The Journal of Extension -

October 2013 // Volume 51 // Number 5 // Tools of the Trade // v51-5tt8

A Tool Kit for Building Life Skills Using Experiential Education and Games

The development of life skills in youth is a common goal of youth programs. The new research on positive youth development highlights intentional development of these skills. However, with the differences in skill levels of staff and volunteers, training is a challenge. By providing flexible tools training for all can occur in one session, and new skills are learned. The highlighted tool kit can be a guide for Extension professionals to create tool kits that work for their population. They are designed to be small and fit in a pocket, thus increasing the chance that they will be used.

Brian Brandt
WSU Extension Faculty
College of Agriculture, Human, and Natural Resources
WSU Pierce County Extension
Pullman, Washington


Many youth organizations play games for fun and the health benefits. There can also be the added benefit of intentional life skill development. This intentional process adds a life skill to focus on and uses experiential education debriefing as the technique to improve life skills. However, a challenge with any new technique is the existing skill levels of youth workers and volunteers. Youth development professional managers can counter this challenge by providing cards to staff and volunteers that are designed for beginners and advanced staff. Beginners can use the included life skill and scripted experiential debrief examples, or the advanced professional can use blanks to add their own. The Turning Games into Life Skill Builders cards have successfully worked with over 400 youth professionals, affecting over 18,402 youth. The cards are available free for download or can be used as the template for developing your own set of cards for your specific program or existing games that you frequently use.

Heath and Life Skill Benefits

The tool kit focuses on three important outcomes for youth: fun, health benefits, and life skill development, or what others call "social emotion skills." This combined approach allows for success on the three main goals. The physical games are a fun technique used in youth programs (DeBord, 1989). A review of over 850 articles and academic papers synthesized the benefits of physical activity on youth as improving health, movement skills, physical fitness, as well as concentration, academic performance, and increases positive youth behaviors. Also, the review identified that youth need to get 60 minutes of physical activity per day (Strong et al., 2005). One meta-study, done by the Collaborative for Academic Social and Emotional Learning [CASEL], shows that intentional Life Skill development has the benefits of improved social emotional skills of youth and increases school performance (Durlak, Weissberg, & Pachan, 2010). Combining the benefits of fun, physical activity, and intentional life skill development supports provides multiple benefits to the youth.

Intentional Design

The cards are designed utilizing the 4-H Targeted Life Skill curriculum and the CASEL research on proven items needed in programs that develop life skills. The 4-H Targeted Life Skills Model is a curriculum development resource tool that guides curricula in developing successful Life Skill development programs that compliment the content being taught, and use experiential education (Hendricks, 1998). Many youth programs report high youth outcomes with the use of the reflection process of experiential education (Ripberger, 2008; Torock, 2009). This shows up in the curriculum as encouraging the selection of a few life skills to discuss with youth and continually working on asking experiential questions to enhance learning. The CASEL meta-study shows that afterschool programs that are working on life skill development are most successful when, "The presence of four recommended practices associated with previously effective skill training (SAFE: sequenced, active, focused, and explicit) moderated several program outcomes." (Durlak, et al., 2010). The features of the cards meet these SAFE practices (Figure 1.)

Figure 1.
Example Cards

Example Cards

Tool Kit Objectives

Youth Goals

  • Develop life skills/social emotional Skills
  • Obtain the benefits of physical activity

Staff Goals

  • Make it easy for beginning youth professionals to develop life skills in youth, using pre-developed activities and debrief questions
  • Support staff in learning intentional programming a principle of positive youth development.
  • Serve as an introduction and skill building in experiential education debriefing
  • Encourage using experiential education debriefing with future youth groups

Features of Cards

  1. Pre-made life skill questions provided
  2. Resources on how to talk with youth to explain the importance of the life skill development occurring during the games
  3. Activity cards use few to no props
  4. Blank cards for facilitators to add games with targeted life skills
  5. Facilitator only uses games that adapt to differing situations

How You Might Use a Card System

Using the Turning Games into Life Skill Builders cards, or designing your own set, will support the beginning or advanced facilitator of games to include intentional life skill development. Beginners may pick one life skill on which to work with their group and use the pre-made questions. Advanced professionals may write in a life skill that is important for their specific group in the blank area provided. The user may also use the group's rules or norms agreement as a source to select a life skill from. With the flexibility of the cards they are usable for staffs that are just learning about experiential education to advanced staff and can be all trained together.


DeBord, K. (1989). Creative teaching, simulations, games, and role playing. Journal of Extension [On-line], 27(2). Article 2T0T1. Available at:

Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., & Pachan, M. (2010). A meta-analysis of after-school programs that seek to promote personal and social skills in children and adolescents. American Journal of Community Psychology, 45, 294–309.

Hendricks, P. (1998). Developing youth curriculum using the targeting life skills model: Incorporating developmentally appropriate learning opportunities to assess impact of life skill development (Tech. Rep. No. 4H-137A). Iowa State University. Retrieved from: 

Ripberger, C. (2008). Adventure programming in an afterschool environment. Journal of Extension [On-line], 46(2). Article 2IAW5. Available at:

Strong, W. B., Malina, R. M., Blimkie C. J. R., Daniels, S. R., Dishman, R.K., Gutin, B., Hergenroeder, A. C., (...) Trudeau, F. (2005). Evidence based physical activity for school-age youth. Journal of Pediatrics, 146 (6), pp. 732-737. Retrieved from: 

Torock, J. L. (2009). Experiential learning and Cooperative Extension: Partners in non-formal education for a century and beyond. Journal of Extension [On-line], 47(6) Article 6TOT2. Available at: