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University of Minnesota Extension

Working with youth from a distance

You already know how to work with young people. Technology is a tool for helping you do it from a distance. Extension has lots of resources to support you. You can offer your learners meaningful experiences even when you can't meet face to face. Here are some tips. 


  • Become overwhelmed by the technology. It's the tool - not the goal. 
  • Spend all your time on "programming during a pandemic shut down" because this is temporary. Instead, spend time developing learning experiences for youth -- and your own teaching skills -- that will be valuable long after this pandemic is over. 
  • Feel pressured to create tons of online experiences. The quality will not be good and learners may become overloaded. Focus on creating or adapting high-quality activities that serve your program's goals and your learners' needs. 


  • Ask your learners or partners what they need. Then come up with a solution that serves them. It may not involve much or any technology. For example, you might decide to send activity sheets with school lunch deliveries. 
  • Set a schedule for your programming -- whether weekly, bi-weekly or monthly. Then stay in touch with your learners.
    • Check on their progress.
    • Update them on meetings that are scheduled, canceled, moved online, etc. 
    • Social media can offer ways for group members to interact with each other to maintain group cohesion.
  • Remember to make it a high-quality learning experience. See 4-H guidelines for doing that. 

How to choose tech tools

"Going online" does not have to mean live webinars by appointment. There are many ways to interact. Here are some tips. 

  • Use technology tools that you are comfortable with, that your audience is comfortable with, and that serves your program's teaching goals. Start with your own organization's in-house tech tools.  
  • Choose technology tools that align with your program's values and that take a positive youth development approach 
  • Consider going low-tech. Kids will appreciate hearing from you, and a note in the school lunch delivery or a letter in the mail may mean more to them than an email. 

How to choose online activities

First, consider the source. Is it a reputable one? All activities produced by University of Minnesota Extension, Minnesota 4-H, or Extension in any state are grounded in youth development research. National 4-H sells curriculum and learning kits. There are many other reputable sources.

Consider these questions 

  • Does this resource comply with our organization's policies?
  • Does it comply with our organization's code of conduct?
  • Does it comply with the law? For example, under US federal law (COPPA), people under age 14 may not have social media accounts.
  • Is it accessible to all? How would a vision impaired or hearing impaired person take part? Federally funded programs must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Are these the kinds of activities that our youth program ordinarily does? In 4-H, that's hands-on experiential learning
  • What will learners learn by doing this activity? Does that match up our teaching goals? 
  • Would the youth in my program enjoy it?
  • Does it require families to buy anything? If it does, seek out activities that use only materials found in nature or in most households.
  • Consider screen time: Have learners already spent the entire day looking at a screen? How will our learning experience include active learning and be different from formal education strategies?

We recommend

Minnesota 4-H project pages 

These contain lots of activities for youth to do at home. For example:

Challenge events

Challenges engage youth in learning and sharing.

Create your own challenge

  • Create a hands-on challenge related to your usual activities and ask youth to share their responses in photos or videos. Flipgrid is a good low-bandwidth sharing option.

Authors: Ann Nordby, nordby@umn.edu and Kari Robideau, robideau@umn.edu

Reviewed in 2020

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