Scouting gives 'positive, affirming memories - for life'

Posted on: 11 Nov 2016

As it's reported that Scouts and Guides provide mental health benefits for children, Alex Osiatynski head of Bilton Grange Preparatory School (and Group Scout Leader of the 2nd Dunchurch (Bilton Grange) Scout Group), looks at why these movements work

I was inundated with emails and tweets this morning, from parents, colleagues and friends, all excitedly pointing to various online links and articles relating to the work of Professor Chris Dibben and his colleagues from Edinburgh and Glasgow Universities.

Why? Because I am a huge advocate of Scouting, and restarted a long-dormant Scout group at my school, starting with a Cub Pack two years ago. We now have two Cub Packs, a nascent Scout Troop and Beavers is starting in January. Yes, I am very keen on Scouting.

But why? Isn’t it all silly rituals, dib dib dib, forced jolliness and miserable hikes pretending to be bracing fresh air?

Well, for a start, it used to be ‘dyb dyb dyb’, an acronym for Do Your Best, a motto still in use today as it is still utterly relevant to child and youth development as a by-phrase for aspiration and determination.

Yes there is an element of enjoying the outdoors, being ‘at one’ with nature and the environment, and some children enjoy this aspect, and camping out, more than others – and that’s ok.

The most important aspect of Scouting is the way it complements a values-based education, encouraging children to be inquisitive and challenging yet mutually respectful, mindful of other cultures and socio-economic contexts. Its social mission, currently clothed in the ‘Million Hands’ initiative to encourage community-based social engagement; Cub Scouts have always reminded themselves, through their Law, to ‘do a good turn every day’.

Yes there are competitive elements too, with children working in teams whether they are lodges, sixes or patrols, but the emphasis is on teamwork and developing ‘soft leadership’ skills: older children helping and guiding younger ones, even from an early age, taking responsibility without being an alpha ‘listen to me’ leader.

Interestingly, today I attended a district meeting of IAPS, the Independent Association of Prep Schools, at which we had a presentation from former marine commando, wildlife presenter and adventurer, Monty Halls. Monty’s organisation is currently preparing a set of resources, LeaderBox, for schools to use to develop teamwork and leadership in children. His opening gambit was that many children are turned off by the outdoors-y emphasis of many team building pursuits, Scouting included; my response was that these resources, and looking at innovative ways of promoting teamwork and leadership, are entirely consistent with the Scout agenda and would find a natural home within our programme.

At the heart of it, the Scouting agenda is about developing a sense of citizenship, and doing so in a far more meaningful and engaging manner than the best-prepared PSHE lesson can. It is in many settings a way in which social barriers are broken down; even though (or perhaps because) our group consists only of children attending our school, we go out of our way to engage with other groups in our district, for our children to work and play together. It is about helping our young to further understand the world around them and how they can shape it and play their part as active citizens.

No wonder, then, that as they get older, adults who enjoyed the wonders of Scouting (and Guiding, of course) feel more comfortable in their own skin, with greater inner resilience to get through the inevitable midlife crises and, ultimately, greater happiness and confidence, able to adapt and deal with what life throws at us, and that is at the heart of Professor Dibben’s findings, that a remarkable 15% ‘happiness gap’ exists between former Scouts and Guides, regardless of socio-economic background, and their peers.

Me? As a child I didn’t have the staying power and was a Cub Scout only briefly, so I’m hoping that my adult involvement now will make up for the lost years of self-discovery. As for Professor Dibben, I can’t help but wonder what instigated his research project – was he once a Scout?

And yes, in the Scout and Guide movements we have silly rituals and sing silly songs whilst toasting marshmallows around a campfire: the children love it, and it gives them positive, affirming memories – for life.

Alex Osiatynski

About Alex Osiatynski

Alex Osiatynski is head of Bilton Grange, a co-educational day and boarding prep school near Rugby, Warwickshire.