Danielle Wright visits a group of Pippins in honour of their 30th year.

The great English soldier Lord Baden-Powell held the first Boy Scout Rally in 1909. It is said girls "gatecrashed" and wanted something similar, so a year later the Girl Guides Association was formed, led by Baden-Powell's younger sister Agnes. In 1937 Princess Elizabeth signed up as a Guide and Princess Margaret enrolled as a Brownie (and later became President of the association).

Not content to watch their older siblings have all the fun, the younger sisters used pester power to get their own Brownies (for girls aged 7-9) and later Pippins (for 5-6-year-olds) formed. At first, the Brownies were known as "Rosebuds" but the girls hated that name. One night, Baden-Powell remembered a story about helpful little fairy folk called Brownies, so changed it to that.

The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (Wagggs) couldn't be more removed from the sporting Wags.

New Zealand Guide leader Judith Bright says that the organisation has an education framework and in particular, focuses on "learning by doing". Although the group is steeped in tradition, they move with the times and in 2000 the first Big Gig, a pop concert exclusively for guides, was held at London's Wembley Arena.


"It's also about connecting with others and being able to mix with a variety of girls while learning in small groups," explains Judith. "It's not competitive, everyone's encouraged to do things at their own pace. The thing parents like most is the important values being instilled and the opportunity for their girls to do things that will become life skills."

Judith credits guiding with giving her confidence, telling me she's an introvert but has represented Girl Guides overseas and met amazing women in the process.

I visit the Glenfield Pippins on a cold winter's night where around 15 5 and 6-year-olds are sitting on the floor wearing pink Pippins T-shirts and sashes covered in badges like "Dad and Daughter", "Candyland", "World Thinking Day", and "Big Sista". Their session is on conservation and they make native bird feeders.

But first, a few songs and the girls are asked to form a "Pippin ring".

"Pippins is the place to be, oh blah dah, oh blah dee," the girls sing confidently and loudly. As a former Brownie from a very long time ago, the tune sounds strangely familiar to me.

While the girls are singing, I browse the bookshelves - a social historian's dream. There are vintage titles by Baden-Powell and others in sections such as craft, cooking, knots, singing, camping, and survival.

A girl is starting in the group and as Pippin leader Chrissy West starts to talk about getting to know her, a girl swiftly grabs her hand and says she will look after her for the session. One of the Pippins' aims is to foster care for others.

A little while later, a girl comes up to my 5-year-old daughter and asks if she wants to play with her. It's a far cry from my daughter's bossy primary school classmates who forever change best friends and tell each other, "You're not my friend, you can't play with me." Her face lights up and she joins in.

"I wasn't allowed to do Pippins because my mother worked," says Chrissy, who has a children's television presenter kind of enthusiasm. "It's probably why I love being a Pippin leader so much."

She brings out her box of badges - there are even some buttons used as "soft rewards" for when someone is being a star.

I look at the colourful, modern designs and think I'd join up just for the badges. Or, perhaps for the tongue-twisting bi-annual "Pippinic" - a picnic for 107 North Shore Pippins that I am told is "noisy".

As the girls slather honey on to blocks of wood and sprinkle bird seeds on top, I spy dolls in the corner, dressed in vintage Brownie uniforms, the exact brown dress and Peter Pan hat I remember loving as a child. I don't remember much else about Brownies, but I do remember it was a happy and encouraging place.

"The girls get a lot of confidence and we promote the friendship side of things. They get to do a little of everything and it's great for growing leaders," says Chrissy, a volunteer in her sixth year with the group.

The Pippin saying is: Pippins care, so Pippins share with other children everywhere.

In England, Pippin-age girls are called Rainbows, in India they are Bunnies and in Canada they are called Sparks. But they all share the same philosophy.

Pippins is not a true reflection of the real world, and all the better for it. At such a young age, it's great to give little girls a warm, friendly retreat from the rough and tumble of school (and sometimes home lives) and show them what the world could be like if everyone did as Pippins did - care and share.

Need to know

Growing Great Girls

Pippins is for girls 5 or 6 years old, Brownies is for girls aged 7-9 and Guides is for girls aged 9 to Year 9. Rangers is for girls from Year 9 to age 18.

Auckland Girl Guides are hosting a Give Guiding a Go day - making gadgets, knots, setting up tents, braziers and more. Parents are encouraged to check out leadership fun, too. Sunday October 19, noon-3pm (hardy Guides will go ahead, whatever the weather). Vellenoworth Green, St Heliers. Email mphelvin@ihug.co.nz.

For more information, visit girlguidingnz.org.nz.

To find out where to buy those delicious Girl Guide biscuits in autumn, visit guidebiscuits.org.nz