Last month I traveled to Billings, Montana where the National Extension Conference on Volunteerism was taking place. I was invited to facilitate a pre-conference workshop on the 4-H Thriving Model with 4-H Volunteer Specialists from around the country. After a whirlwind morning where I left home at 3:30am to catch a first-of-the-morning flight to Salt Lake City, and then on to Billings, I arrived at lunch time and was ready to go by 1pm. I was excited to get to spend the afternoon with the group of people who will lead the way in preparing 4-H volunteers to help youth thrive.

Since many of the people who would be there had never heard of the 4-H Thriving Model, I knew I wanted to spend a good portion of the time we had together making sure everyone understood the model and how it describes how 4-H works its magic with youth. Doing so would take a good portion of the afternoon, but it also meant that everyone would be on the same page and ready to move forward together.

While I always enjoy sharing the 4-H Thriving Model with others, I was most looking forward to the second half of the session, because, let’s face it, I had a captive audience of creative and experienced professionals who could develop wonderful learning activities to teach the 4-H Thriving Model to 4-H volunteers! So later in the day the group split into smaller teams and tackled how they would teach some of the 4-H Thriving Model concepts to volunteers. I walked away with a whole stack of creative, quick, and fun ideas for teaching volunteers! And, with the gracious A-OKAY from the volunteer specialists, I get to share them here on Practitioner Tip Tuesdays!

So, let’s start with this idea on how to introduce Developmental Relationships:

Don’t Be Puzzled by Developmental Relationships

This activity is useful for teaching in groups of 10 or more, but can be adapted for smaller groups.


  • Create a large jigsaw puzzle of card stock or other heavy paper that has five pieces.
  • Write one of the five components that make up Developmental Relationships on each piece: Expressing Care, Challenging Growth, Providing Support, Sharing Power, and Expanding Possibilities


  • Break into five groups
  • Give each group one of the puzzle pieces and ask them to share a personal experience of the concept. For example “when was a time that you felt supported by an adult when you were young” or “did you ever have an adult in your life who challenged you to grow?”
  • After the groups have had time for discussion give each group a copy of the Fostering Developmental Relationships Handout and ask the group to read the handout, focusing on the component their group discussed.
  • Ask groups to discuss how they could foster their component when working with youth.
  • Put the jigsaw together by asking each group in turn to share one of their personal experiences and their ideas for how they can use the idea when working with 4-H youth.
  • Finish by pointing out that all five components are important to make the “whole” of a developmental relationship with youth.

Thanks to the following 4-H professionals for this wonderful activity:

Chris Mullens, Kansas; Shane Potter, Kansas; Pat McGlaughlin, Illinois; and Cathy Johnston, Nebraska

Thriving On,

Mary Arnold

I am sure  by now that you might think I have disappeared from the blogosphere, and to a certain extent you would not be wrong. I have been underground for a few months, navigating the dizzying amount of teaching and travel that seems to show up on my calendar every spring. As I near the end of this schedule I am finding time to come up for air and reflect on all that I have learned over the past few months. One advantage of a packed travel schedule is a lot of time on airplanes and in hotel rooms to catch up on reading, followed by the resultant thinking and sorting through that all that reading entails. I am left feeling much more informed about our field of youth development and how it applies to helping youth thrive, and also a wee bit overwhelmed trying to decide how best to share all this wonderful information! Continue reading

With our Minnesota 4-H Colleagues

You have probably noticed that my blog posts have been pretty infrequent since the first of the year – but don’t worry, I have LOADS of material to blog about, so stay tuned. The biggest reason for my lack of posting is due to so much momentum that is moving the 4-H Thriving Model forward. The stars have aligned and the work has been constant and at times intense, but always, always, always, the most rewarding work I have ever done.

I journeyed to Minnesota last Sunday to give a keynote address at the Minnesota 4-H “Youth and U” Conference on Monday. Many of you know that Minnesota 4-H has been a leader in many ways, but in two key areas in particular: The work they have accomplished on engaging “first generation” 4-H members, particularly from under served enclaves, and their focus on assessing and improving 4-H program quality. We all have a lot to learn from this great work! But on Monday all of Minnesota 4-H focused on the 4-H Thriving model, and I was delighted to give both the keynote address and a follow-up workshop. In Continue reading

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time

~ T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding, The Four Quartets

Last week was finals week, and this morning will bring a blissful calm to campus as students take a break before the final push onward through spring term and the completion of another academic year. All last week tent kiosks popped up along Monroe street with banners announcing text book buy-backs. When I see these kiosks I ponder much longer we will have printed texts, which as a book Continue reading

Mary Cornelius Photography

Like many children, my step-daughter struggled with the transition to middle school. Going from a small neighborhood grade school, where more often than not she had the same teacher for two years in a row, to the larger, less personal middle school, with its expectations for greater autonomy, left her feeling alone, overwhelmed, and uncertain. Trying to find ways to help her navigate the situation, I asked if there was a teacher to whom she was drawn, and with whom she might be able to share her struggle. At first she replied with a series of less than plausible reasons why asking a teacher for help would not work, and when she realized I wasn’t buying fully into her ideas she finally said in exasperation “don’t you remember what it was like? Wasn’t there anyone you were afraid of when you were my age?” In that very moment I was transported back fully to when I was near her age, and yes, yes indeed, there was such a person. MB. She managed the local stable where I took riding lessons. Continue reading