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4 reasons your kids should join 4-H

Sarah McNaughton  SARAH McNAUGHTON standing next to 4-H North Dakota logo
BLEED GREEN: Sarah McNaughton shares the benefits gained by youth being involved in the 4-H program.
With National 4-H Week Oct. 4-10, now is the perfect time to get your family involved.

By many across the country, 4-H is known and loved for the lasting friendships created, memories made from shows and fairs, or the opportunities provided. The program itself has evolved in time and is no longer just for farm kids or those who show livestock.

I can directly credit my experience in 4-H to my adult life and career success. I was an 11-year member in Grand Forks County, a North Dakota state ambassador for five years, a North Dakota State University 4-H Extension agent and a current volunteer. Most people I know through 4-H say I “bleed green,” and I even have a clover tattoo to prove it.

I could go into the research and statistics for the benefits of youth involved with 4-H, but I’ll stick to my personal experiences. With National 4-H Week held Oct. 4-10, here are four reasons why your kids, grandkids, neighbors’ kids or friends’ kids should be in 4-H:

1. Confidence. Nothing sparks confidence in youth like having a friendly adult to encourage and support them. These partnerships come from club leaders, judges, Extension agents and volunteers.

The engagement and understanding youth can receive from a caring adult can be in the form of an encouraging word before stepping into the ring, time spent receiving advice on creating a resume or filling out a record book, or a friendly face greeting them at each meeting. Also, the competitive opportunities in 4-H allow them to receive feedback on how to improve their presentation or skills.

Confidence also comes from the amount of public speaking some events require. Most of what my parents tell me about my start in 4-H was that generally the judge in the back of the room couldn’t hear me during my interpretative readings and demonstrations.

Now, I’m pretty sure half the county can hear me talking if I really get to it. As an Extension agent, I got to see the littlest livestock judgers grow in confidence while giving reasons, and as a judge, I see kids each year learning to speak louder and more clearly. Never underestimate the power of kids getting confident!

2. Leadership. When I first entered college and ran for positions in my sorority and student organizations, my leadership resume was nearly double some of my peers. Why? Because I had held nearly every position in my 4-H club, knew how to organize and run a meeting, had created and worked on committees, and participated in countless other leadership opportunities.

Leaders aren’t born when they’re president; they’re fostered and grown from being the “game leader” as 12-year-olds, who are guided and given more responsibility as they grow. I believe (and research shows) that a large part of learning leadership happens when youth 8 to 13 years old. They’re given an age-appropriate job, along with the tools needed to succeed.

It doesn’t stop there though. When 4-H’ers are older, they take state and national trips, where they can meet with state legislators and elected leaders, and even go to Washington, D.C., to discuss youth-related issues with members of Congress.

If travel isn’t their thing, the 4-H’ers still get leadership from their club, or being county or state ambassadors. Many adults might not know parliamentary procedure, but you can be sure that most 4-H’ers can give you the basics!

3. Learning. Ask my parents what I learned during 4-H, and they’ll likely give you a laundry list of what they actually learned. With 4-H being such a family-involvement program, at least one of my parents was with me at project and activity days, watching and learning.

When I told my dad I wanted to get chickens and pigs, he had to learn alongside me on what breeds I would get, how much room chickens needed in a coop, and what feed to buy. We both learned the valuable lesson of not letting both pigs into the enclosure at the same time, because they’ll run through the fence going different directions while you chase them around the township.

The 4-H program gives youth the chance to be exposed to different learning opportunities than they receive in school or at home.

A huge network of adult volunteers and leaders means that 4-H’ers get to receive knowledge and learn from people who are experts in many different things. From canning to knitting to small engines, photography and all things livestock, my parents and I learned invaluable lessons from these volunteers who had been doing these projects for years.

If it wasn’t for one of my best friends and her family mentoring me and teaching me all about horses, I never would’ve had the chance to show horses.

4. Fun. Of course, what kid doesn’t want to have fun? While 4-H offers many life skills and leadership opportunities, it doesn’t skip out on giving kids a fun time!

There are so many project areas that no matter what youth are interested in, you can guarantee that there is at least one they’ll want to learn about. Baking, aerospace, home design, music, visual arts, and of course, animal and agricultural sciences are just a few of the available projects.

Friendships made in 4-H often last a lifetime, and some of my best friends from college and beyond came from my time in 4-H. Many of my peers working within agriculture are also those I knew from being a state ambassador and volunteer.

Mixed into lessons and meetings and leadership programs are activities and games that combine learning and fun into 4-H. One event that showcased the balance between fun and learning was when I put on a livestock quiz bowl for my 4-H’ers, where they played trivia on livestock and animal husbandry facts.

There was never a dull moment as each age division went head to head to find out who knew the most about their animals. Youth can find the freedom to have fun when they have a network of opportunities that combine entertainment and education. 

There are many more benefits for youth who join 4-H, such as how they are four times as likely to live healthier lives and four times as likely to be involved in their communities. I could go on and on about the benefits of youth involved in 4-H, but I hope these reasons pique your interest enough to get in contact with your local Extension office to find out more about clubs and programs in your community.


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