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New 4-H Spaces program teaches students skills to work with children

Children in some local after-school programs will have new friends in UConn students.

With the help of UConn's Cooperative Education System (CES), students taking a family studies class called Low Income Families are learning how to work with children by volunteering at area community centers. As part of the course, CES instructors held a seminar teaching the students how to work with the children, using the national 4-H Spaces Program as a tool for the volunteer service requirement.

"The program is pretty cool. I think it will be interesting for the children," said Catherine French, a family studies major taking the class.

Developed at the University of Michigan, 4-H Spaces teaches children in urban community centers about academic skills such as science, critical thinking and the world around them. The program is designed to reinforce self-esteem, teamwork and cooperation in children. Carole Eller, a CES educator, said it will help UConn students develop and implement a curriculum by providing ideas and activities they can use with children to have fun.

"In 4-H Spaces, there are three spaces that students and children learn. Outer space deals with science and technology. Inner space deals with respect for the self and others. Shared space involves the environment," Eller said.

During the seminar, which was taught by Eller and two other CES educators, Maureen Mulroy and Harry Mangle, students learned about each of the three spaces and how to pass on what they learned to the children.

Mangle taught outer space with activities to make science fun, including having the children test the hypothesis that raisins will float in carbonated drinks. An activity for inner space, taught by Mulroy, was "mind-mapping." Children are given a situation and are asked to think of all the possible consequences, encouraging them to think about their actions and how they affect themselves and others.

Shared space, taught by Eller, encourages children to think about the natural world around them. She had the UConn students take turns "fishing" from a plate of goldfish crackers. The object was for each person to have enough fish to eat while leaving fish in the pond.

All the activities served to teach the students what each of the three spaces meant as well as giving the students useful tools to take to their field work and careers. One program that will benefit is the Willimantic 4-H L.I.F.T. (Learning, Interaction, Friends, and Talents) Program, a partnership between the CES and Windham Public Schools that helps children improve their academic and social skills using 4-H Spaces.

French, a junior originally from Norwalk who wants to go into family counseling, feels that what she learned in 4-H Spaces will benefit her in the work world. "It will help me locate stresses in children by participating in games and learning experiences," she said.

Mary Alice Neubeck, the instructor for the Low Income Families course, says that 4-H Spaces gives her students many tools and activities for hands-on work with children. "The program is a win-win situation for the college students and the agencies we serve."

Eileen Labenski