- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention in the present moment and accepting it without judgement. Benefits include reduced stress, better concentration, less depression and anxiety and a stronger immune system.
Even before the pandemic, the UC Cooperative Extension 4-H Healthy Living leadership team – Anne Iaccopucci, UCCE Healthy Living academic coordinator; Dorina Espinoza, youth, families and communities (YFC) advisor in Humboldt and Del Norte counties; and Marcel Horowitz, UCCE healthy youth, families and communities advisor in Yolo County – recognized that youth appeared to be struggling with anxiety and emotional challenges. An examination of published research showed that youth programs were successfully using mindfulness practices to help young people who had developmental challenges or behavioral disturbances.
With mindfulness gaining greater mainstream interest, Iaccopucci joined with YFC advisor Katherine Soule, and University of New Hampshire, Durham, youth and family resiliency state specialist Kendra Lewis to investigate the use of mindfulness for growth and development in people without serious conditions, but struggling with challenges of modern life.
“The 4-H Healthy Living team wanted to make sure we were addressing the social-emotional development of young people, so we investigated how we can integrate mindfulness into our programs,” Iaccopucci said.
The team designed an annual weekend UC 4-H Mindfulness Retreat for youth and adults to build skills in mindfulness, stress management, relationship building and community connection. Three-day retreats were held over four consecutive years in Cambria, a peaceful beach community on California's Central Coast.
Lessons in yoga, art and nature exploration were combined with quiet reflection, socialization and emotional-regulation training led by experts with extensive knowledge in those mindfulness methods. “Hangout time” was electronics-free; participants were encouraged to spend time getting to know one another or practicing self-reflection.
A survey completed by participants at the end of the retreats helped leaders improve the activity year-to-year and gauge the program's success. Both youths and adults said they were satisfied with their experiences at the retreat, wanted to participate again and would recommend the experience to others, the retreat team reported in the August 2020 issue of the Journal of Extension.
As part of the completion survey, the youths and adults were asked to provide examples of how their new skills and knowledge in mindfulness can be applied in their daily lives, how it can be applied in 4-H, what they liked best and what they would change.
One youth mentioned, “Giving skills back to my 4-H club, or when I am stressed, going back to what I learned.” An adult said, “More present for my family. I will be more mindful in my daily life! Take at least 6 deep breaths in my daily life or day to day.”
One youth said, “I can pass my new knowledge down to the youth in my county or across the state.”
Another youth wrote that the best part was, “Learning how to stay calm and having fun.”
To read the full report on the retreats, see Engaging Teens and Adults in Mindfulness: The University of California 4-H Mindfulness Retreat.
Hosting a mindfulness retreat is a vast undertaking that may not be practical for individual 4-H clubs or other youth groups. To extend the benefits of mindfulness to more youth across California and the nation, the Healthy Living Team developed curricula that can be used by 4-H clubs and other youth-serving organizations – such as Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Boys' and Girls' Clubs, etc.
For example, one lesson focuses on naming and describing feelings. The lesson explains that feelings – such as happy and sad – visit for a time like houseguests, and centers on a book called “Visiting Feelings” by Lauren Rubenstein. The author suggests that feelings should be viewed with “wide open eyes.”
“Is it bright like the sun, dark like the rain, or is it a look you can't even explain?” says the text. “If you listen to what your body can say, you'll find that your feelings are really OK.”
Each lesson includes a connected activity. For naming and describing feelings, the children can choose a feeling to explore, write it down and draw what the feeling looks like – a prickly plant, a bouncy ball, a present?
The curriculum is available on the Shop4-H.org website for $39.95. Videos were created to accompany the curriculum and are available on the eXtension website with the purchase of the curriculum. (Visit https://campus.extension.org/enrol/index.php?id=1839, create and account and use the enrollment code California to view the videos.)
The curriculum is available on the Shop4-H.org website for $39.95.
A three-page 4-H Mindfulness Project guide is available for free download. The guide is designed for 4-H Clubs, but it is useful for any teacher or leader to share the benefits of mindfulness. Some suggested activities include creating a portfolio of favorite places that help the participants feel relaxed, start a gratitude journal to document the things they are grateful for, explore food using all five senses or host a self-reflective nature walk in the local community.
The publication also suggests how youth can develop leadership skills related to the mindfulness project by becoming a Healthy Living Officer, a junior or teen leader for a mindfulness project and plan and prepare a mindfulness exercise for a community club meeting.
To learn more about the 4-H Youth Development program in local communities across California, see http://4h.ucanr.edu/
- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
As many students continue online learning due to COVID-19, 4-H hands-on learning activities are keeping them excited and engaged in education. The University of California's 4-H Youth Development Program has created several learning activities that allow children to interact within COVID-19 guidelines.
“Despite constraints imposed by the pandemic, 4-H has adapted to continue engaging young people in hands-on STEM learning,” said Steven Worker, Ph.D., UC Cooperative Extension 4-H advisor for Marin, Napa and Sonoma counties.
Students build motorboats for Engineers Week
During Engineers Week, Feb. 21-27, 4-H is challenging kids age 5 to 18 to design, build and test a motorboat.
The activity is intended to spark students' interest in engineering and technology and to exercise their creativity. The boat kit is basic, allowing children to use their imagination, repurposing things around the house to customize their boats.
Starting with a rectangular foam block (2"x2"x8"), youths carve out the body of their toy boats, then install the motor, power switch, propeller and battery holder.
Fifth-grader Sarp Akalin assembled his battery-powered motorboat, which featured a colorful column of white, blue, yellow orange and purple beads, then tested its water worthiness in an outdoor, large stone fountain in Mountain View.
Sarp, who assembled a 4-H Mars rover for a STEM project last year, said the boat was more challenging because the rover kit included all the pieces required to operate the vehicle. To build a functional boat, he had to figure out how to mount the batteries and motor and balance the center of gravity, connect them with electrical wires, then make sure the propeller had the right amount of space spinning freely the right direction to thrust the boat forward.
He learned a few adjustments were needed to float the boat. For example, whenSarp first placed the boat in the water, he let out a yelp as the weight of the battery pack sank the back end. With some guidance from his fatherEmre,Sarp balanced the weight by strapping two batteries to the front end and placed it back in the water. After the boat listed to one side, he converted the boat to a trimaran – a type of sailboat which is mostly used for racing – which stabilized the vessel.
“The best part was seeing it go,” Sarp said of watching his boat propel itself around the large rocks in the turbulent water in the fountain.
On Saturday, Feb. 27, nearly 150 4-H youths from 22 California counties will gather online to show their completed boats, maybe demonstrate them in a bathtub or pool, and describe their design experience.
Participating counties include Alameda, Butte, Contra Costa, Imperial, Kern, Kings, Madera, Monterey, Napa, Riverside, San Diego, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Shasta, Solano, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Tulare, Tuolumne, Ventura and Yolo.
“While meeting virtually is not the same as meeting in person, thankfully we have technology to connect us by sight and sound over long distances,” Worker said. “On Saturday, I am eager to see the creativity, ingenuity and persistence young people display in their completed motorboats.”
More information about the boat challenge is at https://ucanr.edu/boat.
Drive-through animal science presentations
In Petaluma, 4-H members learned about animal science at the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds on Feb. 20. More than 130 participants drove to presentation stations within the fairgrounds. From the safety of their cars, the youths learned about livestock production. Poultry, beef cattle, dairy cattle, sheep and goat experts from UC Cooperative Extension and local organizations gave presentations.
Randi Black, UCCE dairy advisor, and Amy Housman of Santa Rosa Junior College provided tips for biosecurity to keep animals healthy. Maurice Pitesky, UC Cooperative Extension poultry specialist, and 4-H members Carson Hay, Frances Marshall, Jessica Waterman and Zoey Haines shared information about raising chickens, egg production and broiler production. Sonoma-Marin Cattlewomen and North Bay Dairy Women discussed raising beef and dairy cattle, cattle byproducts, the use of cattle grazing to help reduce wildfire fuel. Sheep and goat production were covered by Erin Monahan of Two Willow Club Lambs, Riggs Lokka and Emily Dulany of Top of the Hill Boer Goats, and Janet and Rebecca Kracker, Sonoma County 4-H leaders.
Members of the Sonoma-Marin Young Farmers and Ranchers and Napa County Young Farmers and Ranchers discussed animals' nutrition needs. “They showed the kids different feedstuffs, broke down the different ingredients that animal feeds contain, and explained what the different feedstuffs do for the animals,” said Suzanne Amaral, UC Cooperative Extension 4-H program coordinator for Napa County.
Julie Atwood of the Halter Project gave suggestions for planning for evacuating livestock in the event of a wildfire.
Join Discovery Day on March 13
Children, teens and families are invited to join 4-H and other Bay Area organizations for North Bay Science Discovery Day on Saturday, March 13. Events are scheduled between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Pacific time.
Discovery Day is a designed to spark curiosity and excitement about science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). A Kaiser Permanente physician will describe how the COVID-19 vaccination works. Kids can learn how rockets launch and make their own at home. They can learn about wildlife conservation from the Petaluma Wildlife Museum. They can design, build and test a 4-H scribbling machine that will make drawings on paper. These and many other activities are planned. For more information and to register, visit https://www.northbayscience.org/2021.
The virtual public science festival is free and open to youth of all ages across California.
- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
Schools and children's social and club activities hastily moved online in the spring of 2020 when across the country Americans began to shelter-in-place to avoid spreading the coronavirus. Teachers, program directors and club leaders quickly made adjustments to continue serving children's education needs, often without access to proven techniques or training.
The volunteer educators and professional staff whose work provides thousands of California 4-H members aged 5 to 18 with invaluable learn-by-doing lessons were among those facing challenges, said Steven Worker, UC Cooperative Extension 4-H Youth Development advisor. To provide information about effective online teaching techniques, Worker consolidated and summarized best practices for working with youth online, and has now published the material in three free online fact sheets.
“The bulk of research on online learning is focused on college education,” Worker said. “There is much less research in conducting virtual learning during out-of-school time for youth development, such as the techniques we use in 4-H.”
Nevertheless, the search of scientific literature was affirming. Worker found that about 80% of what leaders and teachers do in person is also effective in remote learning sessions.
“You just have to adapt your content and teaching methods,” Worker said. “Educators can use real-time group activities, and individual at-home activities. Educators can be present and create a supportive environment. They can reflect with the youth after each meeting and ask the youth to provide feedback.”
While the fact sheets were developed with 4-H programs in mind, they are appropriate for leaders and teachers of any learning activity that takes place out of school, such as scouting programs, tutoring, music lessons and other youth groups.
The three fact sheets are three- to four-pages each and present best practices in short narratives, graphs and bulleted lists. The topics are:
Supporting productive educator practices for out-of-school time – Teaching during out-of-school time differs from school environments. Educators become coaches, mentors, facilitators and partners. This fact sheet offers key points for online learning: Teaching methods first, technology second; involve youth in choices of digital tools; and focus on relationships.
Integrating experiential education into the digital realm – Experiential education is critical to the mission of 4-H, which uses a hands-on approach to learning. Readers of this fact sheet will understand preferred outcomes, such as agency, competence and belonging. Examples help educators divide learning between times when the group is together on Zoom or another platform, and providing assignments that the youth can complete between meetings.
Promoting positive youth development – Just as in person, important components of youth development include safety and belonging, youth-adult relationships, life skills development and opportunities for youth leadership. This fact sheet lists and discusses the six C's of positive youth development: competence, confidence, connection, character, caring and contribution.
Although the options are better for distance learning than expected, Worker, like many teachers, still look forward to returning to in-person activities.
“On computers, participants will often keep their video turned off, so it's hard to gauge whether they are interested and on task,” Worker said. “But in this unique time, it's better to do something than nothing.”
The PDF fact sheets may be downloaded from the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources catalog, https://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu.
- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
The Perseverance rover will land on Mars on Feb. 18. As part of a science lesson, sixth-grade students at Avery Middle School in Calaveras County explored Mars recently. The other worldly experience was made possible with Mars Base Camp 4-H STEM Challenge kits donated by the University of California's 4-H Youth Development Program in Calaveras County.
Ali Heermance, Avery Middle School sixth-grade teacher, helped her students assemble their Mars rovers for their space lesson, then drive the vehicles over rough terrain created with boxes and books to explore a map of Mars. The 4-H kit includes parts to build the yellow, plastic battery-powered rover.
Along with the rover, the kit includes four activities for students: Landing Zone Surveyor, Crop Curiosity, Red Planet Odyssey and Insight from Mars. Three of the activities don't require internet service, but Insight from Mars requires a computer, laptop or tablet and internet for the coding activity.
“A generous donation to 4-H in Calaveras County made it possible to buy 450 of the Mars Base Camp 4-H STEM Challenge family kits for local school children,” said JoLynn Miller, UC Cooperative Extension 4-H advisor. The kits retail for $17.95 at https://shop4-h.org.
“I was able to buy enough of the 4-H STEM kits for every sixth-grader in Calaveras County and, with the help of Calaveras County Office of Education, send them to their teachers,” said Miller,
“I hope the 4-H activities spark an interest in science, technology, engineering and math in the students,” Miller said. “The activities show kids how STEM skills can be applied to the world around them and because the family kits can be used by three or four people, they can share the experience with their parents and siblings.”
Sixth-grade math hybrid and 100% distance-learning students at Toyon Middle School have also used the kits.
“The kids enjoyed the activities and were very engaged,” said Michelle Olivarria, science teacher at Toyon Middle School.
For the Red Planet Odyssey, each kit contains a vinyl map of Mars and parts for the students to build a rover to explore the planet.
Crop Curiosity is a card game that has students growing plants on Mars in an artificial environment, where they may encounter natural disasters and sabotage. Participants can win items such as soil, containers and grow lights to grow plants.
“One student told me that his family played it and it was fun,” Olivarria said.
Using the program Scratch, students can program their own animated interactive games and stories for Insight from Mars.
“Another one of my students is still using the website to code,” Olivarria said. “He shows me a new coding clip every week. It was wonderful to get the students engaged in hands-on learning and so nice that all of the students had their own supplies.”
Miller hopes the Mars project raises parents' awareness of 4-H in their community and the variety of projects the UC ANR youth development program offers.
Will Heryford of KCRA visited Avery Middle School and interviewed the students about the hands-on exercise https://www.kcra.com/article/sixth-graders-calaveras-county-get-hands-experience-building-mars-rovers/35220966.
- Author: Ricardo A. Vela
"I guess the fact that my parents told me whatever I set on my mind I would be able to achieve set me up for success," Diaz Carrasco stated. "Once I enrolled in Food Science Engineering, I loved school so much that when I was done with that degree, I pursued two more."
UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) is committed to developing an inclusive and equitable society by reaching all segments of the state's population. On the front lines building trust and credibility are professionals who bring their unique skills, passion and commitment to make California a better place.
"The most rewarding is the opportunity to build bridges between the university's research-based programs and our local communities. When they do not fit, I have fun creating new programs or adapting from what we do have. I do believe science mixed with traditional knowledge has an infinite power to change people's lives," said Diaz Carrasco.
A native of Atizapán de Zaragoza, México, Diaz Carrasco has been part of UC ANR since 2015 as Youth Development Advisor focusing on Latino and /or low‐income youth and families. She faces many cultural and economic challenges to achieve her mission; thanks to her tenacity, dedication and hard work, she and her team have turned their goals into a reality.
"When I joined ANR, there were really few people in the state and around the country doing work intentionally with Latino youth development and 4-H," she said.
Since joining 4-H, she has been instrumental in increasing Latino participation in 4-H programs statewide. Her geographical area of work is the Inland Empire, which includes Riverside and San Bernardino counties. These are two of California's largest counties, with almost 5 million residents, and 65% are Latino.
"About 60% of school-aged youth in Riverside and San Bernardino are Hispanic/Latino," said Diaz Carrasco. "Since the beginning, the primary focus of my position is to develop, implement, evaluate, strengthen and expand local 4-H programming to serve the current under-represented population better."
In an environment that is generally not friendly to changes and challenges, Diaz Carrasco faces a daily array of obstacles to achieving her goal. Among them are high levels of poverty in the families she serves, high crime rates in some communities, and a lack of interest from the parents, who in most cases work two or three jobs to make ends meet.
"The success of my work as the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) advisor relies on how effective my extension team and I can be in sharing knowledge. We have gained this knowledge through research, education, program evaluation, and transfer these into the communities we serve in ways that are relevant for their day-to-day lives while embracing their cultural context," said Diaz Carrasco.
The knowledge that Diaz Carrasco and her team bring directly to the youth, their families, and communities in the Inland Empire creates positive changes and healthier lives. "The way we educate the public matters, and who are our educators matters. Science and culture are at the core of every program we have implemented since I started," she said.
She gives two reasons why her work is penetrating the thick layers of the communities she serves. The first is that she is an immigrant, like many of the families she works with. "I approach my work knowing that a lot of people are going or have gone through the same process I went through in 2014."
Diaz Carrasco also cites thinking out of the box as a reason for success. "I believe creativity and flexibility are at the core of any programs I develop," she stated.
For example, Diaz Carrasco and her team partnered with the Mexican Consulate in San Bernardino, where they held a successful summer camp and strengthened the partnership with the Consulate. Youth could participate in this unique program that aims to help them embrace their Mexican identity, even when, in some cases, they or their parents cannot travel outside the U.S.
The summer camp program was designed to increase positive ethnic identity, and to provide youth development reflecting the Latino and immigrant youth experience and the physiological and social effects of discrimination. The program also responded to economic challenges by assisting families with transportation, providing snacks, and in some cases other items such as toothbrushes, water bottles, or connecting families to health and food agencies. "Above all, we hold the camp in a place that the families were already familiar with and felt safe. This place was the Consulate!" said Diaz Carrasco. "Yes, we turned their art gallery, where official agreements are signed, into a playground. That is what I mean by out of the box,” she added.
The program's interest was visible from day one; in a matter of hours, they reached 100% of the participant count. In the end, the parents expressed their gratitude for offering the programs in an accessible way.
Thinking out of the box has also allowed Diaz Carrasco to partner with major companies in Southern California to benefit the youth.
In five years, she has increased 4-H membership in her area from 667 to 6,021. The overall percentage of Latino youth in 4-H went from 28% to 85%, and the number of volunteers grew from 175 to 354.
Diaz Carrasco measures her success by the words of Sofia, a Moreno Valley student and one of the participants to the 4-H Juntos conference: "Juntos 4-H provides a home and a place where you can safely feel like it is your community. I hope expanding the program gives more students, not only myself but an identity also as to what the community is like and that there are people that care for them and have someone to relate and trust."
Diaz Carrasco has a straightforward message to all those girls who contemplate the idea of getting into the sciences: "My success in science has more to do with resilience than with knowledge. So, the ultimate thing is to pick something you like, have fun doing it and find people around you that also like it or are willing to support you when things get hard."