Why 4-H is important to development

Published 9:00 am Sunday, February 1, 2015

Guest Column by Megan Thorson

Megan Thorson

Megan Thorson

Hardly a day goes by that I don’t get asked the question, “What is 4-H and why it is so important to kids and their development?” There is also the stereotype about the youth that can belong to 4-H. Many people think that it is just the kids that live in the country that can grow things or take animals from their farm. So, what kids CAN be part of 4-H and what do the 4 Hs stand for? Do the kids have to belong to the “traditional” long term 4-H club by showing animals or taking projects to the fair?

4-H is the nation’s largest youth development organization that is structured under the University of Minnesota. Head, Heart, Hands and Health are the four Hs in 4-H, and they are the four values members work on through fun and engaging programs. The head encompasses managing and thinking skills, the heart includes relating and caring, the hands include giving and working with those hands, while the health consists of being, living and making healthy choices. Minnesota 4-H youth development offers age-appropriate, hands-on learning via short-and long-term projects and activities, including 4-H clubs, special interest groups, after school programs, volunteering, civic engagement, community service, camping and school enrichment.

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4-H is delivered throughout Minnesota in urban, suburban and rural communities. In 2013 over 65,000 Minnesota youth participated in an Extension Youth Development program, representing all areas of the state. In our southeast region 34.5 percent live on a farm, 35.77 percent live in a small town — under 10,000 — 26.56 percent live in towns or cities — 10,000-50,000 — 79 percent live in suburbs and 2.33 percent are in central cities.

In 4-H youth design and participate in their own programs and activities. This unique, learn-by-doing model teaches kids essential, transferable skills that they’ll use throughout their lives, such as problem solving, decision making, coping, communicating and responding to the needs of others. Whether youth are building rockets, raising dairy cows or writing musical plays, 4-H gives them the skills they need to succeed in life. 4-H has something for everyone! Youth in kindergarten through one year past high school can participate in short-term activities or longer-term clubs, where groups meet regularly to work on projects, perform community service, and develop leadership skills.

4-H uses research-based curriculum to help youth develop these skills. Major areas of focus include science, engineering and technology; citizenship and leadership; healthy living; expressive arts and animal science. No matter which project they choose, through 4-H youth will learn public speaking skills, how to collaborate, understand the community and how to develop and reach life and career goals.

According to a 2009 report on positive youth development from Tufts University, youth who participate in 4-H are more than twice as likely to be civically active and make contributions to their communities, 47 percent less likely to have risky or problem behaviors, less likely to experience depression, more emotionally engaged with school and have better grades, more likely to see themselves going to college and are more likely to have features of positive youth development including competence, connection, character and caring.

Freeborn County has 12 traditional long-term 4-H Clubs throughout the county. We also work with other youth serving organizations such as the YMCA, ARC, Children’s Center and various school classrooms to deliver after school programs and adventures for youth to experience 4-H programs.

If you have any questions about 4-H in Freeborn County or throughout the state, please call the University of Minnesota Extension Office in Freeborn County at 507-377-5660. Key facts and messages are posted online at www.extension.umn.edu/youth/mn4-h.


Megan Thorson is a County 4-H Program Coordinator with the University of Minnesota Extension service for Freeborn County.