When I talk to folks about 4H it isn’t uncommon for people to say, “we don’t do animals” or “I don’t have room to raise show animals.” There is a misconception that 4-H is all about animals and agriculture. Those are certainly parts of 4-H and my son has enjoyed entering chickens in the county fair, showing a pig, and is currently raising turkeys. However, that is only the tiny tip of the 4-H iceberg. You can spend years actively involved in 4-H and never deal with animals if that is your preference. So if 4-H isn’t just animals, what is it?
4-H is groups of children getting together and working on a large variety of topics. We couldn’t participate in all of them if did nothing but 4-H and skipped all of the rest of our schooling. There truly is something for everyone: animals, STEM, leadership, citizenship, healthy living, public speaking and so much more. In the practical day to day that can look like cooking, Lego robotics, making slime, bug collecting, plant identification, state fair projects, history presentations, horse riding, painting, healthy eating classes, exercising and more. Some clubs focus on one aspect of 4H (such as livestock or horses) while others try to give more of a variety and overview.
My children were blessed to find a club that gave them an opportunity to learn about something different each month. They had opportunities to serve in their community through teaching a science lesson, making cards for veterans, serving at a banquet, and much more. They learned about engineering through Legos, they planted different plants, made cupcakes, test gliders for aerodynamics and learn about geocaching. Their experiences in 4-H have truly grown them into stronger leaders and speakers as well as enriching other areas of their education.
This past year my son did jump into the world of livestock showing by raising and showing his first pig. It was a challenge but a wonderful and growing experience for him. He hopes to continue this for many years. In many counties there are farms that will keep the animals on site and allow children to come care for them so that even those who do not live in a place where they can raise their own can get this unique experience.
Now that you have a general idea of some of the variety of opportunities that 4-H has to offer, how does that translate into our homeschooling? Public speaking and leadership are one of the areas that were important to us as a family but can be a little more difficult to cultivate. 4-H presentations have been a huge asset in that area. One of the big programs that 4-H offers participants is the presentation program. Each participant can choose a topic from a huge variety of subjects (we have done everything from fishing to bread making to flags of the American Revolution). The child then prepares a presentation on that topic. The length varies based on the age of the child with the youngest being from 3-5 minutes. The participant can have visuals to accompany the presentation as well. (The picture at the top of the post is my daughter practicing her first aid presentation this year.) The child practices and then has an opportunity to present it at the county level. If they do well, they can advance to district and for participants nine and over they can compete to move on to state presentations. I have seen my children, as well as the others in our club, grow so much in their speaking, poise, and confidence through this process.
Another area where 4-H can be used in homeschooling is the 4-H project record book. These are records the students do to highlight their work on a particular project. It involves planning, documenting, writing skills, and more. These have been an asset to our writing curriculum as I find my children work harder on writing when they feel like it is something ‘real’ as opposed to just a random writing prompt.
4-H also offers lots of different curriculum books that can be completed to help with different subjects you may be learning about particularly related to science and health. Right now my son is doing one related to pigs to complement his raising and showing of the pig and my daughter is working through a first aid curriculum because that was an area of interest for her.
I truly feel that 4-H has something to offer every child and is an under-utilized resource. I highly recommend talking to the 4-H folks at your local cooperative extension to see what programs they offer that may benefit your family. If you are in NC you can find out more about NC 4-H here.
The 4H pledge
My Head to clearer thinking
My Heart to greater loyalty
My Hands to larger service
My Health to better living
For my club, my community, my country and my world.”