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Workshop Highlight: Understanding How Youth are Wired

December 6th, 2014

We’ve been doing a lot of research to understand more about how youth are wired – spending time with youth, studying personalities and researching brain development.  We’re fascinated by what we’ve learned and we’re having a blast sharing the info and practical strategies with schools and youth organizations.  Check out this workshop that we’ve designed:

Understanding How Youth are Wired

Each child is wired with unique personality, interests, skills, attitudes and capacities. Each one has individual needs, desires, dreams and wants. There ARE, however, important, general aspects and facts that can help us better understand their psyches and developmental needs. This workshop shares some key insights on the “science” and “wisdom” of human development that will help you in establishing helpful practices and attitudes to maximize your time with your group. Explore brain development, the multiple intelligences, active reflection, and the various learning styles that allow young people to learn well.  Strategies to maximize learning opportunities while actively engaging youth are presented.

Length of time: 3 – 4 hours

Contact us if you want to bring this workshop to your organization – 615-262-9676 or

Youth Heroes: Street Angels

December 5th, 2014

“Imagine a young boy raised by a father who comes home after work and is abusive to his children and wife on a regular basis. The young boy grows up to despise his father, and by the time he reaches his teenage years, is ready to make something happen. Abuse shelters are available, but sadly he’s learned not to trust adults. He could call the cops, but the last time his mom called he returned home a day later only to find her more battered than ever. So he decides what he needs to do, run away from home and finally be free from abuse.

According to a recent study by the Mobile Health Team serving local shelters and drop-in centers in Hollywood, 76.7% of runaway youth reported histories of abuse and neglect.”

The Street Angels Ministry at the Mission Gathering Church in San Diego supports homeless teenagers.   Volunteers gather twice a month to fill backpacks with supplies for survival on the streets.  They deliver the goods to young people that they meet on the streets.  Instead of just preaching the gospel, they show God’s love through their actions.  Their goal is, “To try to let teens know that they are loved and cared for despite their situation.”  For more information, visit


— Reprinted with permission from our book Ready to Go Service Projects: 140 Ways for Youth Groups to Lend a Hand. Find more ways to help youth engage their skills, talents and passions in serving the community by picking up your own book at your favorite online bookseller OR bring us to your school, church or community organization to lead service-learning workshop!

Why Play? The Foundation Behind the Fun

December 1st, 2014

We talk a lot about play with purpose and learning through play.  Oftentimes people want to learn more about the power of play – why is it important and how can they facilitate powerful learning through play.  So we developed this workshop to meet that need for schools and community organizations:

Title: Why Play? The Foundation Behind the Fun

Description: Play isn’t just play. It’s transformational. Play can feed the brain; develop multiple intelligences and make a-ha moments of learning come to life. Play provides opportunities to build and transform relationships and create venues for youth voice, creativity and self-expression – all attributes that help develop the whole child. Based on the best-selling book, Great Group Games, each game connects to group development stages and to the research on Positive Youth Development. Explore the theory behind play and why games are an important part of your students’ education. Learn how to “play with purpose” – having fun AND implementing best practices at the same time. Walk away with games to help you in the classroom.

Length of time: 2-4 hours.

Also ask us about our all day train-the-trainer in The Art of Facilitating Games.

615-262-9676 or


From Personalities to Differences: Know Your Group

November 24th, 2014

You wouldn’t believe the number of calls we get from youth organizations and schools asking for help in bridging the gap among the untold number of diversities we are seeing in teams of youth and adults.  It can be tough to work together with a multitude of differences!  So we developed a fun, interactive, reflective workshop to help teams know their groups well and learn to work together based on the strengths found in our differences.

From Personalities to Differences: Know Your Group

Want to learn how to build relationships with the infinite variety of ways youth come to us: culturally, geographically, economically, physically, emotionally, sexually and educationally diverse. Whatever the package, we want to know them, respect them, and help them build common ground with people that are different. Personal assessments, conversations, strategies and activities will all be part of this interactive process.

Length of time:  3 hours

Wanna know more?  Contact us at 615-262-9676 or




Relationships – the Cornerstone of Education and Youth Work

November 19th, 2014

Connecting with youth is phenomenal progress, but it’s the tip of the iceberg when it comes to positive youth development. In this chapter, we’re going to go beyond connecting with youth and cover what it means to really know youth. What it means to be in a relationship with your youth. The time you spend getting to know your youth as individuals—their personalities, quirks, cultures, strengths, and needs—is the most important time you will ever spend in your program.

Think about it: What will your youth remember most about you? Will it be the clothes you wore or how you combed your hair? In all likelihood, youth will remember the kind of relationship you had with them. More than math equations learned, knots tied, and zip-lines crossed, they will remember whether you cared about them. The best way to show you care about people is to get to know them.

Relationships are the cornerstone of your program or classroom. Relationships are built on a culmination of experiences, words, actions, body language, and time.  Never underestimate the power and influence you have on youth.

Looking for practical ideas for connecting with youth in your classroom or program? Check out our newest book, Groups, Troops, Clubs and Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth.  It is full of strategies to help educators, coaches and youth workers bring out the best in young people!  Check it out and share it with someone else that loves young people!

Building on Strengths – An Introduction to Positive Youth Development

November 17th, 2014

We work with many schools and organizations who want to embrace a strength-based orientation to youth development and education.  But they need someone to come in to describe what that means, what it looks like, and how they can integrate it into their organizational culture.  We love doing that!  Here is our most popular workshop that gives a 101 type orientation to positive youth development:

Building on Strengths – An Introduction to Positive Youth Development

Workshop description:  Our culture likes to fix things, and usually that’s good. But it’s not good to focus on the deficits and challenges of young people. It’s much more productive to focus on their strengths – and build them up from there. In this workshop, we’ll talk about strength and introduce you to the concept and practices of positive youth development and the Developmental Assets. You’ll have time to do a private assessment of your own practices and map out how you can use this approach to nurture youth in your programs.

Length of time:  2 – 2 ½ hours

Interested in knowing more?  Contact us at or 615-262-9676

The Importance of One-on-One Time with Youth

November 12th, 2014

“The larger our society gets, the more vague and less personal . . . I find it more and more appealing to kids to attain one-on-one time with the leaders and/or adults. Only then will you find out any issues that they may be struggling with and/or be able to successfully grow a healthy relationship with them after spending this quality time together. The activity does not necessarily have to be specific here, but the efforts must be intentional.”   Valorie Buck, youth worker and mother

We believe Valorie is spot on!  That’s why we spend so much time talking about CONNECTING with youth in our new book, Groups, Troops, Clubs and Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth.  It is full of strategies to help educators, coaches and youth workers bring out the best in young people!  Check it out and share it with someone else that loves young people!

Radio Show!

November 6th, 2014

Susan & I were invited to be part of a radio show yesterday.  The education specialist at Blog Talk Radio asked us to join him in a conversation about youth sparks, building on youth strengths, and focusing on positive youth development.  The host, Larry, was a hoot!  We laughed and shared stories the entire time.  Check it out here at

Wise Words on Flexibility in Education and Youth Work

November 5th, 2014

“You have to be aware of where your group is and be ready and willing to throw the plans and curriculum out the window when there are issues to be dealt with today. Forging ahead with your plans without acknowledging their issues simply shows that you are unaware, or worse, don’t really care. Adapting plans and being present builds trust and commitment for tomorrow when it is time to get back to work. Being present and being flexible are crucial.”

– Anderson Williams, entrepreneur, artist, and educational consultant

Peter Benson on Valuing Young People

October 29th, 2014

“Every kid deserves to be seen, heard, valued, included and loved by many adults in her/his neighborhoods, families, schools, programs and communities”

–Peter Benson, youth development expert

Summer Days 12

October 20th, 2014

Summer Days are a 12-part blog series focused on lessons of gratitude passed on from dog to human. This human is still trying to embrace daily the lessons of gratitude, so much so that gratitude gets an entire chapter in the book I wrote with Ann Saylor for educators, youth leaders, and parents called Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working With Youth. In there, lessons of gratitude are shared as a tool for maintaining personal power and strength . . . and teaching youth to do the same.

Summer, our tail wagging, body wiggling, four-pawed bundle of pure joy, showed up in our lives, in our opinion, to share with us how to live from a deeper place of gratitude and to enjoy life’s moments happily.

Summer, a beautiful black and white border collie/lab, has been THE Gratitude Coach for 12 ½ years of our lives who was sent to teach us personally. When you are daily confronted with unconditional love, acceptance and enthusiastic eagerness just because you exist, you tend to pay attention to what that person – or dog – has to communicate.

To date, Summer’s time with us has passed on these lessons:

  1. Show love first thing each morning.
  2. Be joyfully exuberant when doing what you love.
  3. Delight in the now.
  4. Always show appreciation to others.
  5. Work and contribute.
  6. Presume friendship.
  7. Just be.IMG_3955
  8. Sleep and eat regularly.
  9. Offer presence.
  10. Be patient.
  11. Play. Always play.

And it was only in a traumatic, life-changing event that Pete and I were able to articulate a final parting lesson from Summer . . .

Lesson #12: Enjoy everything, no matter what.

It was on a Tuesday, after a long weekend of Summer being sick (unusual for her because she always bounced back after a max of two days), that we went into the vet and were shocked with the news that no dog owners want to hear: our sweet dog was terminally ill and the kindest thing we could do was let her go. I won’t belabor the particulars, only enough to make her lesson point. Summer gave no indication that she was doing poorly over the weeks or months leading to her passing. She followed all the rules of the lessons she had taught us, although some days might have been slightly slower and she did sleep a little bit more (both of which we chalked up to the nearing of her thirteenth birthday). Regardless, she religiously continued to show enthusiasm for each moment and to live each moment to the fullest that she was capable of doing.

It was on her last day – armed with the new knowledge that she had probably been sick for awhile – that we were struck at how she exemplified enjoy everything, no matter what. Never did she show pain in the time leading up to this Tuesday. And on this Tuesday, while lethargic in the morning and obviously not feeling well, she enthusiastically got into the car for every trip we made that day (four total including two to the vet – a lot of jumping in and out!).

Knowing it was her last day, we made sure we had one more play day together so that she could enjoy her favorite dogs, places and things to do. At the park, she explored and made her own path off the beaten trail. At our friends’ house, she exchanged sniffs and licks with her doggie friends and received head rubs from her human friends. Tired afterwards, she pulled away to herself to rest but allowed me to read to her and be near her while we waited for the time to go back to the vet. And going back to the vet? She eagerly looked out the windows and showed every sign of enjoying the ride and being with us. Even at the vet’s, she showed interest in other dogs and humans who were around.

And then she called it a day. But it was a great day. Despite feeling awful. Despite having given up eating a couple of days before. Despite the cancer eating away inside her which was causing her to waste away. Despite it all, Summer lived her life out to the fullest, and it was in this last day that we shook our heads with amazement at how long she had been showing us how to enjoy everything, no matter what.

No matter what physical pain may grab you; no matter what disease may try to ravish your body; no matter what age you may be; no matter what job you may have or not have; no matter what obstacles life may hand you . . . you can still enjoy the life you have. You can be in each moment and savor it or devour it or inhale it. You can choose. It’s your choice. It’s within you to do it.

And that may be the best example of grateful living in action that I’ve ever seen lived out. The challenge now is to follow that example. Evidently Summer thought we were ready. Are you?

Today, live in answer to her challenge. Follow her example.

Summer, July 9, 2002 – June 17, 2014

If you need a dog in your life or want to support abandoned dogs and cats, consider one of the agencies that help support strays and abandoned animals. We got Summer from Freedom Farms who set up at Pet Smart in Rivergate on Saturdays. Good people who are doing heroic work in caring for animals.


13 Ways to Enhance Your Brain

October 15th, 2014

Scientists have been doing such much work with the brain.  In our latest book,  Groups, Troops, Clubs and Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth, we combined the best of the best in research with our experience in classrooms, teams and youth organizations to create 13 ways to enhance the brain.

1. Get Moving

2. Include Novelty and Exploration

3. Challenge the Brain

4. Talk to One Another

5. Smile, Laugh, and Develop a Sense of Humor

6.  Incorporate Music

7.  Take Time for Meditation

8.  Make Time for Feedback and Reflection

9.  Reduce Stress

10. Drink Water and Lots of it!

11. Practice Focusing and Keeping Attention

12. Feed Short- and Long-Term Memory

13. Yawn and Yawn Often

In the book, we explain more about the science behind each brain enhancer and give you concrete strategies to integrate into your program/classroom/club to enhance youth brains.  Check it out!

Summer Days 11

October 13th, 2014

Summer Days are a 12-part blog series focused on lessons of gratitude passed on from dog to human. This human is still trying to embrace daily the lessons of gratitude, so much so that gratitude gets an entire chapter in the book I wrote with Ann Saylor for educators, youth leaders, and parents called Groups, Troops, Clubs & Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working With Youth. In there, lessons of gratitude are shared as a tool for maintaining personal power and strength . . . and teaching youth to do the same.

I read the other day in an article on play that dogs play their whole lives and never forget play in their routine. It’s simply part of who they are and what they do. My personal experience proves this to be true especially with my Summer Girl, my border collie/lab, who came into my husband’s and my life as one of our two canine kids.

In Summer Days 3, as we talked about delighting in the now, we mentioned that Summer often created her own form of “play”:  stalking the edge of the forest to look for stray crickets to chase as we walked, or hunting for bunnies and nosing frogs in water holes. In addition to these acts, Summer has been known to play with her food (bringing it from the bowl into the living room, dropping food on the carpet to get one kernel at a time). She has been known to dive into her bed and attack it; play with chew toys or rawhides (of course!); or play with Lacey and us. We have chased each other in circles around the house. But our favorite game involved guard duty.  We could literally look outside, WHISPER the signal “Lacey, Summer – squirrel” or sometimes simply “squirrel” and the two dogs would tear off to go outside and chase the offending squirrel or squirrels out of the backyard (usually across the top of the fence around the yard to a particular tree).

Did you notice I said, whisper?  How in-tuned to the idea of play is that? A mere whisper could bring it out of her!

Obvious to anyone who owns or owned a dog is his or her inborn ability to play and thus we have:

Lesson #11: Play. Always Play.  IMG_3973

We had to name it, even if it’s an obvious lesson because it’s still a valuable lesson. There are high connections between play and gratitude. When we play, we are less stressed, more present, more alive and more in the moment. Those playful moments bring about gratitude as a natural response. And yet we often neglect to play as we get older in order to work. (And if you want ideas on how to play, check out our books, Great Group Games, Great Group Games for Kids and Great Group Games on the Go.)

IMG_2245How do you like to play? How do you define it? What does it look like for you? Reading a book? Watching a movie? Playing board games or cards? Being silly with a friend? Taking a moment to run backwards in your workout? Having the windows down and the wind whipping your face? Today as you go about your normal routine, don’t forget to take a moment to play – whatever that looks like for you. You know what play is. It makes you smile, lightens your heart and makes you feel free and young. Put it on your list of “must do” today: go play.

You can read all the gratitude lessons we’ve learned from our four-legged Gratitude Guru and learn for yourself how to: show love first thing each morning; be joyfully exuberant when doing what you love; delight in the now; always show appreciation to others; work and contribute; presume friendship; just be; sleep and eat regularly; offer presence; be patient; and play.

3 Strategies for Expanding Power

October 8th, 2014
excerpted from Groups Troops, Clubs and Classrooms by Ragsdale and Saylor

To expand power effectively, you need to develop leadership in youth, and this requires some strategy. Having a concrete plan may help you “let go” of your old idea of power more easily as you begin to share and expand power with youth.

Start small. Begin to notice the everyday moments when youth defer power to you when they could easily hold onto it themselves and change the power flow. For example, if a young person comes to you and asks for a definition of a word, hold back and refrain from giving him the answer. Ask him where he could find the answer for himself. In this simple moment, you have asked him to think, recognize he has the power to find the answer, and realize his own sufficiency. He can claim, in a small way, his own power. And, for you, it begins to generate a discipline of sharing power, giving back to your youth what they can do for themselves.

            Think through the little tasks and what youth can already do. What do they already have the skills, know-how, and resources to pull off? What goes into making your classroom or program work? Do you have snacks? Play music? Icebreakers? If your youth can research a subject online, order snacks, kick off meetings, or lead icebreakers, then why are you doing it? Surely, children can help choose music or lay out snacks. Surely, teens can lead icebreakers. As they assume these responsibilities, you can do something else. As youth get more experience, they gain a stronger sense of ownership and skills, and you will be able to do more as a group. When you successfully share power, you can do more with your time (personally and as a group) and you expand the power. You create a space of shared interests and tip the cultural idea of claiming and deferring power to one that says, “You’re more powerful now and so am I.”

Identify where young people need training and then train them. As an adult, you are accountable for the processes in your programs and for what you teach. If an opportunity comes up for a young person to speak before a business group, you can’t just say “go for it” and expect great results. Instead, you help that young person prepare for public speaking. Likewise, you can help a child find an icebreaker or prepare to lead a discussion. You will also need to guide the young person in accepting the accountability side of sharing and expanding power. Part of sharing power is preparing young people to be ready to take on their newfound power. Some tasks or jobs simply require training, and it’s up to you to provide it.

Training can be time consuming, and how a young person completes a task will not look like how you do it. That’s okay. But over time, your efforts will be multiplied because of your team leadership approach. You will get more done, and you will have a bigger impact on the youth than if you maintained the cultural norm to claim and keep all power for yourself.

Want more strategies for giving youth power and helping youth lead?  Check out more from our new book, Groups, Troops, Clubs and Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth.  It is full of strategies to help educators, coaches and youth workers bring out the best in young people!  Check it out and share it with someone else that loves young people!


Core Beliefs about the Rights of Young People

October 1st, 2014
  • Every young person, despite deficits or challenges, has strengths, resources, and gifts, even if obscured. They have the right to discover those strengths and who they are.
  • Youth are capable and competent. They have the responsibility and the right to give of themselves to others and to make a difference.
  • Youth need the transformational power of hope. When youth believe there is hope for a better future, they are able to envision, face, and strive for that future. They have the right to dream big, aspire to greatness, and have meaningful opportunities.
  • Youth need safe places to grow and explore. They have the right to be safe.
  • Every youth needs caring adults to surround them with support and opportunities to encourage their growth. They have the right to have adults who believe in them and tell them so. Repeatedly.

Adults who are able to say yes to these core beliefs exercise a final, unswerving commitment.  They never abandon a faith in the inner power, giftedness, and greatness of young people. They look for even the minutest indicator of greatness as confirmation. They listen to the dreams of youth, encourage them, expect greatness, believe in them, vocalize that belief, and continuously call forth the strengths youth have within themselves. They actively work to help youth realize their potential, recognize it, and live fully from it.

Wanna learn more about supporting young people?  Check out our new book, Groups, Troops, Clubs and Classrooms: The Essential Handbook for Working with Youth.  It is full of strategies to help educators, coaches and youth workers bring out the best in young people!  Check it out and share it with someone else that loves young people!