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As a lifelong Girl Scout with a (nearly) 3-year-old girl, I’ve watched with great interest the debate over whether to pick Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts. After all, soon I have to pick one for my daughter.

Like all things, the answer isn’t simple. Both groups have incredible activities and, in my view, help us raise our children to be the independent, strong leaders of tomorrow.

But in both cases, it’s the local leader who really matters. If you have a good leader – you’re golden. If you don’t, it doesn’t matter how great the national program is, your kid isn’t going to get it.

When I was a leader, I stuck by the girl-led, let-them-learn ideal. That meant letting 10-year-olds plan, design, build and run a haunted house by themselves. All I did was provide the materials and negotiate for use of a room. When it was time to let the first children into the haunted house, I looked around and realized it was the least-scary, funniest haunting I had ever seen. The room had about twenty glass doors. It was broad daylight. We couldn’t run a fog machine because it set off the fire alarm, so we’d taped black cloth to each door. The best you could say about it was that it was dimly lit.

Several of the girls were pretending to be dead people, while others were hiding behind a tablecloth on which rested several cardboard gravestones. As they listened to the tour guide begin the long-practiced story about their haunted cemetery, it struck them as hilariously funny. So they would start to laugh and then freeze, trying to stay dead. The room was filled with the sound of children giggling.

I had to work really hard not to fall to the floor, laughing. Many other parents would not have let this happen – they would have taken charge to make sure the children created a good product, a haunted house worthy of Great Escape or some other professional venture.

But you know what? Those children who stood in line to get into our haunted house were terrified. They looked at the giggling dead girls and saw corpses jerking and gasping. They saw the cemetery stones moving menacingly as children behind them failed to stay still. They heard that ghostly laughter and some of them literally ran away. One child backed into a corner and cried. I had to actually ask the girls to be less scary, though I had no idea how they would manage that. Children paid $1 each to go through our dimly-lit not-scary haunted house again and again.

It was a tremendous success – because I was willing to let them try, and possibly fail.

When you find a leader like that, in Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts, stick with them. It doesn’t matter which program they’re teaching. What really matters is the teacher.

You can reach Kathleen Moore at 742-3247 or kmoore@poststar.com. Follow her on Twitter @ByKathleenMoore or at her blog on www.poststar.com.

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