It’s important that all kids feel that they matter and belong. Young people want to feel like they fit in and are accepted by others including their peers. While a sense of belonging can’t be forced, youth practitioners and leaders can help create the conditions to support and nurture young people’s sense of belonging within their summer programs.  

Five Strategies for Fostering a Sense of Belonging

  • Invest in developmental relationships with youth. It’s all about meaningful and high-quality relationships. Make sure that each young person has at least one adult or peer they can turn to in your program. 

  • Create opportunities for peers to positively connect through a shared goal. Group experiences with peers are a fundamental part of creating a space where young people feel connected. Working towards a common goal can help youth of different backgrounds learn to work together. 

  • Embed voluntary and youth-initiated tasks within non-voluntary activities. Find ways to give youth a voice and a say. This may start with how often youth have opportunities to contribute ideas and/or help make decisions about activities and other things happening in your program.  

  • Integrate authentic learning opportunities that youth care about. Dig deep to understand what youth care about and find ways to make real-world connections with those interests. 

  • Provide safe opportunities for youth to explore new interests and take risks. When youth feel physically and emotionally safe they are more apt to explore and try new activities or ideas. 

To learn more, check out our “A Comparison of Contexts: How the Performing Arts, Sports, and Nature Conservation Foster Positive Youth Development” report to hear from exemplar programs about how they’ve used these strategies to foster positive youth development.

Need Help Getting Started?

Below are some activities you can integrate into your summer program to promote a strong sense of belonging: 

  • Relationships Check. Because strong developmental relationships in youth programs play an essential role in ensuring that all youth have the support and guidance they need to learn, grow, and thrive, it is important to reflect on your own relationships with young people. Check out Search Institute’s Relationships Check as a starting point. This five-minute online check-up is designed to help you identify where relationships with young people are strong and where they can grow.

  • Colorful Conversations is a 30-minute activity where youth take turns sharing about themselves using colorful props. This activity is designed to support positive peer relationships through listening and communication.

  • What Makes You Happy? is a 45-minute activity where youth share their deep interests, talents, or activities— their sparks! Use this activity to help youth identify their sparks so that you can integrate them into your summer program. 


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