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4-H clover What if? Growing a youth program from a distance

April 7, 2020
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Extension 4-H educator Alysa Tulibaski leads science-focused programs at three schools in Marshall County. The youth in these 4-H afterschool clubs benefit from her positive spin on science learning. "There's no failure. There's only 'what if?', she said. To underline the message, she posts "What if?" signs around each club’s learning space to frame youth thinking.

When schools in Minnesota cancelled all face-to-face activities in mid-March due to COVID-19, Tulibaski took the same approach. Instead of seeing the obstacles, she thought, "What if we could reach more youth now that they are learning from home?"

Tulibaski contacted her partner schools to ask what kinds of learning activities 4-H could offer to complement school assignments. Two of the schools immediately asked for hands-on science learning. She surveyed parents, asking them what they wanted. They told her not to give them hundreds more tasks to complete with their stay-at-home children—just a few good ones.

Tulibaski conferred with Extension colleagues in Northwest Minnesota on how best to deliver what the schools needed. Many of them were already tackling the same problem. They put their heads together to respond quickly.

Active and low-tech

The educators knew that school lessons would likely involve staying indoors and spending time on computers. So they focused on active outdoor learning that would complement school lessons—not add to them.

Rather than going online, they decided to deliver their lessons in a low-tech way. Tulibaski and fellow 4-H educators printed activity sheets to include with school lunches being delivered to students in their homes.

“There are so many high-quality activities from reputable sources that take a positive youth development approach,” said Tulibaski. Their work is still unfolding, but so far, activities include:

  • A scavenger hunt that gets youth outdoors to tackle challenges such as "spell your name in shadows with objects you find outside" and "compare seeds from different plants. Are they different? Why?"
  • Birdwatching games from the world-renowned Cornell Ornithology Lab.
  • Journaling to encourage the valuable skill of reflection. By looking back at how much they've learned, youth gain the confidence to tackle the next task.

Beyond at-home activities, Alysa is also considering how what she offers might be a gateway for new youth and families to join 4-H. "Hopefully, when all of this settles, we can connect them to an existing club or maybe they form their own," Tulibaski says. "We might find ways to form clubs in new ways. Maybe a family club might take off, who knows?"

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