4-H sensory kit piloted by Michigan 4-H Youth Development

The 4-H Mindful Clover Toolkit, a sensory toolkit, was recently piloted in hopes of increasing sensory environment awareness while building staff and volunteer capacity and expertise.

A black bag that serves as the container for the bag contents that include headphones, sunglasses, visual and textured stimulants, storyboards, dry erase board and markers.
Photo taken and provided by Debra Barrett and Kelly Stelter.

According to the American Community Survey, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that more than three million youth in the United States’ under-18 population had a disability in 2019. This totals 4.3% of the population; up from 3.8% reported in 2008. The American Community Survey defines a person with a disability as a person having a “vision, hearing, cognitive, ambulatory, self-care, or independent living difficulty.”  Sensory toolkits can be helpful to youth in this demographic as they contain objects or items that act to help reduce overstimulation. Sensory toolkit are usually portable, but in certain partnerships such as schools, sensory toolkits are located in more permanent areas in classrooms such as a calming area, quiet place, etc. The Mid-Michigan Autism Association has an online educational video to learn more about sensory toolkits and contents.

Through the 4-H Mindful Clover Toolkit project, 36 sensory toolkits were created and distributed throughout the state. The 4-H Mindful Clover Toolkit project was made possible with a Michigan 4-H Foundation Legacy Grant. Michigan State University Extension is committed to being diverse, equitable and inclusive of their programming audiences and clientele. The Berrien County 4-H Youth Development Program, which is part of MSU Extension, has a long history and reputation for programming with and serving the needs of inclusive audiences and this is where the need and idea for the toolkits started. In partnership with 4-H staff in District 13 (Berrien, Branch, Calhoun, Cass, Kalamazoo, St. Joseph, and Van Buren counties) and staff serving on the Career Exploration and Workforce Prep team, success was found with the 4-H Mindful Clover Toolkit. 

It was hoped by supplying toolkits as a resource to MSU Extension staff and volunteers, the 4-H Mindful Clover Toolkit would help MSU Extension engage youth with disabilities or help alleviate stress and anxiety amongst clientele. The goals of the toolkit were to:

  • Foster or enhance inclusiveness.
  • Provide a tool for staff and volunteers to use in accommodating individuals with differing needs.
  • Increase sensory environment awareness.
  • Build staff and volunteer capacity to foster inclusive learning environments.

Potential uses for the toolkit included:

  • To calm or help focus an overly stimulated participant.
  • Help direct focus of participant(s) to stay on task.
  • Reduce anxiety or frustration that may arise to help refocus.
  • Help individuals de-stress, relax, unwind in a challenging situation.

Here are some examples of when a toolkit might be used:

  • Individuals waiting in line.
  • Large group activities and events.
  • Moments of conflict resolution.
  • Discussion at club, committee meetings or events.
  • Functions or moments with loud noises.

Disabilities are specific to the individual and despite the same diagnosis, individuals may differ in their needs. The 4-H Mindful Clover Kit contents were chosen with budget considerations along with ease of cleaning and replacement of items. There were no light stimulants and minimal hearing stimulants, as some individuals may react or have a triggering condition that may cause the opposite effect of calming to happen. Contents included:

  • Headphones to reduce loud noises.
  • Sunglasses to reduce bright or flashing lights.
  • A combination of visual and textured stimulants.
  • Communication/storyboards provided in English and Spanish from free online sources.
  • Dry erase board and markers.

Use of the 4-H Mindful Clover Toolkit has been reported. Here are a couple of impact stories that have been shared:

  • A 4-H SPIN club used the toolkit to assist youth with their focus and provide a calming resource during activities/events. 
  • The toolkit fidgets were provided to youth involved in a 4-H camp to play with while waiting for other youth and as a stress reliever while coding. Often the youth would use the fidgets when they were feeling overwhelmed. It helped calm them down.
  • The toolkit was scheduled for use at the large World Food Prize Michigan Youth Institute event. Word of its potential use spread to the point that it was decided to provide fidgets for more than 100 people to help with focus, nerves, and jitters in the learning environment. It was very well received and successful. Fidgets and sensory items will continue to be provided in the future.

MSU Extension and Michigan 4-H Youth Development help to prepare young people for successful futures. For more information about the 4-H Mindful Clover Toolkit or resources on career exploration, workforce preparation, youth financial education, or youth entrepreneurship, email us at 4-HCareerPrep@anr.msu.edu.

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