Guest Column - September 2004
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Designing Successful Programs for Kids and Teens

Youth Programming

By Jonathan Poston

No matter how large or small your youth programs might be, motivating the kids involved and keeping them coming back is paramount. Sure, a fun game or first-day introductions may excite your audience for an hour or two, but it takes more than that to build program groundwork. Building a philosophy that kids can bond with will set a strong foundation in which to begin. Encourage communication on all sides of the program to keep parents, staff and the kids up to date with progress and expectations. Having qualified and committed staff on board to implement your program is necessary. Ensure that your program is progressive and team-oriented. Empower your youth to solve problems together. Offer adventure and keep things fun. Be willing to re-create or modify your program to meet the needs of the kids and to keep safety first.

Added values

Core values should reflect and resonate views accepted by society that create good character. Choose these values to strengthen your philosophy. Let's say that there is a camp with the mission statement: "Camp High Mountain challenges the body and mind to become stronger through acquiring outdoor adventure skills that will be used to cover 100 miles during this 30-day program. Campers will work as a team to endure this expedition and leave this program with a deeper sense of self-confidence, higher fitness level, a respect for their crew and understanding of accomplishment through determination."

The core values here may be strength, endurance, teamwork and respect; all of which are interwoven into the program focus. These values should be related to your audience at every opportunity in order to create a connection the kids can refer back to. Your expectations should also be clearly stated and communicated to both your audience and parents/guardians of the minors.

Parental support

Parental involvement is crucial in working with kids. Support should come not only from your side, but parents must be informed and active in order for program success. Have parents show support by explaining to their children that they are there for them and believe in their success. Communicate with parents on matters dealing with the progress, behavior and safety of their son or daughter.

Setting up post-program banquets or ceremonies where parents see their children receiving appreciation and awards provides appropriate closure where the parents also feel involved in their child's success. Remember, it is the parent who is likely paying for and choosing the next program that the child will attend.

Solid staff

Having a dedicated and qualified staff is mandatory. Your staff should be experienced in working with your target population. CPR and first-aid certification are important as well. Even more, your staff should enjoy working with the youth population and be able to relate well to the kids. An understanding of child psychology and appreciation for each individual child is a must. Observe your potential staff candidates interacting with children before hiring them. Your staff members will represent your philosophy and are serving as role models as they carry out your mission. Keep in mind that staff retention is also important and is a reminder to children and parents that your program is solid.