After having homeschooled my son from 6th grade through high school, my daughter got a turn at being homeschooled as a sixth grader. Unfortunately, and while she kept a positive attitude, it was surprisingly isolated and lonely, despite the fact that she is a girl scout and we went to park days and teen nights.
I realized my son had had something during his homeschooling years for which there is no equivalent. While still finishing elementary school, he bridged from a cub scout into a boy scout troop. Until recently, I hadn’t realized what an anchor it gave him and us during those years.
Every week, year-round, he met with his fellow scouts. As a younger scout, he watched the older scouts work through their ranks, work on their merit badges, helped them with their Eagle Scout projects, and attended their Eagle Scout ceremonies year after year, as he himself followed in their footsteps. On top of that, the troop had regular outings, at least once a month, ranging from day trips, to camping weekends, to backpacking trips, canoeing and skiing. He was able to try sports he never would have been able to do within our little family, and learn skills I didn’t have the resources or knowledge to teach him. As a parent, I participated in the parent committee, approving the funds for various activities and planning the fundraisers the troop did.
There is nothing like it for girls. I support sex-segregated activities especially during the teen years because there is “girl” stuff and “boy” stuff best kept to your peers. My daughter, almost more than anything, could use a female friend slightly older than herself to watch, and hopefully to help guide her, through the precarious path of puberty. As it is, all she has is me, and some other adults, but we can hardly relate to the drama of the Tumblr memes or which boy is cuter these days.
And I have to agree with her, the activities in Girl Scouts don’t compare. Just as they did in their elementary school years, her girl scout troop only meets twice a month, and goes on camping trips once or twice a year. She has the best troop leaders I can imagine, and her last year in girl scouts cumulated with zip lining in the forest.
But all that, and Girl Scout activities still pale to those the Boy Scouts do: yet do I have to hear about how they had to create trenches to camp in the rain, or have a specific scout come up with a budget and go shopping for the trip, or chop their own wood. There are no merit badges — all achievements are done as a group, and community service is typically an afternoon rather than a weekend in a state park.
As we talk about empowering our young women, their options for a challenge are still just within the realm of sports, academics, or performing arts. What of the young woman who isn’t gifted or intrigued by those? What path do we have for women to take on increasing responsibilities to learn how to be a functional adult?
My son got to face some serious challenges while in Boy Scouts. He earned a Wilderness Survival merit badge which required him to camp alone at night in the wilderness. He had to save a canoe and gear from being lost in some rapids. And towards his merit badge, he had to do 5 10-mile hikes plus a 20-mile hike — I joined him in that, and it was strenuous, but it’s an achievement we can both proudly celebrate.
Moreover, during all those years of homeschooling, he had a peer group of guys who were in the struggle with him, learning along, admiring his achievements outside the troop, and seeing himself grow in the context of the older ones who moved on and the younger ones who moved in.
I know of no organization that offers such challenges to girls, not Girl Scouts, not their conservative counterpart, American Heritage Girls. We talk of empowering young women, but our youth organizations for girls are anemic in range and challenge compared to what we have for boys. My daughter is the kind of person who would thrive taking on a variety of learning experiences, and adventurous enough, she could canoe and climb, especially if she had a team of peers to help and encourage her. But in seeking it out, I still find nothing.