The Scouts movement is to start enrolling four-year-olds with the aim of kickstarting children’s interest in trying new things after 18 months of Covid restrictions.
It is launching Squirrel Scouts in scores of the most deprived areas. Preschool and reception-aged children will be encouraged to cover their bright red Squirrel Scouts uniforms in badges earned for accomplishments such as learning to spend 50p in a shop, planting seeds and meeting new friends. The badges will have names such as Brilliant Builder and Exciting Experiments, and the groups will be known as “dreys”.
“What we learn up to the age of five lays the building blocks for everything that follows,” said Matt Hyde, the chief executive of Scouts. “If you’re four, you’ve spent a third of your life in lockdowns. We know this has especially impacted children in communities hardest hit by the pandemic. That’s why we are opening the first Squirrel dreys in the communities that need it most.”
The movement cited Ofsted research suggesting that in areas hardest hit by the pandemic, children have returned to early-years education less confident and more anxious after lockdowns.
It said the emphasis for Squirrels will be on having outdoor adventures, making friends and learning.
“If you can influence young people’s approach and attitudes in the four to five age range, it seriously impacts their life chances,” said a spokesperson for the charity.
The Squirrels project is aiming to reach at least 12,000 families in the first three years, with priority given to setting up groups in the most deprived areas across the UK.
Leaders of about 200 planned groups will be encouraged to focus on activities involving teamwork, communication, creativity and trying new things.
Bear Grylls, the TV adventurer and chief scout, disse: “We know from our pilot programme that four- to five-year-olds can really benefit from the activities that Squirrels offers. All of us at the Scouts believe that by offering opportunities at this early age, inspiring a sense of wonder, fun and curiosity, we can have a long-lasting, positive impact on young people’s lives. To make this work we need more volunteers to join the team and donors to get behind us.”