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Evaluating Attitudes About Youth Choice In OST

Friday, 29 October 2021 00:00

As an OST professional, you likely understand why it's crucial to integrate choices and decision-making into programming. If that's the case, what prevents you from doing it? 

Sometimes it's about tangible things such as safety concerns, space issues, or budgetary constraints. More often than not, the lack of choices for young people is rooted in staff attitudes and ideas about integrating choices or not understanding how to work with kids to facilitate the decision-making process successfully. The following questionnaire can help you reflect on your attitude and behaviors regarding integrating youth choice in OST.

Read the items below and answer each as either yes or no. 

  1. _____ I respect the right of kids to choose their activities during the program.
  2. _____ I feel comfortable leading a group of young people throughout the  decision-making process regarding decisions that affect the program.
  3. _____ I use choices in a way that encourages the development of decision-making and problem-solving skills (e.g., activity and event planning, and program organization)
  4. _____ I always present choices in a positive manner.
  5. _____ When a young person is having difficulty making a choice, I encourage them to use decision-making processes rather than choosing for them.
  6. _____I offer several positive choices when a child is having difficulty making a choice rather than giving an ultimatum.
  7. _____ I invite kids to be active participants in setting up choices whenever possible.
  8. _____ I work with kids to brainstorm ideas, options, or alternatives and consider the pros and cons of options before asking them to make big decisions.
  9. _____ I frequently spend time with kids, encouraging self-reflection, reviewing choices they've made and what the consequences were. 
  10. _____ If a young person selects an inappropriate option, I always take the time to work with them to choose a more appropriate approach.

When finished, total your answers. Based on your responses, the following is what kids might say to you:

8-10 "You had me at hello!" You can identify the importance of offering choices, teaching decision-making, and applying strategies in your daily practice.

5-7 "If it's my choice, how come you're making it?" - You can likely identify the importance of offering choices and teaching decision-making. Still, you may over-control the process or revert to ultimatums under duress. You could benefit from learning more about and practicing implementation strategies.

0-5 "Choose or lose!"- You could benefit from more learning about the whys and how-tos to identify and apply strategies for integrating youth choices and teaching decision-making in OST.

This questionnaire is not research-based or validated. However, it can help identify your attitudes and behaviors related to integrating youth voice into OST and act as a catalyst for learning more about how to apply this critical practice. Having a positive attitude and openness to learning is the first step. As Anonymous says, "I have discovered I always have choices and sometimes it's only a choice of attitude." 

This article is part of the Choose Choices blog series, which is all about helping OST professionals identify and apply youth choice strategies as part of regular program practice. Next up, we'll share three keys to success along with guidelines to help set kids up for success and teach them how to make well-informed decisions.

Contributed by Heidi Ham, vice president of programs and strategy, National AfterSchool Association