Scouts to help generation of young ‘Squirrels’ branch out after they suffered in lockdown

Squirrels, the first new branch of the Scouts in 35 years, will be launched on Thursday to help children who have suffered during lockdown.

The new movement for children aged four and five is aimed at equipping them with new skills, encouraging them to make friends and play outdoors.

Bear Grylls, the Chief Scout, said that in the wake of the pandemic, which has seen children stuck at home with schools and local playgrounds closed during national shutdowns, children were now more in need than ever encouragement to learn new things and explore the great outdoors.

Writing in The Telegraph, he said: “The families and communities worst hit by Covid-19 are falling behind. We know from Ofsted that children are not getting the basic skills and learning they need when it matters most – at the start of their lives.

“Today’s historic announcement of a new group of four- to five-year-olds within Scouts, called Squirrels, is such a key moment for families across the UK.

“It’s a chance to shift the dial and give younger children the boost they need. It’s about helping them have fun, make friends and learn skills for life, at a critical age.”

Previously, the youngest age group that the Scouts catered to is six-year-olds, who can join the Beavers. Once they turn eight, they can progress to Cubs and then on to Scouts when they are 10-and-a-half.

‘Phenomenal’ results from pilot schemes

Squirrel Dreys, as they are called, have already been piloted in some of the most deprived parts of England, with “phenomenal” results, according to Grylls who said children had grown in confidence after taking part.

“As the country recovers from the worst effects of the pandemic, this is our moment to show that we’re creating opportunities for those who need them most, especially those families who are struggling,” he said.

“It’s about giving young people the best possible start in life, no matter where they live and what their background.”

The Trustee Board of The Scout Association agreed to formally create the Squirrels last summer, which will be welcomed into the association from Thursday.

Squirrel Dreys will open initially 200 areas around the UK, with priority given to disadvantaged communities. The Scouts are looking for adult volunteers to set up Squirrel Dreys in their local area.

Activities will focus on learning outdoors and children will be able to work towards badges such as “Be Active”, encouraging healthy lifestyles, “Get Creative” and “Local Superhero”, encouraging them to make a difference in their local communities.

Grylls, the adventurer and television presenter, said that helping children develop life skills, make friends and play outdoors is not just a “nice to have”, but is essential.

“Giving them a safe and positive learning environment, surrounding them with kindness, gives them the stability they require to develop the teamwork, co-operation, social skills they need,” he said.

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