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Message from Jennifer: Discovering your flow in 4-H

Dear youth, families and volunteers,

I love long distance running. I discovered it when I was 11 years old and have been running ever since. No matter where I’ve lived and worked, be it Brown County, Nicaragua or St. Paul, running has been my constant companion. When my feet hit the pavement or trail, it can feel as if nothing else matters. I’ve even been known to completely lose track of time while out on a run. I truly love it.

Have you ever experienced something similar? Where you become so deeply involved in a thought or activity that all else falls away? If you answered yes to that question, then you have experienced flow.

What is flow?

Flow is a state of concentration or complete absorption in an activity. Athletes call it "being in the zone." Artists and musicians describe it as a passionate focus on their creative work. Children experience it when they are fully engrossed in play.

I’ve certainly witnessed flow in 4-H youth. I’m sure you have too. When a young person can hardly stop talking to a judge because of their deep project knowledge and enthusiasm. When a team of youth are so engrossed in getting a machine to work that you can hardly catch their attention. Or when a teen who otherwise loves sleep will wake at dawn day after day to care for their beloved heifer in preparation for a livestock show.

Because 4-H provides hands-on learning on topics that young people get to select and lead, flow is a common result of our program. It doesn’t always happen, sometimes because of the environment we create, other times because a topic or experience doesn’t resonate, but when flow does occur…it’s like magic.

Why is flow so important?

Allow me to be very real for moment. It is hard to be an adolescent. So much is changing in our bodies, friendships and inner selves during these years. Self-confidence and direction can be hard to find in the midst of so much change. But, when a young person discovers what brings them joy, what is worth their deep and uninterrupted attention, good things come quickly.

Finding one’s “thing” is incredibly powerful. We gain emotional wellbeing and confidence as we pursue what we love. Our sense of self grows and we’re better able to find others who share our passion. And what’s better than getting to flow with others who are just as nerdy as we are about running or engineering or cows?

Are you leaving space for flow?

I hope that every 4-H experience we create, whether for ourselves, our peers or the young people we work with, is designed to find and pursue our flow. If you’d like ideas for how to create those flow-worthy spaces in 4-H, I’ve compiled a list.

May we all get lost in the flow that makes learning a real joy.

Sincerely,

Jennifer A. Skuza, PhD
Minnesota 4-H state director

If you’re interested in learning more about the experience of flow, I recommend the TED Talk Flow, the Secret to Happiness.