Secrets to Successful Girl Scout Encampments

Wildlife at Camp

Tip: Leave electronics at home.  Squirrels and mice love nut-sized earbuds from iPods!
Tip: Leave electronics at home. Squirrels and mice love nut-sized earbuds from iPods! | Source

Secrets to Success: Girl Scout Encampments

Have you been asked to organize a Camper Council for your Service Unit's next Girl Scout Encampment? Or perhaps your troop has decided to run an encampment to earn leadership hours. Ensure that your camping weekend will be a success by following these tested guidelines to keep things running smoothly.

What Is An Encampment?

An encampment is generally a girl-planned and girl-driven weekend (or longer) event for multiple troops to attend. The encampment is based around a theme, with older girls leading activities done in rotations for the younger girls. Days begin and end with a flag ceremony. The end of encampment is marked by a Scout's Own ceremony.


Camper Council - The team of girls who plan and execute a group camping event

Responsibilities Checklist and Tips

  • Have sign-up sheets at the first Camper Council meeting and ask adult and girls to sign up for the committee(s) that they most want to be a part of.
  • Flag Ceremony - need at least 4 girls (caller, and 3 color guard)
  • Scout's Own - to select, practice, and then perform the ceremony
  • Campfire songleaders - both to choose songs and to lead songs
  • Songbook creator - a committee to put together the songbook and get it printed prior to encampment.
  • Bag/bandana committee - adult facilitator to order inexpensive bags, bandanas or any giveaways
  • Check-in and Check-out - committee to handle troops checking in to camp and to check out troops after camp.

Brainstorming Encampment Ideas

Work with your Camper Council to come up with some theme ideas.  Decide in advance what one or two badges the girls will work on during the encampment. 

Here are some sample Encampment themes that have been done successfully:

Hogwart's School - A Potter themed encampment with rotations related to Science Sleuth, Making it Matter, and Finding Your Way. Custom patch instead of an earned badge.

Rock and Roll - A music and geology-themed encampment with rotations to earn the Rocks Rock badge. Skits performed to music from the 50's and 60's.

A Pirate's Life - A pirate themed encampment with rotations to earn Theater and Finding Your Way badge.

Gilligan's Island - Stranded at Encampment! Join Gilligan, the Skipper and friends for a water-themed encampment with rotations to earn the Small Craft badge.

Sweet Shop - A low-key indoor encampment based on candy-making to earn the Let's Get Cooking badge.

Tip: Create a Workable Schedule

Build your schedule once you know what the rotations will be.  Allow sufficient time both for the rotation itself and for travel time between rotations.  Program in troop time and sufficient time for meal prep.

An example weekend encampment might have the following schedule:


4pm -7pm : Check-in at campground

7pm -8pm : Announcements and Campfire

8:pm - 10pm: Troop time

10pm: Lights out, quiet time until 7am


7am - 8:45am: Troop breakfast

9am - 9:30am: Flag Up and Announcements

10am-10:50am: Rotation #1

11am -11:50am: Rotation #2

12noon - 1:45: Troop Lunch

2pm - 2:50pm: Rotation #3

3pm - 3:50pm: Rotation #4

4pm -5pm: Flag Down, announcement, SWAPS exchange

5pm-6:45pm: Troop Dinner

7pm-8:30pm: Campfire and skits

8:30-10pm: Troop Time

10pm: Lights out, quiet time until 7am


7am-8:30am: Troop breakfast

9am-9:30am: Scout's Own

9:30-10am: Clean up and check-out.

How to Do a Girl Scout Flag Ceremony

Location and Date Checklist

  • Is the location and date available?
  • Can it accommodate your expected number of participants?
  • Has your Activity Consultant approved of the venue? (Is it safe? Turn in your Event Safety Checklist or similar for approval.)

Once you have your date and location, work backwards to determine when your first meeting of Camper Council needs to meet.

Best Practices

  1. Start planning early! Planning and preparing for an encampment for 200 girls should begin at least six months if not a year in advance. The location and date of the encampment is the very first thing that needs to be determined and finalized. Without this information, you won't be able to plan activities or the schedule.
  2. Keep flag ceremonies and announcements short and sweet. Ceremonies are still meaningful even when short and leaders will be grateful that they will not have to manage troop behavior if the ceremony runs on and on. Girls should always lead the flag ceremony.
  3. Focus rotations around a common theme. Try to work on a single badge. There's been a tendency to try to do two or even three badges at encampments, running leaders and girls ragged. Remember that the purpose of encampment is for troops to come together and share time together in a meaningful way. Earning badges should be secondary.
  4. Do a Service Project related to the theme. Rather than allow parents to simply buy an item, such as canned goods for a food drive, try to develop a Service Project that the girls can connect to. A hands-on project will have lasting meaning; buying something at the store may never connect with the girl.
  5. Allow sufficient troop time. Rotations are tiring for young girls. Troop time is invigorating, and allows girls to get a snack, hydrate, practice their skits and reconnect. It also improves grumpy attitudes!
  6. Avoid embarrassing rituals. Does your Service Unit still promote the "sing for your lost-and-found" item technique? Do you require girls to "run the horseshoe" if late for flag? Remember to promote positive attitudes; when confronted with a punishment (even if meant "in fun") girls shut down and the Girl Scout program suffers.
  7. Try to make rotation activities unique. For example, if you have one relay-race type of rotation, that's probably enough. If all of the rotations are too similar, the day will drag. Similarly, try to have only one craft rotation, two at most.
  8. Always have a leaders' meeting to go over logistics. Prior to encampment, set a meeting date for leaders to get all the info they need in order to be successful campers. Let them know what site they will be on, what the bathroom arrangements are like. (If you know there are no showers, for example, tell leaders in advance.) Make sure they know about Activity Approval forms and what types of activities will be done at encampment.
  9. Enforce Quiet-time. This is especially important for Camper Council to understand. They will need to be at their best to deliver their program. Leaders should be told at the leader meeting that Quiet-time will be enforced. At encampment, send Camper Council girls around to all the sites to do a "lights-out" check 5 to 10 minutes before quiet-time begins.
  10. Practice the songs in the song book. Prior to encampment, make sure the Camper Council girls know every song in the song book, so that a variety of songs can be sung at campfire.
  11. Help Camper Council practice "Positive Girl Scout words." Knowing how to give encouragement to younger girls is a wonderful skill to learn and put into practice.
  12. Keep and start a tradition. A Scouts Own is a meaningful ceremony, one that girls will remember into adulthood. Remember that there is nothing wrong with doing the same Scouts Own ceremony year after year, provided that you execute it with meaning and a sense of dignity.
  13. Make Encampment accessible to the majority. Instead of buying lots of goodies to stuff a take-home bag with, keep it simple, and keep costs down. Girls really don't need a gift-bag with another sweatshirt, disposable camera, and other expensive items. Think about what would be most useful for the girl to use while at Encampment - a bag, a songbook, maybe a bandanna.
  14. Ban Electronics. Some parents may insist that their daughter carry a cell phone for emergencies. You may not be able to prevent that, but strongly encourage parents to help you enforce the "no electronics" rule at encampment. Dirt can ruin an iPod in an instant. Squirrels will chew ear buds and carry them away. Cell phones are a distraction and isolate girls from their Girl Scout sisters. Kindles are simply too expensive to bring on a camping trip, in spite of a parent's protest that their daughter "must" do her nightly reading. Remind parents that your Girl Scout insurance won't cover damage, theft, or loss of personal gadgetry.
  15. Hire a Cook.  If you have access to cooks-for-hire, consider hiring a cook to plan and execute the meals for your encampment. You can rotate troops to do meal-time kapers, such as set-up and clean-up. Hiring a cook might be easier than trying to get all your leaders camping and outdoor cooking certified in order for individual troops to cook on their own.

Girl Scout SWAPS

A Word About SWAPS

SWAPS are generally exchanged among girls at the end of encampment. At your leaders' meeting, let leaders know about how many SWAPS girls should make. Keep the number reasonable! Just because there will be 200 girls at an encampment doesn't mean that each girl should make 200 SWAPS. Stress the meaning of the SWAP with leaders and encourage them to help their girls understand that SWAPS are special. Having girls make 20-30 SWAPS to exchange is plenty.

Some Groundrules For Girls:

  • You can't swap air or a handshake. If you get a SWAP, you must give a SWAP.
  • You can't refuse a SWAP, even if you already have one like it. Or even if you don't like what is offered.
  • Always SWAP with a smile.
  • Remember to say Thank You.
  • Even if you think the SWAP you are receiving isn't very nice, be kind and still say Thank You.  The girl who made it may think she did a beautiful job, even if you don't think so!
  • If you complain, you're done SWAPing.

Some Groundrules For Adults:

  • Try not to shadow your daughter to make sure she gets the "best" SWAPS.
  • Help girls in your troop to make their SWAPS sturdy and nice. Set aside meeting time to make SWAPS if necessary.
  • Have Ziplocks for girls to carry their SWAPS - one for the ones they give and another for the ones they get. That way, they don't get mixed up, and girls can always tell how many they have left to give.
  • Remind girls of the groundrules and to SWAP with a smile.
  • Role-play in advance with younger girls so they know what to expect, to avoid tears if they don't get what they want.
  • If you see your girls have received SWAPS that appear poorly or carelessly made, please consider that some girls may not have the capacity or fine motor skills to create SWAPS, and that they likely did their very best work in spite of what you may see as the outcome. This can be a teachable moment for your girls to appreciate the differences in others, and that encampment truly is "for every girl."

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Comments 1 comment

Kristen Howe profile image

Kristen Howe 6 months ago from Northeast Ohio

Congrats on HOTD! I was a former girl scout in my youth, back in the day. Great ideas for future girl scout troop leaders.

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