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4-H clover 4-H helps youth build skills for healthy minds, bodies and relationships

January 12, 2021

Youth of all ages can benefit from experiences that build healthy living practices. 4-H programs offer a variety of options for youth to be mindful with their food, feelings and relationships.

Ivy Tiesler holding up a yogurt parfait
Ivy Tiesler, Rock County

Mindful munching and creative cooking

Educating young people on the importance of a well-balanced diet was a challenge that six Extension educators from Southwest Minnesota were inspired to take on this past fall. Fuel up, Tune up, Groove up, a six- session interactive learning series, offered youth and families from 12 counties fun ways to enjoy the food we need to be healthy and strong. Weekly lessons explored how to convert everyday ingredients into delicious snacks and integrated mindfulness exercises to promote thoughtful eating.

Michele VanDyke, Lincoln County Extension educator, was one of those educators. She offered tips and suggestions that families can use together in the kitchen, sometimes even getting youth to try things they had been hesitant about before.

Six year-old Liam Westbrock from Chippewa County was one of those hesitant eaters. He and his family found a new way to appreciate spinach during the ‘Vigorous Veggies’ lesson. “The spinach was good and made the smoothie all green...mmmmm,” he said. “We had the delicious smoothies again for my birthday.”

liam westbrock with smoothie mustache
Liam Westbrock, Chippewa County

Social emotional learning (SEL) is also a key component of Fuel up, Tune up, Groove up. Alicia Webb, Extension educator from Yellow Medicine County, incorporated glitter jars as a visual representation of what youth might be going through during stressful times. They used this activity to help youth think about stress and anxiety in a healthy way.

“We asked youth questions that helped them recall different feelings like joy, sadness or frustration, said Extension educator, Stephanie Grimes from Pope County. “For each question, we invited them to add colored glitter to their jar that aligned with that emotion. After a couple of prompts the jar is a colorful sparkly explosion that reflects how boundless our emotions can be.”

Helping youth cope with strong emotions

Anxiety and depression is a growing mental health concern for youth. Maintaining a sense of calm is key to weathering storms. Kate Walker is an Extension specialist who has been rethinking what youth social emotional wellbeing looks like during especially turbulent times. She led a team of educators that created a social and emotional learning (SEL) toolkit for adults to use with youth. The kit is specifically designed to be intentional and relevant to the issues of the day.

Katie Ecklund, Extension educator in St. Louis County, integrates social and emotional skill building into all of her programming. She works with K-5 graders in partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Duluth. “Every program session starts with a check-in,” said Ecklund. “This allows youth to express how they are feeling, and it provides an opportunity to practice listening and responding to peers' emotions.”  This activity helps youth build trust and a sense of belonging. It also reinforces the safe space that youth need to feel connected to each other.

Shared reading is another tool Ecklund uses to build social and emotional skills in youth. What Do You Do With An Idea? helped one of her clubs explore how courage can look and feel. And since youth have been practicing careful listening, they felt safe to share past experiences when courage was necessary in their personal lives.

“Youth in our program have improved in their ability to recognize and manage strong emotions,” Ecklund said. “When they’re feeling upset, they’ll often ask if they can take a break and do a breathing exercise, they then return to the planned activity when ready.” added Ecklund.

4-H healthy living programs are available throughout the year and in a variety of locations. Find an experience that’s just right for the youth in your life.

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