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.

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.

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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. 

girl looking stressed holding wrapped gifts

Holidays can bring forth so many emotions and whether those emotions are happy, stressful, or sad, they often seem magnified during the holidays. Several of our Extension colleagues from across the country have shared tips on reducing stress this holiday season. Here are three of my favorite ones, along with some links to additional resources:

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The holiday season is upon us. This season is marked by twinkle lights bedecking all the houses and festive songs playing on all the radios. You can see Santas and stars, reindeer and wreaths everywhere you look. Here in the United States, these things are customary signs of the winter holidays.

hands painting something gold

The old saying it is better to give than to receive is something that has always resonated with me. I love to give gifts and I especially love giving an item that I have created by hand. Making gifts can be time consuming, and with the holidays are upon us, time is running short to create any handmade items this season. To help, we have compiled some simple, quick ideas of gifts you can make for family and friends that don’t take much time at all to create.

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What’s your favorite holiday? Mine is Thanksgiving…hands down. I mean, how could it not be? It’s a simple celebration focused on good food, time with family, and the harvest. And if that wasn’t enough, it celebrates a powerful way to encourage good mental and physical health: Gratitude.

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According to Feeding America, a national network of food banks, 1 in 7 people in our country rely on a local food bank to eat. This number very likely could include you or someone you know. Particularly after the wake of job loss and shortages following the pandemic, individuals and families need assistance today more than ever.

man, child, and woman sitting on couch holding head in their hands looking stressed

I know as I enjoy the leaves changing colors and falling to the ground, I am also reminded of the busyness of this time of year. As with any busy time, it is common for people of all ages to experience stress. With all the factors that can lead to stress, it can sometimes be hard to pinpoint the exact cause of the stressor in our life or the lives of our family members. However, one thing is clear, it is important for all family members to have strategies to help cope with these stressors. Fortunately, a lot has been researched and written about positive ways to deal with stress.

line of pumpkins with words Spooky STEM activities

I love Halloween! The costumes, the decorations, the candy, the jokes (Why did the ghost starch his sheet? He wanted everyone scared stiff.) – it’s all great!  But this year, why not take some time out from the spooky tricks and sweet treats to include a little learning amongst all the mayhem? Try these scary STEM activities with your little goblins:

adult man and young boy sitting by campfire

As the weather starts to cool off and thoughts turn to campfires, cool nights and holiday gatherings, it is a perfect time to gather your family or friends together and learn a bit more about each other. Here are some conversation starters to find some conversation starters to learn some great stories from your family and friends.

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October 18-22 is Digital Citizenship Week! And if you’re anything like me, you might be wondering…

umm…so what?

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I don’t know about things in your neck of the woods, but here in Central Illinois, the indications of autumn are everywhere! The shorter days are marked with bright blue skies and a crisp breeze, mums adorn doorsteps, and there’s pumpkin spice everything! In case these tell-tale signs don’t ring true for you, last week also marked the Autumnal Equinox, a date when the day and night have equal timeshare and meteorologists make it official. It’s fall!

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September 15 to October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month (HHM). For generations, the contributions and achievements of our Latin American communities have infused our culture and enriched our lives. This month, take time with your family to celebrate and learn more about Hispanic Heritage. Here are a few ideas to help you do just that.

little boy sitting outside looking through binaculars

Allowing children to be engaged in nature has long been known to have physical and emotional benefts (Children and Nature Network, 2014), however, one area less commonly discussed is the benefit to young people academically.

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“In case of emergency” is a phrase that we’re all familiar with. So familiar, in fact, that we sometimes just ignore it. That “emergency” seems so unlikely and far off – and we have stuff to deal with right now!

But – as the past weeks and months have shown us – emergencies happen all the time. As I write this, there are wildfires blazing out west, folks have begun to wade through the devastation of Hurricane Ida in the south, and there’s a resurgence of the pandemic everywhere. There’s never been a more important time to protect your loved ones by being prepared.

a family picking up trash in the park

Volunteering together can be a great way for families to spend time with each other.  Additionally, volunteering as a family has been shown to significantly impact the amount teens volunteers. America’s Promise found that 81% of teens who had one adult family member or role model who volunteered reported volunteering themselves (Child Trends, 2006).

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The school year is here once again!  It can feel overwhelming to get all the school supplies ready and schedules organized, let alone take first day of school pictures, or any of the many traditions people have for going back to school!  However, it is important to take a moment and celebrate the little things – that your child is a year older and is changing and growing every day. One great way to celebrate the start of the school year and document how much they are changing is a “First Day of School Interview”.  Take a few moments to ask your children a few or all of these questions:

summer infographic

This week, the back-to-school shelves in every store I‘ve gone to look as though they’ve been ravaged. I’m struggling to keep up with my backyard garden harvests, and I just got notification that my favorite apple orchard will be opening for the season. And the children are “going to die of boredom!” The end of summer is upon us.

ice cream collage

National Ice Cream Day is Sunday, July 18! In 1984, President Ronald Reagan issued proclamation declaring that, on the third Sunday of July (National Ice Cream Month), we would recognize this creamy, cool, sweet treat!

field of poppies

Summer days can often go by so quickly and before you know it, the busy schools days return.  Here are three ways that you can slow down the pace of your summer, spend time in nature, and enjoy the world around you.

Cloud watching 

Lay a blanket out on the grass and look at the clouds above you.  Look for shapes (animals, food, vehicles) and point them out to see if others can see them too.  Notice how the clouds move differently whether it is a windy or calm day.  Notice how long it takes before your shape disappears or rearranges into something else.

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On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress declared the separation of the 13 original colonies from Great Britain and adopted the Declaration of Independence. Now, we celebrate America’s Independence Day with lots of different summertime activities like family gatherings, swimming, parades, boating, and cookouts.

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Each year on June 19, we observe Juneteenth, a day commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. It’s a great time for families to gather together, reflect on the past, and share hope for the future. Below are just a few great ways to help you and your family join in the celebration.

young man and old man with arms across shoulders

Father’s Day in the United State is celebrated on the third Sunday in June. This year it will fall on June 20, 2021. It is a time to celebrate the fathers or father figures in your life, which could include dads, step-fathers, grandpas, uncles, brothers, and other role models.

Taking time out to honor the father figures in your life can really mean a lot to them, so get started now thinking of ways you can celebrate together. Here are just a few ideas of ways you could celebrate this Father’s Day:

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Memorial Day weekend is often seen as a time to get together with family and as the unofficial start to summer. However, there is much more to the history of Memorial Day than picnics, barbecues, and family gatherings.  Our colleagues at Michigan State University wrote a great article about the history of Memorial Day and how to teach your children about it. Their Early Childhood Development team shared some great suggestions of ways to celebrate Memorial Day with your children. These are a great combination of virtual and in-person types of activities.

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The school year is coming to a close. And what a year it has been! We’ve all faced periods of isolation, bouts of anxiety, and tons of screen time – even (or especially) our kids. As things slowly return to normal, we have the opportunity to use summer break as a time for healing and re-connection.

infographic with graduation cap and stack of books

Those of you graduating in 2021 have achieved so much! You have learned to adjust your way of learning during a pandemic, found creative solutions to obstacles and challenges, and developed innovative ways to support and encourage each other. That’s a lot! 

In 4-H, we often talk about the three experiential learning steps: do, reflect, apply. These steps also apply to graduates who are finishing up one stage of their learning.  So, as you graduate, it is important to take time to do three important things:

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Mother’s Day is this Sunday, May 9, 2021. Do something special this weekend to show the Moms in your life how much you appreciate all that they do!

Title on photo of pink flowers

There are many customs and traditions surrounding May Day going back to the Roman era, from decorating a May Pole to collecting cuttings from flowering trees. However, a favorite in our family is delivering May Day baskets to neighbors and friends.  We would make a paper basket and fill it with flowers. Then off to the neighbors to hang the basket, knock on the door and hide while we watched to see them find their surprise!  Do you have a neighbor or friend that might be cheered up with a basket of May flowers? Here are three ways you could spread some cheer this May Day:

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We’ve all been there. The family comes together at the end of a long day at school or work and you’re looking forward to connecting with the people you love most. You ask about their days, eager to hear details about the part of their lives you don’t get to see. Instead, you are met with the frustratingly ever-present response: FINE.

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An “I Am” poem is a type of personal poem in which the author describes themselves through a series of prompts. Writing and sharing these are a wonderful way for the author to express themselves and feel known, and for readers or listeners to gain insights about their loved ones. Writing these may also help develop self-awareness, a core competency for social-emotional development.

dog and cat in blanket with blog title text overlay

Give your pet some extra attention this week because April 11 is National Pet Day! And our fondness for our furry, feathered, scaled or finned friends isn’t the only reason to celebrate. Pets benefit our physical, mental, and social health in measurable ways. Here are just a few of the positives that pets bring:

Joy Project text on sunset with tree on horizon

Stop for a moment, take a deep breath, and answer the question:

What brings you joy?

After the year we’ve all had, this might be a tough question to answer – or at least one that you haven’t given as much attention as you might like. It’s been a year filled with anxiety and isolation, unrest and uncertainty. Though no one has escaped the effects of these turbulent times, they have been felt – perhaps most deeply – by our young people.

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April’s Fool Day!  What better day to talk about the importance of humor?

You have probably heard the phrase, “Laughter is the best medicine”.  History shows us that people have understood the healing benefits of laughter for a very long time. As early as the 1300’s, a professor of surgery, Henri de Mondeville documented the use of humor in post-operative therapy. Since then, numerous studies have highlighted the benefits of laughter in both physical and mental health (Psychiatric Times, 2018).

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The Search Institute has identified Service to Others as one of the 40 Developmental Assets that young people need to succeed. Service to others, in addition to helping better your community, can help young people feel empowered and valuable.

cut out people with talking bubble

As promised in an earlier post on the topic of conversation starters, we will periodically be sharing different conversation starters to encourage you to start conversations with your family or continue the conversations you have already started!

Here are a few more great conversation starters:

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Deep breathing is a great way to calm anxious minds and bodies. Plus, it can create a moment to be mindful. Mindfulness is the practice of focusing your attention on the here and now.

We spend so much time focusing on the future.

  • Can we finish our “to do” list?
  • Will I do well on tomorrow’s test?
  • How am I going to get the kids to dance and soccer and band and a play date?

We also often get stuck in the past.

Celebreat Women's History Month

Women’s History Month is a time to celebrate the contributions of women throughout history. It began as National Women’s History Week and was set in March to correspond with International Women’s Day on March 8. President Carter first declared March 2-8 as Women’s History Week in 1980.

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Is February making you feel gloomy or cooped-up? Take a snow day! You don’t have to have the day off work or school to have some wintery fun. Here are a few ideas to lift your spirits!

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Relationship Fingers is another example of a mindfulness exercise to help youth intentionally focus on their relationships with people near and far, as well as themselves.

Start by holding out your hand with your thumb pointed towards yourself. Take a breath. For each finger, you will be focusing on a relationship we have with someone. There is no ‘right’ person so don’t worry about choosing who. 

Grandparents interview questions info graphic

Valentine’s Day is a time to focus on love! But the joys of February 14 don’t have to stop with romantic love. It’s a great time to celebrate loving relationships of all kinds! One relationship that is sometimes taken for granted in the special connection between grandparents and grandchildren. This multi-generational bond is great for warm hugs and special treats – but can also be used to share wisdom and energy, remembrances of the past and hopes for the future.

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"It’s almost February! Where did the month go? What happened to my New Year’s resolutions?"

Do you find yourself thinking this, too? If so, starting a journal is a great way to help keep track of your time and your progress. Plus, there are tons of benefits to journaling! Lower levels of stress and anxiety, increased problem solving, and fewer health problems are just a few.

There are many types of journals - so you can find something that works for you! Here are some ideas to get started:

quote by Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.

The civil rights leader, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Everybody can be great because everyone can serve.” 

Many families and organizations come together on Martin Luther King Jr. Day (MLK Day) to practice service to others. Although there might not be as many community-wide activities available to gather together and serve this year, that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to lend a helping hand to others! AmeriCorps has some great service ideas that children and families can do together, including:

family playing the snow

Feeling a little stir crazy? It’s time to bundle up the family and head outside!

Research shows that spending time in nature has huge benefits for both children and adults. Increased physical activity, decreased feelings of anxiety, improved family connectedness, and higher cognitive functioning are just a few of these.
 

So here a few fun ways to spend time outdoors this winter…

During this unique time in history, households are often spending more time together at home, yet may not be having as much interaction with other extended family members and friends. Some families are experiencing additional stressors, while others may be enjoying a slower pace with less outside activities.

Family Connection Kits

Social distancing during the pandemic, though necessary, has caused social and emotional side effects that have been felt by all of us – perhaps especially by our young people. University of Illinois Extension and 4-H serving Fulton, Mason, Peoria, and Tazewell Counties have created a new program to address this. 4-H Connection Corner will provide activities to help families process their feelings and form stronger connections amidst these circumstances.

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The holidays can be stressful! The simple act of breathing deeply can help trigger a relaxation response in your body that will make you feel more clam and in control. “Hot Chocolate Breathing” is a fun, easy way for people of all ages to practice breathing deeply.

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Things may look different this year and traditional holiday activities you normally do may not be happening in the same way. That doesn’t mean you can’t make your own holiday memories at home.