Engaging youth as active members in their own development

Guiding Principles create program opportunities for youth that help them become successful adults by gaining life skills through hands-on education. This article focuses on 4-H Guiding Principle Three: Youth are actively engaged in their own development.

The 4-H pledge asks youth to dedicate their heads to clearer thinking, their hearts to greater loyalty, their hands to larger service and their health to better living. Adult and teen volunteers play a critical role in helping young people carry out this pledge. The role of volunteers is to provide hands-on educational programming for youth that creates opportunities for positive development and building life skills. The Michigan 4-H Guiding Principles drive the programming in 4-H that promotes positive youth development. Third in the series by Michigan State University Extension, this article explores Guiding Principle Three “Youth are actively engaged in their own development.” Guiding Principle Three has a corresponding  video with more information.

Volunteers in Michigan 4-H Youth Development work in four major program delivery models to promote positive youth development: Clubs, planned youth mentoring, after school programs and short-term, special interest programs. Club volunteers should help 4-H members choose their projects, set goals and reflect on their progress throughout the year. Members should receive support from their volunteer leader on keeping their record books updated and in finding resources that will help them be successful in their projects.  4-H mentoring volunteers should help young people learn to make decisions, participate in collaborative problem solving and build critical thinking skills. They can do this by getting involved with their mentee in service projects selected together and in setting goals for the relationship together. For instance, matches could agree to read all the books in a young adult literature series together and see all of the movies when they are released.

After school programs provide opportunities for youth to engage in cross-age activities and interactions. Volunteers can help young people engage in an age-appropriate conversation about contemporary issues with their peers and build resilency in the context of supportive peers and adults. After school settings can be a great opportunity to have volunteers recognize youth for their participation and encourage their further development. Short-term, special interest programs like 4-H camps give young people an opportunity to set goals and self-evaluate in meaningful ways for personal growth. Volunteers should allow youth to make choices in things like setting their own agenda, creating rules and guildelines, and determining how much time they will need to complete tasks.

Be sure to check out other articles in this series to learn more about ways that volunteers working with young people can build life skills in the youth they serve!

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