Creating a Youth Engagement Map

When we’re planning for youth engagement, its important to have a vision, dream big and hope for the absolute best. Its vital to hold out for the most positive, powerful outcomes no matter what the odds, and to stick our necks out. However, to do that best we should put youth engagement plans on paper or type them up and share them with the people involved.

The locations for youth engagement vary according to the community or organization doing the mapping. They can include formal and informal spaces; adult-approved and youth-driven places; and other sorts of possibilities for people to gather, belong, dream and take action. In the research and practice of the Freechild Institute since 2001, we’ve found there are three consistent factors affecting these locations for youth engagement. Those factors are:

  • Personal attitudes
  • Structual systems
  • Shared cultures

Our youth engagement mapping process can help communities and organizations expand their activities with intention and purpose while deepening the impact they have on young people and their communities.

This is a graphic of the Freechild Institute youth engagement mapping tool.
This is a graphic of the Freechild Institute youth engagement mapping tool.

Here’s a process Freechild uses with youth and adults to map youth engagement.

  1. Define a goal. Name what exactly you’d like to do; don’t just say, “Engage youth.” Instead, name who, what, when, where, why and how you’re going to engage youth.
  2. Identify allies. Find younger and older people who will support you while you’re engaging youth.
  3. Identify likely challenges. There are a lot of forces working against youth engagement; name them.
  4. Uncover layers of power. Power affects youth engagement a lot. Name the ways, show their faces and write them down.
  5. Develop a strategy. There’s no magic wand and it doesn’t often just happen. How exactly are you going to engage youth?
  6. Create a message. Young people are saturated by media of all kinds. Appealing to them requires a real message that’s authentically delivered to them. What’s your message?
  7. Get out there. How are you taking action for youth engagement? What are the places, people, preparations and outcomes you’re looking for? Get to work!
  8. Create a calendar. Show people how, where and when youth engagement is going to happen by creating a visual calendar and sharing it.
  9. Estimate needed resources. Youth engagement takes resources – what are yours?
  10. Monitor and evaluate. Keep your eyes open, your heart beating, your feet on the ground and your hands in the mud through monitoring and evaluation.


Once you’ve started a youth engagement map, consider what’s missing, find other people to contribute, and keep building!


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Freechild Youth Handbook: Get Engaged and Change the World by Adam Fletcher for the Freechild Institute
Freechild Youth Handbook: Get Engaged and Change the World

Youth Action Planning

Do you want to take action with young people? Children, youth and adults around the world are working together more than ever to make a difference. It can be hard figuring out the process though!

After almost 20 years of launching youth action projects around the world, Freechild thinks we should share what we’ve learned. In addition to our workshops and books, we want to make sure anyone can take positive, powerful action to make the world a better place.

Here is the Freechild Institute’s youth action planning process.

Steps for Planning Youth Action

  1. Find history. Young people have been making positive, powerful change for a long time. Learn about it, read stories, ask older people and get connected. Read more »
  2. Explore power. In a world run by the powerful, its important to rise above being powerless. When we work together in community to make a difference, children, youth and adults can create power and challenge those in power. Read more »
  3. Define the issue. What do you want to change? Research what matters to you, explore how to make a difference, and get info. Read more »
  4. Build community. The powerful want to cut off youth from each other and adults. Challenge that by rallying your friends, strangers, older and younger people, and people who are different from you. Get everyone involved in taking action. Read more » 
  5. Network. Find people who aren’t invested in your issue who’ll be your allies and build coalitions to for them to share space, ideas, knowledge and strength with you. Read more »
  6. Map engagement. Match action to your issue, map out the steps to making a difference, name your communication strategy, and get to work. Read more »
  7. Celebrate. Reach out to the people, organizations, elected officials and others who are your allies, as well as people in your networks using social media and in-person contacts. Tell what’s happening, gather ideas and support, and keep moving. Read more »
  8. Reflect on it. Look back on what’s happened, explore what you have done and could do, and plan your next steps using your new learning. Read more »

Once you’ve planned action, take action! Remember Freechild’s motto: “Once through action do words take power!”


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Quotes about Critical Pedagogy

Critical pedagogy is a revolutionary approach to teaching and learning, as it strives to create an equitable, just and fair world through the radical facilitation of social justice within communities of learners. A growing tradition among youth engagement facilitators, critical pedagogy is sometimes referred to as problem-posing education or popular education.

Following are some quotes related to critical pedagogy. It can be dangerous to take these quotes out of context or to minimize what is being said. As Paulo Freire wrote in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “Manipulation, sloganizing, “depositing,” regimentation, and prescription cannot be components of revolutionary praxis, precisely because they are component of the praxis of domination.” If you’re serious about learning about critical pedagogy we suggest you learn more and take critical, conscious action. The following are quotes that inspire Freechild Institute; maybe they’ll inspire you, too.


Quotes on Critical Pedagogy for Youth

“We make the road by walking.” ― Paulo Freire and Myles Horton

“This movement of inquiry must be directed towards humanization — the people’s historical vocation. The pursuit of full humanity, however, cannot be carried out in isolation or individualism, but only in fellowship and solidarity; therefore it cannot unfold in the antagonistic relations between oppressors and oppressed.” — Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

“The classroom remains the most radical space of possibility in the academy.” ― bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

“Critical pedagogy is a movement and an ongoing struggle taking place in a number of different social formations and places.” ― Henry Giroux

“The educator for liberation has to die as the unilateral educator of the educatees, in order to be born again as the educator-educatee of the educatees-educators. An educator is a person who has to live in the deep significance of Easter.” ― Paulo Freire as quoted by Paul Taylor in The Texts of Paulo Freire

“As a classroom community, our capacity to generate excitement is deeply affected by our interest in one another, in hearing one another’s voices, in recognizing one another’s presence.” ― bell hooks, Teaching To Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

“Getting ahead cannot be the only motive that motivates people” ― Henry Giroux, Youth in a Suspect Society: Democracy or Disposability?

“Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man; nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion.” ― Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

“Home was the place where I was forced to conform to someone else’s image of who and what I should be. School was the place where I could forget that self and, through ideas, reinvent myself.” ― bell hooks, Teaching To Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

“I have not forgotten the day a student came to class and told me: ‘We take your class. We learn to look at the world from a critical standpoint, one that considers race, sex, and class. And we can’t enjoy life anymore.'” – bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

“The stories a society tells about itself are a measure of how it values itself, the ideals of democracy, and its future.” ― Henry Giroux

“Many of these leaders, however (perhaps due to the natural and understandable biases against pedagogy) have ended up using the ‘educational’ methods employed by the oppressor. They deny pedagogical action in the liberation process, but they use propaganda to convince.” ― Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

“Dialogue further requires an intense faith in humankind, faith in the power to make and remake, to create and recreate, faith in their vocation to be more fully human (which is a privileged of an elite, but the birthright of all).” ― Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

“When everyone in the classroom, teacher and students, recognizes that they are responsible for creating a learning community together, learning is at its most meaningful and useful.” ― bell hooks, Teaching Critical Thinking

“The central element of teaching for social justice is intended to address the supposed tyranny of the banking model – teachers must learn from their students, much as well-heeled revolutionaries must learn from the oppressed people they wish to liberate.” ― Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

“Power is never so overwhelming that there’s no room for resistance.” ― Henry Giroux

“Worse yet, it [banking model] turns them [students] into ‘containers’ to be ‘filled’ by the teacher. The more completely she fills the receptacles, the better a teacher she is. The more meekly the receptacles permit themselves to be filled, the better students they are.” ― Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

“The school system is mostly geared to the interests, skills, and attitudes of the middle-class child. Though I also argue that the system is failing to educate middle-class students, it is the children of poverty who really suffer, being streamed into courses that prepare them for a life of temporary, dead-end, underpaid, undignified, and menial jobs.” ― Peter McLaren, Life in Schools: An introduction to critical pedagogy

“The teacher presents the material to the students for their consideration, and reconsiders her earlier considerations as the students express their own.” – Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

“Critical pedagogy is concerned with teaching students how not only to think but to come to grips with a sense of individual and social responsibility, and what it means to be responsible for one’s actions as part of a broader attempt to be an engaged citizen who can expand and deepen the possibilities of democratic public life.” ― Henry Giroux

“Any situation in which some individuals prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence. The means used are not important; to alienate human beings from their own decision-making is to change them into objects.” – Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

“Engaged pedagogy does not seek simply to empower students. Any classroom that employs a holistic model of learning will also be a place where teachers grow, and are empowered by the process.” ― bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

“Through dialogue, the teacher-of-the-students and the students-of-the-teacher cease to exist and a new term emerges: teacher-student and student-teachers’ who are ‘jointly responsible for a process in which both grow.” – Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed


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Youth/Adult Partnerships: Nothing About Us Without Us Is For Us

Youth and Popular Education

Creating spaces for youth and popular education can support dynamic, powerful and just opportunities for social justice, youth empowerment and community engagement. Popular education is a way of facilitating learning that moves youth from being recipients towards becoming fully equal partners. Brazilian educator Paulo Freire taught that this approach can build learners’ beliefs they can change the world, by engaging them in the world instead of separating them from it. It can also integrate youth throughout communities by positioning them as co-learners, co-leaders and full members of society.


“This movement of inquiry must be directed towards humanization — the people’s historical vocation. The pursuit of full humanity, however, cannot be carried out in isolation or individualism, but only in fellowship and solidarity; therefore it cannot unfold in the antagonistic relations between oppressors and oppressed.” — Paulo Freire


Ways Youth can be Engaged through Popular Education

Youth-Led Programs — Supporting youth-led action moves popular education beyond traditional classroom learning towards interactive, engaging and hands-on social change. Youth design, develop and facilitate programming, including lesson plans, activities and projects, and more. This generative process builds knowledge and ideas while supporting the individual strength, self-esteem, and the overall capacities of youth, and it challenges assumptions about what youth can and cannot do.

Youth-Led Learning — Facilitating learning for themselves, their peers, younger people and adults allows young people to experience motivation, self-empowerment, hope and ability by positioning them in positions of capability while co-learning from others. Strengthening and challenging their knowledge, youth facilitators can grow the abilities of others in unique ways, too.

Youth Learning with Adults — Engaging youth and adults as co-learners through popular education can redefine their expectations of each other while fostering safe, supportive learning environments to grow and expand their knowledge, ideas and abilities. Providing access to each other as comrades in learning can foster healthy interactions between youth and adults, challenge negative stereotypes, improve intergenerational relations, and redefine social norms that negatively affect both youth and adults.


Things Youth Need to Change the World through Popular Education

Education — Comprehensive training on popular education should teach youth about the ability, capability and power inherent in co-learning, co-teaching and cooperative education. Youth should learn about the role of the facilitator (versus a teacher, trainer, leader, etc.) by experiencing group animation and motivation; staying focused on learning during a popular education activity; ensuring all the voices within a group are heard; seeking consensus, and; offering supportive and helpful feedback.

Opportunities — Young people need substantial opportunities to facilitate popular education. By actively employing popular education strategies, they can experience the humility and learning needed to become effective community advocates; inspire people to change the world, and; have real fun!

Youth/Adult Partnerships — Real youth/adult partnerships engage young people and adults in equitable relationships that can build the power, purpose and potential of youth through popular education. Transparency, communication, mutual investment and meaningful involvement in popular education can allow young people and adults to work together to transform communities in powerful, positive ways.


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Other tools are out there, too – share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how the Freechild Institute can support youth as mediators in your community or organization, contact us.

Youth Engagement in Portland, Oregon

Back in the early 2000s, Portland, Oregon, was another midline American city with nothing special happening. Sure, they had a city youth council, but it was under-energized and ill-equipped for the new century that just began. Then, action happened.

In 2002, Multnomah County hired a new youth development coordinator named Josh Todd, and he transformed the entire operation. Over the course of a half-decade, he basically super-charged the county’s youth programs and set them up for the future.

During that time, there were several significant developments. They included:

  • Focusing on youth of color and low-income youth to dramatically increase their participation in youth engagement activities throughout the entire county;
  • Expanding the Multnomah County Youth Council and including the City of Portland to make the youth commission a joint City-County policy body;
  • Creating a two-year, community-wide project that created a Youth Bill of Rights, with more than 4,000 youth involved in the creation and implementation of the final document;
  • Securing significant funding from the Youth Innovation Fund of the Kellogg Foundation. They gave the City of Portland and Multnomah County $325,000 over 4-years to support their countywide youth engagement work. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation Youth Innovation Fund supported “diverse groups of young people, working in partnership with community institutions, to create civic innovations that address public issues and problems using a service-learning framework.”
  • They trained a lot of people through their program.

According to youth and adults there, the City of Portland and Multnomah County still have issues in their youth development, youth engagement and youth/adult partnership work. However, the work of the Youth Commission has made great strides today and into the future that all communities worldwide can learn from!

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