Many families may be looking for additional learning opportunities where kids can make friends, develop skills, and gain confidence. No matter what schooling option your family has chosen, there are many clubs and organizations dedicated to youth development and leadership. One homeschool family shares their experience with project-based learning through 4-H.
Kids learn best by doing. This is the belief that fuels the 4-H learning model. 4-H brings together adult mentorship with project-based learning to help kids gain new skills in project areas such as health, science, agriculture, and citizenship. 4-H programs are run throughout the country by cooperative extension offices through local public universities. Programs include in-school and after-school programs, school and community clubs, and 4-H camps.
Through 4-H, kids have the opportunity to participate in many things including community service, camps, conferences, as well as state programs. Because experiences with 4-H can be widely varied, I am writing about the top 4 things I love about 4-H.
1. Project-based Learning
Through 4-H, kids choose and complete projects. Each project book is like a mini-curriculum on a specific subject. There are projects available for nearly every subject, from cooking and sewing, to welding and electricity. 4-H has also added more and more STEM projects in recent years, including robotics and solar engineering. Project books contain information and activities to complete. Each county has guidelines on what kids must complete in order to present their projects for “judging” where projects are evaluated.
Completing a project, presenting your project to a judge, and possibly winning a ribbon seems to build self confidence in my kids in a different way than winning a ballgame or getting an “A” at school. All of those are great accomplishments, but it is my experience that 4-H has given a deeper level of confidence to my kids.
In addition to projects, kids can participate in other learning experiences. Here in Ohio, Ohio State University has several programs only open to 4-H kids. One program is Science Saturdays, which focus on engineering and other STEM projects. They also have a “Vet for a Day” program for kids interested in animal science or veterinary medicine.
2. Leadership Development
4-H clubs are open to kids from 3rd grade through age 19. Clubs are run by the kids. Adults leaders help train the officers to run the club. Serving as an officer gives kids real life experience into how organizations operate. Older 4-H members may choose to participate in leadership opportunities at the county or even state level.
4-H also gives kids public speaking experience as they present their projects — sometimes to other members, sometimes to adults — as a part of judging. Kids also interact during meetings by sharing their opinions and voting on meeting business.
3. Interview Skills
Eventually, every kid will need to have a job interview and 4-H gives experiences that build interview skills. Project judging involves 4-H club members taking their projects to an interview. Kids learn to introduce themselves, shake hands, make eye contact and answer questions. Our first year, everyone was really nervous, but the judges are nice and encouraging (usually) and it is a great experience for kids.
4. Social Interactions and Mentorship
4-H Clubs are run by the kids. The older kids help out the younger or newer ones. Our first year in 4-H we showed market chickens at our county fair. I had no experience in this. We relied heavily on the older kids in our club to help us learn the ropes. My oldest daughter would also really love to show horses. She made a great friend at the fair who showed horses. Her friend took my daughter under her wing and showed her what really went into showing horses. My daughter spent all her free time hanging out in “horse world” and meeting new friends.
4-H helps kids learn to encourage one another. This year, our 4-H club’s former president is finishing her freshman year in college. She is too old to continue in 4-H. We needed to elect new officers, but no one was really interested in being president. She told the other kids that when she started serving as president she was really shy and didn’t really want to do it either. She went on to say that after two years of leading meetings through 4-H, she has found it much easier to talk in front of people and get involved in other organizations. This has really helped her at college. She convinced some of our older members to step into those leadership roles that they were not sure about.
4-H has been a great experience for our family. There have been stressful times of making sure everything gets done on time. We have also felt many times like we didn’t know what we are doing and we are just feeling our way along. However, the benefits of the project-based learning model and leadership development that our kids have gained through this organization is something that will stay with them the rest of their lives.
You can learn more about 4-H in your area here.