Group management for youth settings: Routines and patterns

Incorporating routines and patterns within programs, events and activities can provide a safe place where youth can belong, grow and thrive.

Three youth sitting at a table next to a sign that says 4-H Welcome.
Photo credit: National 4-H Council

Working with a group of youth with a variety of ages can mean different energies during Michigan 4-H programs, events and activities. 4-H volunteers and staff should use group management strategies to help maintain the group focus and energy. Group management is not about controlling youth but rather making use of your skill set and interactions to help youth develop skills and thrive in that space.

One important step to setting up a group environment where youth can thrive is to create an environment where they can flourish. Ensuring youth feel welcomed and have a sense of belonging helps them build a positive relationship with 4-H volunteers and increases the success of group management strategies. By creating a nurturing and inclusive space, youth can thrive and develop their sparks. Michigan State University Extension recommends developing routines and patterns to help maintain the group focus and energy.

Routines and patterns establish a level of safety because they help others know what to expect and establish boundaries from the start. Having clear expectations from the start is important for youth. Consider developing your group rules, patterns and norms as a group during your first time together and make sure youth are actively involved with the development. Other strategies for routines and patterns include:

  • Focus on the behavior you want within the group. For example, we allow everyone the opportunity to speak so emphasize the reason behind the expectation for others to wait their turn to speak. “It is important that we are quiet so that Billy has an equal chance to share his thoughts.”
  • Use an agenda for the program. When creating a consistent agenda for 4-H club meetings, consider incorporating the three components: fun (group building), business (group decisions) and learning (program/activity). An example could be food, then pledge, then team building activity, then meeting and then education. This expected routine can help youth know what to expect and when.
  • Have any sign-in sheets, handouts or materials in the same or similar place for every setting.
  • Create routines and patterns of engagement from the start of your programming with youth.
  • Be consistent, session to session, with the routines, expectations and agendas.

By incorporating routines and patterns within programs, events and activities, we can provide a nourishing and safe place where youth can belong and grow.

For more helpful volunteer training content, check out the MSU Extension Michigan 4-H Volunteer Webinar Series webpage. For additional information around club meetings, please view the following articles:

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