Freechild Youth Handbook

Free children are not easily influenced; the absence of fear accounts for this phenomenon. Indeed, the absence of fear is the finest thing that can happen to a child. — A.S. Neill

  • Who are you?

  • What matters to YOU?

  • What do you want to do right now?

The Freechild Institute wants YOU to have the tools and examples you need to get engaged and change the world!. This section of our website is The Freechild Project Youth Handbook, and its for YOU.

There are five things this online Handbook wants to do:

  • SHARE KNOWLEDGE — What do you know? What do you wanna know?
  • BUILD SKILLS — What can you do? What do you wanna do?



As you use our online Handbook, keep in mind this is supposed to help you change the world. If it doesn’t work, tell us! If you want to thank us, do that. If you’re inspired, share it with your friends!


The World Needs YOU To Change It Right Now!

Please Don’t Wait Any Longer.



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Stories of Youth Changing the World

The following stories are about young people who decided there was a need in their community, and then took action to meet that need.  Some projects were one-time, and some are on going.  These stories can inspire, infuriate, and empower youth to change the world, and adults to be partners.

Cleanin’ It Up and Changing Our Neighborhoods

Katie, 15, from Kansas City, Missouri, decided that her community’s streets were an eye sore and it was time to do something about it. “Cleaning up the streets is needed in my community because it looks trashy and I thought if we could clean it up, we could make a difference not only in my eyes, but other people’s eyes too.  I would like to see a nice clean community that people care what it looks like.”

Takin’ Care of Kids: Teens Helping Kids

Rachel, 13, from Nashville, Tennessee, and her friends are concerned about children who have serious emotional disturbance (SED) so they created a hotline for kids to call, get advice or just talk.  They also created a public service announcement about SED.  “The ‘Kid Counselors’ give information and resources to the callers.  We want to help bring awareness to the issues surrounding mental illness and help kids with SED to be accepted as an important part of our community.”

Voices of the Past: Recording the History to Affect the Future

Kristen, 14, from Glenshaw, Pennsylvania, records the thoughts and stories of World War II and Korean War veterans.  “I think it will give the youth of my community a better understanding of what happened during the war.  Hopefully, it will also give us a greater respect to the men and women who sacrificed their time, effort, support and sometimes lives so we can be free today.”

WE Own Our Communities: Knowledge is Power

Blair, 15, from Moorestown, New Jersey, has joined forces with community leaders to reclaim a neglected community center and continue to transform it into a library with computers for inner city kids.  “Volunteerism opens a myriad of different culture and races, we have a unique opportunity to look at the work through their eyes and ‘walk in their shoes.’”


Taking Care of Ourselves: Bringing Youth Towards Economic Independence

Shawneequa, 17, from Norfolk, Virginia, started Youth Empowerment Virginia.  The project is committed to assisting youth in reaching their academic, social and economic potential.  The program fosters independence and responsibility, empowering more youth with their own desires to become active, constructive caring members of the community through better leadership skills, social skills and educational services.


Project Unity: Getting Students Voice Heard Through Technology

Project Unity was founded in November of 1999 by a group of students from schools across Washington County, Pennsylvania. Project Unity’s goals are to allow students to discuss school, community, or family problems with each other and to find a solution that will benefit all involved. Using today’s technology, they wish to unite a county and the people within that county to save time, money, and lives. This group feels that they can make a difference by relying on the principles of honesty, hard work, leadership, and perseverance. These students are the leaders of tomorrow, and they’re starting today.


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Elsewhere Online



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

Why Play Games When There’s Work To Do? Fun, Games and Social Change

“There are at least two kinds of games.  One would be called finite, the other infinite.  A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, and an infinite game is played for the purpose of continuing to play.  The rules of a finite game may not change; the rules of an infinite game must… The finite game player aims to win eternal life; the infinite player aims for eternal birth.” – James P. Carse, as quoted by Dale LeFevre*


“We must abandon completely the naive faith that education automatically liberates the mind and serves the cause of human progress; in fact we know it may serve any cause. It may serve tyranny as well as freedom, ignorance as well as enlightenment, falsehood as well as truth. It may lead men and women to think they are free even as it rivets them in chains of bondage… In the course of history, education has served every purpose and doctrine contrived by man; if it is to serve the cause of human freedom, it must be explicitly designed for that purpose.” – George Counts*


There’s so much to do!  Communities seem like they’re falling apart; and young people, old people, brown people, black people, poor people, and lots of other people aren’t getting the respect or power they deserve.  Why play games when there’s so much work to do?  There’s a lot of reasons to look at, but first let’s define what we’re talking about.


What Are Cooperative Games?

Cooperative games emphasize participation, challenge and fun rather then defeating someone. Cooperative games focus on fun and interaction rather than competition and alienation. Cooperative games are not new.

Some of the classic games we played as children are classic because they focused on play. There may be competition involved, but the outcome of the competition is not sitting out or losing. Instead, it may involve switching teams so that everyone ends up on the winning team.


What Are Initiative Games?

Initiative games are fun, cooperative, challenging games in which the group is confronted with a specific problem to solve. Initiative games can be used for several reasons.  The games can be used to demonstrate and teach leadership skills to people, which helps to promote the growth of trust and problem-solving skills in groups.  Games demonstrate a process of thinking about experiences that helps people learn and practice responsibility.

Some people avoid calling them “games,” choosing “activity,” “challenge,” or “problem” instead.  Whatever a group chooses to call them, these games can boost our efforts to create powerful, lasting community change.


Why Play Games?

When a group of people are preparing to participate in social change, there needs to be some breaking down of inhibitions before they become group participants.  “There is no ‘I’ in T-E-A-M” and all that.  Before a group can build effective solutions to the problems facing their communities, they need to trust each other and communicate.

Cooperative games also help set the tone of an action.  Social change work is often hard-driven and energy-consuming.  Many groups find that cooperative games offer a brisk, friendly way to couple passionate task-oriented goals with driven, group-minded teambuilding.  In other words, fun and games help propel social change.

Another purpose of games is to get people to think together, as a team, so that everyone in the group has input and shares ideas.  When we have input we have ownership, and when more people have ownership there is more success.


Aren’t Games Distracting?

When used right, games can actually accentuate the purpose of your day’s work or your group’s purpose.  Through a technique called “framing,” games become relevant and powerful tools to break down barriers, build up focus, and make your group’s process more effective and inclusive of all involved.

In all settings games should be used to build a sense of purpose, passion, and opportunity.  Without those pieces as goals, games become pacifiers for the grown, as their potential to stave off the appetite of a group that hungers for power is immense.  In classrooms where teachers use games as “fillers” the students mope lazily back to their desks, as they know the grueling pain of continuity is about to continue.  In classrooms where teachers use the games in context of the lessons, students aim to learn with eagerness and a sense of purpose.

The purpose of the games is often set during the introduction, or framing, of the activity.  Participants may be forewarned of the deeper meanings, or the activity may be introduced as a metaphor.  Another way to inject purpose into activities is in the reflection or debriefing of the activity.

An easy way to see the relevance of reflection is to picture games as a circle: you start with an explanation of the activity, framing its purpose and goals to the group.  The activity progresses, with the facilitator taking a more hands-on or less guiding approach as needed.  Finally, the group reflection helps participants see how they met the goal, and to envision the broader social change implications.  Then the group has come full-circle.


What Games Should We Play?

Games can be chosen to meet almost any purpose.  The following games mentioned are all in the book mentioned below. Does your group need to develop its teambuilding skills?  Try the Caterpillar.  Do you need to work closely and get used to each other’s physical space?  Try Sardines.  You’ve been inside all day, sitting on your butts and thinking, and you just want to play?  Check out Blob Tag or Human Scissors-Paper-Rock .  Your group needs to trust each mentally, emotionally, and physically?  Use the Trust Circle.  Learning, trusting, feeling and thinking together are the goals of these games.  Its helpful for every group to remember that.


Many people use games as an introduction or a closing to their activities.  However, its a good idea to add them throughout your day, between or as a part of a larger event.  Games are a great way to break up the monotony of a long day’s learning, or a hard day’s work.  They are also a great way to keep small children busy, and big children happy.  You may want to play a game to reinforce teamwork after a sucky day (because they happen) or play a game to relieve some group stress or build the scenario to work through a problem.  Games are actually tools that a skilled facilitator has at their fingertips in a time of need.


Great! How Do We Get Started?

Below is a list of easy-to-use games.  They come from a wide collection of games available from the Freechild Project’s FireStarter Youth Power Curriculum.  Check out this list and go visit FireStarter for more!  You can also look up the bibliography listed under the Facilitator’s Guide there.

For many more resources on cooperative and initiative games, visit the links on the right, and read some of the great books available (especially those by the greats Karl Rohnke and Dale LeFevre.  Play safe, play purposefully, play fun and play hard!


Selected Games

Check out our free book, The Freechild Project Guide to Cooperative Games for Social Change. This insightful new guide will help community workers, teachers, activists, and all kinds of people find fun, engaging, and powerful activities that promote teamwork, communication, and social justice.

  • LeFevre, Dale (1988) New Games for the Whole Family. New York: Perigee Books.
  • Counts, George S. (1963) Education and the Foundations of Human Freedom. Out-of-print.


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Share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how The Freechild Project can support cooperative games and teambuilding in your community or organization, contact us.

Additional Resources for Youth Mainstreaming

Youth Mainstreaming by The Freechild Project

<< Chapter VI: Next Steps | Introduction to Youth Mainstreaming >>

There are several resources available on Youth Mainstreaming. They include some of the following.


Youth Mainstreaming by The Freechild Project

<< Chapter VI: Next Steps | Introduction to Youth Mainstreaming >>


Share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how The Freechild Project can support Youth Mainstreaming in your community or organization, contact us.

Next Steps for Youth Mainstreaming

Youth Mainstreaming by The Freechild Project

<< Chapter V: Potential Activities | Chapter VII: Additional Resources >>

Taking Action for Youth Mainstreaming is essential. The following suggestions, drawn from The Freechild Project experiences and research, can help leaders get started with this effective and cutting-edge strategy.

1. Engage youth in every aspect of the Youth Mainstreaming planning process.

Youth must be directly, equitably and effectively engaged in each of the next steps and beyond, from crafting a vision to identifying and facilitating action for moving forward. Many cities have found youth partners invaluable in community building. Youth gain practical skills while also generating a wealth of new data from diverse sources.

2. Appoint youth to leadership roles.

Youth Mainstreaming positions young people in leadership roles throughout the organization and community where its happening. It is absolutely essential that young people have at least half of all leadership roles throughout all Youth Mainstreaming activities. Its also essential that all activities are not youth-led, but embody youth/adult partnerships to the fullest.

3. Educate youth and adults.

Both youth and adults will benefit from educational activities that teach them to adjust their working styles for maximum cooperation. Adults will need to overcome their perspectives of youth and learn how to engage youth as equitable partners, while youth may need to overcome their own preconceptions of adults and learn business meeting procedures. Both need to learn about youth voice, youth engagement and of course, Youth Mainstreaming, as well as adultism and youth/adult partnerships.

4. Commit to Youth Mainstreaming.

Youth Mainstreaming takes many forms, but the process for creating effective Youth Mainstreaming plans engages all stakeholders; forges a common vision; develops comprehensive strategies; shares accountability; and coordinates initiatives. Commit to a comprehensive planning process centering on Youth Mainstreaming and ensure collective commitment to it through consensus building, problem solving and strategic partnerships.

5. Effectively Engage Young People.

Engaging a diverse group of youth with different perspectives is as vital as having a broad range of adults participating in the process. Youth can contribute to all of the various aspects of the Youth Mainstreaming planning process, but both young people and the adults with whom they interact will need training and support to ensure that youth are equitable partners who are valued, encouraged, and reflected in throughout all Youth Mainstreaming plans and activities.

6. Envision a plan that can guide future action.

Before you begin, think about what your organization or community’s Youth Mainstreaming plan will look like, including what issues it will cover, what actions will be taken, how the outcomes will be presented, and what re-invention of the process will be like. Developing and documenting clear goals, action steps, and specific timelines heightens the Youth Mainstreaming plan’s impact and prospects for success.

7. Lay the groundwork for sustainability from the beginning.

The long-term success of Youth Mainstreaming hinges on generating support across whole organizations and throughout entire communities to implement and sustain the plan. Implementing a public outreach campaign, celebrating early victories, and making plans to collect data on key outcomes can help build a sense of ownership and commitment among both youth and adults who are involved, and throughout the broader community.

8. Engage as many people as possible throughout organizations and communities.

Ever single young person in every dimension of the program, no matter what their engagement, education, motivation, behavior or attitude, should be affected by your organization’s Youth Mainstreaming strategy. Parents, youth workers, program supervisors, executives, board directors and others are essential partners within organizations committed to Youth Mainstreaming. In every community, a diverse range of adults have a stake in the well-being of young people, too, and the ability to contribute, sustain and expand Youth Mainstreaming.

9. Promote a shared vision for Youth Mainstreaming.

Youth or adults can develop and promote a shared vision for Youth Mainstreaming within your organization or throughout your community. A strong vision statement about Youth Mainstreaming speaks to the urgency of the strategy. It should be linked to a measurable set of indicators and resonate with an organization or community’s broader hopes and concerns. The vision should also focus on inclusiveness and define shared priorities that are central to Youth Mainstreaming.

10. Assess needs and design comprehensive approaches.

The process of moving from a common vision to a cross-cutting approach for Youth Mainstreaming requires an assessment of what is working (i.e., strengths/assets on which to build) and what is not (i.e., biggest problems and challenges). Focus groups, community meetings, surveys, data collection and analysis, and community youth mapping are a few methods of generating an initial needs assessment with youth and adults involved.

11. Create a framework for shared accountability.

Keeping key stakeholders at the table after a Youth Mainstreaming approach has been crafted is vital. Shared accountability will specify the roles and responsibilities of each major partner, resting on the success of setting clear benchmarks and agreeing at the outset on the consequences when those benchmarks are not met. Stressing connections between new activities and each partner’s existing priorities can further strengthen their commitment to collaborative initiatives.

12. Coordinate cross-community efforts.

Identifying organizations and individuals that have the capacity, motivation, and standing in the community to monitor and report on the progress of Youth Mainstreaming is an important element of this work. Coordination of Youth Mainstreaming strategies can also promote better alignment of current programs, policies, and systems.

13. Empower youth and adults to promo together.

One effective way to generate publicity and recruit other participants in the planning process is to enlist youth and adults together as key messengers to local leaders and media outlets. When youth and adults speak from experience about Youth Mainstreaming, they can be powerful advocates. Youth and adults can speak together about Youth Mainstreaming at city council meetings or community events.

14. Make your Youth Mainstreaming plan public, obvious and apparent.

Creating the youth master plan document is not the culmination of work, but the starting point of a community’s comprehensive efforts for children and youth. An important component in a youth master plan is the documentation of next steps, including a delineation of the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders charged with implementation, an outline of the organizational structure(s) that will guide ongoing work, and a method for evaluating the plan. Setting priorities, using timelines with target implementation dates, and developing clear benchmarks for measuring success in each area can also enhance the plan’s effectiveness

15. Continually build support among community leaders.

As Youth Mainstreaming is implemented and moves beyond your organization throughout your entire community, it is vital that a broad range of city and community leaders lend their support and blend the strategy into the way organizations do business. In addition to youth throughout your organization and the entire community, adult leaders should include nonprofit executives and elected officials, as well as community leaders, faith community representatives, and others.

16. Measure progress over time.

By establishing a process for ongoing data collection, the planning team can assess the status of child and family wellbeing and measure the effectiveness of each strategy delineated in the plan. Planning teams have drawn on numerous sources of community-level data to track progress, including the U.S. Census Bureau, the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s online Data Center, city, county, and state governments, and local school districts and police departments. There are other measures of the effectiveness of Youth Mainstreaming, too.

17. Celebrate early and ongoing victories.

Demonstrate tangible results of Youth Mainstreaming as soon as possible. Celebrating these early victories will help generate and sustain momentum and maintain support from the youth and adults taking part in activities. Using periodic opportunities to recognize and celebrate success, Youth Mainstreaming organizations and communities can hold a press conference to announce the opening of a new youth positions or action centers, inviting local media to visit an engaged youth program, or honoring team members who worked collaboratively to achieve important milestones.


Youth Mainstreaming by The Freechild Project

<< Chapter V: Potential Activities | Chapter VII: Additional Resources >>


Share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how The Freechild Project can support Youth Mainstreaming in your community or organization, contact us.