he Scout Association is opening its first new brand for 35 years to support early years children in learning essential skills for life following the pandemic.
Squirrels will be aimed at four to five year-old children and will be open in more than 200 locations across the UK from Thursday, with priority given to those communities most affected by the pandemic.
It will join existing younger groups Beavers and Cubs, with Squirrel members given red uniforms and their own sets of badges.
Squirrels builds on a successful pilot programme, which has had success in black, Asian and other minority ethnic communities and areas of deprivation.
The programme aims to reach at least 12,000 families in the first three years.
The early years programme aims to build up a positive, safe environment for young children to develop, and will include activities like pitching a blanket tent, planting seeds or learning how to spending 50p in a local shop.
New badges that Squirrels can earn will include Feel Good, Be Active, Explore Outdoors, Brilliant Builder and Exciting Experiments.
Scouts said it wants to recruit more than 5,000 volunteers to help roll out the programme, and is calling on parents to participate as part of its #GoodForYou campaign.
Chief Scout and celebrity adventurer Bear Grylls has encouraged volunteers to get involved.
He said: “I’m so glad that younger children will now have the chance to join our family of Scouts and develop skills for life.
“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.”
Matt Hyde chief executive of Scouts, added: “Squirrels is part of our commitment to help young people, families and communities come back stronger from the pandemic.”
Mr Hyde said he hopes Squirrels works to equip young people with skills for life, which is very important for children who grew up through lockdowns.
“What we learn up to five years old lays the building blocks for everything that follows. If you’re four, you’ve spent a third of your life in lockdowns,” he added.
“We know this has especially impacted children in communities hardest hit by the pandemic. That’s why we are opening the first Squirrel dreys (nests) in the communities that need it most.”
Squirrels pilot group leader Jess Fortune said she hopes more people get involved to open the programme up to more children.
She said: “Being a Squirrels Volunteer is amazing. I have learnt so much. I hope more people volunteer so that children everywhere can experience these brilliant opportunities.”
The development of Squirrels section was supported by the #iwill Fund, The Department for Education and the Charity of Sir Richard Whittington.
The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood’s recent report on early years recognised the lifelong benefits of good quality early education and recommended creating communities of support.
Last year, a series of reports from Ofsted also suggested that children hardest hit by nursery and school closures regressed in some basic skills and learning.
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