From wardrobe coordination to time management few junior highers know the day-to-day skills that’ll help them succeed. Two-income families single-parent families and blended families are all busy and few junior highers today learn basic life skills at home anymore.
Eric comes to our junior high meetings in the strangest combination of clothes. Mari has makeup gobbed on her face. And tall, lanky Kevin slumps all over his girlfriend at dances. After 10 years of watching junior high kids I finally got the point. Every young teenager struggles through an awkward phase of “life-skill ignorance.” And as I watched kids get into fashion makeup and strong peer relationships I wondered how the church could help. After all God is interested in helping Christian teenagers become “perfect and complete lacking in nothing” (James 1:4).
Why It’s Important
Thus we started a life-skills program at our church. In developing this program we chose three goals:
- To enable kids to form their identities. Where parents and extended families once helped kids learn basic skills such as personal hygiene there’s now silence. Two-income families, single-parent families and blended families are all busy and few junior highers today learn life skills at home anymore.
- To provide positive role models. Many exceptional adults and older teenagers are good role models for junior highers. One of our life-skills volunteers encountered a group of guys who insisted that cheating in school was okay because they were all getting football scholarships. The volunteer called four guys from the football team who were on scholarships and asked them to meet with her life-skills class. The kids were thrilled to meet the football players. And they were provided with role models who insisted that cheating is a sure way to lose.
- To provide fellowship time. Life-skills classes should be fun hands-on learning experiences. A shaving class for boys can include shaving cream razors and a huge mess! Clothing classes can help young teenagers coordinate their wardrobes. One volunteer brought in a dozen outfits from his closet for the kids to try on and coordinate. Having a good time with friends is a life skill taught in all of our classes.
How It Works:
Small groups are especially important in life-skills classes so everyone will have a chance to participate in each activity. Small groups permit trust and intimacy which are needed for quality growth and sharing. At St. John’s where Laura Olbert and I originated the life-skills program we have 15 kids in each group. Guys meet separately from the girls so leaders can address specific identity issues. Guys aren’t interested in makeup and skin care. And girls aren’t interested in football scholarships and shaving.
Our program coordinator schedules a weekly teacher for each class. Teachers are chosen based on skill areas general interest in kids and previous work in youth ministry. Each teacher receives a schedule room assignment, supply checklist and an “overview” about junior highers’ characteristics. We sometimes ask an adult volunteer to help each class with attendance discipline and continuity.
Once you develop a life-skills program at your church continue to refine it to meet your kids’ needs. Put these points into practice:
- Find out what kids learn in school. Some schools offer life-skills programs that focus on communication leadership and study habits. Don’t duplicate school programs unless you’ve got an entirely different angle on the same issue.
- Keep variety in your subjects. Some topics may be serious such as negotiating with parents cheating in school or helping friends with problems. Others such as self-defense dancing or fingernail-painting are more fun. Keep kids motivated by balancing serious and fun programming. By planning several months in advance you can mix light and heavy topics.
- Use active learning. Whenever possible teach through activities and experiences. We’ve taken trips to the mall to learn wardrobe and makeup skills. And we’ve toured a bank to learn checkbook skills. Remember: Learning basic skills should be fun as well as informative.
- Evaluate often. Track which topics best meet kids’ needs. Ask kids how they enjoyed each class. Be willing to restructure or change programs if necessary. For example a suicide in our town prompted us to do a life-skills class on peer support and teen suicide. Being flexible enough to look at this important issue at a critical moment helped keep the program relevant.
Our young teenagers appreciated learning these basic skills in church. One junior higher commented: “Adults expect us to just know some of this stuff like the information somehow travels through the air! Life-skills class is fun. It has really helped me with my life and feeling good about myself.” With the input of friends and experienced adults working through various elements of identity development has helped our young people see their church as supportive and caring. And the life-skills program has helped ease the pain of being a junior higher.