My Five Favorite Reasons for Being in 4H

Today was 4H judging day at our county fair.  For anyone out there who has ever participated in 4H, FFA, or any other fair judging process for youth, you know the amount of time and effort that goes into preparation for this day.  Children who exhibit projects at the fair invest countless hours and extensive amounts of energy, all in the hopes of earning coveted ribbons and a few dollars in “premium” (prize) money.

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Prior to our involvement in 4H, I had the misconception that it was an organization reserved strictly for rural-living kids.  I remember seeing farm animal and horticulture exhibits on display at the county fair where I grew up, but nothing more than that.  Apparently I must not have paid attention, because 4H really is so much more than animals and vegetables.

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Certainly there is an opportunity to demonstrate skills and talents with livestock and crops, but for all those kids out there without access to acreage, a vast multitude of projects are still options for fair exhibition.  And the value from being involved in 4H, regardless of geographic location?  Well, that is priceless.

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Our family has been busy preparing projects for exhibit for most of this summer.  I shared one of our projects, a fabric marker T-shirt project, on the blog a few weeks ago.  Now that judging day is over, we can relax a little.  And as long as we are taking it a bit easier today than we have been lately, I thought I would share just a few reasons why I think 4H is a wonderful organization for kids.

1. Public speaking skills.

Aside from maybe giving a short school presentation to a classroom full of peers, kids under the age of about thirteen rarely get opportunities to talk in front of a crowd.  4H allows several different opportunities for children to speak in public, all at developmentally appropriate stages.

  • Fair exhibit judging.  Even our youngest daughter (age 6) sat in front of a couple different judges today and presented her projects.  They asked her what she did, how she did it, and what she might do differently next time.  She had to look an adult in the eye, answer questions thoughtfully, and think on her feet.  Those are really valuable skills to learn at a young age.
  • Consumer choices judging.  Consumer choices is a contest allowing kids to rank a selection consumer goods (jeans, for example) from a list of options based on buyer needs and preferences.  After the ranking is complete, contestants are required to defend their rankings in front of a judge.  The judges provide feedback.  And participants learn to make good choices and stand by them.
  • Public speaking contests.  Public speaking contests vary from traditional speeches and dramatic performances to website design.  There is something for just about everyone.

2. Introduction to parliamentary procedure and executive offices.

Every 4H member is invited to participate in parliamentary procedure at meetings.  At the age of five, kids can learn to vote, suggest and second motions, and discuss decisions pertaining to the club.  Once members are a bit older (age 8), they can hold an executive office.  Certainly a nine-year old club treasurer would need assistance and help from their parents in order to fulfill duties, but what better opportunity for a young kid to learn the importance of a budget or the value of money?

3. Time management skills.

Kids are taught the value of time management any time they have to complete a large project for school, but 4H only amplifies the need.  There is nothing quite like knowing that upwards of a dozen projects (some of them quite elaborate) must be completed by a looming deadline.

Yesterday, our family had six baking projects to churn out of the kitchen for today’s judging day.  The girls worked together to determine what order the projects should be started.  I spent the day on dish duty so all three of the kids could keep working.  We began right after lunch and finished shortly before dinner.  We were efficient and the food turned out well.

4. 4H fits really well with homeschooling.

I frequently incorporate 4H projects in our lesson plans.  The year that we studied botany?  We also completed gardening, floral arranging, and food preservation projects.

One of our children finds most genres of art burdensome, but she is very fond of her camera.  She submits a photography project or two every year at the fair.

And baking?  Well, those 4H projects can go in the nutrition, home economics, and mathematics categories for school.

5. There is something for everyone.

There is a 4H club in our county devoted almost entirely to robotics.  While it is not our girls’ cup of tea, I can see why many people would find that really fun.  Parents often assist in leading lessons and projects, and we have met people from all walks of life and with many different talents and interests.  Through participation in 4H, we have done many things we might not have otherwise, like:

  • heard an interior designer teach us about design and architecture in China,
  • dissected owl vomit and reassembled rodent skeletons,
  • participated in a children’s catch and release fishing contest,
  • volunteered at an emergency food pantry, and
  • helped maintain an elementary school’s garden for an entire summer.

4H is fun.  Preparing for the fair and other contests can sometimes be exhausting, but the benefits 4H brings to our kids make it all worthwhile.  Now that fair judging is over, we can sit back, relax, and plan next year’s projects.