4-H Military Family Book Sheets: 'The Invisible String'

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.

Colorful strings

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

According to Reading is Fundamental, reading aloud to children has many benefits. Reading together creates opportunities for talking and important discussions, helps children learn how to think and introduces them to new ideas, supports critical language development and lets children use their imagination. Children’s books provide a way for parents, caregivers and young children to learn about deployment and the many changes that happen during a deployment. By reading about other military families, children and situations, children will be able to recognize 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 “The Invisible String” by Patrice Karst. This story shares a very simple approach to overcoming the fear of loneliness or separation with an imaginative flair that children can easily identify with and remember. It is a warm and delightful lesson that teaches young and old that we aren't ever really alone, and reminds children (and adults) that we are loved beyond anything we can imagine. The book gives simple instructions to make a paper hug.

Download a PDF file of “The Invisible String

Pre-deployment activities

  • Have each family member choose their own color of string to keep with them. Talk about how even though the service member will be far apart, they will always be connected by their invisible string. Their physical string can be kept in their pocket to remind them they are connected to their service member. Do this for each family member and your service member.
  • Use a map and small pictures of family members to show where everyone lives (near or far). You can also add where the service member is going to be located during their deployment. Use pieces of string to connect all the family members together. Display the map on a wall where all family members can see it so they are reminded of how they are all connected by their invisible string. For your service member, take a photo of the map and send it with them to keep during their deployment.

During-deployment activities

  • Make a string-photo collage. Take pictures of events while your service member is gone. Then print them out and use a hole-punch to make a hole in the top corner of the photo. Put the photo on brightly colored string or yarn. Do this as a family for events that the service member misses during the deployment. This will remind everyone that they are all connected by their invisible string while the service member is gone.
  • Mail messages or notes that are attached to a string to your service member. When they get the notes or messages, they can add them to their piece of string that they took with them and be reminded of how connected the family is by their invisible strings.

Post-deployment activities

  • Share the string-photo collage with your service member when they return. Talk about the different events as a family and share your best memories. Share with your service member that the photos are on a string because although they weren’t able to physically be present at the events the invisible string allowed them to be there with the family.
  • Have your service member share their favorite invisible string memory. This may be a note they received from the family, a phone call, email or picture.

Choosing to read “The Invisible String” or another book with your young child is a great way to help them process the strong emotions associated with the deployment of a parent or other loved one. Taking the time to connect with a young child over a book can help them feel safe and secure and create opportunities to talk about what they are experiencing.

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 member’s 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. 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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