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Ensuring quality youth programs through session planning

By Nicole Kudrle

Girl ice fishing - "4-H Hooked on Fishing"
The last 15 months have been a rollercoaster ride, navigating programming during the coronavirus pandemic with its many ups and downs. As I reflect on my experience, I've seen tremendous growth in my program development and delivery style. While I still don’t like to watch recordings of myself leading a program, I have found it to be a way to reflect and improve as a youth development professional. I have also been extremely grateful for Youth Program Quality Observations of the programs I have taught. These observations have provided me with feedback from a third party to allow for further development of my teaching skills. 

My greatest growth has been in session planning. When I begin to prepare for a program, I still write a lesson, but I also take time to develop a plan for each session. In the development of my session plans, I work to align them with the Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality Pyramid, a research based approach for youth development professionals to ensure high quality programming. 

The most successful program I've designed has been the 4-H Hooked on Fishing program that engaged 80 youth across the state of Minnesota. This program allows youth to explore their spark and make connections with other youth in Minnesota who are passionate about fishing. 

The 4-H Hooked on Fishing program met weekly, January through April. Each week youth learned about a family of fish, habitat and characteristics. Each session follows the same design:
  • Welcome/introduction - Youth are welcomed by name, staff introduce themselves and an opportunity is provided for youth to get to know each other. 
  • Review of the previous week - Youth were asked questions to reflect and review what they had learned in the previous week's session. I use Kahoot!, an online platform where instructors can design a multiple choice or true false question for youth to answer. 
  • Youth sharing - Each week youth had an opportunity to share a “fishtail”. This opportunity allowed youth to practice their public speaking skills.  
  • Guest speaker - Provides educational material; I partnered with a longstanding 4-H volunteer who was a retired fish biologist. Guest speakers help connect youth to caring adults and take a deeper dive into their learning. 
  • Hands-on activity - Each week youth were encouraged to apply what they learned by completing a hands-on activity using common household items. I have found that when an incentive is offered, youth are more likely to complete the activity. 
  • Reflection - At the end of each session, youth reflected on their learning through a simple yet engaging reflection question. 
  • Take it further - Youth were provided ideas on how to take their learning further so that they could continue to explore their spark outside of our time together.

As youth development programing continues to be offered virtually, in-person, and in hybrid models, I will continue to write session plans, schedule observations, and personally reflect to create meaningful high quality youth programming. By challenging myself, I will find new ways to help youth thrive and find their spark!  

What lessons have you learned? What tools have you added to your tool box during this pandemic? What will you continue to do as we move forward?

-- Nicole Kudrle, Extension educator

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  1. Nicole, I appreciate how intentional you were to design this virtual learning experience. One of the benefits of session planning for young people is that it allows us to maintain consistency for their experience. While the content might change from week to week, maintaining a consistent flow through the program gives young people a sense of comfort and anticipation. The format you developed was a key catalyst in helping me organize a program this spring and summer around gardening.

    I am also a huge fan of using the Quality Pyramid to guide and inform our program planning. Starting with quality allows us as educators to embed elements with purpose and ensure our programs align with the high standards we want.

    Thank you for offering this wonderful virtual series. I know my own children looked forward to it every week.

    1. Jeremy - I thank you for sharing how the consistent session flow through a series is a benefit to our youth. Having gotten to be an observer of one of the middle sessions in the Hooked on Fishing series - the introduction, getting to know you, review and reflection and transitions to each of those pieces were so smooth because the youth were expecting it - and eagerly answering almost before Nicole could finish the question.

  2. Nicole, What great insight on a topsy-turvey year. I applaud you for sharing your own experiential learning with us! I too, LOVE Wiekert's Youth Program Quality pryamid. I see great value in it's ability to help not just evaluate, but design programming, like you have described. I think the youth who participated in Hooked on Fishing had an outstanding expierence!

  3. I appreciate your reflective approach to the growth that has happened for yourself and likely many of us youth development professionals. Two pieces I have valued by using guest presenters in addition to the positives you shared is the opportunity to build relationships with professionals you otherwise may not have worked with. And the big one - By investing time in working with the guest presenter, you as facilitator also have more time to focus on the session flow as the guest presenter is the content expert.


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