The Dirt Issue 8 – 4H

Posted on August 29, 2016
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4-H: Head, Heart, Hands and Health 

What do animal husbandry, science and engineering technology, performing arts, photography, vegetable gardening and archery have in common? These and many other pursuits are all learning opportunities through 4-H. The Skagit County Fair-along with other fairs held throughout the state this time of year-is where the lasting benefits from 4-H are witnessed.

4-H learning experiences all tie in to the four Hs that make up the foundation of the program: Head for managing and thinking; Heart for relating and caring; Hands for giving and work; and Health for being and living.

The 4 tenets are present in every type of endeavor offered through 4-H, be it with agriculture and food systems, citizenship, healthy living, STEM learning opportunities or anything else.

It grew out of an agricultural emphasis.

At the turn of the 20th century, a number of clubs were established around the country to encourage rural youth to participate and compete with one another in local fairs.  Around this same time, federal legislation set up the land-grant university system (WSU here in Washington) and the State Agricultural Experiment Stations. Cooperative Extension Services were also established as research outposts and for community educational outreach.

From the beginning, it was a mandate of the Extension’s educational program to provide for the teaching of youth and to give equal attention to both boys and girls. Thus, existing clubs were naturally absorbed into Cooperative Extension programs.

The numbers are impressive.

First of all, by sheer size and scope, 4-H is the largest positive youth development program in the U.S., and, with programs in some 50 countries, even in the world. Bigger than Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts or any other youth organization you can name.

In the U.S. alone, 1 in 7 adults was involved in 4-H at some time during their youth. The alumni are to be found in every walk of life and at every level of economic success. What is common among them is how much they credit their participation in 4-H for that success.

Life skills and how well they rank

Of the many skills learned through 4-H, the majority are applicable regardless of the paths the individual may follow throughout life. 4-H garners high rankings for the following life skills:

  1. Public speaking
  2. Community service/volunteering
  3. Self-discipline, self-responsibility and teamwork

It’s a program that instills a sense of purpose and self-confidence. As 4-H students themselves have said, their most valuable 4-H experience is, “. . . being able to express themselves better in crowds, being able to work with others for a common goal and organizing thoughts into a presentation.”

4-H thrives in Skagit County.

According to Skagit County Extension 4-H Coordinator Dorothy Elsner, there are currently 33 4-H clubs in Skagit County with 477 participants and 140 adult volunteer leaders. At the recent Skagit County Fair, some 500 4-H members and volunteers were captured in a group photo wearing special T-shirts just for the occasion (you can check it out on their Facebook page).

4-H is everywhere.

It’s been decades since 4-H was nearly exclusively based on agriculture and home economics. While those interests remain strong, horse groups are the largest contingent in Skagit County, and the SeaTech club (underwater robotics) is thriving.   With 60 or more curricula available, giving a student the chance to explore their interests, whatever they may be, is what 4-H is all about.

The learning never stops.

4-H recognizes that learning is something you do with your whole self, for your whole life. To use a metaphor from today’s world:  to keep growing we have to think of ourselves like apps, constantly subject to being updated. Continually learning, acquiring new, relevant skills, this is the legacy of 4-H.

As 4-H Coordinator Dorothy Elsner says so well, “We are growing exceptionally amazing kids…good kids doing amazing things.”