen to try backpacking and kayaking and planned a community service project to benefit the local animal shelter.
They also work on leadership skills by teaching each other and participating in teamwork projects. We have them lead games and instruct newer/younger guides. Many of our scouts are not the kids who would be chosen to be leaders in sports or academics, so it is wonderful that we have a place where they can do that. My dyslexic guides are amazing at knot tying. Pathfinders with ADHD and autism have taken on leadership roles and helped their patrols learn new skills, with a little support from our adult leaders.
My actual favorite thing about our program is the friends my kids have made. Because we don’t separate by gender, those friends are both boys and girls. Our group scouted through the pandemic over zoom and with carefully planned outdoor meetings. This meant that for many of our pathfinders, we were the only people they saw outside of their homes for months. Those pathfinders made their own plans to meet up over discord and game together. They coordinated ideas and eventually started a D&D group that they lead, organize and participate in all on their own.
Many years of work have gotten us where we are but seeing my kids cultivate friendships and learn to organize their own activities is something I am super proud of.
Other Reasons We Love OSG
Aside from the fact Outdoor Service Guides has been welcoming everyone to scout together for over 15 years, we had some reasons we chose this organization that are worth sharing. Every adult involved is a volunteer. This means we are all involved because we believe in the mission, not for the paycheck. Even better, the group embodies the “thriftiness” that scouting teaches and there are no national sales.
OSG seeks to support every body in the activity of scouting and makes it as affordable as possible. Books, patches, uniforms, and training are all offered at extremely affordable prices. Beyond that, you can download the books in PDF form for free. Younger kid uniforms are T-shirts we put patches on. There is no way to make scouting more affordable.
Within the OSG community, my husband and I have made some great friends, and our local group is “our people.” The people you call when you need a real friend are who we scout with.
Want to learn more? You check out the Outdoor Service Guides website!
About the Author
Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.