Monday, June 10, 2024

Reed Larson’s Research on Youth Development

Source: Reed Larson, The Youth Development Experience

Kate Walker
By Guest Blogger Kate Walker, Extension Specialist, Youth Development, University of Minnesota Extension. This blog was originally published by the University of Minnesota Extension.

I recently attended the annual meeting for the Society for Research on Adolescence where my mentor Reed Larson was invited to reflect on his influential research career in youth development. Reed first got interested in adolescence because he saw it as a critical period of awakening. Yet he noticed that most research focused on problems more than development, and he discovered that youth programs were powerful spaces for this awakening and development to occur. These insights propelled an impressive body of research that has tremendous implications for our work with and on behalf of young people. 

Young people’s daily experiences and emotions

With his mentor, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Reed began by studying adolescents’ daily experiences and emotions, pioneering the Experience Sampling Method (ESM) where young people were prompted (with beepers back then!) to report on their feelings and the dynamics of their experiences in different domains in their daily lives. He explored their media use, time alone, experience with friends, and school experience.  

Reed Larson and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

He discovered that during their typical experiences in school, young people were challenged (deep attention) but not engaged (intrinsically motivated). Conversely during unstructured leisure time, they were engaged but not challenged. The one unique context where young people reported experiencing the rare combination of high levels of challenge and engagement was in organized youth programs (arts, STEM, leadership, sports). He was intrigued.

Youth programs as developmental contexts

This led Reed to develop a series of studies focused on young people’s developmental experiences in youth programs and how staff facilitate these experiences. His research teams identified the types of key experiences that young people have in high-quality youth programs that facilitate their development of skills for teamwork, solving problems, managing emotions, and sustaining motivation in challenging work. He found that project-based youth programs are settings in which Csikszentmihalyi’s "flow" experience serves as a powerful catalyst for developing vital adult skills.

These findings are widely used to design programs and train program staff. They were the basis for a researcher-practitioner collaboration that resulted in a field guide of key youth experiences and staff practices that build valuable social and emotional skills. His groundbreaking research on the lives of young people and the developmental role of youth programs helped to both launch and legitimize the field of positive youth development. 

I most appreciate how respectfully rooted Reed’s research is in the direct experiences and accounts of young people. Throughout he has always emphasized that youth are agents or producers of their own development. Are there aspects of his research that speak to or influence you and your work? 


Kate Walker, (she/her), is the Extension Specialist, Youth Development at University of Minnesota Extension. Kate provides leadership to the understanding and development of youth work practice. She studies the role that adult program leaders, staff and volunteers play in supporting youth development in programs. She also leads professional development efforts aimed at supporting and improving youth work practice. This includes trainings on social and emotional learning and on the dilemmas that practitioners face in their everyday work with young people. 

The University of Minnesota Extension has a long history of youth development leadership. They are best known for running Minnesota 4-H for more than 100 years. The 4-H program also serves as their laboratory of learning, in which they are constantly improving. Their mission is to improve the lives of all Minnesota young people - no matter where they live or which youth program they choose to join.

Monday, June 3, 2024

Survey Results Point to a Summer of Learning and Engagement Ahead for Young People

Source: Afterschool Alliance

By Guest Blogger Nikki Yamashiro. This was originally posted by Afterschool Alliance on the Afterschool Snack Blog.

As the temperature starts to rise, and in D.C., we start to feel the familiar humidity creep into the air, one’s thoughts can’t help but turn to summer—and for those of us at the Afterschool Alliance, that includes thinking about what the state of summer programming will look like. If this upcoming summer is anything like the last, we anticipate summer programs to be open and ready to provide fun, academically enriching, and hands-on learning opportunities for their students.

Based on a survey of 989 summer program providers conducted late last year—October 31 through December 5, 2023—more than 9 in 10 (96 percent) reported that they offered programming during the 2023 summer, similar to the number of providers reporting that they offered programming during the 2022 summer (96 percent), and up from the summers of 2021 (88 percent) and 2020 (79 percent). Additionally, nearly 1 in 3 programs (32 percent) said that they expanded their summer program to serve more children and 1 in 10 (11 percent) were able to offer summer programs at more sites than in the past. When asked about the type of activities offered, nearly 3 in 10 summer program providers said that they placed a greater focus on ensuring a balance of academic and enrichment activities for their young people (28 percent) and were more intentionally focusing on students’ holistic needs and supporting their overall well-being (27 percent).  

However, providing summer programming wasn’t without its challenges. Forty-four percent of summer program providers said that there was a waitlist for their program, although down slightly from the 48 percent of summer providers who reported a waitlist for their 2022 summer program. Additionally, 62 percent of summer providers said that they were concerned about their ability to meet the demand from families.

Summer providers’ level of concern about staffing their program may help shed some light on the issue of waitlists, with three-quarters of providers (75 percent) concerned about being able to hire enough staff for their summer programming, including half (50 percent) who said that they were extremely or very concerned. Summer program providers’ concerns over staffing mirrors concerns afterschool program providers reported about their fall programming, where 81 percent reported concerns about finding staff, retaining staff, or both. 

Looking ahead, nearly three-quarters of summer program providers (74 percent) said that they felt optimistic about the future of their program, which also bodes well for this upcoming summer. To see the full survey findings, visit our Afterschool Program Provider Survey page. If you are a provider looking for ideas, tools, or resources for your summer program, National Summer Learning Association’s Summer Planning Bootcamp webinar series is available now to watch recordings of the two day event. The Wallace Foundation’s Summer Learning Toolkit is another valuable resource, where you can find a planning calendar, sample job descriptions and staff handbooks, facilitation guides, sustainability tools, and more to help you bring your best summer program forward for your students and families.


Nikki Yamashiro 
joined the Afterschool Alliance in June 2012. In her current role, Nikki coordinates, manages, and advances the Afterschool Alliance’s research efforts, including developing the organization's research goals and agenda and effectively communicating findings on afterschool and summer programs to policy makers, afterschool providers, advocates, and the public.

The Afterschool Alliance
is a national organization that works to ensure that all youth have access to affordable, quality afterschool programs by engaging public will to increase public and private investment in afterschool program initiatives at the national, state, and local levels.

Reed Larson’s Research on Youth Development

Source: Reed Larson, The Youth Development Experience Kate Walker By Guest Blogger Kate Walker, Extension Specialist, Youth Development, Uni...