Shopping for projects – keeping it creative

Things to keep in mind when trying to select projects that will be experimental and keep youth engaged.

Every once in a while, you might get the opportunity to buy cool, new stuff for a youth program. Whether it is a one-time funding source or a reoccurring time of year, it is usually rushed and hard to avoid a little buyer’s remorse. If you are attempting to have programs that respond to youth interest, how can you predict what purchases or plans will be most effective and engaging?

Consider these three priorities on your next shopping trip or planning session.

  1. Group-focused and supports relationship building. This might be a mentoring match of an adult working with a young person as in programs like Michigan 4-H Youth Mentoring. In other settings, youth might work in small groups or as a whole team with a leader. Regardless, be sure to pick projects you can picture the entire group engaging in and building a relationship around. This will allow projects to be conduits to life skills like communication, teamwork and leadership.
  2. Supports creative, critical thinking. Avoid things that simply end with a nice “product” without letting youth influence the result. A great measure of this is imagining two different youth working on the project in two separate rooms. Would they end up with two very different results? If so, that project is a great choice!
  3. Can be reused. Reuse might be items that can be taken apart and reassembled time and time again or a finished product that can be used as a tool for continued learning. The caveat to this is realizing that great learning comes from making messes and mistakes. If projects can’t be reused, make sure consumable purchases are low cost and high experience value.

Next time you hit the program funding jackpot or, more likely, are asked to write your program’s annual budget, keep these guiding concepts in mind. For more on effective practices in youth programming and development, visit Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H. For practical examples applying these principles, check out “Popular projects for youth that are engaging and creative.”

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