Helping Youth During COVID-19 Holidays

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Handling the stress and mental health effects during a global pandemic is hard for a person at any age, let alone a child. Don’t forget to monitor how children are handling the disappointment and potential changes to routine holiday traditions due to COVID-19. These can lead to feelings of sadness, despair, anger, anxiety and stress. It is important as adults we take time to acknowledge these feelings and talk through them. Listen to them and let them know you care. You don’t have to have all the answers; just assure them you are there to help them through this difficult time.

The 4-H youth development program has always and continues to build a firm foundation for youth that encourages good decision-making and strong interpersonal skills. Social-emotional health is the cornerstone to confident, caring young leaders who understand how to take care of themselves both mentally and physically. The Search Institute’s research has demonstrated that when young people experience developmental relationships with caring adults their outcomes are better, their risk behaviors are lower, and they are more likely to be on the path to thrive in life. The Search Institute has created a checklist with strategies for relationship-building steps during COVID-19. While the list was intended mostly for staff in schools and youth development professionals, they apply to all adults, even parents.

  • Express care. Show youth they matter to you.
    • This could be as simple as telling them you believe in them and you know they will get through this difficult time.
  • Challenge growth. Push youth to keep getting better.
    • An example includes asking the youth what they are or could be doing to help others during this time.
  • Provide support. Help youth complete tasks and achieve goals.
    • Ask how they are feeling about the world, themselves and the future during this time. Indicate that you really hear them when they response and that you care about their feelings.
  • Share power: Treat youth with respect and give them a say.
    • When you can, offer choices rather than mandating a single option.
  • Expand possibilities: Connect youth to people and places that broaden their world.
    • Explore through the Web or social media how young people very different from them around the country or even the world is experiencing COVID-19.

In summary, take time to listen and recognize how youth are feeling. Take this time to creatively and collaboratively brainstorm new alternatives or traditions for the 2020 Holiday season. Take time to practice gratitude and find ways to express gratitude to those less fortunate such as writing a note to someone who might need extra joy in their life. Be kind to yourself and each other.

Source: Search Institute, https://www.search-institute.org/


Agronomy Project – No Field Required!

Attention all youth interested in agriculture! Do you want to learn about agriculture? Do you want to raise a crop that requires little space? Do you enjoy learning about non-traditional crops? If you answered any of those questions, this project is for you!

The Nebraska Extension Special Agronomy Project gives 4-H members an opportunity to experience a crop that is grown, was grown or has the potential to be grown in Nebraska. Youth participate by receiving seed and resources to grow the crop, research traits of the crop and determine the viability of that crop in the part of the state they live. The project allows 4-H members interested in agronomy to grow something fun, new, and different.   

To kick-off the inaugural year of the special agronomy project, youth will explore teosinte. The plant looks and is very similar to corn, in fact it is believed to be the wild ancestor of today’s corn! 

The focus of the 2021 Special Agronomy Project is the Teosinte plant.  Teosinte is the ancestor to today’s corn, including dent, sweet, and popcorn. Native to Mexico and the surrounding area, this plant was adapted and changed by humans over time. There are both similarities and differences between them. Both plants have a tassel at the top. However, instead of a single stalk with a large ear, teosinte has multiple branches that produce many small spikes of trapezoidal seeds if the growing season is long enough. 

Youth should enroll for the Special Agronomy Project through 4-H Online.  Once enrolled in 4-H Online, youth are to call their local office to sign up for the project (order the seeds) by February 1st. By enrolling through 4-H Online, youth will have access to a folder with educational materials including a growing newsletter, potential virtual field trips & evaluation.   

Youth will have three options to enter this project at the county and state fair. One option is a special agronomy educational exhibit which youth share what was learned from the project in either poster (14” x 22”) with a short essay. The second option is to create a short 2-5-minute video presentation related to what they learned about the project. Finally, youth can enter the plants themselves and include supporting documentation about the project. Details can be found on the state fair book webpage and https://cropwatch.unl.edu/special-agronomy-project.

This is the first year for this project. If you have suggestions or any questions about the project, please contact Brandy VanDeWalle at brandy.vandewalle@unl.edu or Aaron Nygren at anygren2@unl.edu.


Christmas Tree Selection

Extension horticulturist, Nicole Stoner shared some tips on selecting the perfect live Christmas tree. If you have heavy ornaments, consider a Fraser Fir, Scotch pine, blue spruce or Black Hills spruce because they have stiff branches that hold ornaments better. If you’d like a Christmas tree scent, consider a Balsam Fir. If you prefer softer needles, go with a White pine.

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Stoner also said, when choosing your tree, assess the tree condition. Walk around the tree to look for holes in the branching. Slightly tug on the needles that are on the tree to ensure they are tightly attached to the tree and have some flexibility. Also, give the tree a good shake, if green needles fall off or if it has a lighter green color that is not a fresh tree, choose another. Brown needles will naturally fall from the interior of the tree, that doesn’t mean there is a problem with it.

Finally, she provides some tips for home care of a real tree. When you take your tree home, place it immediately into the tree stand with plenty of water. If the tree was cut within the past 12 hours it doesn’t need to be recut but if it has to sit longer than 12 hours prior to placing it in the stand, it will need to be recut to improve water uptake. Place the tree in a stand that holds at least 1 gallon of water and be sure to add water daily. Research has shown that additives and water alternatives are not as effective as plain water in maintaining a tree through the holiday season.

Keep the tree away from sources of heat to reduce water consumption and help reduce fire hazards. Christmas trees rarely start fires in our homes, but they need to be watered to help them retain their color and keep your floor from getting too messy from fallen needles.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Last week I provided tips for holiday gatherings during the COVID-19 era and ways to stay engaged even if in a virtual setting. One thing that doesn’t have to look different is some of the traditional holiday foods. Trade recipes with family members so you can learn to make that special dish that someone normally brings. If the dish is too large, only make half of the recipe. Worried that a turkey will be too big for your family? Consider making a large one and freezing it so you have meals ready to go for other meals.  

The American Farm Bureau Federation annually calculates the cost of a Thanksgiving meal to serve 10 people with plenty for leftovers. This year, with a traditional Thanksgiving meal, Farm Bureau estimated a meal total of $46.90 which is less that $2.00 from last year. This is largely due to retail turkey prices being the lowest since 2010. Included in the meal is a 16-lb. turkey, bread stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a relish tray of carrots and celery, pumpkin pie with whipped cream and beverages of coffee and milk. You can thank our American farmers and ranchers who are able to provide us the bounty of safe and affordable food we are able to consume even through a pandemic. Another interesting fact about Thanksgiving include that 88% of Americans are expected to be feasting on turkey for Thanksgiving this year (National Turkey Federation).

Now let’s talk trivia:

Q: Why are turkeys raised?   A: Because of their excellent quality of meat and eggs

Q: What is a male turkey called?  A:  Tom

Q: What is a female turkey called?  A:  A Hen

Q: What sound do turkeys make?  A: Only tom turkeys gobble; the female makes a clucking sound.

Q: How many feathers does a turkey have at maturity?  A:  3,500 feathers

Q: How big was the heaviest turkey ever raised?  A: 86 pounds, about the size of a large dog

Q: Which gender of turkeys are usually consumed whole?  A: Hens (females) are usually sold as whole birds. Toms (males) are processed into turkey sausage, turkey franks, tenderloins, cutlets and deli meats.

Q: How long does it take a turkey to reach market size?   A: Hens usually grow for 16 weeks and is 8-16 lbs. when processed while tom usually takes 19 weeks to reach market weight and weighs 24 lbs. Large toms (24-40 lbs. are a few weeks older.

Regardless of what you do this Thanksgiving, remember to be thankful for what really matters and stay safe this year.


Stayed During the Holidays – COVID Style

The holidays are usually a time filled with joy as many reunite with family members not seen as often. You might share special family recipes, play games, watch movies and just “catch up”. COVID-19 has certainly made this very difficult for face-to-face interaction but that doesn’t mean you can’t find other ways to connect. We have to be more creative and purposeful in how to interact.

According to an article published earlier this year by UNL faculty and published on Nebraska Extension’s ruralwellness.unl.edu website, “Research consistently tells us that taking care of others and maintaining meaningful relationships across generations are important for resilience and wellbeing.” (Bulling et al. 2020) Meaningful relationships contribute to a sense of belonging and help us feel connected. Sharing family stories and traditions among multiple generations is also a very special bond.

With the current pandemic, maintaining distance from our loved ones is difficult. We have missed birthdays, special events and probably other annual events or outings. The holiday season often triggers stress and sometimes even depression. Think about all of the demands we add to our plates – shopping, baking, cooking meals, cleaning and hosting events, just to name a few. This year, however, you are probably feeling a different type of stress – lack of normalcy, anxiety and disconnect. While COVID-19 has added new challenges, it has sparked creativity for some people. Like many of you, I’ve been trying to find new ways to stay emotionally connected to loved ones, so I searched and brainstormed some options.

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  • Host a virtual Holiday meal with friends and family who don’t live with you. You can schedule time to have a virtual meal, say a family blessing together and converse in conversation. You could also have people share recipes and prepare the same special family traditional recipes. Have everyone put their devices on the table so you can talk while enjoying the meal.
  • If you plan to have a meal together, drop off or send an item to that person ahead of time so you can share that item. You can even send matching centerpieces for everyone to display on their table. Even though it might not be the traditional meal, consider using a meal delivery site like “Hello Fresh”, etc. to share the same food.
  • Search online games to play with family members who are in a different location than you. Google, “free online games” and many options will appear, even the AARP has free games, including Atari! Just be aware that if you download an app, there might be add-ons that cost money and it might take some time to explore what will work for you and your family. You can even play card games online at https://playingcards.io/.
  • Send care packages to family members to enjoy or for a special event when you connect virtually. For example, send a hot cocoa packet and small marshmallows and enjoy hot chocolate while virtually watching a movie together.
  • Have a virtual cookie decorating or meal preparation party. Pick out a recipe and make it together virtually. Deliver food to a friend or family members’ porch or mail items such as cookies to those who might need a little extra cheering up.
  • Participate in a gratitude activity, like writing down things you are grateful for and sharing with your friends and family.  Try a gratitude jar or bowl where everyone writes down something, they are grateful for on a slip of paper. During a virtual holiday meal, take turns reading aloud what is in the jar or bowl.
  • For a holiday meal, have your child host “opening” and “closing” ceremonies. This could include a prayer, song, dance or even jokes.
  • Thank people! Decorate your front yard with thank-you signs for essential works, healthcare heroes, teachers and other special people. Have your child paint rocks with kindness messages and set rocks in special places to brighten someone else’s day.

This might be a year to reflect on the things that really matter to you and find ways to allocate more time towards those activities. If you have kids, let them brainstorm for alternative plans and start new traditions. Help children cope with the holiday blues and validate their feelings of disappointment and sadness to their disrupted holiday traditions. Remember that helping children overcome disappointment helps them build resiliency. Teach fun relaxation strategies such as meditation or even trying out a new candle scent or lotion.

Regardless how you celebrate your holiday season, remember that you are not alone. We are all navigating through these uncertain times together and it’s okay to ask for help if things get too overwhelming.

Reaching Out is Nebraska Strong

Reaching out to others and asking for help may look a bit different now but staying emotionally and socially connected is important to our health and wellbeing at all times. Learning to recognize your stressors and how to manage stress can help you personally and those around you. If you recognize someone in distress, use a caring approach in listening to them, and then connect them to resources.

Keep these Hotlines in your phone contacts:

  • Rural Response Hotline: 1-800-464-0258
  • Nebraska Family Helpline: 1-888-866-8660
  • National Disaster Distress Hotline: 1-800-985-5990



Entrepreneurship Month

November is National Entrepreneurship Month! Did you know youth entrepreneurship is a program priority for Nebraska 4-H? Through various programs, Nebraska 4-H connects youth to important careers and strengthens their entrepreneurship skills. Entrepreneurship programs aim to increase the number of youths returning to rural communities in business and professions and to increase the number of youths who are entrepreneurs.

Nebraska Extension has created several programs to introduce youth to entrepreneurship and the mind set behind being an entrepreneur.  Curriculum reach youth between grades 3-8.  The curriculum, “T.E.C Box and “INVENTURE Day” have allowed youth to use their creativity through hands-on learning to explore the basics of Entrepreneurship while connecting them to their local communities. 

Tinker. Explore. Create. (TEC) Box is an experiential learning and maker movement activity that actively engages learners by encouraging them to think for themselves, work hard and learn with hands-on, minds-on methods. Through this program, youth will engage with entrepreneurship, empathy and utilize their innovative spark. Two hundred sixty-five youth participated in TEC Box curriculum activities.

During INVENTURE Day, students familiarize themselves with local businesses and business owners to identify potential entrepreneurial careers. Using innovation and creation, youth work in teams to develop a unique business around a product that solves a problem in the community.

In celebration of National Entrepreneurship Month, teachers and educators are invited to utilize a toolkit of free resources, including:

  • Calendar of fun, easy activities to use as bell-ringers, energizers, and simple ways to engage students in entrepreneurial thinking
  • Lesson plans designed to introduce students to entrepreneurship and building an entrepreneurial mindset by developing their non-cognitive skills
  • Virtual field trips to connect students to real people working as entrepreneurs
  • Spark to Start activity book containing activities, games, puzzles, and more to help students learn about starting a business

A sample Spark to Start activities book is also being sent to all 4th-grade teachers in Nebraska. To access the free resources, simply complete a form at go.unl.edu/e-shipmonth.  

Participants in Nebraska extension entrepreneurship and innovation programs have been shown to embrace an entrepreneurial mindset and gain skills to create new businesses, which ultimately contributes to the economic vitality of Nebraska communities and beyond.


Communicating with Farmers Under Stress Program

Stress seems to be prevalent in the agriculture sector, with even more concerns arising due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many farmers and ranchers are facing financial problems and market uncertainties, along with challenges such as production risks, farm transfer issues, and more.  When temporary stress turns into chronic stress, it can impact physical health and mental wellness.

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Nebraska Extension, in partnership with Michigan State University Extension, presents a free online webinar, “Communicating with Farmers Under Stress”, Tuesday, November 10, 2020 from 10:30 a.m. to noon, CST.  This workshop is beneficial for individuals who work with farmers and ranchers on a regular basis, such as bank lenders, ag suppliers, healthcare professionals, and anyone involved with the lives of farmers and ranchers.

Workshop Objectives include:

* Build awareness around potentially stressful conditions affecting some farmers and ranchers.

* Learn stress triggers, identify signs of stress, and review helpful techniques for responding.

* Learn techniques for identifying, approaching, and working with farmers who may not cope with stress effectively.

* Learn where to find additional help.

In addition to being helpful for working with farmers and ranchers, the workshop educates participants about managing stress in their own lives and teaches how stressors can affect physical health and relationships with family or coworkers. Register for the free online workshop at:  go.unl.edu/stress2020     . For more information, contact Nebraska Extension Educators Glennis McClure, gmcclure3@unl.edu or Susan Harris, susan.harris@unl.edu.

If you or your employees would like this program taught locally, feel free to contact me at brandy.vandewalle@unl.edu as I am also a certified trainer for the program.