Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Benefits of 4-H

I love 4-H! When I talk to people about 4-H I get quite animated. Sam thinks it is funny to watch as I start talking with my hands, emphasizing every point. The only thing better than sharing about 4-H, is sharing about 4-H and homeschooling!

Abby and Nathalie started in 4-H when they were nine and seven years old. We didn't know it then, but we were just months away from starting to homeschool. It has been wonderful to see how homeschool and 4-H join together so well. So many of the things that kids need to grow up into well-adjusted, productive adults are available through 4-H.

The "learn by doing" method of teaching is central to 4-H. The best way for a kid to learn how to clip a goat is to hand them a pair of clippers and stand them in front of a goat. As they work, the "teacher" offers suggestions and encouragement. "Try holding the blade flat to the skin. What if you gently pulled the skin away from the backbone? I like how you are talking to your goat as you clip her."

Heather J. learns to clip a goat
Hannah "helps" a young 4-H'er clip
As the 4-H'ers gain experience, they move into the "teaching" position. Having been taught for years by the "learn by doing" method, they know how it works. Club leaders prod older teens into positions of leaders and teachers, giving them opportunities to pass on what they have learned. I know for my girls this has been such a confidence booster. This teaching has also helped them to learn to work with all types of people. They have had to get creative to entice a reluctant participant, rein in an exuberant kid, or teach someone with a disability.

Learning goat health by doing it!
4-H has taught my girls how to keep good records. Every 4-H member, past or present, just gave a collective groan! Everyone HATES the record books required of 4-H members, but I can bet every 4-H member who is now an adult appreciates the lessons learned by doing them: keeping records organized, tracking finances, self-discipline, and not procrastinating. Now that Abigail is paying for all of her own farm expenses (as well as reaping any profits), she has a new appreciation for record keeping.

Abby teaches proper record book completion

I believe the biggest benefit of 4-H for my girls is the opportunity to see and experience things outside of their  daily activities. Particularly being homeschoolers, living on a farm where opportunities for vacations are limited, these occasions through 4-H have opened their eyes to a variety of experiences.

Flags at the 4-H National Conference Center
Both Abby and Nathalie have discovered their "passions" through 4-H. Abigail was awarded a trip to Washington DC to the National 4-H conference a few years ago. On the trip she participated in discussions and presentations to government officials that had the potential to impact national programs and policies. Abby wants to continue building a farm, but now also sees herself pursuing a career in 4-H or another avenue which will impact youth on a larger scale.

Jenny B. displays her winning cupcakes
Nathalie has participated in the 4-H Food and Nutrition Show since she was seven years old. At that age she was in charge of making the drink for the team's themed meal entry. The competition gave her the opportunity as she grew to expand her cooking abilities. Each year she strived to be more creative and to try more complex foods. She also was awarded a trip to the 4-H National Conference where she attended a workshop on Event Planning. She returned from Washington DC armed with information, ideas, and a desire to create more events for 4-H youth in the Foods project area. She successfully organized and accomplished the first 4-H Cake Decorating competition last June. Without 4-H to give her the chance to grow and experiment with her interests, she might never have discovered her desire to someday have her own bakery.

Nathalie oversees the cake decorating event
We discovered a new benefit to 4-H yesterday. 4-H members realize that decisions must be made and they can't do everything they want to do. They know how to prioritize and make decisions about what they are capable of completing within the limits set before them. Many 4-H'ers have more than one project. When it comes time for the 4-H fair they simply can not do all of them, because of the time constraints. Some have tried and wound up not doing any of them very well, or not enjoying themselves because they had no time to relax. 4-H youth must decide which project they are going to focus on, which one is the most important to them. With the Ledyard Fair this weekend, the girls wanted to enter lots of projects into the exhibit hall. Their time is constrained by jobs, school, and chores. 4-H has given them the experience needed to be able to prioritize what's important and focus on those things.

There are many other ways 4-H has benefited the girls: formal public speaking, informal public speaking, peer relations, leadership, finances, decision making, "circle of life", deadlines, goal setting, etc. In short 4-H has prepared the girls for life in the "real world".

Bake sale fundraiser at Tractor Supply

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