MSU Extension children and youth listening sessions background and summary

Michigan State University Extension held 21 listening sessions about the needs of children and families during social distancing. Here is the data.

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Michigan State University Extension held 21 listening sessions to learn about the needs of children, families and those who work with them during the time of social distancing. The sessions had 545 participants register with 47, or about 8%, of those registrants being youth.

The listening sessions had registrants from 74 out of Michigan’s 83 counties. Of the counties with no response, they were split between the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Michigan. This could potentially be because the sessions were offered online with a call-in option, and internet access is less available in those areas.

The registrants were a diverse group with 71% white/Caucasian, 14% African American, 5% Hispanic/Latinx, 2% multiracial, and less than 1% from Asian, Middle Eastern/Arabic, Native American/American Indian and Native Hawaiian populations. The registrants were overwhelmingly female, with 87% identifying as female and 11% identifying as male.

Sessions were both geographically around Michigan’s Prosperity Regions and around several topic areas, including youth with disabilities, mental health and well-being, early childhood, underserved and underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, LGBTQ+ youth, youth voice, and current 4-H members and volunteers. We also held open sessions for anyone to participate in.

The five questions we asked in each listening session were the same:

  1. What is the most fun educational experience you (or the children and youth you know) have done recently?
  2. How would you or the children and youth you know like to engage in educational programming?
  3. What are the needs of children and youth, and those who work with them in your community?
  4. What are ways we can better reach and serve underserved and underrepresented audiences during this time?
  5. If you had access to unlimited resources and could create the best activity for children and youth, what would it be?

Here are some highlights from the listening sessions along with how many times they were mentioned:

  • Inadequate internet access/technology - 168 mentions. Across all the questions, inadequate internet access and/or technology received the most mentions, but there were also concerns of balancing that with too much screen time.
  • Online learning - 150 mentions. Online learning through various platforms was mentioned as important but often tempered with the idea that it is a barrier for those who don’t have adequate access. There were a wide range of specific platforms mentioned, from online games such as Kahoot to social media like Facebook, to online meeting tools such as Zoom.
  • Learning kits - 103 mentions. Another common idea was that of learning kits that could be delivered or dropped off so young people could engage in hands-on learning. The topic areas mentioned for these kits ranged from science to cooking to arts and crafts to livestock. There were concerns about the cost and how to assemble those kits given social distancing.
  • Social/family connections - 95 mentions. The importance of family and connecting with friends was mentioned often during this socially distant time. People enjoyed finding creative ways to connect and maintain those relationships as best as possible. Some discussed how the lack of travel allowed them to spend more time with their immediate family in their household, or how they enjoyed children being home from college.
  • Outside/nature activities - 92 mentions. Going outside was mentioned as being important for both physical and mental health. Some spoke of how this situation allowed for them to spend more time outside.
  • Basic needs - 87 mentions. There was a great deal of discussion about adequate food, hygiene items, transportation and access to laundry facilities. Another often mentioned point was about the need for safe places for young people. School and outside-the-home activities can be a refuge for children with a difficult home life. Social distancing may force some children to spend more time with abusers.
  • Mental health - 69 mentions. There were several who voiced concern about the need for mental health resources. Social distancing could potentially increase depression or anxiety for young people and their caregivers. There also might be some resources, such as those at school, which are no longer available in the same way.
  • Hands-on activities - 61 mentions. The idea that different children need different ways of learning is not new. Learning online is difficult for some children, particularly those with special needs.
  • Reading/writing/mail - 55 mentions. It was mentioned how letters can be a thrill for a child to receive in the mail. As adults, we often get junk mail and bills but when something comes in the mailbox for a young person, it can be exciting. The chance for writing and pen pals was mentioned several times. The importance of reading sometimes went along with it, particularly for children without books at home and no access to schools or libraries.
  • Help for parents - 44 mentions. The idea of parents balancing trying to teach kids while continuing with their current work situation was brought up. Parents wish to help their children with education but they may not have the skills to help.

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