From stomp rockets to tasty peppers, 4-H summer interns helped provide youth screen-free opportunities to explore, discover and be inspired.
In a year when everything went sideways, one constant remains: 4-H is providing hands-on learning programs to help young people explore their passions and learn skills that will last a lifetime.
“Our 4-H learning kits give youth an opportunity to physically do something while learning and having fun,” says Jodi Hintzen, a University of Minnesota Extension youth educator in Douglas County. “This summer, more than ever, they need structure and learning opportunities.”
Under educator guidance, summer interns designed kits that youth can complete at home with or without internet access, providing the interns an experience in education design. In 2020, Extension hired 60 college students to work alongside Extension educators in youth development. 4-H summer interns have been developing career experience each summer since the 1970s or earlier, and the pandemic did not interrupt that tradition.
This spring, Extension distributed 4,300 learning kits across 61 counties in Minnesota. More than half of the kits featured science topics.
Camp in a box
These kits provide hands-on activities that focus on exploration.
For instance, the Explore Nature learning kit contains a leaf identification chart and a Bingo card. After studying the chart, participants are encouraged to go outside and find the leaves on their card. They can take a picture of their leaves and send it and the card back to the Extension Office.
“Our goal is to get them up and out of the house and moving,” says Hintzen. “Our intern, Brianna Fischer, felt strongly that we could build something screen free. Her philosophy is that if we make something where you don’t have to log on, maybe we can reach a different audience.”
Cloth mask sewing
“Sewing is a life skill that all kids should learn,” says Kirstin Koch, an Extension youth educator in Stevens County.
“Everyone should be able to sew a button back on. We did a hand-sewing project so all kids could do it, whether they had a machine at home or not.”
The kits include fabric, needle, thread, a pattern and elastic for the ear straps. The sewing lesson is presented during an informal Zoom call. Koch says they get enough instruction in basic stitching to “dabble around and figure out what they are most interested in.”
The STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) exploration kits help spark the questioning process, says Kristina Abbas, an Extension educator in Olmsted County.
“Our goal was to create kits that weren’t a quick-do, get-it-done thing,” she says. “We want to get kids inquiring. We want them to discuss the projects with their friends, and even show them to their friends.”
Abbas and an intern used FlipGrid, a free online learning tool, to record a video showing students how to build a stomp rocket. The students were encouraged to decorate their rockets and participate in challenges, such as accuracy and distance. They could record and share videos via FlipGrid.
“You’re still building, getting glue on your hands, and all that stuff,” says Abbas.
Let’s grow a pepper
“Many young people don’t understand that the food they eat doesn’t just come from the store,” says Joe Rand, an Extension youth educator in St. Cloud. “This kit contains the components needed to grow a pepper on a deck or porch, including a 5-gallon pail, potting soil, a plant cage, multiple pepper plants and instructions.”
4-H partnered with the Promise Neighborhood in the southeast side of St. Cloud to provide mentoring, leadership and education through gardening.
“This area of St. Cloud is a food desert,” says Rand. “This partnership has allowed us to bolster the good work they are doing.”