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Being Intentional

January 1st, 2013

Look ahead at your week and think about how you could intentionally promote healthy children and youth. Ask yourself questions like:

  • How can I empower people to use their talents and resources wisely this week?
  • How can I promote social competencies (relationship skills) this week?
  • How can I set boundaries and expectations for children/youth this week?

Then take time to review your day or your week, and ask broad questions, such as:

  • How have I encouraged children to use their time constructively?
  • How have helped to develop someone’s sense of positive identity?
  • Have I taken the opportunity to model and teach positive values?

Taking time to be intentional with the children and youth around you will make a big impact on who they grow up to be!


Picasso on the Meaning of Life

December 19th, 2012

“The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”


The Power of Service

November 7th, 2012

“Engaging young people in productive service can build self-esteem and self-discipline, develop practical skills, establish bonds of community, inculcate a sense of civic responsibility and provide something valuable to others.”

“What You Can Do For Your Country,” report of the Commission on National & Community Service


e.e. cummings on Being Yourself

September 26th, 2012

“To be nobody but yourself in a world that’s doing its best to make you somebody else, is to fight the hardest battle you are ever going to fight . . .  never stop fighting.” – e.e. cummings


Friday Playday – 13 different aspects of recreation

September 21st, 2012

Have you ever pondered the depth and breadth of recreation for children?  I met a friend this summer, LaDonna, who is a recreational specialist.  She shared 13 different aspects of recreation – some based on theory, and some from her own experience with youth.  Young people need opportunities to explore each of these aspects of life – how can you integrate the dimensions into your programming?  How can you encourage young people to explore these avenues in their free time?

  1. Arts/crafts
  2. dance
  3. drama/media
  4. literary
  5. environmental/nature
  6. alternative games
  7. sports/athletics
  8. mental
  9. historic/interpretation
  10. mental/linguistics
  11. hobbies
  12. music
  13. technology



Friday Playday: Anxiety, Depression and Play for Kids

August 17th, 2012

All Work and No Play: Why Your Kids Are More Anxious, Depressed

For more than fifty years, children’s free play time has been continually declining, and it’s keeping them from turning into confident adults


What are your memories of playing as a child? Some of us will remember hide and seek, house, tag, and  red rover red  rover. Others may recall arguing about rules in kickball or stick ball  or taking turns at jump rope,  or creating imaginary worlds with our  dolls, building forts, putting on plays, or dressing-up.  From long  summer days to a few precious after-school hours, kid-organized play may have filled much of your free time.  But  what about your children?   Are their opportunities for play the same as yours were? Most likely  not. 

Play time is in short supply for children these days and the lifelong consequences for developing children can be more serious than many  people realize.

Read more…


Can a 4 year old write rules for behavior and character?

December 28th, 2011

My friend Kevin and his 4.5 year old daughter Caroline created their own set of family rules. 

1. Always tell the truth
2. Do what your parents and people responsible for your care ask
3. Don’t talk to strangers, but it’s OK to say “hello” to everyone
4. Be nice to Jack
5. Keep practicing at your activities to get better
6. Have fun, try hard and help your teammates
7. No stinky tooties!
8. You get what you get and you don’t pitch a fit
9. You need to try new things at least once
10. Always be polite

They numbered them, and memorized them together (they both have amazing memories!).  So if they are struggling with a hard day at soccer practice, Kevin can whisper to Caroline, “Think about #6, and she’ll remember to try hard, do her best and help her teammates. 

I love that they wrote the rules together!  I love that there’s a simplicity and a silliness with the rules.  And I love their quest to be a family of character.  You can already see the impact their purposeful choices have had on her character, and she’s growing into a beautiful young girl!

What are your family or classroom rules?  How did you create your rules?  How could you engage young people in crafting rules?


This Holiday Season Make A Difference: Give the Gift of Hope to Women and Girls

December 9th, 2011

I love the idea of giving gifts that make a difference.  So of course I loved this list of charitable giving ideas for people that are shopping for women and girls.  Oh, and I love their picture too – it’s so full of joy!  If you’re still shopping for Christmas and birthday gifts, check out their links to several nonprofit organizations where you can buy beautiful gifts!

african girl


The True Spirit of Christmas for Youth Workers and Educators

December 7th, 2011

By Derek Peterson

The Christmas season is NOT about the gifts of the three wise men, but, instead, it is about the gift of “beholding” the child in the manger. It was their journey to meet with the child, to view the child, to respect the child, and to ultimately lift the child up, that was the GIFT of Christmas.
This could be the model for our Asset-Building Christmas.
Let’s focus less on the material “assets” during the holiday season.
Instead, let’s journey to “behold” the youth in our families, schools, and neighborhoods. Let’s see the promise of the children among us. Let’s bask in glory of each of them.
And, rather than giving them treasures of gold, frankincense and myyrh, let’s give them something more valuable – OUR TIME.
From the time we give our children and youth, let’s pull the treasures out of each of them, and help them spread their treasures out, far and wide, among the people of the world.
Now, that would be an asset-building Christmas!

Derek Peterson
International Child/Youth Advocate


5 Core Learning Principles for Afterschool Environments

November 14th, 2011

“If afterschool programs are to achieve their true potential, they must become known as important places of learning – learning that excites young people in the building of new skills, the discovery of new interests, and opportunities to achieve a sense of mastery. The goal of the Learning in Afterschool (LIA) project is to position afterschool programs as places for learning. They are promoting five core learning principles that should define afterschool programs. Learning in afterschool should be Active, Collaborative, Meaningful, Geared for Mastery, and Expand Horizons. These learning principles are strongly supported by recent brain research and the growing science of learning. ”

Read more about each of these principles at the Learning in Afterschool website,  You will also find tons of research there about afterschool learning environments!


Thank A Youth Worker Day Celebration

October 24th, 2011

 It seems like such a simple thing but to say “thank you” can mean so much. 

On November 3, 2011, communities, organizations, and caring people from around the globe are joining together for another international day of celebrating and honoring youth workers. 

How can you to join the efforts in this third annual Thank A Youth Worker Day (TAYWD)? 

Visit and the Thank a Youth Worker Page on Facebook (  for a collection of resources and tips, and forward this TAYWD email to others in your community and networks who would be in a position to celebrate youth workers.

THANKS to you for taking time to nurture, thank, and celebrate people around you!

Ann & Susan


Volunteering and Career Development

October 19th, 2011

I founded and directed the volunteer program at a Harpeth Hall School, where I challenged girls to find a way to share their time and talents to help create a stronger community.  We promoted volunteerism as a way for personal growth, social development, growing friendships, and finding careers.  Serving others is a huge way for students to learn and grow.

But it’s also a great way for adults to seek professional opportunities.  That’s great news in this economy!  If you have friends that are struggling in the job market, or if you are working with young people to document their service work on their resume, then take time to read this short and powerful article.

Volunteering May Help Your Career More Than You Think


Q/A: What’s a more positive way to refer to ‘at-risk’ youth?

September 7th, 2011

Question from Nancy:

Several times in the past week I have had people ask me how to frame “at-risk” youth in a way that uses less deficit-based language. What phrases are you currently using? 

Answer from Derek Peterson:

Good morning Nancy,
How to frame a negative into a positive? What a good question? (Kind of like how to make a “slap” hurt a little less. ;-) I think the question pulls people into a deficit based cultural world view that is based upon a judgement. I am thinking of Luke 6:37 “And judge not, and ye shall not be judged: and condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: release, and ye shall be released” from The American Standard Bible…
I have found that, for the most part, I live in to the stories that people tell about me. If those who have influence upon me believed in me, and communicated those positive expectations, and gave me opportunities to practice and grow into those expectations, and finally celebrated my “relative best” attempts, then, for the most part I lived into those expectations. In my work with youth, I have heard people use the following terms:
1) vulnerable
2) at promise
3) at hope
4) asset deficient (remember DADS, back in the late 90′s? Developmental Assets Deficiency Syndrome?) We killed that pretty fast!!! THANK GOD!!
I think “at risk” is so widely used, and that judgement is so easily given, without any consensus of what is meant. One might call a teen “at risk” because of the following reasons:
1) the adult does not resonate with the teen.
2) the adult does not like the teens behavior.
3) the adult sees the teen as “less than” capable, valuable, or even human.
How would we frame a label that is truly hurtful, judgmental, and wrong in other work with teens? If we are working with obese kids, how do we reframe “overweight” youth? If we are working with youth in detention, how do we reframe “incorrigible” youth? If we are working with youth who are having trouble in school, how do we reframe “low performing” youth? (The labels are still all negative. And, almost any youth quickly translates overweight into fat, or incorrigible into criminal, or low performing into stupid.)
For me, the whole question is wrong. We have no way of knowing the trajectory of any child/youth. We can, through our youth development data sets, identify the likelihood of thriving for a bunch of kids in a defined set, but we CAN NEVER know where ONE INDIVIDUAL youth, from that set, will end up.
I always expect to be surprised. Sure, I can get a snapshot of where a youth fits in with his cohort, but that snapshot is akin to a Tibetan sand painting, and should be wiped clear, time and time again. One snapshot does not define the trajectory of a teen. It is through love and relationship that we are able to fully support a youth, into the life that unfolds before him/her.
Nope, NO ASSET person should use the label “at risk.” It is meaningless. It is quackery. It drives the mind, and the community to ridiculous actions, that, too often, further harm kids.
I know that we all live in a deficit based culture, and are paid to identify and fix problems, repair broken teens, and make dysfunctional families and communities work. However, what asset based thinking brings to the conversation is that 1) everybody has things that are RIGHT about them, 2) we can fix a problem by approaching the solution through our strengths and competencies, 3) we can’t repair a broken teen, but we can show him/her her resilience, and have them understand that we have all been broken at one time or another, and we’ll probably become broken again – life is difficult, and 4) we can’t make anyone do anything. All we can do is enter their circle, support others in seeing the world through different eyes, provide the tools and knowledge to move toward their identified goal and way of being, and then to work along side them to make it all happen.. CELEBRATING and LAUGHING all the way, while constantly rewarding RELATIVE BEST.
Onward, always and forever, onward…
Derek Peterson
Institute for Community & Adolescent Resiliency


Free Resource for Educators! Tales Told Twice: Exploring Life Lessons in Literature

August 31st, 2011

The YMCA Center for Asset Development introduces a new resource for elementary educators. Tales Told Twice: Exploring Life Lessons in Literature is a FREE download full of activities and writing prompts for 4th–5th graders. This book connects literature with Developmental Assets by using experiential activities that help students more fully ‘experience’ the books and their wisdom. Educators and students like these educational activities because they help learning come alive for students, they promote healthy relationships in the classroom, they foster a caring school climate, and they build strong character in students. These activities have all been tested, energized and sustained within multiple classroom and youth program settings.

Email to get your free copy of the curriculum!


Across the Wide River – Book Review

August 26th, 2011

Stephanie Reed’s novel, Across the Wide River, is based on the true story of the Rankin family living along the Ohio River in the 1820s during the heightening tensions between slave owners and abolitionists.  It’s the story of a young boy’s journey to free slaves by helping them on the Underground Railway.  It gives readers a really good feel for the emotional, economical, spiritual and political debate around slavery.  It is a powerful story of faith and courage, as the Rankin family sacrifices to do what is right and challenge others to do what’s right.  It is a story of adventure and risk, as youth and adults navigate hostile communities and the Underground Railroad.  It’s a tale of self-discovery and growing confidence, as young Lowry overcomes the insecurities brought on by his peers to seek his own place in the world.  It’s a story of family and community.  It’s a story of finding ways to fight injustice – finding a way to help others – whether you are 9 or 89 years old.

 It’s an educational and inspirational read, and I hope it will inspire readers to explore injustices in their own communities and find a way to make a difference.  Stephanie Reed is a great story-teller, and I look forward to reading more of her books.  I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, as well as students who want to explore American history.  It would also be a great story for families of 3-9th grade children to read together.

Explore more about Stephanie’s books:

Learn more about serving others:

  • If you know children that want to find opportunities to help solve social problems, check out
  • If you know youth groups that want to serve together to make a difference in their communities, check out my book, Ready to Go Service Projects.
  • If you know adults that want to serve, contact your local volunteer center or visit