dealing with feelings info graphic

The holiday season is filled with joy! Well… usually. Except when it isn’t.

The truth is, we experience all of the same emotional ups and downs around the holidays that we do any other part of the year. Some might argue that extra excitements and stresses of this time of year cause an even greater range of feelings than normal.

info graphic with the words The Thank You Note

When was the last time you received a handwritten thank you note? Or sent one to someone else? How did it make you feel?

stack of recipe cards

When I was in college, my grandmother made me a book of her favorite recipes – it was a labor of love as each recipe was handwritten and it is one of my prized possessions. It was especially meaningful because my grandmother was a wonderful cook and family meals were a big part of our holiday gatherings for as long as I remember. The one thing I wish I would have done is to have asked her more about the stories behind the recipes she made.

two adults working with a child on a computer

Have you ever been to a preschool graduation? They’re adorable! Especially ones where the tiny graduates are asked what they want to be when they grow up. You tend to hear lots of similar responses like “teacher,” “firefighter,” “mom,” or “Batman!” This question is a fun way to get a tiny glimpse into each child’s personality. However, it can also show how young people are often interested in pursuing careers that they’re familiar with.

two pairs of holding hands over a dinner table full of food

November is national gratitude month and is a wonderful time to reflect on things you are appreciative of and to be more aware of the goodness around you. It seems like in recent years, there has been an increased focus on gratefulness during this month, and we see flurries of social media posts about gratitude. Why such an emphasis on gratitude in recent years?

skittles candy on a bright yellow background

Halloween is here and that means lots and lots of candy! We had many creative ways of getting rid of some of the excess candy in our house, but probably the way the kids liked best (other than getting paid to get rid of it) was Halloween Candy Experiments.  Here is one of our favorites:

Plant Bingo info graphic

Play is important! For both children and adults, play can contribute to social, emotional, mental, and physical wellness. It helps young people develop motor skills, learn to share and negotiate, problem solve, and conquer fears. It helps adults decrease stress, spark innovation, and boost creativity. Plus, playing with your family can help develop stronger bonds and create shared memories. There are tons of ways to play together…but family game night might be a great start!

silohette of people looking at the star

The night sky can be full of wonder for children. I can hear all my kid’s questions from when they were little… What are the stars made of? Why are some stars brighter than others? Why do they seem to twinkle? If you have never tried out star gazing with your family - now is the perfect time! The nights are longer and weather isn’t too chilly yet! Here are some tips to keep in mind when planning your star gazing adventure.

woman holding her arms out and looking up

October 10 is World Mental Health Day! This day, first celebrated by the World Health Organization in 1992, is intended to raise awareness around mental health issues. It’s a great day to encourage everyone – in our communities, our workplaces, and our homes – to make mental health and well-being a priority. So how can you help?

4-H members in Illinois will join the 6 million youth across the country in celebrating National 4-H Week Oct. 2-8. Some of you may currently be involved with 4-H, some may be familiar with it from your past experiences, while others may not have heard of it at all. So let me tell you a little about 4-H today!

family running through a field of prairie plants

Fall is here, the weather is turning cooler, and it is a perfect time to head outside with your family to explore nature. However, it can sometimes be hard to think of activities that will encourage everyone to head outside. Not to worry - this summer our 4-H staff created some amazing outdoor challenges as part of our Adventures in Nature Challenge, which was designed to help kids spend more time outdoors. It was so much fun for my family and we enjoyed being able to all of them without going far from home.

peaceful looking photo of body of water and sunset

Life can be overwhelming! Sometimes, you just need to take a minute. Next time you get to that point, try this relaxing mindfulness technique to help you rest, relieve tension, or reset your body after stress.

little girl showing the camera a potato masher

Is it an officially sanctioned holiday? Well, not exactly…though it is observed annually in some circles. But despite its informal status, it is still a great day to celebrate. Why? Because cooking with your kids has more benefits that I can list in one blog post! (Literally...I had to edit out so many great things about for the sake of time.) Here are just a few things that cooking with your kids can do!

iconic image of New York City with blue lights streaming up into sky

As we approach the anniversary of 9/11, now known as Patriot Day, it is important to take a moment to remember the significance of that day – the lives lost, the heroes of that day, and the emotional impact it had on the people and the country. It is also important to note that as time passes, many adults remember where they were on that day, however young people, especially young children today see it as a point in history-something that happened before they were alive.  

a woman holding a crying boy

In 2016, August 30 was established as National Grief Awareness Day to raise awareness about the variety of ways that people cope with loss and to promote resources to support people who are grieving.

Children who have lost a family member, friend, or pet can experience various level of sadness and grief. It can often be difficult for parents and caregivers to know to know what to say or do to help. The National Alliance for Children’s Grief has some ideas to help provide support and compassion for children dealing with grief.

collage of senior citizens

August 21 is National Senior Citizens Day. It’s a day to celebrate and honor the many contributions made by mature members of our community, and to bring awareness to struggles that people may face as they age. It’s also a great opportunity to help your children better interact with, understand, and appreciate older generations. This year, why not make plans for you and your family to invest time with seniors in your area.

back to school info graphic

Yesterday, a colleague showed me a picture that her daughter had drawn many years ago. She (my coworker) had found the picture while cleaning out her office and was moved by the memories it brought up. The picture - with its rough lines, uneven letters, and misspelled names - was an adorable memento of days gone by. Time passes more quickly than we’d like to admit, so we try to capture some of the moments before they’re gone.

family group hug

Summer can be a great time for family reunions and connecting with family members. Following an extended time of limited social gatherings and time apart, seeing family members face to face is especially meaningful this year. However, it takes some intentional planning to create opportunities for family members to share with each other. Michigan State University Extension shares some great reunion resources to promote sharing among family members.


Summer days seem to be going by quickly this year, but it is not too late to squeeze in some summer fun. Family road trips are a great way to explore a new place or revisit an old favorite. They can be a time for families to make great memories, play games, and have fun. The great thing about road trip adventures is they can be as short or long as you can manage, but something about packing up the car still builds a sense of excitement and adventure regardless of the length of the trip.

group of kids laying the grass reading a book

Summer is a great time for heading to the pool, exploring outdoors, and hanging out with friends. Summer is also a great time to encourage a love of reading! Additionally, research studies show that access to books can help prevent a decrease in reading skills over the summer (Journal of Education, 2012). Here are 3 simple ways to incorporate more reading at home.

navy background with illustration of fireworks

Happy birthday, America! On July 4, we recognize America’s Independence Day. Here are a few fun facts to help you and your family celebrate.

youth showing a diary cow at the fair

Fair season is upon us! For 4-H families, this is an important (and sometimes stressful) time. Exhibiting livestock or other projects is an opportunity for young people to showcase their hard work and learning from throughout the year. But more than that, it’s an opportunity for young people to follow their passions, practice life skills, and build relationships. As a 4-H parent, you play an important role!

photo of tent at night

It’s summertime! The weather is warm, kids are out of school, and - for many families - that means it’s time to head out on vacation. This year, why not consider camping? Even if you aren’t planning to travel, backyard campouts are a fun way to shake things up and step out of your normal routine a bit. Plus, camping comes with a wealth of benefits. Increased physical and mental health, opportunities to build relationships and life skills, less screen time, and lower lodging costs are just a few of these.

photo collage of people outdoors

June is Great Outdoors Month! And there are so, so many things that are great about the great outdoors. While I am truly grateful for the time you’re taking to read our blog, I implore you (just for today) to STOP. Stop scrolling down your screen or checking your news feed. It will be here when you get back. Instead, grab your family (or just your amazing self), slather on some sunscreen, and go outside to play!

You’re welcome.

sunset illustration

The pace of life at this point in the year can be extremely busy and it can seem like the end of the school is the finish line you just need to cross (and then collapse). However, for your children, it is the completion of a year of learning, growing and often a lot of hard work. It is important to celebrate the completion of another year with your children and to also get ready to switch gears into summer. Here are 3 simple ways to celebrate the end of the school year and get summer off to a good start.

photo of the palm of a hand with fingers spread

Take a deep breath…

Now take one more…

How do you feel? Do you notice any difference in your mind or body? Maybe you feel just a little bit more relaxed. Or grounded. Or ready to continue on with the task at hand. Deep breathing can have positive effects on our mental wellbeing by triggering a relaxation response in our minds and bodies.

Woman helping an eldery woman

Teaching kids about serving others often looks like donations to a food bank or collecting items to be shared with other children during the holiday season. While there is nothing wrong with those types of community service, it often leaves the young people removed from seeing the benefit of their contribution to the people who received it.  Research has shown that young people want to know they are making a difference and one way to do that is to allow them to see the faces of the people they are impacting.

woman drinking water out in the sunshine

May can be a crazy month for families. End-of-year exams, concerts, projects, planting, parties, recitals, graduations, summer planning, spring cleaning, UGH! – I get exhausted just thinking about it! This spring, as you’re trying to take care of all of your family obligations, be sure to take care of yourself, too.

Now, wait…Before you finish your “yeah, right!” eye roll and stop reading, try to remember that self-care doesn’t have to take all day. Here are some self-care ideas that only take two minutes.

mom and teenage son sitting on couch talking

As my children get older, one of the things I enjoy most is hearing stories from their day- their adventures, funny stories, and even the things they found challenging. I also enjoy asking them questions each year on their birthday trying to capture their thoughts and feelings at that moment in time. However, it is not often that my kids get the chance to ask me questions. But what fun that could be for the kids …learning a few things they might not know about their mom.

info graphic that says Celebrate Cinco De Mayo Respectfully

Cinco de Mayo is just around the corner on May 5. This holiday is a great time to learn about and celebrate Mexican-American culture with your friends and family. But as you do, it’s important to be mindful that some common elements of Cinco de Mayo celebrations (or really any holidays centered around specific identities) might play into hurtful stereotypes. Here are a few tips and ideas to help you and your family respectfully celebrate holidays that are from a culture different than your own.

little girl under an umbrella outside on a rainy day

Last month we shared some great outdoor activities you can do on sunny weather days. But what about those rainy days, which we seem to have had a lot of lately! Here are some fun rainy-day activities.

fancy photo of a glass marble reflecting the grass, trees, and sky

I had to work last Saturday. As a 4-H staff person, it’s not unusual to have to work on weekends, and I generally don’t mind. However, when I got up on Saturday, I admit that I wasn’t looking forward to it. I was scheduled to meet youth and volunteers from our Peoria County 4-H clubs at Sommer Farm.

little girl cleaning up clutter

Even though it doesn’t quite feel like spring yet, the faintest hint of warm weather makes me anxious to open my windows and doors to let the fresh air in. It also makes me itch to start going through closets, cleaning out the garage and sprucing up the outdoors! But with so many tasks and often little time, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. Here are three great strategies to help you get started organizing your home:

A womand and man lifing up a child by their arms as they walk in the woods

Spring has sprung! March 20 marked the vernal eqinox, the first day of spring – and I am SO excited! Every year I hold high hopes for this season, and (though the signs sometime arrive later than I hoped) spring never disappoints. The grass greens and flower buds poke their heads into the sunshine. Birds fill the air with song. Tree branches begin to put on leaves after being bare all winter.

hands digging in a pot of dirt

One of my favorite gardening memories from my childhood is the small square patch of the garden that my grandma let me plant with marigolds in whatever design I wanted. While the rest of the garden had evenly spaced rows of beans, tomatoes, lettuce and more, my little flower garden was a kaleidoscope of fun colors in no particular design. Being able to come out and see “my corner” made it more fun to be in the garden to do the harder work of weeding and harvesting throughout the summer.

photo of a shamrock

Here in the United States, St. Patrick’s Day – March 17 – has become a fun way to celebrate Irish-American culture. You and your family can join in the excitement with these engaging and educational activities!

an adult woman and adult man talking to a young girl

The day after Russia attacked Ukraine, when I picked my 10-year-old daughter up from school, she asked, “Is it over?” I wasn’t sure what she was talking about, so I asked her what she meant. She said, “the war with Russia and Ukraine-is it over yet?” Knowing that we hadn’t talked about it at home yet, I knew I needed to find out what she knew and how she was feeling. 

a family being active in their living room with mops and brooms

I am done with winter. DONE! I’ve spent nearly a decade living in the Midwest – but having grown up in Florida, I still struggle with the idea (and actuality) of being cold for four months of the year. By the end of February, I’m at my wit’s end, too. However, when the overcast skies, chilly weather, or 8 inches of snow make it hard to get outside, I try to find ways to stay active indoors, and I’m always amazed at the difference it makes.

bulletin board with photos of friends taped to it

We talk a lot about relationships in February. Romance is front and center around Valentine’s Day, with hearts and flowers everywhere you look. Friendship, however, doesn’t get nearly the same recognition. And yet, few things have a greater impact on our mental and physical health than our friends.

an elderly man and a young girl holding a cutout heart around their face

These days we appreciate Valentine’s Day parties at school a bit more than we did in the past after realizing how much young children missed swapping cards with their friends and teachers when some couldn’t gather together during the pandemic. What is it about Valentine’s Day that kids love so much? My kids loved creating a fancy box, finding just the right trinket to attach to their cards, and yes, of course, there is the candy. But, also, I think they like getting to have a reason to show their friends and teachers they care.

red, orange, green stipes with words over black rectangle: Celebrat Black History

Have you ever watched a movie that was adapted from a book and thought, “Oh my goodness! The book was SO much better. I can’t believe they left that part out!”

I do it all the time. I leave the theater (or more often, get up from the couch) feeling indignant. The book had so much richness, so many important details – and the movie just ignored it. They’re leaving out so much!

woman with eyes closed and head resting on folded hands

In my family, when interactions start to escalate or an argument is spiraling out of control, you can often hear one of us say the words, “Can we have a restart?” That’s a sign that someone has recognized this interaction isn’t headed in a good direction and we need to take a step back.  Being able to acknowledge you need to take a moment is an important step in managing your emotions. Equally important, yet sometimes more challenging is the actual resetting of your emotions. Mindfulness techniques are a great way to help your body and mind reset to a more peaceful state.

family sitting at a table taking a selfie

Winter can be tough. It’s hard to get motivated to go out and do things when the sky is gloomy and the cold seems to make everything harder. But fear not! There are tons of fun, family 4-H activities that you can do from home to help get you through the grey months.

healthier happier family info graphic

Happy New Year! After the hustle and bustle of the holidays, I sometimes feel like January allows us to hit the refresh button on our lives. It’s a great time to start new routines or build habits that can make you and your family healthier and happier. And here at University of Illinois Extension, we always hope to provide you with the tools and information to help you live healthier, happier lives. So I’ve compiled just a few resources from my Illinois Extension colleagues that will help you and your family build habits towards some of the most common New Year goals.