- 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/
What do 4-Hers do during a pandemic? California 4-H youth members decided to learn about disease outbreaks and transmission, public health investigations, personal practices to stay healthy, and much more.
With the emergence of the coronavirus, 4-H in-person meetings had to be canceled, along with schools, sports and other youth development programs. Emerging research shows this gap of in-person socializing, disruption to routines, fear of the virus, and the loss of a sense of personal autonomy has led to an increase in social, emotional and mental health issues for teens. Over half of teens in a National 4-H Council/ Harris Poll stated that the pandemic has increased their feelings of loneliness, and 7 in 10 teens report struggling with their mental health.
Additionally, the team witnessed that Californians were navigating confusing information about the best way to reduce the spread of the disease, with much misinformation being circulated. So the University of California 4-H Healthy Living Team decided to address these issues the best way they knew how, through education.
Anne Iaccopucci, California 4-H Healthy Living coordinator; Dorina Espinoza, UC Cooperative Extension youth, families and communities advisor in Humboldt and Del Norte counties; and Marcel Horowitz,UCCE healthy youth, families and communities advisor inYolo County, adapted the CDC/4-H Junior Disease Detective: Operation Outbreak project for remote instruction.
The project focused on concepts of epidemiology and included eight sessions covering public health professions, disease investigation, virus transmission, disease outbreaks, vaccines, immunity, prevention (such as how protective actions like handwashing and wearing masks reduce spread) and education. Project sessions were adapted to be as interactive as possible using virtual delivery.
Eighty-nine youth indicated an interest in participating, with more than 45 4-H members from 15 counties across the state enrolling and completing the Virtual UC 4-H Epidemiology Project. Project meeting materials were coordinated online at https://ucanr.edu/sites/DiseaseDetectives.
True to the 4-H experiential learning framework, and to address the research showing that teens are currently experiencing high levels of loneliness, the Project Leaders intentionally created a learning environment that included interactive, fun, challenging and social activities to foster a sense of connection. At the beginning of each project session, youth worked on team-building activities. For example, youth participated in a mapping activity where they “pinned” their desired vacation destination and attempted to guess each other's location with a selected prop as a hint. This activity culminated with a discussion on how we serve as potential vectors of disease transmission. Also, youth learned about the benefits of wearing face masks with an activity where youth were challenged to blow a rolled up tissue from one to six feet away without a mask and then while wearing a mask. Their giggles did not mask the direct learning of how well a mask can contain one's breath.
When youth were asked “What part of this project was fun and engaging?” several responded, “When we did the activities in breakout rooms,” and “The activities at the beginning of the meetings.” This indicates that this dedicated time for talking with peers was a motivator and benefit of continued participation.
To foster healthy youth, families and communities, this project contributed to the UC ANR Condition Change of improved health for all. Specifically, youth adopted healthy lifestyles and decision-making practices and changed attitudes toward, and gained knowledge about, healthy practices.
After completing the UC 4-H Epidemiology Project, youth reported that they were more likely to wash their hands before food preparation (78.1%), after sneezing or coughing (56.2%), and after shopping in a public space (87.5%). The majority (84.4%) of youth also reported that they were more likely to wear a face mask when out in public, compared to before the project. When youth were asked what they learned from the project, one youth stated, “I learned why masks work, I learned how hand sanitizer works, and I learned how I can help my community.”
Youth reported not only improved health behaviors for themselves, but also reported being leaders in the health of their communities. Many of the young participants (62.5%) reported that they can definitely help control the spread of diseases and 71.9% could envision themselves getting involved in their local community to help slow the spread of disease. Following project participation, over half of all participants picture themselves choosing a career in medicine, public health, veterinary sciences or epidemiology.
Participants of the UC 4-H Epidemiology Project have become advocates for health, with 75% reporting that they are discussing disease transmission and prevention with others. When asked what the best part of the project was, a participant stated, “The best part of the project was learning about how to protect myself and keep my family safe in these troubled times." Other youth stated that their favorite parts were “the interactive activities” and “making new friends.” Others responded to the question “What part of this project was fun and engaging?” with, “I enjoyed interacting with others and getting to collaborate on the final project,” and “discussing ideas with the group.” These indicate that learning reached beyond knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors and into youth development domains as well.
Interested in leading this project for youth 12 years and older in your community? Sixty leaders from throughout America have already been trained and 93% reported they would recommend it.
Contact Anne Iaccopucci at firstname.lastname@example.org for information on how to get started.