By Jess Leach, teacher at Agassiz Baldwin Community and Community Coordinator Associate at Agenda for Children
My imaginary child "Jess Junior" and all the ways we thought she had changed and would change the in the future
Picture a young person in your program as they are right now. Now picture what they were like two years ago and what they might be like two years from now. Do they look the same? Do they have the same interests and hobbies? Has their behavior changed? ? What about their abilities? Children and young people can change so quickly, and it is easy miss if we are not looking closely.
And it’s important to look closely - understanding youth development (a term for how children change and grow) is vital to our work with young people. Admittedly, I wasn’t fully aware of this importance until I attended the Youth Development training for K-5 facilitated by coach and trainer David Jenkins. After discussing all the different areas of youth development, I realized that all youth workers, regardless of our specific job title, play such a significant role in how the young people in our programs grow up. We are not only witnesses to these great changes but factors in them as well.
"We are not only witnesses to these great changes but factors in them as well."
Understanding the impact we have on how youth develop helps us see a game of kickball as more than just running around and a conversation about a child’s favorite book as more than small talk. These are moments that build young people’s motor skills and inform their sense of identity. They are also moments where we can shape and influence young people to help them succeed. In the Youth Development training, we were given an opportunity to apply this thinking to how we plan activities with children and young people in our program. We were asked to explore our activity planning using the following youth-development oriented questions:
Does the activity support children and young people in one or more of the following categories of development: physical, cognitive, moral, self-concept or emotional traits?
Is the activity accessible or engaging to children and young people in varying stages of development in those aspects? Can you adjust your plan to accommodate for those discrepancies?
Are you challenging children and young people to take their skills to the next level?
Keeping these questions in the back of my mind helps me think more deeply about what I offer children and young people and how I can help them succeed. It also helps me challenge biases about certain age groups or even certain children - they are not static or unchangeable. Even if the changes are hard to notice at first, each moment we share with youth is an opportunity to encourage positive growth. If you’re interested in learning more about how to invigorate your program with youth development-informed planning, please register for our upcoming training on Youth Development for K-5 and Middle Years.
Jess Leach began her journey in Cambridge OST at Agassiz Baldwin Community, where she teaches in the 1st-5th grade program. She joined the Agenda for Children OST team in early 2018 as the Community Coordination Associate, where she helps oversee professional development and improve communications with youth workers.