Growing up, my life pretty much revolved around three things: homeschool friends/activities, church, and 4-H. From the age of 5 (as a “pre-4-H-er”) until I went to college , my year turned according to the 4-H calendar, and the program was a constant in my life.
In recent years, I’ve fallen out of an active volunteer role (being busy getting married and having a child), but I secretly can’t wait until my daughter is old enough to join! For anyone considering a new extracurricular for their child, here’s what sets 4-H apart from the rest.
What is 4-H?
4-H is an educational organization primarily for children ages 8-18: the 4 H’s stand for “Head, Heart, Health, and Hands,” and represent the whole involvement of a person in growing and learning.
The main slogan sums it up the best: youths ”Learn by Doing,” mastering skills through hands-on participation. They often also demonstrate or compete with their projects at fairs or exhibitions. Most youths participate via an organized club, where the main focus is learning and practicing in a general topic area (i.e. raising sheep, cows, rabbits, or other livestock; training dogs or horses; making crafts or sewing; practicing horticulture; or pretty much any other topic of general interest). In different regions of the country, and in rural versus more developed areas, the club project area options may be different, but the structure and the benefits remains the same. More information about the purpose and goals of 4-H can be found at their website.
4-H: From A Child’s Perspective
It’s hard to put into words exactly how much fun and how beneficial 4-H was for me as a child. However, here are just a few reasons why it is a great program from a kid’s point of view.
- Socialization: Some of the very best friendships of my child and teen years were made through 4-H. In fact, my 4-H friendships have proven the longest lasting, possibly because they were founded on the deep level of shared hobbies and interests, rather than on superficial incidentals such as being the same age, or going to the same school or church. 4-H members are able to meet other children from a very wide range of backgrounds, and it is a great place for any youth with passionate interests to make deep and lasting friendships.
- Opportunity: 4-H provides a lot of fun and educational opportunities. There are 4-H camps for a weekend or week away; teen congresses for older 4-H-ers to gather, learn, and socialize; even the opportunity to travel and meet other 4-H members at national events such as Citizenship Washington Focus.
- Achievement: The process of mastering a particular skill, exhibiting a project, and possibly even earning a prize instills a lot of confidence in a child. It just plain feels good to excel in this way (and may even help the child to earn some pocket change). This achievement opportunity is especially important to youths who are less academically driven, or not as proficient at sports: it provides an opportunity for recognition that is not contingent on grades achieved or goals scored.
4-H: From the Parent’s Perspective
4-H isn’t just great for kids; parents come to love it as well. Here are some unique features that set it apart from the other typical extracurriculars.
- Parental Involvement: Perhaps the most unique feature of 4-H is the key role that parents play. This is not a “drop the kids off and pick them up after” program. Parents are highly encouraged to stay and participate, and parental volunteers are crucial to the functioning of the program. While this does mean that you sacrifice more time than you might with another activity, it also means that you’ll get to know your child’s friends and their friends’ parents. You’ll be there, in the background, supporting them and cheering their accomplishments. You’ll also be able to monitor their behavior if necessary. As a perk, you’ll probably also make some friends, as well!
- Flexibility: The time commitment for 4-H, unlike many other programs, can easily be tailored to your own family’s needs. A fairly minimum involvement might amount to one club meeting a month, along with a couple other events and activities per year, and some time at home spent on projects; from there, your involvement can expand to whatever degree your child(ren) and you desire.
Perhaps the greatest gift of 4-H are the benefits that last long after the program ends. Not only do 4-H accomplishments look great on a resume, they impart a plethora of life skills, such as:
- Public speaking
- Record keeping / Accounting
Aside from general development, 4-H members also gain valuable project-specific skills. Members are not limited by the topic
choice of their club: my club focused on raising and showing sheep, but I completed projects in (to name a few!) the following project areas:
- food preservation
- cake decorating
- flower arrangements
- horseback riding
Almost every single thing that my husband thinks is “cool” that I know how to do, I learned in 4-H. In this day and age, where the knowledge of how to do many things ourselves is gradually being lost, I credit 4-H with keeping many of these skills alive.
So, that’s 4-H. It’s so much more than “Horses, Heifers, Hay, and Homemakers,” as you may have heard it jokingly described. Check it out. Your kids will thank you.
Abby can be found writing at Writing Living Epistles.
Photo credits to David Swift.
This post is linked to Works for Me Wednesday.