Youth growing up in foster care need hands-on life skills training to help prepare them for their successful transition to adulthood. However, when youth are living in RTCs or other structured settings, it can take some creativity to provide experiential activities that meet the needs of youth within the setting, particularly youth who require a more restricted environment. Activities should be individually tailored to a youth's skills and abilities and can include practical skills. Here are some tips for activities to help you start thinking of ways to provide experiential activities.
Food and Meals
- Preparing Food: In some residential settings, only people who have received Food Handler’s Certification are allowed to prepare food in the facility kitchen. Even if this is not the case, it may not be in the best interest of the youth to expose them to kitchen utensils and appliances that may be used in a harmful manner. However, youth need to learn how to prepare their own food. One way to provide an experiential activity in food preparation is to take the lesson outside of the kitchen to a classroom or other appropriate setting and prepare something simple that does not require cooking, such as making different types of healthy salads and sandwiches, trail mix or smoothies. A simple recipe can be utilized to teach how to use recipes and follow written directions, such as on packages of ready-to-prepare foods. Youth can receive experience in using measuring cups and spoons and mixing bowls. This is also a great time to discuss nutrition.
- Meal Planning: Ask youth to find a recipe they like in a cookbook, online, or in a magazine. They can make a list of ingredients to plan a meal for an individual and then another for making a meal for a group. If youth are able to go grocery shopping to purchase items, have them take a calculator and budget along with the list. Challenge: give each youth a few dollars to utilize for a meal and go to the grocery store with a group of youth. They can choose to buy items and make their own meal or put their money together to make a nicer meal for the group. Make a weekly meal menu for the home and list all the ingredients needed to prepare the meal. Go to the store and look at prices and combinations of food items to see if there are ways to lower expenses or utilize ingredients in several meals. If youth are unable to go to a public grocery store, have them create the menu and list ingredients needed. - Newspaper ads or on-line are a great way to get ideas about how much the meals may cost to prepare.
- Taking Training on Meals to the Next Level: An ideal way to teach about food preparation, meals and etiquette is to do so in a simulated (or real) kitchen and dining room. Some RTCs have life skills buildings that contain kitchen and dining areas that include all of the standard cooking appliances and supplies needed to prepare a meal as well as all of the serving ware needed to appropriately set the dining table for a nice meal. In addition to learning about cooking, nutrition, and meal planning, youth should be taught dining etiquette. If your RTC is unable to provide these facilities, think about other ways that etiquette and other lessons could be taught.
- Laundry: If laundry facilities are available onsite that youth may use, teach the youth how to do laundry and give them the responsibility of taking care of their own laundry. One way to do this is for each youth to have an assigned laundry day. On that day, staff assist the youth with doing their laundry to the extent that each youth needs assistance. With youth who are just beginning to do laundry, who have never received formal instruction, or who need more supervision, staff should guide youth completely through the laundry process, teaching them how to sort clothes, appropriately fill the washer, use detergent, etc. The youth should also be taught how to put their clothes away after they have been cleaned, folding or hanging as appropriate to the type of apparel. As youth become more competent in their laundry skills, they can have more autonomy in doing the laundry with less and less assistance from staff. If the RTC does not have a laundry room onsite that youth can use, youth can be taken on an outing to a Laundromat to learn how to do laundry.
- Cleaning: In most RTCs, youth are given responsibility for making their own beds and cleaning their living environment, such as sweeping the floor and cleaning the bathroom. However, if this is not happening, it may be a good idea to incorporate such chores into the routine so that youth develop skills in housekeeping and learn to take responsibility for the cleanliness of their home.
- Organization: Youth need to be taught how to keep their possessions in a neat and organized manner. This skill can best be taught one-on-one with the youth and a staff person, intern or volunteer. This person can help the youth sort through their possessions and organize them in their closet and other storage spaces. It is important to ensure that this experience is a learning opportunity for the youth, teaching them how to think through how to organize, rather than doing the organizing for the youth. During this process, staff can aid youth in determining which items are no longer of use and should be disposed of, thus developing an important skill in managing one’s possessions. However, considering the particular situation of youth in foster care, it is not uncommon for youth to have a strong attachment to their possessions and have great difficulty in parting with them. Youth can be taught how to appropriately care for items of sentimental value by giving them the opportunity to put such items in an album or treasure chest. This can also make for a good therapeutic activity.
- Allowances: If youth receive an allowance, create a log for keeping track of their money and have them write down any they spend. This will help prepare them for using a checkbook register and help them learn to manage their money.
- Responsible Spending: Create posters or pictures of household items, hygiene items, luxury items, and other necessities with prices attached. You can “go shopping” with a limited amount of money. Use Monopoly money for fun. Someone can play “cashier” to learn about making change. Youth will learn about the differences between “wants” and “needs” and how to prioritize certain items. Discuss fine tuning shopping experiences, such as making lists before you go and/or how to utilize coupons. Discuss how overspending and not paying off debt can affect their credit history when it comes to buying a car, renting an apartment, etc.
- Budgeting: Utilize mock check books and mock monthly budgets to help youth understand how to keep track of income and expenditures. Youth can prepare a budget for living on their own by giving them information about average wages for starting out jobs and the average costs of typical budget items, such as rent, utilities, cell phone bills, food, car insurance, child care, etc. Youth can find information about wages and costs by looking at advertisements and other publications on line or in paper format and by asking adults who are willing to share the information.
- Banking: Teach about different types of bank accounts and the difference between debit and credit. Teach youth how to choose a bank and how to open checking and savings accounts. If appropriate and allowable, have youth open an account.
- Credit Cards: Bring in examples of credit card applications, and go over the “fine print.” Help youth calculate interest charges and other fees. It should be noted minors can’t enter into a contractual agreement.
- Taxes: Bring in mock W-2 forms and 1040EZ forms, and show youth how to complete and file simple federal income taxes using the paper forms or online. Inform youth of community agencies where free assistance is available to complete taxes.
- Job Applications: Provide youth with the opportunity to practice filling out job applications. Create a mock application or pick up applications from businesses to practice filling out with youth.
- Interviews: Create role-plays of mock interviews. Allow youth to dress up for the “interview” and make mock follow up contacts to potential employers.
- On-the-Job Skills: Role-play difficult situations with customers or managers and how to maintain appropriate interactions. Teach basic job maintenance skills such as being on time, calling if you are going to be late, and giving notice if you intend to terminate.
- Resumes: Assist youth in making a resume. Microsoft Word has resume templates that make formatting a resume easy. There are also many resources available online to help in creating a resume.
- Time Management: Teach youth how to prioritize activities they need to do and how to make a schedule for their day. They can also be taught how to utilize an on-line or paper calendar or planner to help them plan ahead. These skills can be taught as a group activity or one-on-one.
- Leadership Skills: Creating a Residents’ Council will help youth develop leadership skills and have a voice at the RTC. Policies should be established to determine eligibility for participation in the council, outlining lengths of council terms, participation expectations, how council members input will be utilized and other important information.
- Peer Mentoring: A peer mentoring program can be implemented at the RTC to help youth build leadership skills, help others and provide an opportunity to receive additional attention and support. Guidelines should be established to determine eligibility to be a peer mentor and to outline the peer mentor’s roles and responsibilities, such as ensuring that peer mentors report to staff if their mentee has informed them of any safety-related issues.
- Have youth apply for a library card and learn how to borrow books from the library.
- Have youth complete training in First Aid and CPR.
- Have youth take a driver’s education class.
- If appropriate, allow and encourage youth to get part-time jobs or volunteer on the campus or in the community. If they are unable to leave the RTC campus, perhaps jobs could be made available on campus.
Please note that these activities are just some suggestions to get you started on your journey of providing experiential life skills activities to youth in your care. The list is not comprehensive, and caregivers are not required by DFPS to provide these specific experiential activities. If you have ideas for other experiential activities or tips to include on this list, please contact DFPS at firstname.lastname@example.org.