4-H Military Family Book Sheets: 'While You Are Away'

Children’s books provide a way for parents, caregivers and young children to learn about deployment and the many changes that happen by reading about other military families, children or situations that have experienced deployment.

Children waving to Navy ship

Deployment can be a stressful time for families, especially young children. During deployment many changes are taking place within the family. Young children may not be able to fully understand these changes. Many times young children are unable to fully process what a deployment means and why their service member is gone. Children’s books can be a great way to help explain deployment and give young children an idea of what to expect can be to use children’s books.

Children’s books provide a way for parents, caregivers and young children to learn about deployment and the many changes that happen during deployment. By reading about other military families, children and situations, they will be able to recognize that they are not alone and that other families are having experiences and feelings that are similar to their own. Books also offer an opportunity for parents and caregivers to connect with their young child one-on-one and provide a special time to talk about how the family will adjust to the upcoming changes.

The 4-H Military Family Book Sheets help parents and guardians find books and activities to help their children during the various stages of their service members’ deployments. Each book sheet contains a summary of the book, author and publication details, and activities they can use with their children pre, during or post deployment to extend the message of the book. To find each book, check with your local library, bookstore or online retailer.

Michigan State University Extension has put together a family book sheet on the book "While You Are Away," which tells the story of three children with parents in three different branches of the military: Navy, Air Force and Army. The children talk about the things they miss doing with their parents and wonder if their parents miss them. Download a PDF file of this book sheet.

Pre-deployment activities

  • Have your child and service member choose a special blanket, pillow or piece of clothing belonging to your service member that your child can keep during the deployment. When your child misses the service member, have him or her get the item out, hold it and talk about a favorite memory shared with the service member.
  • As a family, make a list of your service member’s favorite things such as snacks, books or colors. Save the list for deployment to use when making care packages to send to your service member.

During deployment activities

  • Write letters to your service member and include questions that your child would like to know the answers to, such as “What do you eat for breakfast?” or “Where do you sleep?” Your service member can reply to the questions. After receiving the answers from your service member, talk with your child about the similarities and differences between what your child does and what your service members does.
  • Instead of whispering in the wind as the little boy did in the book, make tin-can telephones so that your child can tell private thoughts and feelings to your service member. Clean two tin cans such as soup cans. Cut one of the ends out of each of the cans. Attach a string to the other ends of the cans by poking a hole in the end. Your child can use these telephones to imagine they are talking to their service member when lonely.

Post-deployment activities

  • Create family placemats showing your favorite or important things. Use during meal times to help everyone reconnect with each other.
  • Plan a special day out for your children and your service member around their favorite activities. Enjoy a day at the park or a trip to get ice-cream. This creates time to reconnect around an activity they enjoy doing together.

If you are looking for more articles about deployment support, check out Finding Support for Children and Youth with Deployed Family Members for a helpful checklist on who might support your child or youth during your service members deployment and the Emotional Cycle of Deployment that explains each stage of the deployment cycle and gives helpful activities you can do to keep your family connected.. For more books you can use to support your child during all stages of your service members deployment take a look at 4-H Military Family: Using books to help families face deployment. You can also find additional deployment support information on the Military OneSource website, the Operation: Military Kids website and the 4-H Military Partnerships website.

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

To learn about the positive impact children and families experience due to MSU Extension programs, read our 2017 impact report. Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan 4-H and MSU Extension positively impacted individuals and communities in 2017, can be downloaded from the Michigan 4-H website.

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