Opportunities large and small offer Minnesota youth everywhere connections and growth
University of Minnesota Extension 4-H reaches Minnesota youth in kindergarten through one year past high school. During the COVID-19 era, 4-H educators and volunteers have innovated to keep kids learning and growing.
4-H families are always in season
For every season there is a purpose. Phenology is the study of the periodic changes in nature. Last spring, members of the Phenology 4-H Family Club took advantage of the slower pace of life forced by school and office closures.
Each week, the youth and adult members went outside, looked around and noticed pollinators, trees and frogs that were waking up to warmer weather. They took notes in the form of journaling, poetry, drawing or photos, reflected on changes they saw from week to week, and shared their observations online on Friday nights.
The 10-week program was co-hosted by 4-H and the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center in Finland.
“Nature is nice and calm. There are so many cool things to observe in nature’s cycles that happen every day,” says Rayna Klejeski, a 4-H’er from Benson. “A lot of people think that environmental education is just about science,” says Dylan Kelly, Extension 4-H educator in Carlton County. “But it’s broader than that. It’s about community, learning about yourself and connecting with others.”
Cloverbuds wiggle on Wednesdays
Sometimes you just need to get your wiggle on. For 15 minutes every Wednesday morning in June and July, dozens of youth in kindergarten through second grade had a chance to do just that.
Wiggle Wednesdays were high-energy Zoom calls, framed by four H’s: head, hands, heart and health.
A lesson in American Sign Language (hands) taught animal words like horse, dog and rabbit. Youth learned about the importance of healthy foods and sleep. They discovered brain science by trying to do things with their non-dominant hand. High-energy dancing sent hearts racing so they could learn to take their pulse before and after exercise.
Katherine Nguyen, Extension 4-H educator in Hennepin County, developed and ran Wiggle Wednesdays with Extension colleagues Danielle Ganje, Sherburne County, and Jenny Cable and Bri Fisher in Ramsey County. “We wove in educational topics and what we know about how kids learn,” she says. “Sometimes when we focus too much on education, they get bored and don’t engage. Kids retain a lot more when they’re having fun.”
What do you get when you combine animal science with Ted Talks? 4-H Stock Talks.
4-H’ers answered a call last summer for short videos demonstrating their love for and knowledge about animals. Their entries included slide shows or edited live action videos.
A first grader showed how she bottle feeds her calf, Cuddles. Another youth demonstrated duck feeding while carrying a duck called Dory, “because she gets lost a lot.”
Entries from older 4-H’ers showed their growing expertise. Videos detailed grooming the long horns and hair of Highland beef cattle, the ins and outs of running a small horse stable, and the nutrients in animal feed.
“It’s a way that youth can share their passion and help build skills in others,” says Sharon Davis, director of 4-H animal science.
Davis developed Stock Talks with Samantha Lahman, Extension educator, and the Minnesota 4-H animal science team. Youth from 61 Minnesota counties participated.
4-H State Ambassadors
Through civic engagement education and leadership activities, the Minnesota 4-H State Ambassadors make meaningful contributions to 4-H and to their communities.
Khalid Hanafi, Hennepin County, is one of 31 youth representing Minnesota 4-H as the 2020-21 team. As a second-year member, he is part of the leadership team. He says the Ambassadors plan to reach more of Minnesota’s young people through 4-H this year than ever before.
Like the others, Hanafi has had to adapt to pandemic life as fast as possible, moving the leadership events he helps plan online, as well as coping in May with the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. “There were a lot of emotions running through everyone’s minds in my city,” he says, and he learned how to follow health and safety guidelines while helping to paint a mural at the site.
Over the summer, more than 150 youth grabbed a chance to express themselves and explore theater arts in 4-H Performing Arts at Home. They made costumes, spoke in accents, designed the lighting and sound for a show, wrote scenes, created stage sets, and gave each other constructive feedback.
“It’s allowed us to dive deeper into some of the off-stage work that goes into shows that our local programs may not have the resources to explore in depth,” says Lily Steuber, a 4-H’er in Martin County.
“It was a 360-degree view of theater arts,” says Karen Beranek, Extension youth development educator. “Seven 4-H’ers helped to develop the program and we drew on the expertise of 4-H alumni now working in the arts.”
Serious about safety on ATVs
All-terrain vehicles, or ATVs, can be fun recreation for youth who are ready, but they also assist youth in farm and ranch chores.
“4-H works to make sure young people know how to drive and ride safely,” says Nicole Pokorney, Extension youth educator who leads 4-H Outdoor Adventure programs. Polaris, a Minnesota-based company, supports 4-H through financial gifts.
Owen Babler, age 14, is the youth leader of 4-H Shooting Sports, Wildlife and ATV Safety in Sherburne County. He shares safety information at events and online. “It could be life or death, or at least a hospital trip,” he says. “You could be saving someone’s life. You never know.”
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