"The Role of Organized Activities in Supporting Youth Moral and Civic Character Development: A Review of the Literature"
Vandell served as the Founding Dean of UCI's School of Education and is one of the principal investigators of the NICHD Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development. Her work is viewed by many social scientists as one of the most comprehensive studies of the short-term and long-term effects of early education programs, schooling, and the family on children’s development. She is the author of more than 150 articles and three books.
Simpkins is a developmental psychologist, studying child and adolescent development. She researches how families, friendships, and social position factors (such as ethnicity and culture) shape adolescents’ organized after-school activities and motivation. She is currently working on research focused on the positive outcomes of youth’s participation in activities as well as the predictors and correlates of high school students’ STEM motivational beliefs. She is co-PI on grants from the John Templeton Foundation and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation that study how organized after-school activities support positive development from childhood through young adulthood. Simpkins directs the Center for After School and Summer Excellence (CASE) and Project REACH and co-directs the After School Activities Project.
Organized activities have been championed as an important youth setting to nurture character development through childhood and adolescence, but scholars have yet to document the state of research on activities and youth character. Using guidelines from the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses Statement (PRISMA, Moher et al., PLoS Med 6(7):e1000097, 2009), this study conducts an extensive review of previous research in order to provide a comprehensive understanding of the various ways in which organized activities support moral and civic character development. Through database and backward and forward citation searches, 65 studies were deemed eligible between 1999 and 2019, with 44 studies on civic character and 21 studies on moral character. Relations between organized activity participation and character development were assessed by five key dimensions of activity participation (intensity, duration, breadth, type and quality of the activity), and by youth characteristics (e.g., age, family income, gender, motivation/engagement in the activity). Review of the character literature provides evidence for the positive relations between organized activities and youth’s concurrent and long-term moral and civic character development. For civic studies, findings suggest that the greater the intensity, duration, and breadth of participation, the more favorable youth character outcomes. For moral character, the type and quality of the activity setting appear to be particularly important for supporting development. Overall, findings suggest that moral and civic character development ought to be considered and intentionally nurtured within activities as two separate, yet complimentary dimensions of interpersonal character. Future research is needed that explores various mechanisms that explain these associations and examines variations by characteristics of youth.