It’s a Monday night and I am crunched into a too-small wooden chair in a church in downtown Columbia watching a group of girls listening to rules of etiquette: no elbows on the table, asking politely for things to be passed, how to set a table, and how to use a soup spoon without dripping it on their laps. This, and an upcoming tea party the next weekend, will help them earn their “etiquette” badge for American Heritage Girls, a Christian scouting program with several troops in the Midlands.
Lest you think that American Heritage Girls is all about raising prim and proper ladies, though, let me tell you about their camping trip in the fall, when the girls learned how to tie different kinds of knots and how to recognize creatures in the wild, including a black widow spider — which came in handy when we found one later in our back yard! And later this spring, they will work as a unit on an engineering badge. Along with the badges her unit is completing this year, my first grader has completed one on sign language, and she is working on several others including pet care, car safety, swimming, and art.
Why we love American Heritage Girls
We signed our daughter up for American Heritage Girls as a kindergartner for many reasons. My husband is an Eagle Scout, and I knew from him and from my brother, who also rose to that rank, how valuable such a program was for building confidence and leadership in kids. At the same time, I wanted a program that would assist us in rooting our daughter in our Christian faith and would provide positive role models, both in her leaders and her peers.
We found all of this in American Heritage Girls. AHG was established in 1995 in West Chester, Ohio, and currently has 800 troops (40,000 members) in 49 states and 5 countries. With its motto of “Faith, Service, Fun”, it is for girls from kindergarten to twelfth grade who are assigned to different units based on their age. Kindergartners are Pathfinders, grades 1-3 are Tenderhearts, grades 4-6 are Explorers, grades 7-8 are Pioneers, and grades 9-12 are Patriots.
The AHG website states, “American Heritage Girls is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the mission of building women of integrity through service to God, family, community and country. The organization offers badge programs, service projects, girl leadership opportunities, and outdoor experiences to its members. It serves as a catalyst for building young women of integrity and faith. It also broadens girls social development through extra-curricular activities. This program of character building has successfully served thousands of girls since its inception and will continue to do so long into the 21st century.”
As in other scouting programs, girls in AHG earn badges and other awards for completing service projects, participating in sports, and completing requirements to learn about a wide variety of topics grouped in six “frontiers”: Heritage, Family Living, The Arts, Outdoor Skills, Personal Well-Being, and Science & Technology. Girls may earn the same badge at different levels by completing new, age-appropriate requirements. For example, a requirement for a Tenderheart (grades 1-3) to earn the “Caring for my environment” badge is to make a poster to display that encourages people to recycle. An Explorer (grades 4-6) must make a poster or diorama depicting an ecosystem, and Pioneers and Patriots (grades 7-12) must organize a neighborhood cleanup project to earn the same badge.
Learning and growing
You know how sometimes you look back on a parenting decision and you pat yourself on the back and say, “Girl, you nailed that one!”? This, along with homeschooling through Classical Conversations, is one of those decisions for me. My daughter is thriving in her AHG troop. She is making friends, learning patriotism, acquiring exciting new skills and information, and finding joy in serving others. Knowing, too, that she is a very strong-willed little girl, I am thrilled to have other strong women of faith pouring into her life now and in the future.
AHG will be wrapping up their year by the end of this month, but there is still time for a troop visit. That is what we did that helped us decide that this would be a great part of our daughter’s life education. To find a troop near you here in the Midlands, visit their website, www.ahgonline.org.
P.S. If you have a son, you may be interested in learning about Trail Life, a brother organization to American Heritage Girls. Often, TL and AHG troops meet at the same time and in the same location to help parents out. Our son is only two, but we are already excited about enrolling him in TL in a few years!
Are your children part of American Heritage Girls or Trail Life? Share your experiences in the comments.