March 14, 2012

Plugging into the Ages and Stages of Youth

Jean Rogalsky
Extension Agent
4-H Youth Development

Adult volunteer leaders in 4-H have a tremendous responsibility. Leaders are expected to guide, mentor, and teach to a group of youth of varying ages. Some 4-H clubs are formed with existing friends and others with strangers. The task of the 4-H club leader is to create a sense of belonging and friendship in the club while offering exciting, fun, educational and community service activities. A project or activity leader focuses on educational and service activities, but still needs to know how to keep the group engaged and interested. Any 4-H leader will tell you that although 4-H volunteering is rewarding, it can also be challenging. A volunteer who is a parent of early elementary age children may have a good understanding of the development of his or her own children, but be completely flummoxed by the actions of middle school girls.

Fortunately, 4-H volunteers have resources and tools to help guide them while working with youth. Part of the training for 4-H volunteers is using and understanding “Ages and Stages and Youth”, a module in the Florida 4-H Recognition handbook. “Ages and Stages” covers the physical, emotional, and intellectual development and characteristics of children in five age groups and how volunteers can help the youth in each group. Not only will this information help with planning activities, it will also help the 4-H volunteer realize what the expectations are for each age group. It will also answer the question of why certain ages act the ways they do.

The age groups are set up a bit different than the 4-H age categories for competition. The first age group addresses 7-9 year olds. This group is still learning to master both fine and large motor skills. They are learning to sort and classify. While they can complete tasks, quality may be an issue. Emotionally, they need help to understand failure. A 4-H volunteer working with this age group will offer opportunities for this group to practice the skills they are learning. Collections are popular with this age, so ask each member to create a display of collections of shells, seeds, or leaf rubbings. Set guidelines and standards for them. Then help them keep track of their progress.

The 10-11 years olds are full of energy and need to keep moving and doing. They don’t have the time to sit and listen. This group will jump from one topic to another. Emotionally, they look for adult approval and feel embarrassed easily. While working with this group, keep activities hands on with physical involvement. Outdoor activities are great. Divide activities into segments to keep their attention. This group is the “thumbs up or thumbs down”. There is little in the middle. Your suggestion will either be embraced or immediately voted down. Recognition is important even for little things. Compliments are very much appreciated, but remember not to compare them to others in the group.

The 12-13 year olds are either the most exciting group to work with or the one that makes you want to pull your hair out. It’s not their fault; it is just that they are on a roller coaster of emotions and hormones. If you don’t know who they are anymore, it is because they don’t know who they are either. The opinion of peers is more important than the opinion of most adults. They are testing values and trying on new identities. At the same time, they do know they want to be part of something important. The values of justice and equality become important. The volunteer working with this group should be open minded, accepting, and willing to listen. This group wants to be independent, so offer opportunities to be more independent, but still offer guidance. They want to test new ideas (different from parents), so allow them to discuss new ideas, beliefs, or values. They will want to put their abstract thinking skills to the test. At this age, recognition may be tricky. Sometimes the ribbon earned may not be seen as a value put on a project, but as a reflection of one’s own worth.

The 14-16 year olds are very concerned with themselves and their own peer group. They want to be adult-like, but on their own terms. They are capable of setting their own goals, and completing tasks on their own. The volunteer can help this group learn to relate better to others not just to those on their circle. Encourage the 4-H’ers to plan together as a group and take responsibility for these plans. As the youth become more interested in the future and career exploration, help them make realistic plans and emphasize their own special talents and skills. The volunteer is more of a mentor or coach.

The 17-19 year olds are making the transition to adulthood. They are fairly independent, but need to form close relationships with others their age. While they are capable of making and carrying out important decisions, they still look to adults for support. In a club setting, the volunteer can rely on these teens as helpers. To help them, the volunteer should be available for support as a mentor and as a resource.

Most 4-H leaders are working with a variety of ages at one time. One of the strengths of the 4-H program is that with mixed ages together, older youth learn leadership skills and younger youth have role models to look up to. By utilizing the information in “Ages and Stages” 4-H volunteers can create a positive club experience for all ages.

Florida 4-H Recognition: Helping Youth Grow Module 2: Progress Toward Goals

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