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Using Books to Discuss Mental, Emotional, and Social Health

“You are never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.”

Dr. Suess

4-H members pledge their “health to better living” – that means mental health, too. Mental health is a very broad term referring to our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It’s about how people think, feel, and behave. Just like the definition for overall health, mental health is not only the absence of mental illness, it also refers to the presence of positive characteristics. Ohio 4-H is promoting mental health in January by providing resources on a section of our webpage, through educational programming, and throughout our social media platforms.

Why Mental Health Matters

Mental health is important because it determines how people handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Positive mental health is important because it allows people to do the following:

  • Realize their full potential
  • Cope with the stresses of life
  • Be productive
  • Make meaningful connections to others
  • Make contributions to their communities

Our mental health can change over time. It depends on many factors. Having good mental health doesn’t mean that people never go through bad times. Experiencing setbacks is inevitable – it’s part of life. It means we have the tools to cope with life’s challenges. It helps us keep problems in perspective and bounce back from those setbacks.

Mental health problems don’t only affect adults. Children, teens, and young adults can have mental health problems, too. Young children are still learning how to deal with their emotions and figure out how to regulate their behaviors in socially acceptable ways. All children can benefit from learning how to express themselves, get along with others, cope with stress, and be resilient.

Using Books to Discuss Mental, Emotional, and Social Health

Books are an ideal tool when discussing serious topics, because they can make abstract ideas more concrete through simple words and images. In her Cloverbud Connections article, Greene County 4-H Educator Rebecca Supinger reminds us about using books as a jumping-off point to start tough conversations.

Here are some general suggestions to prepare you for using books with Cloverbuds.

  • Get recommendations from local educators or librarians or read reviews (e.g., Goodreads, a site for book recommendations).
  • Read the book ahead to familiarize yourself with it. You can also find YouTube videos of many books.
  • Consider companion activities to allow children to engage in more interactive and hands-on ways with the topic.
  • Think about reflection questions to encourage discussion after reading the book.

Amanda Raines, 4-H Educator from Hardin County, has used the book When Sophie Gets Angry – Really, Really, Angry… by Molly Bang (Blue Sky Press, 1999) with Cloverbuds and preschool classrooms. In the book, when Sophie gets angry, she runs far, far away. “It is an easy tool to get our youngest members talking about how their body feels when they are upset,” she said. “After reading the book, we have a conversation about how to use your words to express your feelings instead of letting your body take over.” Amanda said she also usually follows this story with an activity, such as making a calm down jar or meditation bottle, which gives the participants a tool to take home and start practicing what they’ve learned. Amanda and her Cloverbud, Lily, demonstrate how to do this craft in this Cloverbud Creators video.

Reviewers of this book point out that Sophie runs away when she gets angry, and therefore it might encourage children to take this action as well. Although physical activity is a positive strategy, because of their age and where they live (e.g., an urban area), running away into the woods isn’t necessarily a good option for young children. This illustrates the importance of following the book with some discussion. For example, have the children tell what techniques they use to calm themselves when they are angry. (“When Sophie gets angry, she runs away into the woods and climbs her favorite tree. Different people handle anger in different ways. What do you do when you get angry?”) It’s important to validate the feeling (it’s okay to feel angry) but not necessarily the reaction that follows.

“My Feelings,” in the Big Book of Cloverbud Activities that is now available at Ohio 4-H Stay at Home Projects, has some great activities that can be paired with books that discuss mental health topics. For example, after discussing a book, Cloverbuds might want to draw or write about their own emotions.   “Disappointment and Feelings,” an activity in Coping with COVID: Lesson Plans to Promote Mental, Emotional, and Social Health, would also work for the Cloverbud age group.

Other book suggestions:

  • How Big are Your Worries Little Bear: A Book to Help Children Manage and Overcome Anxiety, Anxious Thoughts, Stress and Fearful Situations by Jayneen Sanders, illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman (Educate2Empower Publishing, 2018)
  • There Might Be Lobsters by Carolyn Crimi, illustrated by Laurel Molk (Candlewick Press, 2017)

To find more children’s books about mental health-related topics, here are three websites that Amanda Raines recommends.

Check out the Mental Health Month resources on the Ohio 4-H webpage. Mental health-related topics are also featured in the Ohio 4-H Healthy Living blog. Although targeted to a teen audience, volunteers can benefit from the resources shared on this platform.

Mindfulness for our 4-H Cloverbud Members

Whoo! We made it through the holidays!  But with all that hustle and bustle, we tend to forget to take time to check in on how we are feeling. If we, as adults, forget to check in on ourselves, imagine how hard it may be for our 4-H Cloverbud members to express how they are feeling. January is a hard month because it tends to be cold, dreary and all the holiday fun is over. This is a great time to talk to our members about ways to take care of their mental health and well-being.

Mindfulness is a way to bring connection between the brain, mind, body, and behavior.  It is easy for many of us to fall into the trap of worry and having our minds run a mile a minute and that can happen to our youth, too. There are so many demands on our children these days that it may be difficult for them to take time to be calm and quiet, and their bodies need that rest.

Find some activities that your Cloverbud members like or challenge them to come up with their own mindful activity. Maybe they will suggest coloring, writing in a journal, if they are a little bit older, or just taking deep breaths. Any of these activities are a great start to practice mindfulness.

When we can host meetings again in person, try adding one of these activities at the start or the end of your Cloverbud club meeting. If you are meeting virtually, you could take time to read a book or start the meeting with a few deep breaths. As stated in previous Cloverbud Connections, it is important for our younger members to take time to acknowledge their feelings and begin learning how to process those feelings.

A favorite activity for our members, which is easy to do and does not require any additional items, is a grounding exercise. Grounding allows us to reconnect with our surroundings and take a moment to refocus and relax. Try the following activity with your members.

Grounding Activity for Cloverbuds:

  • Advisors or Adult Volunteers can read the following script:
    • Sit in a way that is comfortable for you. This may be on a blanket on the floor, in a chair at a meeting, or outside if the weather is nice.
    • Once you have found a good spot, close your eyes, and take a deep breath in and out.
    • We are going to sit as still and as quiet as possible, take another deep breath in and out. Use your listening ears to identify all the sounds you can hear. Make a list in your mind of 3 things you hear. Maybe it is a buzzing of a fan or it is so quiet you do not hear anything.
    • Now while we are still sitting still and quiet – take a big breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. Take a minute to see if you smell anything. Maybe there is a smell you did not notice when the meeting started like flowers or crayons. Make a list in your mind of 3 things you smell.
    • One last time still sit as quiet and still as possible – take one more big breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. Now we are going to use our sense of feel. You can put your hands on the ground next to you or out on the table. What are some things you feel like the cold floor or a rough table? Make a list in your mind of 3 things you feel.
  • Remember if you are able to model or demonstrate what you are doing that may help some members – Sometimes kids like to open their eyes to see if they’re doing the right thing or to make sure they aren’t alone.
  • Once you have read through the Mindfulness script, ask members to share what they heard, smelled, or felt. This is an effective way to reflect on the activity and create a connection between youth if they noticed similar things.
  • This is a great activity that can be modified as needed for the meeting location, group, etc. You could also offer those older members an opportunity to read the script or create their own relaxing story to share.

We hope you are learning new ways to take care of yourself and your members during Ohio 4-H’s Mental Health Month. Be sure to share any new ideas you have learned or tried so that others can use them in their club meetings or with their members. We hope you are using your health for better living this January!

For additional resources visit go.osu.edu/MentalHealthMonth or Coping with COVID: go.osu.edu/CopingWithCOVID  (“Just Breathe!,” and “Guided Relaxation”)

Sources:
https://fcs.osu.edu/programs/major-program-areas/healthy-relationships/mindful-wellness
Powers-Barker, P. “Introduction to Mindfulness”. 05/10/2016. Retrieved from: https://ohioline.osu.edu/factsheet/hyg-5243

4-H Can Take You Places!

One of the goals of the Cloverbud program is to allow our youngest members the opportunity to see what the future holds. What projects are available in the future, how can you get involved in your county’s camp, fair and other 4-H activities?

We were looking for a creative new idea to involve Cloverbuds in their club and community; a fun way to help Cloverbuds be active and relate to the four H’s. In addition, we wanted to offer a fair activity. We have tried a variety of activities from show and tell to scavenger hunts at the fair. We encourage Cloverbuds to look at club booths to see what projects are available in the future.

We developed a 4-H passport for the Cloverbuds with the theme “4-H Can Take You Places”. The passport allowed Cloverbuds to record their involvement in various home, club and community events. The idea was that the members would complete the activity with the assistance of their advisors and parents. The adults would verify that the C loverbud completed the activity.

The passports were printed on cardstock and distributed to clubs based on their enrollment. Cloverbuds could keep their passports as a reminder of the adventures they had in 2020. Advisors simply submitted the names of the members having completed the minimum passport activities. Those members whose names were submitted would receive a prize. The Cloverbuds could win an additional prize by completing activities at the county fair.

Then along came the pandemic. As with most things, we had to revise the passport with available activities. Gone were our day camp, the community festivals, trips to the library and even visits with grandparents. We had to accommodate activities to the restrictions that would allow members to complete them while quarantined at home.

Thankfully, we did have a junior fair program this year, so the Cloverbuds were able to visit the fair to attend some of the 4-H related events. We did not have still project displays, so sadly they did not get the opportunity to explore what projects might interest them.  About 20 Cloverbuds did submit their passports to receive their prize. The items were purchased through our county endowment funds from the 4-H supply catalog. The passport can be adapted into a club activity, being more specific to your club and community.

The original and revised passports are shown below. The format is so that they can be printed as a folded piece to look more like a passport!

If you would like to have a copy of the passport sent to you via email, please send your request to Rhonda Williams at williams.418@osu.edu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home for the Virtual Holidays

What an interesting year! As we conclude 2020, I would like to share some fun virtual activities that can be conducted at your next Cloverbud meeting.  Remember that not all families celebrate holidays.  Feel free to substitute winter or other words as needed.

Secret Code Virtual Holiday Scavenger Hunt

Choose a letter and give children 30 seconds to find an item that begins with that letter. When each child returns, have him/her hold up the item they found.  Ask them to write down the letter on a piece of paper.  After the last item has been shared, have the group read the word together.  Choose words like holiday, tree, etc.

Virtual Stand Up, Sit Down Rudolph

Play a song in the background, such as “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer”.  Choose a word on which the group will stand up when they hear it.  Have them sit down immediately after hearing the word.  Continue until the song is finished.

Virtual Holiday Bingo

Prepare BINGO card template prior to the meeting and email to members, or make cards virtually together.  To make cards, have members take an 8 ½ X 11 sheet of paper and fold it in half – “hamburger style”.  Fold it in half again.  Open the paper.  Now fold the paper in half – “hotdog style”.  Fold it in half again.  Open the paper.  You should have 16 rectangles.  Have children cut off the first row.  Now you have 12.  Using a pencil and a ruler (if available), have them trace along the lines.  Choose twelve holiday related words ahead of time or as a group.  Have children randomly draw a picture of each word, in each box – no “Free Space”.  Take time to color the pictures.  Tear the scrap paper (first row) into twelve pieces to cover the boxes.  Explain how to play “BINGO”.  The first person to cover a complete row or column wins.  Call out each word until someone gets “BINGO”.  For fun, instead of yelling “BINGO”, yell “HOLIDAY”.

Virtual Holiday Story Time

Ask each child to share their favorite holiday books.  For those that would like to read, have them read their story to the group.

Holiday Traditions

Have children talk about some of things that their families do to celebrate different holidays.  Discuss different cultures and customs that are celebrated in other countries.  For ideas, check out “Celebrations Around the World” in the Big Book of 4-H Cloverbud Activities, or visit “Safely Celebrate the Holiday Season” developed by the Stark County Health Department.

#Together As Cloverbuds Calendar

Have children write down five activities that they can do at home during the month of December (ex. movie night with my family; have a paper or real snowball fight with my siblings; make cards to mail to friends).  Ask children to share their lists.  Grab a calendar.  As a group, discuss what activities they would like to do on what date.  Have them write down as many as they would like to do – dates included.  Now they have designed their own December calendar.  Remind them that each day they do the activities, one of their Cloverbud friends is thinking about them and doing the activity, too.  Take pictures to share the next time the group gets together.

Have a safe and healthy holiday season!

 

Ohio 4-H Cloverbud Time Capsule

Have you ever thought about creating a family time capsule? 2020 has been an unprecedented year and there are some important memories you might want to capture for the future. A time capsule provides a visual record of a particular period in time and all the items are sealed in a container to be opened in the future. There are so many fun things that can added to a time capsule such as photos, newspaper clippings, letters, favorite drawing, recipe, favorite 4-H memory, a magazine, or even a list of favorite toys and games!

Christy Millhouse, 4-H Extension Educator in Preble County Ohio has developed a guide to help us create a family time capsule. You can print a copy here, collect items for your time capsule and seal it up! Good luck and have fun!!

2020 Cloverbud Time Capsule

Giving Thanks: Cloverbud Edition

Gratitude is an important foundation to the Ohio 4-H program, and it is easy to adapt for any age group. Gratitude means you have a readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. This is a wonderful skill to instill in our 4-H members, and it’s as simple as saying, “Thank You!”

Here are some easy ways to start helping our youngest members say thank you:

  1. End every meeting with Thank You – As your Cloverbud meeting comes to an end, take a few moments to reflect with the members what they learned that day. Maybe have some of the members share what they learned or what their favorite thing was. Bring attention to anyone who may have helped them during that meeting – did you have a guest speaker, did parents help with the craft, or did another member bring snacks? Once the helpers have been identified, tell the members on the count of 3, we are going to say “Thank You” all together. Lead a countdown and thank those people you identified. This is a simple activity, but it helps connect everything from the lesson and immediately recognizes those in the room.
  2. Write a Club Thank You Note – Is there something your club or Cloverbud group has done that has received attention? Maybe the club won best decorated club booth, received an award at the fair or project judging, or received recognition from the Extension Office. Take time to write a thank you note expressing your appreciation for being recognized. If your Cloverbud club has members of all ages, help an older member write the thank you card and then pass it around for all members to sign their name.
  3. Send a Postcard – While Cloverbuds may be our youngest members and still developing those foundational life skills, this is a great way to let them take ownership of a thank you card. Make a post card with most of the Thank You message typed up and leave a few blanks for the members to write in their own message. See the picture below of an example we used for our county fair. Cloverbuds should be encouraged to share what the experience or gift means to them, and then say thank you in their own words. It also helps them identify the important parts of a thank you note that they can include when they are able to write one on their own.

Whether your club year is coming to end or you are starting a new 4-H year, November is a wonderful time to practice saying Thank You. If you need a few suggestions, write a thank you note to your county Commissioners for supporting your local program, the state 4-H office for their continued support, or your Extension office for the work they put into your county 4-H program.

Showing Gratitude

Teaching children about gratitude can sometimes be a challenging endeavor, but rewarding none the less.  Little research has been done to assist in understanding how children define gratitude and at what age they truly begin to comprehend what gratitude is and how it can be shown.  A study of parents of first through third grade students shared some insight into how their children define gratitude including: inspiration for the gratitude, forms of gratitude, and ways in which they could come to an understanding of gratitude (Halberstadt et al., 2016).

The parents in the study shared three main inspirations in which their children are grateful: for what they have, for what they have been given, and for what exists with or without their presence.  The children showed their gratitude by recognizing that they had received something, feeling happy when receiving something, or by showing appreciation.  Parents believe their children could come to an understanding of gratitude by learning from other’s perspectives, a comparison of what they have to those less fortunate.

This year has provided many challenges to each of us and our Cloverbud members have had many unexpected changes.  Yet, there is still so much to be grateful for as we look around.  Help your Cloverbud members understand what things they can be grateful for this year.

  • In advance of your meeting, ask your members to gather 3-5 things they are grateful for so they can share with them with the group. This will help keep your members engaged virtually.
  • Gather some things you are grateful for that you can share with your members as well.
  • Begin your lesson asking the members what gratitude is or what it means to be grateful. Show the things you are grateful for this year.
  • Remind the youth that even when times are tough, we have so much to be grateful for in our lives. Take turns having the members share the 3-5 things they gathered to share.
  • Children will often times think of the material things they use daily, but remind them of other things provided for them such as food, shelter, clothing, and good health. Maybe they are grateful for the sunshine that allows them the opportunity to play outside, the rain to help our crops grow, or the hug from a loved one to make them feel special.
  • Ask the members how they can should gratitude for those who have provided these things for them to appreciate. (Ex. hug, say “thank you”, a smile, etc.)
  • Ask your members to pick one thing they are most thankful for and show gratitude for it. Have each member write a thank you note or draw a thank you picture and give it to the person they want to show gratitude or appreciation.  Ask each member to send you a picture so they know you have completed the activity.
Reference:  Halberstandt, A.G., Langley, H.A., Hussong, A.M., Rothenberg, W.A., Coffman, J.L., Mokrova, I., Costanzo, P.R. (2016). Parents’ understanding of gratitude in children: A thematic analysis. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 36, 439-451. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecresq.2016.01.014

Ohio – The Buckeye State!

Government…it’s on everyone’s mind these days.  There is no better time to teach our Cloverbuds about our Great State of Ohio.

Did you know that Ohio’s Secretary of State, Frank LaRose, has an Ohio Activity Book available for download from his website?  This activity book is FREE and features information about the Ohio Burgee (flag), the Seal and Motto, State Flower, State Bird, and more!  There are coloring pages, word searches, crossword puzzles, and other puzzles and games.  What a wonderful way to learn more about our Buckeye State!  As a 4-H Cloverbud Volunteer, you can have your Cloverbuds download the book, assign them a page or two to complete with their adult, and then have a virtual Zoom meeting with the Cloverbuds to discuss what they learned.  You could also have easy trivia questions ready for them to answer.  Click here to download the Ohio Activity Book.

The Ohio Activity Book pairs nicely with one of our Click It, Print It, Do It! activities.  Check out the instructions for making the Seal of Ohio using dried beans and seeds.  Click here to download the lesson plan. 

For an easy virtual meeting, have your Cloverbuds download the activity book, ask them to complete (along with their adult’s help) a few pages, and then have a Zoom to discuss what they learned.  Next, have them download the instructions for the Seal of Ohio activity and ask them to have their adult help them to complete that activity before the next meeting.  In reality, the activity book has many pages and could be used for several lessons and meetings.

Teach our Cloverbuds about Ohio History and learn fun facts about the Buckeye State in the process.  And, who knows?  Someday maybe one of our Cloverbuds will be elected Governor of the Buckeye State!

Utilizing Children’s Books to Have Tough Conversations

Are you wondering what to say to your children about racism in the United States?    What is too much to say?  What is not enough?  Do not wait for children to bring this up to you.  We, as a society, need to be proactive in helping build a positive awareness.

Children recognize differences in people at a very young age.  They are not too young to be exposed to diversity.  Start the conversation early and continue the conversation as children are growing.

The 4-H program is for all who are interested.  As parents, volunteers, supporters, educators, we should have confidence in ourselves, as well as in the children we work with, that we can handle these tough conversations and situations.  Our role should be to be honest with our children and specific in our answers so the future generation can continue to confront and handle racial injustices that are still evident in our society.

But, where do you start?  Utilizing children’s books is a perfect way to begin the conversation.

We all love children’s picture books.  They have so many important lessons built into their stories.  Use diverse characters in books.  Children want to be able to see themselves in books, and this allows an opportunity for further discussion.  In addition, when they see characters that are different from themselves, they become more accepting which will stay with them as they grow into adults.

Ask building questions.  Use this opportunity as a chance to learn what the children know, what they do not know, and what they might be thinking about race.  Then, most importantly, you can help them learn more by asking additional questions and preparing yourself for additional conversations in the future.

It is never too early to have this conversation.  If the topic is racism, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, being a good citizen, helping others, or any other topic, starting these important conversations can be done using children’s books.  Incorporate children’s books into every 4-H Cloverbud activity and meeting.  We want our 4-H members to grow into caring, competent, contributing citizens.  As 4-H parents, volunteers, and supporters, we have an opportunity to have important conversations, so our children are ready to take on the world and make the best better.

Links for diverse children’s books:

 

Recognizing our Emotions

Many people have difficulty dealing with emotions. As caring adults (4-H advisor, parent, guardian, etc.) we should talk about emotions with the children in our care. Emotions are those instinctive reactions to one’s given circumstances. In children you might see tantrums, crying, pouting, breaking things, or the silent treatment, among others. Sometimes as parents we want to jump in and fix things just like we did when our children were babies. To build our child’s resiliency skills, we need to step aside and be the supportive person “outside their box” as they are dealing with their emotions “inside their box”.

Triggers are those actions or events that when they happen, the individual responds with a strong immediate reaction. Triggers cause a sudden change in our emotions and our body becomes overwhelmed with reacting to the event. Sometimes referred to by parents as “pushing my buttons”, these words or actions bring about an instant reaction. Personally, one of my triggers is when someone scrapes a metal fork on a glass plate. My immediate reaction is to plug my ears. Self-awareness is an important skill for parents to develop in their children. It allows them to recognize emotions, triggers, and responses.

Self-Awareness: Circle of Identification

Here is a very simple activity that can be done with crayons and paper. You might also use cardstock or light-colored paper, especially if you encourage the child to take the paper home. This activity is most effective if you have a small group of children or a large group of children with several adults (i.e. 1 adult for each 3-4 children).

  1. Preprint a circle divided into 3 equal sections on the paper. Have extra copies depending on time available, but 2-3 copies per child is recommended.
  2. Give each child one paper and share the following instructions, one at a time, allowing all children to complete each step before moving on to the next step.
    1. Explain what an emotion is (angry, embarrassed, happy). In one of the sections of the circle, instruct the children to draw a picture of an emotion they have experienced.
    2. Define a trigger and give examples. In a different section, have them draw a picture demonstrating something that might trigger the emotion they selected in the first space.
    3. In the final space, have them draw a picture of how they deal with that emotion.
  3. You can use another sheet and redo the activity using another emotion.
  4. In summary, talk with them about the value in being able to identify their emotions, identify their triggers and evaluate their reaction to that emotion. This is key to really understanding the concept of self-awareness which allows youth and adults to handle both good and bad situations in life.

As caring adults, we can model feeling words by defining the exact emotion you are experiencing at that time. Avoid reactions like foul language, yelling or aggressive physical reactions, because you are modeling these as appropriate reactions to certain emotions. We can all agree that resiliency is a vital skill for youth and adults.  Building the concept of self-awareness is a step to preparing youth (even at a young age) for future success.

Sources:

Pincus, D. (2020, September 1). My Child is Out of Control: How to Teach Kids to Manage. Medium. https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/my-child-is-out-of-control-how-to-teach-kids-to-manage-emotions/

Sadowski, K. (2020, August 31). 8 Tip to Help Your Child Gain Control of His/Her Emotions. Medium. https://www.nspt4kids.com/parenting/8-tips-to-help-your-child-gain-control-of-hisher-emotions/