4-H + Family = A Fabulous Future
Learning by doing
Copyright © G. Wasdin All rights reserved.
Nervous tension filled the classroom. Twenty or so fifth graders fidgeted with various props including posters that insisted on sliding into the aisles threatening life and limb of contestants, leaders and judges. No one was talking as everyone found their places and waited anxiously for the “games” to begin.
I noticed a little girl a couple of aisles over with her head on her desk. Poor thing, I thought, she is scared out of her wits. She finally looked up and around. She was so pale! Then she began to clutch her stomach.
“Good morning,” announced judge number one. She continued by giving a welcome to all and by congratulating the children for participating in District Project Achievement. DPA as it in known in 4-H speak is a gathering, in our case, of over 40 counties in the southeast district of Georgia in which 4-H’ers compete by giving a presentation on a chosen project area.
4-H is a tradition in our family. My dad became the first Master 4-H’er in Evans County with his pasture project in 1953. To Master in a given project area is the ultimate honor in 4-H. His three brothers were very involved in the club, too. By the time I was of eligible age for club membership, fifth grade, I had the best advocate ever in my aunt who was one of our county’s extension agents. As soon as our first child was old enough to participate, she became deeply ensconced in all things 4-H. She had heard the stories of competitions, summer camps, community service opportunities, leadership training and fun, fun and more fun!
It has been in educating our eldest daughter that I have come to understand how 4-H Club can be a vital variable in the equation for a truly successful future in life. So why do I think 4-H has such an edge in providing this advantage?
First, the whole concept of allowing a child to choose a project area in which he or she has an interest or passion is highly motivational. We all have things we have to do. For a child, it is constant, from the time they wake up they are being told, brush your teeth, get dressed, be on time, do this assignment, on this subject and in this particular way, get in line, sit down, answer now, don’t talk, do your homework, take a bath, go to bed, and on it goes. In 4-H a kid can choose a project, and there are dozens of topics, and pursue it. In a recent workshop to develop fair booth displays, our group represented well the diversity of interests and opportunities. We had displays featuring genetics, how to become a Jedi warrior, the Japanese tea ceremony, raising earthworms and crickets and recycling, to name a few. I like to say that if it’s not illegal, immoral or fattening, you can do it in 4-H. How exciting it is to explore one’s want-to-dos within an environment of guidance and encouragement. Now that’s motivating!
The next thing I notice is 4-H’s hands-on approach to learning. There are no long, boring speeches on, this is what we do, this is how we do it and this is where it will get you. Yes, there are overviews and organization, timelines, deadlines and plans, but the students are just excited about right now, at least in the beginning. So from the very first club meeting there are opportunities to do. Each year, every classroom club has their own officer elections, then there is a county-wide officer training and at the next meeting, those officers are in charge of leading that meeting! An advantage of this approach is the use of positive peer pressure. (Yes, peer pressure can work in a positive way!) Believe you me, these newly elected officers want to impress their peers even more than their teachers or club leaders. The 4-H club motto, “Learn by Doing,” immerses the clubbers in community service, personal development and leadership experiences.
Teaching leadership is very intentional in this organization and almost automatic for the individual with 4-H. In the beginning, clubbers participate in projects and events, then as they are experienced in these activities, they are recruited to “help” those who are a little less experienced. And in my experience, nothing make me learn a subject better than having to help someone else learn it. Add to that the sense of personal responsibility and pride gained in lifting someone else up and a leader is soon on his or her way to a lifetime of service. As the 4-H’er advances into the teen years, there are more formal opportunities for developing leadership skills.
One of our county’s current and most active volunteer youth leadership organizations, the Chamber of Commerce Junior Board of Directors, was initiated by a committee of high school age 4-H leaders. I had the privilege of serving as an adult volunteer during the formation of this entity and it was amazing to watch these young teenagers attack with confidence the challenges of presenting their idea at a statewide, governor-mandated summit, then upon approval, following through with the development of bylaws and implementation of the inaugural Junior Board.
That first DPA as an adult onlooker and parent clued me in to how powerful the desire to do well is among 4-H’ers. I don’t know how things turned out for the scared little girl that day. I do know that despite nervous stomachs, halting speeches and ornery posters, all were winners because they tried.
Motivation, hands on learning and leadership training through 4-H have served our family well. We are reaping abundant rewards as we watch our eldest daughter succeed in college. Her leadership skills and ability to work with others landed her an on-campus job as a Community Assistant within her first semester. These jobs which involve working with the students living in the dorms are very rarely awarded to a Freshman, much less a first semester student. He hard work in 4-H projects, community service and leadership also earned her Master 4-H’er status and a college scholarship. The experiences she had in travel, meeting people from many walks of life and presenting herself in a professional manner were beyond what we as a family could have done alone. Her ability to focus and organize 4-H projects and activities is serving her well as she applies herself to challenging academics, juggling work and recreation and living her life more independently. Our daugher's success is a testimony to the benefits of 4-H and a supportive family and that is why her sister is being brought up in the same tradition.
It’s not too late to put your family into the ‘Fabulous Future” equation. Get involved. Four-H is always looking for new clubbers and adult volunteers. Together we can do as the 4-H motto says and “make the best, better!”
Copyright © G. Wasdin All rights reserved.