Hell’s Kitchen and More Ideas…

Image result for hells kitchen

I am gathering my notes from the 2019 YMCA Youth Development Summit that I attended last week, and during my workshop I did the exercise of balling up a sheet of paper, writing an idea, and throwing it across the room to someone else. One of my favorites I heard was Hell’s Kitchen and teaching communication/team building. So we probably have seen one episode of Hell’s Kitchen? If not, it is pure chaos in the kitchen and probably something you wouldn’t want to imitate in youth programs? WRONG! You could definitely alter this show/game into an activity for your staff or participants. So how would you do this?

  1. Definitely clean up the language and focus on how to communicate while trying to make a dish. No yelling, but pick someone that is going to be the main chef that is giving feedback.
  2. Make cooking fun and easy for the kids and staff. If you are running on a tight budget, don’t let this stop you either. Some simple things I have done before are bringing in griddles. We made a variety of things on here. You can make quesadillas, pancakes, grilled cheese, and a breakfast platter of eggs, bacon, and sausage. I have even gone very basic, and had the kids make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and judged on how neat the sandwich was cut, made, and prepared. This is hilarious to watch!
  3. Break the participants up in teams, give them all specific tasks, and have a contest. Bring in some judges. If you work at school, invite the principal, teachers, custodians, gym teacher, let the school see your fun after school. If you are at a Y or Church, invite members in to judge.
  4. When the contest is over, eat the food. Sounds simple, but kids love to eat. Staff do too! Remember food allergies of course and use gloves!

Here are some other ideas that came from the exercise of throwing the idea across the room. These ideas come from YMCA professionals from all over the country. I told them I would submit their ideas that they wrote down!

Ideas for youth programs and working with staff…

  1. Facilitate more personal development/identity. Workshops for students and adults alike.
  2. Providing transportation to after school programs.
  3. Parent/Child events. Daddy/Daughter, Mom/Son, etc…
  4. Specialty camp programs that travel across the city. One set of staff deliver the program in multiple locations.
  5. Include youth and board members in club decisions and trainings and events.
  6. Cook simple meal that a family of another race/religion would eat. Discuss what’s available for them. Understanding culture and each other.
  7. Shadow peers. See what other programs are doing around you beside your own program.
  8. Satellite YMCA programming in parts of the state that don’t have access to YMCA’s.
  9. Meeting rotations. Change up where you meet.
  10. Making the programs more accessible to all economic backgrounds.

One of the main themes of their ideas, were making programs accessible to ALL. How can you help your community? Partnerships are key and important to helping grow. Check out the Resource Zone for more ideas. Remember, about 98 percent of my content is not original. My goal is to help your programs and to make sure I share these cool things that I hear at conferences or find day to day.

Makey Makey – STEM Ideas

Image result for makey makey orange banana circuit

I had the opportunity to attend and present at the YMCA Youth Development Summit this week and went to a workshop about facilitating quality STEM activities that will support Character Development. There a tons of activities that you can implement with your participants and staff. Our workshop facilitator used fruit to control his power point presentation. I easily get distracted and thought it was so cool that you could use fruit for circuitry and coding. The circuit board is from a website called Makey Makey that has a blog with tons of ideas to help you with STEM. This circuit board is currently $31.78 on Amazon. This is a very affordable activity for your participants!

When working with STEM, you are able to see and teach many important lessons. I also love that you can dive deeper into a certain topic. For example if you are working on transportation, ask your participants tons of questions around this to get their minds moving and excited. During the activity your participants are able to learn scaffolding techniques, relationship building as they work in groups, utilizing different roles to promote responsibility, and supporting youth with managing emotions. When working with staff, use STEM activity for an ice breaker. This will be a fun way to introduce STEM to them and also give them hands on learning so they can lead their participants. I think visually giving them an activity is the best way to teach STEM. Notebooks are great, but you have to apply the learning.

During the activity there are 4 strategies you should do…

  1. Ask Open Ended Questions
  2. What’s Working, What’s Not
  3. Support Youth Investigation
  4. Allow Time To Discover Strength

Then when the activity is over, it is important to do these 3 strategies…

  1. Debrief
  2. Reflect – Great way for your participants to recognize each other
  3. Make a connection

When you develop these skills with your participants, this can lead to increased excitement in working in this field. In May 2016, there were 8.8 million science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) jobs, representing 6.3 percent of U.S. employment per report in July 2017. The future is STEM, and teaching your participants and staff this skill is important. Science and Math are cool again! I will post this activity in the Resource Zone. Feel free to steal and share ideas.

Building Meaningful Parent Relationships

Image result for michael scott building relationships

You may have some of the best games and programming in your community, but without strong relationships with parents, your program will not be complete. Building meaningful parent relationships is not easy, they take time. You have to be present and active in your programs so the parents know who you are. They need to see you and gain your trust. The parent is looking for specific things from you because their child is the most important person in their life. Do the staff get down on the child’s level to greet them, do they show genuine interest, and do they know specific things about each child? If staff can do these three things, the relationship with the parent becomes strong. This becomes significant if you have to talk to them about their child’s behavior. They will be more likely to listen to you, because they know you really know their child and you know them. It also doesn’t always have to be things that the child has to improve, it can be things that the child is doing well. In youth programs, we all know finding that time to have these conversations is tough, especially if the parent is picking up and they have to finish their day or move their child to their next activity. I have listed below several things you can do to build meaningful parent relationships. Hopefully these ideas will give you these opportunities to talk and be around the parents more…

  1. Goodies for parents – Fun treat when they pick up
  2. Invite parents to see assembly (when participants gather for fun things like songs, contests, character development) or see a specific activity
  3. Parents VS. Campers sporting event
  4. Family Night or Family Afternoon – Parents come in and play the game. Bingo during pickup.
  5. Thanksgiving Fiesta – Have parents come in and eat with their child.
  6. Parent Show and Tell – Have parents visit their group one day and have their child tell their group about them.
  7. Picture Of The Week – Text message, monthly email, or picture board at the program
  8. All Star Award – Lanyard with conversation starters for when the parent picks up.
  9. After School Tailgate – Party in the parking lot!
  10. Cultural Background Bio
  11. When I Grow Up – Add to your programming or assembly, parents to to talk about what they do! Parent speakers!
  12. Facebook Private Page – Create this small community to share pictures and updates for your community
  13. Family Geo-Cashing
  14. Dinner with your Director – Families have their Director over for Dinner
  15. Small Communication Cards/Question Of The Day – Have a topic for the day posted on a board outside. You can talk to parents about this and the kids and parent can talk about it on the way home. Ex. Favorite Sport, Best Gift They Ever Received, etc..
  16. Parent Of The Week Award – Highlight a family and rotate throughout the year
  17. Parent Counselor Day – Parents Help Counselors With Activities
  18. Family Events At Different Locations – If you are always at the YMCA , School, Church, etc…Go to a park or restaurant!
  19. Parent Breakfast – If you have an early program, have them come inside and eat breakfast before work.
  20. Parent Focus Group – Form a focus group and have parents plan out some fun things to benefit your staff, ideas for family events, and help give you feedback
  21. Parent Volunteer For Homework – Who can make this part of the day easier.
  22. Parent Social – Provide childcare, and have a parent social. Provide food, see how they can connect with each other through a fun game or activity. Painting a picture, group fitness, etc….

Parents need to be connected with you as the Director, but also they want to be connected with each other. This will build your small community and make your parents feel they really know where their child is going each day. Time is always a factor, so plan these out on a calendar, and don’t over program it. If something crashes and burns, then try another idea. I have learned that if you get a few parents attend, the next time you do the same event, you may get a few more. Don’t throw in the towel right away. Parents have to figure out who you are and what you are doing. Soon you will build traditions and they will come with little to no marketing of the event. I will include this list in the Resource Zone under Youth Programming on my website. Continue to steal and share ideas!

Zoo Keeper


When I was researching new games, I came across the Illinois Elementary P.E. teacher of the year on Twitter, aka my 2nd home. His name is Mike Graham and he is from Geneva, Illinois. He came up with this awesome game called “Zoo Keeper”. This game focuses on teaching locomotor skills and animal walks. I have the picture above to use as a guide. Students or your campers will pick an animal from the bucket and they must do the movement associated with the animal they choose. He uses the classdojo.com app and the random picker tool from the toolkit for the projector, and uses the Classroom Roulette app that is part of the idoceo.net suite of apps. If you don’t have the TV, Projector, Ipad, technology due to your budget/resources, you can still go old school and modify the game. Put the names in a hat and the colors in a hat. If you don’t have all the different color buckets, find containers and tape the color on top so they still have the visual. You definitely don’t want to let cost or resources get in your way of teaching this game. You also can play this game outside, doesn’t have to be in the gym. This game is perfect for younger students and campers. He is doing this game with two Kindergarten classes in the video that I watched.This game can be used at any youth program, not just in a P.E. class.

If you are on Twitter follow @pe4everykid and he also has a website pe4everkid.weebly.com that is his P.E. website and he also has a YouTube channel Mike Graham! Please go check him out, love his creativity and enthusiasm for his job as a P.E. Teacher. I have added this game to the Resource Zone on my website, feel free to check that out and grab some more ideas.

Idle Time Games

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Idle time games are perfect when you have free time. Every program has this, and how you plan and prepare for those moments will give your program structure while keeping it fun for your staff and kids. Always remember that you can use anything to keep kids occupied. You may have to wait on a bus, a group transitioning from outside to inside, or keeping kids occupied during a bathroom break. These idle time games are great because you don’t need extra staff or a big budget to pull them off. Your participants deserve to have fun options while they wait, and this will cut down on behavior problems because they will be engaged with the game. I have listed some of my favorites in the Resource Zone under the Contest category. I will keep adding ideas as this list could really go on and on. I have listed with a brief explanation some of my favorites below. Enjoy!

  1. Keys/Change – Pull out your keys. Have your campers guess the keys on your key ring. Have them guess the date on your loose change (Penny, Nickel, etc…), you can even let them have it!
  2. Dollar Drop – Have a kid stand up and hold their hand out with their palms facing. Hold a dollar bill over the opening in their hands. The object is for them to try and catch the dollar bill in between their hands. If you don’t want to loose the dollar bill, make sure their hands are spread wide enough apart and that you hold the dollar bill close enough to drop all the way through.
  3. Balancing – Have a balance contest. Call up a couple kids and see who can balance on one leg the longest. Make it harder by adding things like you have to close your eyes, pat your head, or rub your stomach.
  4. Who Wants To Be In My Club – Make a patterned hand movement. Call up one kid at a time to repeat what you have just done.
  5. Going On A Cruise – Start off by saying “My Name is “Dustin Williams and I am going on a cruise. On this cruise I am going to bring Doughnuts and Wings.” Ask the kids what two items are they going to bring. The two items the kids choose must start with their first letter of their first and last name. If they do this right, tell them they can go on the cruise with you! As you do a 2nd round, make it harder and choose a different formation. Maybe the 3rd letter of their first and last name.

These idle time games are just simple things you can do. Be creative, and come up with some more. I always tell my staff that they are just kids, don’t worry about over thinking the idle time game. They are bored, they will like almost anything you do. They don’t like to just sit around. Make the magic happen! Ask your kids what ideas they have, you will be surprised at what you hear.

Hay Ride – Little Red Wagon

My friends from the Goldsboro YMCA shared this awesome and simple idea with me earlier this week. They are doing Fall Festival programming for their Parents Night Out event. They decided to have mini hay rides as part of their event. They are using red wagons that they borrowed from members or staff and putting hay inside. Then they are having kids ride around outside. What a cool and simple idea. If you don’t have enough wagons they are around $99.99 on Amazon. You can also buy the toy wagons for around $14.99 and have the kids pull their favorite stuffed animal or baby doll! Great solution to finding a tractor or finding the actual space to do this! Feel free to steal and share ideas in the Resource Zone on my website! Happy Friday!

Recruiting Staff, Get Inside Schools…

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Don’t stop reading, this is not a UNC post. Well there is an analogy, but that’s it I promise. I have been speaking to several colleagues and hearing at different conferences that there is a big gap in finding staff to work youth programs right now. Some of the reasons have been low pay, not enough qualified applicants, and the lack of hours the job has. In 1999, I was cutting grass and washing cars for my orthodontist. Not exactly the dream job, but it paid well. I was living the high school dream, and not looking at job boards/postings. I just cared about eating, waking up on time for school, and watching/playing sports. It was all about me at the moment. I would not have worked for the YMCA and youth programs if it wasn’t for my friend Aaron Rivers telling me about the job (Thanks Aaron!). The town I grew up in wasn’t very big, and I had no idea that this was even an option because I was in my lane just doing what I knew and wanted to do. I am sure my employer was probably thinking and assuming that I know the YMCA is an option to work but I didn’t. I even passed one of the youth programs coming home from school everyday. The same is true in 2019. Not all, but most high school and college students are just trying to make ends meet. They are having fun being young, and staying to what they know. There is a way to help fill this gap. Start recruiting and get inside the schools. Do you think Roy Williams and his coaching staff just wait around the Dean Dome hoping for the best players to walk onto the court and play for them? The answer is “No”. They have to go out and recruit. They have to sell their program, educate these players, and try to make sure they understand what opportunities they have. It is the same in the working world. The best applicants are not going to come walking into your office and say “Please hire me, here are my references!” That would be cool, and sometimes if you develop a strong culture you will get a few, but it will not solve all of your hiring needs. Here are some of my favorite things our team has done recently…

  1. Career Coordinator: Most schools have these as a resource, if they don’t utilize the guidance counselor and other key school staff. These resources are in place to help the students, and can be your best friend if used correctly. They can also help promote your program as well.
  2. Lunch Time!: Some schools have all the grades 9-12 eat in the cafeteria in shifts. Setup a table outside the cafeteria, pass out flyers while they are eating, let them know about your program. If the school lets Juniors and Seniors leave campus, setup a table in the parking lot catch them coming and going. Since time is limited, catch them flying back into school, have your handout ready.
  3. Clubs/After School: Speak at student clubs, especially student council. They can help spread the word to their peers. Be present after school as students walk to buses and the parking lot.
  4. Young Life Doughnuts: I saw Young Life do this and thought it was genius. They advertise to the students in the morning by passing out doughnuts and letting students know when they club meets off campus.
  5. Friend Referral: Remember how I started? Without my friend, I may have never worked in youth programs. Use your current staff, members, friends, to relay how awesome the job is. Remember if its the YMCA, tell them they get a free gym membership with their job. Pay with the gym membership is a great combo.
  6. Sports, Community Events: Be present when you can. Be ready to educate people about the job, and the benefits it comes with. It will develop trust, and eventually break the ice with people that may be on the fence.
  7. Resume and Experience Builder: Working as a counselor or in youth programs is not a joke job. It is rewarding experience that builds your personality. Teamwork, trust, safety, self confidence, and enthusiasm drives this work. Employers would kill for these things as they are hiring. Educate your applicants!
  8. Plan Ahead: If you know you have a big season coming like Summer Camp. Start recruiting in January, interview in March, and train in May/June. If you see someone in the next few weeks, tell them that the job is posted in January, you don’t have to wait.
  9. Community Colleges, Colleges: Many of the things I have listed 1-8 apply here too. Just because these applicants are older doesn’t mean they know what you have to offer them. Get away from your desk.

To sum it up, you have to go after the applicants, they will not come to you. You don’t have to throw your hands up, there are ways to help you in hiring staff to work youth programs if you are willing to try. I copied Young Life with their idea of being present with snacks, don’t be afraid to see what others are doing. You have to adapt and be willing to try different things. I have added “Start Recruiting, Get Inside Schools” to the Resource Zone, and put under the Youth Programming section. Continue to use my website to steal and share ideas to make your program FIRE!