When you think of scouts, the image is often of the great outdoors, with young people ready to test their survival skills.
But today, the new ‘normal’ for scouting is virtual.
To help youth continue their scouting journey, scouts across the country continue to meet virtually through safe and fun programming during the COVID-19 pandemic.
For eight-year-old Jasper Kelsh from Guelph, a white tail beaver in his third year in scouts, the experience is new.
“Virtually, he can still see his scout leader and other scout friends who are doing the same activities,” says Jasper’s mother, Nicole Lahaie.
“Where we would have had a camp planned, we all had our own back yard camps instead and then shared photos on Facebook. Our scout troop uses Facebook to stay connected. Events get planned and we share photos and comment.”
The annual ‘community cleanup’ went ahead this year but did look a little different as scouts ventured off on their own rather than in groups to clean their neighbourhoods.
“We also received a package from our scout leader with different activities inside. It included instructions on how to make a bird feeder along with wild seeds and how to make a flower garden for bees and butterflies,” Lahaie said.
“And because the camps usually close off with a big water fight at the end, we actually did that virtually this year.”
At a national level, Siobhan Ward from Ottawa, a rover and youth program specialist with Scouts Canada, develops the Scouting at Home virtual programming, available at no cost as well as a bi-weekly newsletter.
New activities and tips are shared and easy to put into play for members and non-members at home and on-line.
Scouting at Home exemplifies Scouts Canada’s principles of ‘learning by doing’, featuring activities ranging from STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to community service from home designed to encourage physical activity, curiosity, creativity, social connection and good health and well being.
“It’s about doing fun activities that are safe while social distancing,” Ward says.
“All in person programming has been suspended since March 13. So, volunteers started running programs virtually using different platforms and offering activities like scavenger hunts, backyard campouts, how to build a fort or an obstacle course at home and how to go for a walk safely. With the help of our frontline scout leaders, virtual meetings help everyone to stay engaged.”
With so many activities and events being cancelled this summer, Ward says that virtual programming is that one thing that continues despite many other disruptions.
“Just to have the opportunity to talk to each other and see their friends, even virtually, they really look forward to it,” Ward said.
“Parents say that it’s the one thing that has stayed the same and they really rely on it. They are so thankful.”
Ward began her scouting career as a Beaver. She is now 24.
“Being in scouts has given me everything. It has given me so much confidence and it has always made me feel like I could do anything I wanted to do. I never thought that one day I would be developing programs for Scouts Canada. I just love my job.”
Locally, 20-year-old Brad Farmer, a scout member and volunteer council youth commissioner helps organize and support scouting groups in Guelph and surrounding areas including Kitchener-Waterloo as well as Peel and Halton Regions.
“I’ve been involved with scouts for over 16 years now. My dad was in scouts and when we decided to look into it, I’ve been involved ever since,” Farmer says.
“It’s provided me with a chance to grow. I used to be very shy, but I’ve met so many friends and built so many relationships around the world.”
In Guelph, one of two national jamborees were scheduled to take place this summer, with over 2,000 cub members expected.
“We’ve had to reschedule the Guelph jamboree for next year. The big thing now for scouts is virtual programming. Since it began, attendance levels have actually gone up. It’s what everyone is into right now. And it still gives them that interaction with other kids, but at a distance,” Farmer said.
“Scout Cubs can still work on their personal progression badges which includes things like pet care and technology. It is actually easier since they have to do a demonstration but now, they can just show us at home rather than at a meeting.”
Most scout groups try to meet virtually once a week.
“It depends on each group, and as a council, we will support each group to continue virtual meetings,” Farmer says.
“This helps keep structure. The kids say that they have this one thing. It also allows them to show different aspects of scouting. Everyone has an image of scouts as always being outdoors, but this has allowed them to show the personal progression that goes along with being a scout as well.”
Scouts Canada will continue to release activities that can be completed safely at home and this will continue into next year.
“Parents are grateful that we are still offering programming. It gives them a break and it gives kids the ability to keep interactions and socialization going which is so important right now,” Farmer said.
Fundraising is also a new challenge during the pandemic.
“For Scouts Canada, the ‘The “No One Left Behind’ program is for youth who need it, who want to take part in scouts but don’t have the finances. People can still donate to this cause on-line. We are so thankful for those who continue to donate,” Ward says.
“We want to make sure that as many youths as possible are being supported especially now with so much financial uncertainty,” said Ward.
Scouts across the country have also been busy with physically distanced community projects since the start of the pandemic.
They have taken the opportunity to give back with food drives, community cleanups and making masks for healthcare workers.
And Farmer plans to continue to do his part in supporting local scouts during the pandemic.
“For me, it’s all about youth development. I want to see them achieve the goals they set at the beginning and there is no reason why they can’t, even virtually,” he says.
For anyone interested in joining a local scout group, visit https://www.scouts.ca/
Whether it be a virtual campfire, or another backyard campout with his family, Jasper Kelsh is ready to take his Beaver White Tail to the test.
“He is comforted in knowing that scouts is still going,” Lahaie says.
“Seeing his scout leader and scout friends, it’s so important to stay connected.”