Q: I lead a group of young people between the ages of two to 26. Attendance is very poor for our weekly meetings and are a bit hard to organize. How can I make these gatherings interesting?
A: It can be very difficult to hold the attention of young people, especially when there is such a large age span. Here are a few ideas that might help increase attendance and organization:
- Think like one of the young people. As adults we often have very different ideas about the world and goals than children do. When we approach working with children, it can be helpful to try to see the world through their eyes – which may seem naïve or distorted to us. Imagine what it is like for them to participate in the group. What other activities might they be doing instead? Why do you think they are making this choice?
- Ask participants what they want. In addition to thinking like a young person, you can get right inside their minds by asking them what they want. What do they like most about the meetings? What don’t they like? What do they want to get out of participating? Why do they choose to come or not to come? Accept their honest feedback and adjust the schedule and activities accordingly.
- Create an incentive to participate. It may seem a little manipulative or unethical to offer people something for participating. The reward of your meeting should be enough! But in reality, incentives can help people try something that they might otherwise choose not to do. An incentive can be something very simple, like the opportunity to do something new, a snack, or a special guest speaker that piques their interest. Make a list of rewards that your young people might like and choose something that is feasible given your resources.
- Divide the group by age. Because the attention span, interests, and goals of people in your age range are very different, it may be beneficial to break the group up according to age. If this is difficult to manage, you may need to recruit more volunteers to help you implement activities.
- Develop mentors. You have a great opportunity here for the older participants to mentor those who are younger. This will give them a sense of responsibility and connection that my improve participation. In addition, the younger people will benefit from these relationships and may attend more often because they are excited to see their mentor.
- Identify cheerleaders. Young people are highly influenced by their peers. If you have active participants in your group, they can be your cheerleaders and help you recruit participants. Provide them with the language and support needed to tell other young people about the group.
- Demonstrate impact. Clearly identify the goals of each meeting and the group overall. When goals are achieved, or milestones toward those goals, verbally let the group know. Remind them of your group’s purpose and let them know that you are making progress. It may not be obvious to them without you calling it to their attention.