Programming For Tweens

Way, way back when I started working at Bellingham, Washington Parks and Recreation, (OK it was in 1979) youth programs fell into three age groups: Preschool activities were geared for 3-5 year olds, while children’s programs attracted 6-12 year olds. The minute a child turned 13, they began attending teen programs. However, in the last five or six years, a new “group” has emerged: tweens.

Marketers are flocking to this 9-13 year old age group described as having the behavior of kids and the attitude of teens. One expert claims tweens have “un-earned sophistication”. They act as if they understand dating, high school life and Bill Clinton’s “shortcomings”, yet actually comprehend very little.

Barbie dolls used to be marketed to 10 and 11 year-olds. Today, preschoolers routinely attempt to dress Barbie’s stiff body. Tweens feel way too old to be seen with a Barbie.

As park and recreation professionals, it’s important to remember that this age group is made up of … kids! Kids that still enjoy silly games, dressing up to put on skits and making things with their hands.

The following are some age appropriate activities that let tweens enjoy their childhood years without pushing them to grow up too fast.

Newspaper Fashion Shows

We all know how the fashion industry is encouraging tweens to dress as if going to a cocktail party. Give tweens a chance to show off their fashion sense by designing outfits made from newspapers.

Place tweens in groups of four to five kids. Let them select three people to be the models while the others use newspaper and masking tape to dress the models. You’ll be amazed at the fashion designs they’ll create from newspaper.

Make sure to include some Sunday comics so they can add color to their creations. Have a fashion show at the end, so each group can have their model display their high-fashion creation.

Don’t worry, boys get involved also. Some groups create new sports uniforms for the boys or even Super Hero costumes.

Paper Bag Skits

Most tweens really enjoy the opportunity to perform before their peers. Often, if tweens are told to come up with a skit, the results are less than spectacular.

Give them a bit more structure by handing each group a bag filled with 8-10 items. Instruct the tweens to use at least five of the items in their skit.

A fun adaptation of this activity is to give each group the same five identical props. For example, each group would receive a bag filled with a dirty sock, a feather, a soccer ball, a long piece of yarn and a hula-hoop. It’s always amazing to see how different each skit turns out, even though everyone has the same props.

Cranium Family Fun Game

Don’t let the “Family Fun” turn you off. The ideas in this kit are easily adaptable for tweens. Use the kit to have kids make sculptures using Cranium Clay and play games with the Flipping Frogs and Cranium Cubes.

A small group of tweens can play the game the “traditional” way or simply adapt the creative activities to a larger group. Suggestions are given for stunts, skits and games. All the activities rate high on the silliness-factor.

Bake Those Hair Ribbons!

Tween girls love making jewelry and hair accessories. If you have a small group of girls and access to an oven, try a baking activity that doesn’t involve food.

1. Collect these supplies:

· Thin cotton ribbon, cut in pieces about 20 inches long

· Scissors

· Cookie sheet

· Pot-holder

· Pencils or skewers

· Small bowl of water

2. Follow these easy steps:

· Preheat the oven to 225 degrees.

· Wet the ribbons in the water. Squeeze out the extra water.

· Start at one end of the pencil and wrap the ribbon tightly

around and around and around and … you get the idea!

· Place the wrapped pencil on a cookie sheet.

· Wrap as many pencils as you want with ribbon strips.

· After baking 20 minutes, carefully remove the cookie sheet.

· Turn off oven.

· Let pencil-wrapped ribbons cool.

· Gently unwrap the ribbons and be amazed at how cute and curly they are!

· Use these super-curly ribbons to decorate hair clips or headbands. Girls can even make them in their school colors and attach to their tennis shoes.

Sparkly Candles

Tweens are still at the age when they enjoy making gifts for parents. Here’s a craft that looks “professional,” and the result is one appreciative moms will display year round. If you use a votive candle, tweens can finish this project in one sitting. If you decide to use larger candles, they may need to break up the process into a couple of craft periods.

Directions are simple.

1. Give each tween a chunky candle. (Dollar stores are great for inexpensive candles.)

2. Use quilter’s pins, (regular straight pins that have a colored “head” at the end) and large sequins

3. Push the needle through the sequin and then push into the candle. (Use the underside of a spoon to push the pin into the wax and save your fingers!)

4. Tweens can coordinate colors or simply do a random design.

Mini S’mores

Did it rain on your planned campfire and S’more fest? No problem. Bring the fun indoors and make mini-s’mores. Use teddy graham bears instead of regular graham crackers.

On tables, set out an assortment of teddy bear crackers, miniature marshmallows and small pieces of thin chocolate. Here’s the twist. Have several votive candles at each table, along with toothpicks.

Tweens poke their toothpick in the marshmallow and slowly roast it over the candle flame. This age group really seems to enjoy talking while gingerly roasting their marshmallows.

Yes, the media likes to portray tweens as only interested in the latest fashion and chatting on their cell phones. Use your parks and recreation programs to provide age-appropriate activities that let these tweens be the goofy, fun-loving kids they really are!

Silvana Clark has over 20 years experience helping thousands of children create arts and crafts projects and presents keynotes and workshops on a variety of recreation related subjects. Silvana can be reached at (615) 662-7432 or silvanac@msn.