Developmental Characteristics of Youth: Implications for Experiential Learning

As adults prepare to work with young people around the experiential learning process, they must consider the age group involved and tailor the steps of the experiential learning process accordingly. They must utilize teaching and learning strategies consistent with the developmental characteristics of their learners and still move the learners through the five-step process.

If the learning group consists of a variety of ages, the group facilitator is faced with extra challenges related to the experiential learning process. Characteristics of the age groups involved should dictate appropriate and effective teaching strategies to use.

Human development refers to how individuals grow and develop by ages and stages physically, socially, emotionally, mentally, and vocationally. Developmental research suggests that certain types of learning activities are best suited for certain children's capabilities. For example:

  • Young children learn best through concrete experience, manipulation of materials, and observation of their environment;
  • Middle childhood youth (after around age 10) learn to understand another person's perspective. Role-playing, case studies, and stories about other people's viewpoints can be used to foster that development;
  • Junior high school youth are beginning to do consequential thinking. They can figure out "if-then" situations. The time is right to have them practice hypothesizing about cause and effect relationships, and considering likely consequences of alternatives in problem situations;
  • High school youth can further these abilities when they are presented opportunities to determine relationships between abstract concepts. They can become skilled at analyzing events that have multiple causes and effects. Some high schools students, though, are not consistently able to operate at this level.

Link to find the characteristics of each age group and implications for the experiential learning process. Group facilitators can use the table as a tip sheet for effective teaching and learning strategies when designing rewarding and fun educational experiences.

5–8 year olds (2pp 24KB .pdf file)

9–11 year olds (3pp 28KB .pdf file)

12–14 year olds (3pp 28KB .pdf file)

15–19 year olds (3pp 28KB .pdf file)


This resource was compiled, edited, and written by Steve Wagoner, Extension Educator, Youth Development, University of Illinois Extension, January 2004.

Resources used included:

Cantrell, Joy (Ed.). (1992). Developmental Characteristics of Youth: Implications for Curriculum Development (Appendix D). Curriculum Development for Issues Programming: A National Handbook for Extension Youth Development Professionals. Washington, DC: CSREES/USDA.

McFarland, Marcia R. (2000). Session V: Sample Implications for Us. Moving Ahead Together: What Works for Youth…What Works for You? Manhattan, Kansas: Army AGAD Program/4-H Cooperative Curriculum System.

Hendricks, P.A. (1996). Developmentally Appropriate Life Tasks (Appendix B). Targeting Life Skills Model. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Extension.

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