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If your youth has attended 4-H Camp Timpoochee or Cherry Lake with the UF/IFAS 4-H Camping Program, they’ve had the chance to play GaGa Ball. You’re probably wondering what kind of name is GaGa ball.  It’s not just a made-up name.  GaGa ball has a rich history.  GaGa is translated from Hebrew as “touch-touch”. It’s said to have originated in Israel, and it has become a popular game at camps around the United States. GaGa Ball is a version of dodgeball and is just as fun.


GaGa ball is not only fun to say, but it is really easy to learn. First, you need a place to play. GaGa ball is played in a GaGa pit. Here’s just one of many articles on how to build your own GaGa Ball Pit.  Next, you need a ball. GaGa balls are not specific, although a heavy duty dodgeball is recommended. The rules of the game vary place to place, but we play by the following rules at 4-H Camp:

  1. You hit the ball with your hands only.
  2. If the ball hits you below the knee, you are out.
  3. If the ball bounces of the wall and hits you below the knee, you’re out.
  4. If you hit the ball out of the pit, you’re out.
  5. If you hit someone in the face, you’re out
  6. If the game is going slowly, the leader can call “Hands-In”.
    Hands in means everyone who is already out can put their hands over the wall of the pit and try to get those still in the pit out.

Rules can be made and altered to fit the group that is playing the game although the first two rules are staples of the game.


GaGa ball is a great way to expend extra energy during day camps, but it also is a great way to build and practice life skills. First off, youth are put in situations in every game where they have to practice decision making, discipline, resiliency and many other life skills 4-H strives to instill in our youth. Of course they have to practice their conflict resolution skills as there will inevitably conflicts that arise from their competitive natures. Most importantly, playing GaGa ball helps kids practice a healthy lifestyle.  GaGa ball teaches many important lessons, and is a bunch of fun. So when you hear someone say, “Let’s play GaGa ball!”, give it a try and embrace the challenge.

Learn more about the history of GaGa Ball


Rainy Day Activities

Rainy Day Activities

4-H members play the stacking game at a club meeting.

Summer is here, and I’m picturing long and lazy sunny days at the lake or beach. In Florida, the warm, sunny days of summer also bring afternoon thunderstorms and the possibility of tropical storms and occasional hurricanes.

What to do on rainy summer days?

During the summer months, the days of sunshine may be interrupted with periods of rainy weather. For children, rainy weather often means long hours spent inside the house. While some children welcome rainy days to spend time curled up with a book, reading for hours at a time will not occupy every child.

For parents looking for indoor activity options for children beyond movie marathons and video games, using household items already on hand can provide fun alternatives to endless screen time.


A fun activity that only requires string, rubber bands, and sturdy plastic cups will challenge your children to work together and think creatively to problem solve. The “Stack ‘Em Up: Introduction to Engineering Activity” challenges children to think like engineers. The activity is best done with 4 to 6 children. This is a great activity for children to enjoy when the neighborhood group converges on your house for a rainy afternoon! A complete instruction guide for this activity is included in the links below this article.


A number of popular television cooking shows involve challenge competitions with special or limited ingredients. Parents can adapt this concept to help their children develop basic cooking skills while also giving them an opportunity to be creative and problem solve. This “do it yourself” at home cooking competition, adapted from PBS Kids, offers an easy fun way to engage children in creative kitchen fun:

• Divide the kids (or kids and adults) into 2 or 3 teams of 1 – 2 people.
• Gather a set of cooking items for each team – utensils, measuring instruments, bowls, etc.
• Choose an adult or older child to be the judge and/or the announcer/assistant. The judge can also decide on the “Secret Ingredient” that will be revealed to the contestants. Consider making it a fruit, a raw vegetable like carrot, cucumber, or celery, a grain item such as bread or cracker, or a spice like ginger or cinnamon.
• Set up individual or team “cooking stations”. Your cooking competition may be preparation only – without a stove, microwave, or oven.
Plan in time for taking turns cooking if your items will need to be heated or if appliances such as blenders or stand mixers will be used.
To add an additional layer of challenge, parents can decide to limit each time to one preparation method for individual teams or across all teams.
• Decide ahead of time how many additional ingredients competitors may “shop” for in the kitchen.
• Designate a separate spot for the judge or multiple judges to taste the food. This station should be equipped with a plate and eating utensils, and a palate cleanser like water or crackers. For more fun possibilities, create scoring cards with categories for taste, originality, good humor or sportsmanship, and presentation.
• Use a timing device like a kitchen or cell phone timer to add in the time element to the challenge. The suggested competition time is 20 minutes. The 20-minute time should include the child’s recipe planning time. Decisions will need to be made quickly!
• When time’s up, have each team present their creation to the judge, including a verbal description of flavors and the preparation technique. The judge(s) can taste each one and fill out the scorecards.
Need ideas for prizes? Consider awarding a new cooking utensil like a colorful spatula with a certificate or card declaring the winner(s) “Master(s) of the Grand Spatula!”
Want to involve additional older children or adults? Designate reporters to videotape and interview the contestants. Extend the fun by watching all the videos once the competition ends or before the winners are announced.


The next time the summer forecast calls for rain, be prepared with these “rainy day” activity ideas. For more ideas, please contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office.

How to Create a Cooking Challenge for Kids

How to Host a Cooking Competition for Your Kids

Stack ‘Em Up Activity

Why 4-H is a Good Investment

Photo credit: National 4-H Council

September 1st marks the new 4-H year in Florida, and many families are enrolling their kids this week. There are several different ways that youth can participate in 4-H.  The most traditional delivery mode is community clubs, but youth can also participate through their school or afterschool program, military youth center, camp, or even as a short-term special interest member.

Last year, Florida 4-H introduced a membership fee for community club members ages 8-18 of $20.00.  Many parents have asked me, “Why is Florida 4-H charging community clubs?  Many club kids are enrolled in projects where parents have already invested money into animals or equipment (shooting sports, robotics, sewing machines).”  I am one of those parents- my own children are enrolled in the poultry project and would like to advance to a rabbit, pig or steer.  As a parent who has paid the fee, I see it as an investment, and here’s why:

Photo credit: Paula Davis, UF IFAS Bay County

Although every 4-H delivery mode incorporates positive youth development strategies, research shows that the club delivery mode has the greatest benefit to youth.  A few years ago, Tufts University did a groundbreaking study on Positive Youth Development.  They studied youth engaged in a variety of youth programs (including 4-H) and they tracked the youth from 5th grade until graduation.  Florida participated in this study and the results were exciting for 4-H!  You can read the full report here.  Based on this research, compared to youth in other youth programs, youth engaged in 4-H clubs are:

  • Four times more likely to contribute to their communities
  • Two times more likely to be civically active
  • Two times more likely to participate in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities during out-of-school time
  • Two times more likely to make healthier choices
  • 4-H girls are two times more likely to take part in science programs compare to girls in other youth program

So as a parent, I see the club membership fee as an investment.  Twenty dollars is way less than what I pay so that my kids can play soccer for a couple of months each year (and depending on the coach- my kids may or may not learn sportsmanship and teambuilding).  There isn’t anything on the list above that I don’t want for my children.  But these outcomes are all tied to long term involvement with a 4-H club.  Clubs are the most effective delivery mode for positive youth development because they focus on three very important areas:

  • Positive and sustained relationships between youth and adults
  • Activities that build important life skills
  • Opportunities for youth to use these skills as participants and leaders in valued community activities

Photo credit: Julie Dillard, UF IFAS Washington County

So if 4-H sounds like a good investment to you, here’s how to enroll (if you are a member of more than one club, you pay the membership only one time per year):

NEW 4-H Members:

  1. Log onto
  2. Create a family profile.
  3. Enroll individual youth.
  4. Each youth must have a club and project (select from the drop-down menu).
  5. You will receive an email with a link to pay the Florida 4-H Membership Fee after enrolling.
  6. Pay the Florida 4-H Membership Fee.  If you don’t want to pay online, you can drop off cash, check or money order at your local UF IFAS County Extension Office using this form.
  7. Membership will be set to active after fee is paid. Until
    membership fee is paid, youth cannot attend 4-H club meetings, events or activities.

RETURNING 4-H Members:

  1. Log onto
  2. Enter your email address and password.
  3. Update contact, medical, club and project information for each member.
  4. Each youth must have a club and project (select from the drop down menu).
  5. You will receive an email with a link to pay the Florida 4-H Membership Fee after enrolling.
  6. Pay the Florida 4-H Membership Fee.  If you don’t want to pay online, you can drop off cash, check or money order at your local UF IFAS County Extension Office using this form.
  7. Membership will be set to active after fee is paid. Until membership fee is paid, youth cannot attend 4-H club meetings, events or activities.

Many counties are planning 4-H kickoffs this time of year, and those events are a great way to learn about the different clubs available in your community.  If the fee is a hardship for your family, contact the 4-H agent for possible scholarships.  For more information about 4-H, contact your local UF IFAS County Extension Office or visit


Solutions for a Happy Independence Day!

It’s Fourth of July weekend and time to celebrate our independence with family and friends.  This week, we wanted to share with you some tips and tricks to make your celebration fun, yummy and safe! We’ve compiled a list of previous posts that you might want to reference for this weekend:

Photo by Jill Wellington

Photo by Jill Wellington

Bleeding Green with Senior 4-H’er Danielle Tinker

Danielle with her state officer team and Adam Putnam, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and 4-H Alum.

Danielle with her state officer team and Adam Putnam, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and 4-H Alum.

How do you 4-H? Through 4-H, youth can participate in clubs, mentorship, project mastery, competitions, local, state, and international trips, and service opportunities unlike any other youth development program in the country. Along with specific skills, 4-H also works to impart life skills, or workforce readiness skills, to its youth. One of the best ways 4-H teaches leadership and responsibility to youth is by giving youth the power to choose how involved they will be and take ownership over what their experience will look like. When youth choose in fully to 4-H, the results are remarkable and inspiring. When our Senior 4-H’ers (14-18 year olds) take advantage of all that is available to them, the impact is a rewarding one. One can observe Senior aged 4-H’ers youth who are both driven to challenge themselves and who take ownership of their own success in 4-H and of their county and state program at large. One such extraordinary example is State 4-H Council Treasurer, Danielle Tinker of Escambia County, FL. 

Danielle affectionately says she had to “beg” her mother to get her involved in 4-H. That kind of drive is indicative of the approach Danielle has taken in her 4-H experience overall. “One of the greatest things about 4-H is that it has given me opportunities to try so many new and different things. Some of them… I am glad to have been exposed to them and had opportunity to learn about those things…Then there are areas and events that have changed who I am and where I will end up in life.” Because Senior 4-H youth are able to define their experience, they can explore the depth of their interest area. Sometimes only by trying on various projects do youth find the field that drives them most of all. After pursuing projects like hiking, camping, drama, participating in the fair exhibits, and consumer judging competitions, Danielle got involved in leadership and livestock raising. Here Danielle found her niche. She has passionately pursued many leadership roles at the club, county, and state level and succeeded in her goal to be part of the process of improving the program and spurring others to be involved. Her love of leadership and livestock together have helped Danielle to define her goals in a way that captures both areas, saying that “Through 4-H I have discovered that I love raising livestock and I hope someday to have my own farm where I can raise and care for livestock.”13096312_10154159026847558_3125887732858775077_n Her entrepreneurial spirit, developing mastery in hog raising, and the leadership skills she has learned will translate into the lifelong values and behavioral change we see in many of our 4-H’ers that have let their experiences direct how they think of others, themselves, and their place in the world.

Being able to translate skills like leadership, responsibility, communication, resourcefulness, and being goal oriented from a specific task or project to all aspects of life is the type of behavior change positive youth development strives for. When asked about the benefits of 4-H, Danielle said,

4-H has helped me develop skills that I can use in my future such as self confidence, public speaking and time management…Maybe most importantly through the leadership opportunities, events, and trainings that I have had in 4-H, I will never be the same.  I have gained confidence, skills, and abilities that I can carry with me into whatever my future holds.”

Though all 4-H youth develop these skills, as youth age into being a Senior 4-H’er, many new opportunities become available that put them at the center of their county and state programming. Projects, leadership opportunities, and travel for this group is much more challenging and autonomous than the mentor heavy experience of younger 4-H’ers. Youth are able to meet with their peers throughout the state and nation who are delving into making what they experience in 4-H part of their lifelong vision and goals for themselves.

12295444_1008171835891965_3627116461056797003_nOne of the most important skills 4-H teaches is to use your head, heart, hands, and health not only for oneself but for club, community, country, and world. Years of community service through 4-H have helped to mold Danielle into an empathetic and thoughtful young woman.
I have learned about compassion for others through community service, and gained a passion for teaching and helping others get the most out of the opportunities afforded them through 4-H and that understanding will go with me in whatever I am passionate about as an adult.” While Danielle has pursued 4-H to the hilt, there is something to be gained through every experience.  


Senior 4-H’ers can choose to be part of many incredible experiences that are exciting, rewarding, and continually challenge them in the moment as well as throughout their lives. 4-H is a program for all ages. Get on board. Contact your local county agent or look into all the incredible opportunities at the Florida 4-H website.

Tips for Healthier Holiday Cooking

Tips for Healthier Holiday Cooking

Holiday MyPlateThe holidays are often filled with time-honored traditions that include some of our favorite meals and foods. As you celebrate, think of little changes you can make this holiday season to create healthier meals and active days. An added bonus, these small changes may help you to avoid those extra holiday pounds we all fear each year. Happy Cooking!

In the Kitchen:
• For gravies or sauces — if you are making pan gravy, first skim the fat off pan drippings. For cream or white sauces, use fat-free (skim) milk and soft tub or liquid margarine.
• For dressings or stuffing — add low-sodium broth or pan drippings with the fat skimmed off instead of lard or butter. Use herbs and spices and a whole grain bread for added flavor.
• For biscuits — use vegetable oil instead of lard or butter and fat-free (skim) milk or 1 percent buttermilk instead of regular milk.
• For greens — use skin-free smoked turkey, liquid smoke, fat-free bacon bits, or low-fat bacon instead of fatty meats.
• For sweet potato pie — mash sweet potato with orange juice concentrate, nutmeg, vanilla, cinnamon, and only one egg. Leave out the butter.
• For cakes, cookies, quick breads, and pancakes — use egg whites or egg substitute instead of whole eggs. Two egg whites can be substituted in many recipes for one whole egg.
• Use unsweetened applesauce or mashed ripe bananas instead of butter.
• Try cutting the amount of sugar listed in recipes in half.
• Use spices to add flavor such as cinnamon, allspice, or nutmeg instead of salt.
• Try baked apples with cinnamon and a sprinkle of sugar instead of apple pie.
• Invite your guests to make their own parfait with colorful sliced fruit and low-fat yogurt.

For meats and poultry (chicken and turkey):
• Trim away all of the visible fat from meats and poultry before cooking.
• Take off poultry skin before eating.
• Broil, grill, roast, poach, or boil meat, poultry, or fish instead of frying.
• Drain off any fat that appears during cooking.
• Chill meat and poultry broth until fat becomes solid. Skim off fat before using the broth.
• Skip or limit the breading on meat, poultry, or fish. Breading adds fat and calories. It will also cause the food to soak up more fat during frying.
• Choose and prepare foods without high fat sauces or gravies.

When Shopping:
• Start with a lean choice.
• The leanest beef cuts include round steaks and roasts (round eye, top round, bottom round, round tip), top loin, top sirloin, and chuck shoulder and arm roasts.
• The leanest pork choices include pork loin, tenderloin, center loin, and ham.
• Boneless skinless chicken breasts and turkey cutlets are the leanest poultry choice.

Use the food label to help you choose
• Choose extra lean ground beef. The label should say at least “90% lean.” You may be able to find ground beef that is 93% or 95% lean.
• Processed meats such as hams, sausages, frankfurters, and luncheon or deli meats have added sodium. Check the ingredient and Nutrition Facts label to help limit sodium intake.
• Fresh chicken, turkey, and pork that have been enhanced with a salt-containing solution also have added sodium. Check the product label for statements such as “self-basting” or “contains up to __% of __.”
• Lower fat versions of many processed meats are available. Look on the Nutrition Facts label to choose products with less fat and saturated fat.

• Use a nonstick pan with vegetable cooking oil spray or a small amount of liquid vegetable oil instead of lard, butter, shortening, or other fats that are solid at room temperature.

Enjoy the Food, Fun, Friends and Family!
Cheers to Good Health
• Quench your thirst with low-calorie options. Drink water with lemon or lime slices. Offer seltzer water with a splash of 100% fruit juice.

Be the Life of the Party
• Laugh, mingle, dance, and play games. Focus on fun and enjoy the company of others.

Give to Others
• Spend time providing foods or preparing meals for those who may need a little help. Give food to a local food bank or volunteer to serve meals at a shelter during the holiday season. Giving back is a great mood booster.

Make Exercise a Part of the Fun
• Make being active part of your holiday tradition. Have fun walking and talking with family and friends after a holiday meal. Give gifts that encourage others to practice healthy habits such as workout DVDs, running shoes, and reusable water bottles.

Enjoy the Leftovers
• Create delicious new meals with your leftovers. Add turkey to soups or salads. Use extra veggies in omelets, sandwiches, or stews. The possibilities are endless!

Be sure your family and friends enjoy the food and fun, but focus on the time together. Remember this season is all about the memories, not just the food. You will feel better and enjoy your holiday time with less worry if you focus on staying healthy this season.

Source: USDA United States Department of Agriculture –