soybeans, landscape

In honor of National 4-H Week (Oct. 4-10, 2015), here’s at just a few things that make 4-H a great experience for kids (and adults)!

As a third generation 4-Her and an active member from age 8 – 18, I could probably come up with a lot longer list, but here’s five:

  1. Not your father’s (or grandfather’s) 4-H – As a 100 year old organization, 4-H has a great heritage with roots in rural communities and a strong connection to agriculture. But, 4-H is not just for ‘farm kids.’ You can find 4-H clubs in the heart of urban communities like Chicago and New York City. Plus the learning opportunities extend way beyond the traditional cooking, sewing & showing livestock. Those projects are still available, but today’s 4-Hers can also build model rockets, explore entomology, create all kinds of artwork and much more.
  2. Hands-on Learning –  One of the great things about 4-H is the project-based learning that builds knowledge and skills.  With more than 45 project areas, there’s quite a bit of variety to choose from. Each area has levels to continuing building your skills from one year to the next. For example, my first year 4-H cooking project was marshmallow crispy rice treats and by my final year in 4-H, I was baking yeast breads and canning tomatoes.
  3. Community Involvement – 4-H members are organized into clubs – sometimes based on shared interest (like sewing or horses), but often based on geography. Clubs are not segregated by age  – which means younger kids interact with (and learn from) older kids. Clubs are also encouraged to do service projects and 4-H members learn about the value of giving back to their communities. Check out one local club that runs a food pantry, clothing exchange & community garden.
  4. Leadership – 4-H clubs are supervised and guided by adult volunteers, but the leadership is provided by members themselves. Serving as a club president, secretary, volunteer chair or any number of other positions (varies by club) helps youth develop confidence and invaluable leadership experience. 4-H members also have to present a talk or demonstration about one of their projects to their club every year, which provides great practice with public speaking.
  5. Learning How to Fail – The culmination and highlight of the 4-H year is the 4-H show, usually held at a county fair. The project areas are judged by adults with expertise in the area. The 4-H member has to talk to the judge, explain their project and answer questions during conference judging (another great learning experience). Projects are awarded blue, red or white ribbons based on how well the project was completed. No one wants a red or white ribbon, but I can say from experience the projects that fail or didn’t quite go as planned are ones that teach you the most.

To learn more about 4-H clubs, check with your local Extension office. You can find the Livingtson, McLean & Woodford Counties Extension Unit here.

Are you a current or former 4-H member? What would you add to the list?