I've been thinking some more about Guides. There's a lot more to it than I first thought. The problems I wrote about yesterday, with the badges and the structure, those are problems of unmet potential. Guides could be a fantastically cool opportunity for girls to explore their interests and challenge themselves, but in fact it's a leader-centred crafts-and-activities club. Some of the crafts and activities are cool, some of them are pretty lame, but they're seldom actively damaging. (Although I wish Delphine's troop hadn't chosen to do a bridal shower for a leader in one of the meetings.)
But failed potential is only that; it doesn't mean Sparks has no value. It's an all-girl group of friends separate from Delphine's school friends, which is important. It's good for kids to have more than one group of friends; if one group goes wrong with bitchiness or drama, you have other friends to fall back on. And it's valuable for kids of either gender to spend significant amounts of time in same-sex groups. On both those counts, Sparks stacks up in a way that I don't think will be easy to find elsewhere.
The other nice thing about Sparks/Brownies/Guides is that it taps into the Guiding infrastructure. They have programs, they have funding, they have summer camps and campsites. (Sparks don't go camping, but Brownies do.) Camping with Brownies and Guides was my first exposure to real camping, and it had a lasting impact on me as it did on Kat.
Guides is also an organization with a rich history, and it's represented throughout the world. When I was a kid I remember thinking it was pretty cool that there were Girl Guides just like me in places like India and Australia.
I've tried, largely in vain, to find other clubs or organizations which would fit the bill: a (preferably) girls-only organization which will provide community and allow my girls to explore their interests and challenge themselves in a supportive, pedagogically progressive environment. In the States they have Earth Scouts and Camp Fire Boys and Girls, which seem to be much more sciency, and more child-centred, than Guides. Camp Fire Boys and Girls is US only. The Earth Scouts website is pretty horrifying and they do that stupid badge thing too. (Maybe my standards are too high.) I've thought about seeing if the ROM or the OSC have any kind of generic Science or Discovery clubs, but they wouldn't provide that continuity of community that I'm hoping for. I've even thought about starting something up myself, but I don't care about this enough to invest that kind of time and effort into it. (Not that I don't care very much, but it would be a lot of time and effort.)
In conclusion, Sparks seems to be the best of a bad lot of options. Is that good enough? I'm still thinking about it.