Meaningful Participation

German educator Kurt Hahn described modern youth as suffering from the “misery of unimportance.”  In earlier times, children and adolescents alike were indispensable for the survival of the family.  There was no question about the importance or meaning of their participation for the well-being of the family.  With shifting times, however, children and youth are threatened with a sense of purposeless-ness.  Deprived of opportunities for genuine productivity and meaningful participating, young people can easily come to believe that their lives make little difference to the world.  These young people need opportunities to participate in their homes and communities and it is up to the responsible adults in their lives to make that possible.


1.  First and foremost, children’s participation needs an environment that supports it.  Children will open up and participate when they feel like what they say has significance and can make a difference in the outcome of the family.

  • Seek your child’s opinions about things that can actually influence your family decisions (e.g. how free time is spent, what is served for breakfast, organizing family events, what school they will attend).  Move from simple to more complex as the child builds the capacity for responsible decision making.

2.  Give children and adolescents power in the creation of and participation in family traditions or rituals.

  • Each family member can take on specific, important roles in these rituals (e.g. teenager is responsible for lighting the candle at dinner every night).

3. Invite children into adult conversations or activities when appropriate.

4. Encourage children’s participation in household activities.

  • Discuss and assign chores (e.g. feeding the family pet, walking the dog, making dinner, helping with “fix-it” projects, pulling weeds, etc.), set a tone of “we’re all in this together,” and provide positive feedback

5. Support community involvement and contributions.

  • Help your child develop a sense of purpose and community belonging through volunteer participation in community events. 



1. Empower students as learners and teachers.

  • Foster an inter-dependent learning environment where students learn from you and you learn from them.
  • Implement “student led family-school conferences” to encourage students to accept personal responsibility for their academic and school performance.
  • Administer student assessment of teachers in which students can report  their perception of a teacher’s performance.
  • Provide opportunities for peer tutoring where students can learn from each other.

2. Allow students greater participation in and ownership of class and school activities and traditions.

  • Assign rotating classroom chores/roles, set tone of “we’re all in this together,” and provide frequent positive feedback.
  • Discuss and implement reasonable student ideas for class and school rituals.

3.  Encourage community involvement and contribution.

  • Help your students develop a sense of purpose and community belonging through participation in community service projects and events. 
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