The past two weeks of my life have been focused on helping our youngest son complete participation in the 4H program for the year. He took 4 goats and 2 quail for exhibition, as well as, recycling science and soybean projects. Animal projects require a commitment from child and parent but they offer learning moments 365 days a year as needs occur day by day through caring for those animals. Non-livestock projects don’t require near the time or resource commitment but offer “chunks of time” in which learning and skill development occur.
During the fair we spent nearly all of every day on the fairgrounds for 7 days feeding, watering, and cleaning pens to keep our 3 dairy goats, 1 pygmy goat and 2 quail comfortable and happy. Our son exhibited the animals too which requires further care and training. Goats must be shampooed and get a hoof trim in order to be show-ring presentable. They also need a complete body clip to remove excess hair, and their ears, nose, and tail heads cleaned to make them look their best. This doesn’t include the months of nutritional conditioning needed to keep them in show and production condition.
What do kids learn? They learn responsibility while caring for their animals every day spring, summer, fall, and winter. They learn that taking care of others is just as important as taking care of themselves and is very rewarding. They learn about interacting with nature. They learn what animals need in order to remain healthy and productive. They learn about genetics as they select which animals to pair in order to improve offspring confirmation, strength, and productivity. They learn about nutrition and health practices. They learn about the importance of cleanliness and good herd management. And they learn these animals offer products in return that can be used or sold. Our goats give us milk, cream, yogurt, a variety of cheeses, goat milk soap and body products, livestock to sell or breeding program replacements, and most importantly, companionship and stress relief. The quail give us eggs and one day perhaps fowl to eat, but for now they are entertaining to watch.
4H is one of those organizations, like Cubscouts, that gets the entire family involved. 4H is a national program administered by county extension offices and offers a wide variety of educational experiences for students grades 3-12. My husband and I were both involved with the 4H program as children/teens and it was quite natural that we introduced our own children to the experience too. While 4H is often thought of a program for “farm kids” because of the livestock projects, there are many learning opportunities for kids ranging from aerospace to zoology. Our three older children all completed the 10 year program tenure and our fourth child just completed his 4th year….only 6 more to go. Our kids have learned about cooking, sewing, fine arts and crafts, recycling, flowers, beekeeping, electricity, shooting sports, lawn and garden, entomology, soybeans, cake decorating, rockets and models, pocket pets, chickens, goats, pigs and quail to name a few. It is amazing how many topic choices are covered in the curriculum. Completing projects takes adult supervision and guidance for best student learning outcome; but it is definitely a learning by doing curriculum that reaches virtually all types of learners. More than that, the families we have met through 4H have become our best support system in good times and bad. 4H is family oriented from beginning to end and the learning/skill developing activities are nearly limitless.
“4-H prepares young people to step up to the challenges in their community and the world. Using research-based programming around positive youth development, 4-H youth get the hands-on real world experience they need to become leaders. Through America’s 109 land-grant universities and its Cooperative Extension System, 4-H reaches every corner of our nation—from urban neighborhoods to suburban schoolyards to rural farming communities. With a network of more than 6 million youth, 540,000 volunteers, 3,500 professionals, and more than 60 million alumni, 4-H helps shape youth to move our country and the world forward in ways that no other youth organization can”. (www.4-h.org)
My husband and I believe in the program so much that we both volunteer our time and leadership serving on 4H or related boards of directors. As an educator myself I witness the need for extending learning experiences for both parent and child on a frequent basis. Teaching them to be functional contributing members of society frequently requires using the holistic approach to be most effective. 4H offers this approach, as it provides guidelines for learning and growing. If you have time in your life, or even if you don’t, I suggest you check out the program and see for yourself what it has to offer your family. Please visit the site listed above or contact your local 4H youth educator at the local extension office for further information.