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4-H Thriving Model: Helping Kids Find their Spark!

Many families are struggling to deal with a new normal–working, homeschooling, and all the stresses that have been affecting all of us during this era of COVID-19.  We are all doing our best to adjust our lives to keep our families, particularly our children, happy, healthy, and thriving despite all that is going on in the world around us.  Now more than ever is a great time to learn about the 4-H Thriving model. Here are some tips to implement into your new daily life with kids at home.

In this three part series, I will be sharing some of the central aspects of the 4-H Thriving Model (visit the link to learn more about the 4-H thriving model) and some tips for how to implement these practices at home.  Today’s blog will focus on youths’ sparks.

What is a spark?

A spark is an essential ingredient to thriving.  It gives youth a sense of purpose and direction.  Sparks encourage youth to set goals and achieve things.  Many adults think of this as a “calling” when they refer to a career or interest.  Like adults, youth can have more than one spark.  These sparks can be anything from a hobby like playing guitar or sewing, to career goals like becoming a veterinarian or pilot.

What are the benefits of having a spark?
  1. Sparks inspire kids to take action! Kids with an interest in something will often go to great lengths to follow their passion, even starting their own projects at home or learning the skill on their own with the help of YouTube videos.
  2. Sparks provide that intrinsic fuel grow and learn! Youth will often seek out knowledge for something that is truly their spark.
  3. Sparks help build a child’s network! Whether it is their ballet classmates, their Spanish club, or 4-H horse club, a youth with a spark expands their network as they build their passion.
How can I tell what my child’s spark is?

The easiest way is to ask them, “What is your spark?”.  Most kids know exactly what you mean.  If your child doesn’t know, is too young, or won’t answer, you can try different questions like, “What are some things you are excited to learn?” or “What is something you are really passionate about?”.  Parents can also observe their child.  What do they naturally gravitate toward? Do they enjoy watching videos or reading about a certain topic? What careers have they mentioned an interest in? Do they seem curious about specific things you do around the house like cooking, yard work, computers, etc.?  A combination of simple observation and asking questions can usually help you figure out what your child’s spark is or what can become their spark with a little encouragement from you.

What are some things I can do at home to help encourage my child’s spark?
  • Help them set goals to follow their spark. For example, how many songs they will learn on piano this week or how many hours they will practice coding.  Small goals like this are achievable and easy to measure, but will eventually add up to becoming an expert in their passion if they stick with it.
  • Allow them space to plan their own projects.  Encourage independent work, practice, or study about their topic.
  • Let them fail! While this seems like a bad thing, allowing youth a safe space to fail helps build resiliency.  Encourage them to keep trying and let them know that everyone makes mistakes.
  • Be supportive and encouraging.  Even if you are tired of hearing about the same two topics 24/7, try to avoid being dismissive.  If it is truly their spark, they enjoy sharing what they learned with their family, because they are proud of all the work that went into it.
  • If your child doesn’t have a clear spark, let them try A LOT of different things.  Eventually, something will catch their attention and you will notice.
Sparks and Quarantine

These sparks can even save parents’ sanity during quarantine.  Once you figure out what your kid is truly interested in, help them set those goals at the beginning of the week, and when you need some quiet time to work they may be willing to work on their sewing project or plant the garden they planned.  There are also tons of online videos, articles, how-tos at their disposal to help them with their project with minimal parental involvement if they are old enough.  Now is a great time to encourage youth to follow their passion while they have some extra free time to do so!

Here is an excellent TED Talk from youth development professional, Peter Bensen, about the importance of youth sparks: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TqzUHcW58Us 

If you would like additional resources, curriculum, or have questions to help you during homeschooling, please reach out to your local 4-H agent: https://4-h.org/find/

References:
Arnold, M. E. (2018). Facilitating youth sparks. Can be accessed: https://oregonstate.app.box.com/s/a9gw14xm79bblo9iragtrw3xjxowfj7u 

Benson, P. L., & Scales, P. C. (2011). Thriving and sparks. In R. J. R Leveque (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Adolescence(pp. 2963-2976). New York: Springer.