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The Foundational Girl Scout Program

We are the largest leadership development organization for girls in the world and a member of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGS), a sisterhood of close to 10 million girls and adults in 150 countries. With programs from coast to coast and across the globe, Girl Scouts offers every girl the chance to practice a lifetime of leadership, adventure, and success. 

Who can join Girl Scouts - and How?

Girl Scouts is about sharing the fun, friendship, and power of girls and women together. Any girl—from kindergarten through 12th grade—can join Girl Scouts. Girl Scout volunteers are also a diverse group—you may be a college volunteer working on a community-action project, a caregiver volunteer ready for an outdoor adventure with your daughter’s group, or any responsible adult (female or male, who has passed the necessary screening process) looking to make a difference in a girl’s life.

All members whether girls or adults, share a commitment to the Girl Scout Promise and Law. Each member also agrees to follow safety guidelines and pay the annual membership dues of $25 (or adults can purchase a lifetime membership).

Girls at Every Grade Level
Girl Scout Daisy (grades K–1)    Girl Scout Cadette (grades 6–8)
Girl Scout Brownie (grades 2–3)   Girl Scout Senior (grades 9–10)
Girl Scout Junior (grades 4–5)          Girl Scout Ambassador (grades 11–12)
The Girl Scout Leadership Experience

At Girl Scouts, everything centers around the girl: Activities are girl-led, which gives girls the opportunity to take on leadership roles and learn by doing in a cooperative learning environment. It’s what makes Girl Scouts truly unique—our program is designed by, with, and for girls. 

Although girls may start building their leadership skills in school and on sports teams, research shows that the courage, confidence, and character they develop as Girl Scouts stay with them throughout their lives.

The Five Outcomes

  • Strong Sense of Self
  • Positive Values
  • Healthy Relationships
  • Challenge Seeking
  • Community Problem Solving

When girls exhibit these attitudes and skills, they become responsible, productive, caring, and engaged citizens. But don’t take our word for it! Studies show that the development of attitudes, behaviors, and skills like confidence, conflict resolution, and problem solving are critical to well-being and rival academic and technical skills in their capacity to predict long-term positive life outcomes.

Youth who develop these five outcomes...

Are happier, healthier, and less likely to engage in problem behaviors or be victimized. Youth who develop competencies such as perseverance, positive self-esteem, and sociability have lower rates of obesity, depression, and aggression, and show greater life satisfaction and well-being than those who do not develop such attributes/skills.

Achieve more academically and feel more engaged in school. Youth who participate in programs that promote the attributes and skills linked with our five outcomes show stronger academic performance and school engagement compared to those who do not. When students are more self-aware and confident about their learning capabilities, they try harder and persist in the face of challenges.

Become strong job applicants. While employers want new hires to have technical knowledge related to a given job, those skills are not nearly as important as good teamwork, decision-making, and communication skills. Yet, many employers around the world report that job candidates lack these attributes.

Become successful, well-adjusted adults. Kindergarteners who learn how to share, cooperate with others, and be helpful are more likely to later achieve a college degree and a job than youth who lack these social skills.

Each year, Girl Scouts and troop leaders are asked to answer survey questions abouth their Girl Scout experience. Surveys measure specific outcomes (or results) in fifteen areas. These fifteen outcomes are supported by the Girl Scouts' three keys to leadership: discover, connect, and take action. We also survey girls after they participate in short-term activities such as camp. All of these findings help us understand how we are helping to make a positive impact on the healthy development of girls, and where we may have room for improvement. The annual survey is sent out in the spring and we ask our members to complete the survey to provide us with the best data possible.

The Three Keys

What girls do in Girl Scouting all fits within three keys: discover, connect and take action. 

  • When girls do exciting badge activities, earn a Girl Scout Journey award, attend an amazing event, or go camping, you are helping them discover who they are, what they care about, and what their talents are. 

  • Girls connect when they collaborate with other people, learn from others, and expand their horizons. This helps them care about, inspire, and team with others locally and globally. 

  • With your guidance, these budding leaders will connect with and care about others, and they’ll be eager to take action to make the world a better place.  

The Three Processes

As for how they do it? The GSLE draws on three unique processes that help girls unlock the leader within. 

  • Girl-led means girls of every age take an active and age-appropriate role in figuring out the what, where, when, why, and how of all the exciting troop activities they’ll do. The girl-led process is critically important to the GSLE—when girls know their voice matters, they feel empowered to make decisions and they stay engaged in their activities. 

  • Learning by doing is when girls are able to enjoy hands on activities. Then, after reflecting on their activities, girls gain a deeper understanding of the concepts and skills the activities require.

  • Cooperative learning is where girls learn to share knowledge and skills in an atmosphere of respect and cooperation as they work toward a common goal. 

As a volunteer, you’ll draw on these Girl Scout processes as you lead girls of any age. Girl-led at the Daisy level will look very different from the Ambassador level, of course. What’s most important is that girls make decisions about the activities to do together and that they also make choices within that activity. As they learn from their successes and failures—and gain a major confidence boost in the process—their girl-led process will give them the opportunity to lead within their peer group. By the time girls are Cadettes, Seniors, and Ambassadors, they’ll be using the leadership skills they’ve developed in order to mentor younger girls. 

One last tip about using the processes: Girls’ time in Girl Scouting isn’t a to-do list, so please don’t ever feel that checking activities off a list is more important than tuning in to what interests girls and sparks their imaginations. Projects don’t have to come out perfectly—in fact, it’s a valuable learning experience when they don’t—and girls don’t have to fill their vests and sashes with badges. Because what matters most is the fun and learning that happens as girls make experiences their own, don’t be afraid to step back and let your girls take the lead.


Was a badge-earning activity a resounding success? Or was it derailed by something the girls hadn’t factored in? No matter an activity’s outcome, you can amplify its impact by encouraging your girls to reflect on their latest endeavor.  

Reflection is the necessary debrief that reinforces what the girls learned. As they explore the “whats” and “whys,” girls make meaningful connections between the activity at hand and future challenges that come their way. In other words, reflection gives girls the confidence boost they need to pick themselves up, try again, and succeed. 

Reflection doesn’t need to be a formal process, but you can kick-start the conversation with three simple questions: What?, So what?, and Now what?  

  • Go over with girls the what of the activity. For example, ask, “What did we do today? What part was your favorite? If we did it again, what would you want to do differently and what would you repeat?”    

  • Then move to the so what elements. You might ask, “So what did you learn by doing this activity? So what did you learn about yourself? So what did you learn about your community (or environment, school, or others) that you didn’t know before?”  

  • Lastly, review the now what with the girls. Say something like, “Now that we’ve done this, what would you like to do next? Now that you know this about yourselves, what would you like to try next? Now that we did this Take Action project, what do you think we should do next to make sure it continues on?”   

What?, So what?, and Now what?—or whatever style of reflection you choose to use with your girls—are powerful elements of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience, and they’ll carry these lessons with them for the rest of their lives.


Although program elements—like outdoor expeditions or entrepreneurial ventures—align across all grade levels, Girl Scout Brownies and Juniors won’t be doing the same activities as seasoned Seniors and Ambassadors. But with your support, they will get there! 

Girl Scout programming is designed to be progressive, and it’s what makes Girl Scouting fun and effective! By building on the knowledge and skills they gain year after year, your girls’ confidence will grow exponentially, and they’ll be eager to take the next steps. As a volunteer, you will cultivate a supportive, nonjudgmental space where girls can test their skills and be unafraid to fail.   

Keep in mind that good progression drives success for girls. We’ve outlined some suggestions that will help you determine when your girls are ready for their next outdoor challenge, troop trip, or entrepreneurial venture.


Girl Scouts has a strong commitment to inclusion and diversity, and we embrace girls of all abilities and backgrounds into our wonderful sisterhood. Girl Scouts is for girls, by girls, all girls. 

Inclusion is at the core of who we are; it’s about being a sister to every Girl Scout and celebrating our unique strengths. Part of the important work you do includes modeling friendship and kindness for your girls and showing them what it means to practice empathy. Here’s how you can nurture an inclusive troop environment.

Equal Treatment: Girl Scouts welcomes all girls, regardless of race, ethnicity, background, cognitive or physical abilities, family structure, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. When scheduling, planning, and carrying out activities, carefully consider the needs of all girls involved, including school schedules, family needs, financial constraints, religious holidays, and the accessibility of appropriate transportation and meeting places. 

The National Program Pillars

At Girl Scouts, girls lead their own adventures and team up with their fellow troop members in an all-girl environment to choose the exciting, hands-on activities that interest them most. Girl Scouts focuses on four areas (pillars) that form the foundation of the Girl Scout Leadership Experience:

  • Outdoors: When girls embark on outdoor adventures, they learn to confidently meet challenges while developing a lifelong appreciation of nature.

  • STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math): Whether they’re building a robot, developing a video game, or studying the stars, girls become better problem-solvers and critical thinkers through STEM activities and learn how they can use STEM to help others. 

  • Life skills: Girls discover they have what it takes to become outspoken community advocates, make smart decisions about their finances, and form strong, healthy relationships—skills that inspire them to accept challenges and overcome obstacles, now and always. 

  • Entrepreneurship: Through Girl Scouts, girls learn to think like entrepreneurs as they participate in activities that spark curiosity, confidence, and innovation. The Girl Scout Product Program is one of the key ways to build a girl's entrepreneurial spirit.

The Volunteer Toolkit (VTK) can provide inspiring ideas for engaging your troop in an exciting mix of activities all year long. For example, if you want to take your girls outside when doing a badge activity, look for the evergreen icon, which tells you that activity can be taken outdoors, or the globe icon, which lets you know you can bring a global perspective to the activity.

The Important Difference Between Badges and Journeys

Journeys and badges are designed to give girls different leadership-building experiences, all while having fun!

  • Journeys are multi-session leadership experiences for girls to explore topics such as bullying, media literacy, design thinking, or environmental stewardship. Girls do hands-on activities, connect with experts, and take the reins on age-appropriate Take Action projects. Because of their leadership focus, Journeys are also a prerequisite for the highly regarded Bronze, Silver, and Gold Awards. 

  • Badges are all about skill building. When a Girl Scout earns a badge, it shows that she’s learned a new skill, such as how to make a healthy snack, build and test a toy race car, or take great digital photos. It may even spark an interest at school or plant the seed for a future career. And remember: you’ll have fun and learn by doing right alongside your girls!

If they choose, girls can pursue badges and Journey awards in the same year; encourage them to find the connections between the two to magnify their Girl Scout experience! While you’re having fun, keep in mind that the quality of a girl’s experience and the skills and pride she gains from earning Journey awards and skill-building badges far outweigh the quantity of badges she earns.

As a volunteer, you don’t have to be the expert in any badge or Journey work. In fact, when you show that you’re not afraid to fail and you’re willing to try something new, you’re modeling what is it is to be a Girl Scout. Our badge and Journey requirements are structured so your girls can learn new skills without your having to be an expert in all the topics, including STEM.

Emblems and Patches

In addition to Journey awards and badges in the Girl’s Guide, girls can commemorate their Girl Scout adventures with emblems and patches, which can be worn on their vests or sashes.

  • Emblems show membership in Girl Scouts, a particular council, a particular troop, or in some other Girl Scout group. These can be worn on the front of a sash or vest (see the diagram in the handbook section of The Girl’s Guide to Girl Scouting to see where these are placed).
  • Patches are developed at the national or council level with a focus on participation. Some come with companion activity booklets, while others are given out at events. These are worn on the back of the sash or vest, since they are not emblems or earned awards.

You can purchase emblems and patches—along with badges and leadership awards—at Girl Scouts of Western Ohio’s shops or by visiting the GSUSA online shop. There, you not only find a cool list of the earned awards for each grade level but also can click on a link that shows you exactly where girls can place all their emblems, awards, badges, pins, and patches on their vests and sashes!

The Difference Between Community Service and Take Action Projects

If they choose, girls can pursue the badges they're excited about and Journey awards in the same year; encourage them to find the connections between the two to magnify their Girl Scout experience! While you're having fun, keep in mind the quality of a girl's experience and the skills and pride she gains from earning leadership award.

As your girls look for meaningful ways to give back to their community, you can help sharpen their problem-solving skills and expand their definition of doing good by discussing community service and Take Action projects. Both projects serve important needs, but at different levels.

  • When a girl performs community service, she’s responding to an immediate need in a one-off, “doing for” capacity. In other words? She’s making an impact right now!

  • Through Take Action/service learning, girls explore the root causes of a community need and address it in a lasting way; they truly make the world—or their part of it—a better place.

If your troop members want to pursue their Bronze, Silver, or Gold Awards, they’ll develop a Take Action project on an issue that’s close to their hearts. To make Take Action projects even more impactful for your girls, give time for them to reflect on their projects. When girls make time to internalize the lessons they’ve learned, they’re more likely to find success in their future projects—or anything else they put their minds to.  

Traditions, Ceremonies and Special Girl Scout Days

Time-honored traditions and ceremonies unite Girl Scout sisters—and the millions of Girl Scout alums who came before them—around the country and around the globe and remind girls how far their sisters have come and just how far they’ll go.

A few of those extra-special days, when you’ll want to crank up the celebrations, include: 

  • October 31: Juliette Gordon Low's birthday or Founder's Day marks the birth in 1860 of Girl Scouts of the USA founder Juliette Gordon Low in Savannah, Georgia.

  • February 22:  World Thinking Day celebrates international friendship. It’s an opportunity for Girl Scouts and Girl Guides to connect with each other and explore a common theme around the world.

  • March 12: Is Girl Scouts' birthday and commemorates the day in 1912 when Juliette Gordon Low officially registered the organization's first 18 girl members in Savannah, Georgia. This day also falls within Girl Scout week, where we spend the week celebrating our Girl Scout pride!

Whether they’re making cool SWAPS to share with new friends or closing meetings with a friendship circle, your troop won’t want to miss out on these traditions, ceremonies, and special Girl Scout days.

Time-Honored Ceremonies

Ceremonies play an important part in Girl Scouts and are used not only to celebrate accomplishments, experience time-honored traditions, and reinforce the values of the Girl Scout Promise and Law, but also to encourage girls to take a short pause in their busy lives and connect with their fellow Girl Scouts in fun and meaningful ways. Many examples of ceremonies—for awards, meeting openings and closings, and so on—are sewn right into the Journeys, including ideas for new ceremonies girls can create.

Girls use ceremonies for all sorts of reasons. Here’s a brief list, so you can become familiar with the most common Girl Scout ceremonies:

  • Bridging ceremonies mark a girl’s move from one grade level of Girl Scouting to another, such as from Junior to Cadette. (Note that Fly-Up is a special bridging ceremony for Girl Scout Brownies who are bridging to Juniors.)
  • Closing ceremonies finalize the meeting, with expectations for the next. A closing ceremony may be as simple as a hand squeeze while standing in a circle.
  • Court of Awards is a time to recognize girls who have accomplished something spectacular during the Girl Scout year.
  • Flag ceremonies can be part of any activity that honors the American flag.
  • Girl Scout Highest Award ceremonies honor Girl Scout Juniors who have earned the Girl Scout Bronze Award (Cadettes who have earned the Silver Award; Seniors or Ambassadors who have earned the Gold Award), and are usually held for a group and combined with council recognition.
  • Girl Scouts Own is a girl-led program that allows girls to explore their feelings and beliefs around a topic (such as the importance of friendship or the personal meaning they get from the Girl Scout Promise and Law) using the spoken word, favorite songs, poetry, or other methods of expression. It is never a religious ceremony.
  • Investiture welcomes new members, girls or volunteers, into the Girl Scout family for the first time. Girls receive their Girl Scout, Brownie Girl Scout, or Daisy Girl Scout pin at this time.
  • Opening ceremonies start troop meetings and can also begin other group meetings.
  • Pinning ceremonies help celebrate when girls receive grade-level Girl Scout pins.
  • Rededication ceremonies are opportunities for girls and volunteers to renew their commitment to the Girl Scout Promise and Law
Signs, Songs, Handshake, and More

Over time, any organization is going to develop a few common signals that everyone understands. Such is the case with Girl Scouts, which has developed a few unique ways to greet, acknowledge, and communicate, some of which are listed here.

Girl Scout Sign

The idea of the sign came from the days of chivalry, when armed knights greeted friendly knights by raising the right hand, palm open, as a sign of friendship. To give the sign, raise the three middle fingers of the right hand palm forward and shoulder high (the three extended fingers represent the three parts of the Girl Scout Promise). Girls give the sign when they:

  • Say the Promise or Law.
  • Are welcomed into Girl Scouts at an investiture ceremony that welcomes members of when they receive an award, patch, pin, or other recognition.
  • Greet other Girl Scouts and Girl Guides.         

Girl Scout Handshake

The handshake is a more formal way of greeting other Girl Scouts

and is also an appropriate way to receive an award. Shake left hands and give the Girl Scout Sign with your right hand.

Quiet Sign

The quiet sign can be extremely useful to you as a volunteer, so teach it to girls during your first meeting. Raise your right hand high with an open palm. As girls in the group see the sign, they stop talking and also raise their hands. Once everyone is silent, the meeting can begin.

Girl Scout Slogan and Motto

The Girl Scout slogan is, “Do a good turn daily.” The Girl Scout motto is, “Be prepared.”


Whether singing around a campfire or joining a chorus of voices at the Mall in Washington, D.C., Girl Scouts have always enjoyed the fun and fellowship of music. In fact, the first Girl Scout Song Book, a collection of songs put together by girl members, was published in 1925.

Songs can be used to open or close meetings, enhance ceremonies, lighten a load while hiking, or share a special moment with other Girl Scouts. For tips on choosing and leading songs, go to GS University. Check out Girl Scouts of Western Ohio's online songbook and videos.

My Promise, My Faith Pin

The Girl Scout Law includes many of the principles and values common to most faiths. And even though Girl Scouts is a secular organization, we’ve always encouraged girls to explore spirituality via their own faiths. Girls of all grade levels can now earn the My Promise, My Faith pin. By carefully examining the Girl Scout Law and directly tying it to tenets of her faith. A girl can earn the pin once a year. You can find more about the requirements for this pin in The Girl’s Guide to Girl Scouting.

Highest Awards

As your girls discover their passions and the power of their voices, they’ll want to take on an issue that’s captured their interest and is meaningful to them. Encourage them to turn their vision into reality by taking on the ultimate Take Action projects in order to earn Girl Scouts’ highest awards. 

The Girl Scout Bronze, Silver, and Gold Awards honor girls who become forces for good and create a lasting impact on their communities, nationally and around the world. Learn more about Girl Scout Highest Award information, council approval processes, and to download the Highest Award guidelines.

  • The Girl Scout Bronze Award can be earned by Juniors; the prerequisite is one Junior Journey and its associated Take Action project. The Bronze Award is earned by the group.

  • The Girl Scout Silver Award can be earned by Cadettes; the prerequisite is one Cadette Journey and its associated Take Action project. The Silver Award can be earned by an individual girl or by a small group. 

  • The Girl Scout Gold Award can be earned by Seniors and Ambassadors, who have completed two Senior or Ambassador Journeys OR earned the Girl Scout Silver Award and completed one Senior or Ambassador Journey. This award requires girls to submit a project proposal via Go Gold for approval before they can move forward with their project. For more information on how Girl Scouts can earn money to support their projects, see Gold Award money-earning information in the Finance chapter.

Did you know that a Girl Scout who has earned her Gold Award immediately advances one rank in all four branches of the U.S. military? A number of college scholarship opportunities also await Gold Award Girl Scouts. A girl does not, however, have to earn a Bronze or Silver Award before earning the Girl Scout Gold Award. She is eligible to earn any recognition at the grade level in which she is registered.

Ask your council about the Gold Award Girl Scouts in your community and how they’re doing their part to make the world a better place. For some serious inspiration, consider inviting a local Gold Award Girl Scout to speak to your girls about how she took the lead and made a difference. You’ll be inspired when you see and hear what girls can accomplish as leaders—and by the confidence, values, and team-building expertise they gain while doing so!

Girl Scout Travel and Destinations

From their first local field trip as Daisies to exploration of another country as Seniors or Ambassadors, girls will find that Girl Scouts is the best way to travel. They'll challenge themselves in a safe environment that sparks their curiosity, and they’ll create lifelong memories with their Girl Scout sisters. And the Girl Scout Cookie Program can help to make travel dreams a reality!

Traveling with Girl Scouts is very different from traveling with family, school, or other groups because girls take the lead. As they make the decisions about where to go and what to do and take increasing responsibility for the planning and management of their trips, girls build important organizational and management skills that will benefit them in college and beyond. 

Girl Scout travel is built on a progression of activities, so girls are set up for success. Daisies and Brownies start with field trips and progress to day trips, overnights, and weekend trips. Juniors can take adventures farther with a longer regional trip. And Cadettes, Seniors, and Ambassadors can travel the United States and then the world. There are even opportunities for older girls to travel independently by joining trips their councils organize or participating in Destinations.

Planning Ahead for Adventure
Get in touch with your council as you start thinking about planning a trip. We have training programs that will raise your confidence as a chaperone as well as an approval process for overnight and extended travel. Visit our Travel page for more information on Girl Scouts of Western Ohio travel opportunities and policies.

Not sure where to begin? Check out the Girl Scout Guide to U.S. Travel. This resource is designed for Juniors and older Girl Scouts who want to take extended trips—that is, longer than a weekend—but also features tips and tools for budding explorers who are just getting started with field trips and overnights. 

Once girls have mastered planning trips in the United States, they might be ready for a global travel adventure! Global trips usually take a few years to plan, and the Girl Scout Global Travel Toolkit can walk you through the entire process. 

Safety First
If you’re planning any kind of trip—from a short field trip to an overseas expedition—the Travel / Trips section of Safety Activity Checkpoints and the Safety chapter of this book are your go-to resources for safety. Once you know what to do to prepare, fill out the Troop Trip and Activity Notification form. Be sure to follow all the basic safety guidelines, like the buddy system and first-aid requirements, in addition to the specific guidelines for travel. 

Note that extended travel (more than two nights) is not covered under the basic Girl Scout insurance plan and will require additional coverage. Check out Girl Scout Activity Insurance in the Safety chapter for more information.

Girl Scout Connections 
It’s easy to tie eye-opening travel opportunities into the leadership training and skill building your girls are doing in Girl Scouts! Your girls can use their creativity to connect any leadership Journey theme into an idea for travel, like a Sow What? trip focusing on sustainable agriculture and, naturally, sampling tasty food!

There are abundant opportunities to build real skills through earning badges too. The most obvious example is the Senior Traveler badge, but there are plenty more, such as Eco Camper, New Cuisines, Photography, and, of course, all the financial badges that help girls budget and earn money for their trips. 

Looking to incorporate Girl Scout traditions into your trip? Look no farther than the Juliette Gordon Low Birthplace in Savannah, Georgia! Your girls also have the chance to deepen their connections to Girl Scouts around the world by visiting one of the WAGGGS (World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts) World Centers, which offer low-cost accommodations and special programs in five locations around the world. 

Outdoor Adventures

Being outside is a great way for girls to explore leadership, build skills, and develop a deep appreciation for nature. Whether they spend an afternoon exploring a local hiking trail or a week at camp, being outside gives girls an opportunity to grow, explore, and have fun in a whole new environment.

Girl Scout Research Institute (GSRI) reports in “More than ‘Smores” that participating in casual outdoor activities in Girl Scouts, like playing, walking, or taking field trips in the outdoors made girls stronger problem solvers and challenge seekers. These outdoor experiences often place girls in new physical, psychological, and social situations that motivate curiosity and foster a sense of discovery. These challenges “require girls to become more self-aware and to cooperate, communicate, and solve problems.” (2014, page. 5)

Top Reasons Why Girls Should Get Outdoors: Findings from the 2014 More than S’mores Report*

  • Girls enjoy outdoor activities in Girl Scouts.
  • Monthly outdoor exposure contributed to girls’ challenge seeking and problem solving.
  • Girl Scouts who get outdoors are twice as likely to connect with and care for the environment than non-Girl Scouts.
  • Girls of color and girls in lower socioeconomic backgrounds report even stronger benefits from outdoor experiences.