A Different Kind O’ Four-Leaf Clover

There’s a wonderful resource that sometimes goes untapped. Here’s a hint…it started nationally, has gone international, and is over one-hundred years old! It’s an original “social network”…where kids ages 7 to 19 can have fun, learn new skills, feel like they “belong”, and adults can volunteer. Have you guessed? I’m talking about 4-H! Generations of families have participated in 4-H clubs, a positive source still relative to today’s world. It’s had an impact on my “young farmgirl” daughter and friends!

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4-H is the youth aspect of the Cooperative Extension, in partnership with the USDA. In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, much of America was farming. Congress wanted to provide “equal education for all”, so through state university and college land grants, the Cooperative Extension was created, in hopes of providing families information universities found through research for the best solutions to problems facing local farmers. “4-H” sprang from this idea, reaching out to the younger generation, in the form of youth groups, or “clubs”.

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A garden at Fairfield County's Cooperative Extension

A garden at Fairfield County’s Cooperative Extension. Every county has an extension.

Whether or not you’ve got kids, if you attend a county fair, you’ll recognize the 4-H clover logo posted around animals, crafts, and 4-H booths. One of our favorite things to see at county fairs are 4-H exhibits.

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Because of its roots, many only think of 4-H as being “agricultural” in nature, with kids raising farm animals; but 4-H is much more! Clubs are centered around members’ interests. My daughter’s in a dog club, learning about dogs and canine care, working with our family dogs with basic and agility training. Club meetings are a treat for the kids and their pets.

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Audrey works with her dogs at the meetings.

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Emily Rogers and her pet in a competition.

Emily and her dog in competition. Photo courtesy of Alison Rogers.

 

Blue-ribbons!

Blue-ribbons! Photo courtesy of Alison Rogers.

The club also visits dog shows, hosts local pet events, entertains during the holidays at a retirement facility, and marches in a local parade. I love seeing kids of all ages interacting and just being themselves.

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Clubs can center around anything – gardening, horses, crafts, or astronomy, for example; there’s also a large mentoring program. Being part of 4-H opens kids to activities outside their clubs, too – there’s city, county, and state activities offered. My daughter attended a Lego Robotics program and loved it! 4-H is flexible: individuals can participate as members, as well, and it’s a great resource when home-schooling.

It’s not just fun…there’s a wealth of learning and character-building in 4-H. Clubs are “kid run” and adult facilitated, with kids serving as club officers, like president, vice-president, treasurer, and secretary. Club members do record-keeping, turning in their record-keeping books at the end of the year for judging, using the Danish method. There’s also public speaking, where kids get to speak before a group on whatever subject matter they wish (think Toastmasters for kids). Public speaking is on a county level, with the chance to compete at state level. It’s amazing seeing the kids’ creativity and interests at this event!

My daughter does her first public speaking...

Audrey does her first public speaking…

At home with her blue ribbon. Nervous at first, she came home so proud of accomplishment.

At home with her blue ribbon. Nervous at first, she came home proud of her bravery and accomplishment.

While you’ll see a 4-H presence at county fairs, with farm animals, our county’s fair is held at the Beardsley Zoo! Because of that, there’s no animal-themed booths or entries, but kids get to show off their talents, entering artwork, collections, show their horticultural skills, or craft projects to be judged for ribbons. Kids also attend a number of fun workshops, such as this year’s yoga or terrarium-building, and all participants share in a community service project. It’s all-day fun, and a chance to visit the zoo, as well.

Fairfield County Fair, 2013

Fairfield County Fair, 2013

My daughter and her club's leader, Alison Rogers, at Recognition Night, when all 4-h members in the county are recognized for their hard work during the year.

Audrey and club leader, Alison Rogers, at Recognition Night, when 4-H members in the county are recognized for their hard work during the year.

Ede Valiquette, Cooperative Extension Educator, 4-H and Youth Development for Fairfield County, Connecticut, says 4-H fosters “belonging, independence, experience, and consequences – there’s no making mistakes in 4-H, but making decisions and learning from those decisions.” She says kids master generosity, project skills, and leadership, all of which help when they become adults. With everything 4-H offers, when asked what’s her favorite thing about 4-H, Ms. Valiquette says it’s the public speaking aspect, as it teaches such a valuable life skill. She likes seeing kids grow every year, improving each time. She loves when kids return from college, telling her that though they were a ball of nerves when they first started, 4-H public speaking serves them well in the real world.

Are you a proud parent or grandparent of a 4-H member? Or do you have memories of being involved in 4-H? Share your stories with me in comments.

Until Next Time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

Leave a comment 19 Comments

  1. Nicole, I love 4-H. Both of our kids (now grown) were in 4-H from the time they were 9 until they turned 18. They raised market lambs and steers and showed their horses. They were also in too many other classes to count – mainly woodworking, sewing, canning, cooking, rocketry, dog agility… and the list goes on and on! I look forward to the day that my grand-girls are old enough to be in 4-H! Your daughter is absolutely lovely. And huge congratulations to her on her ribbons. Tell her to keep them – even as adults my kids love their old 4-H ribbons! :-) I really enjoyed this post as it brought back some really special memories for me. – Dori, the Ranch Farmgirl –

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Oh thank you, Dori! I wish I had known about 4-H as a kid. I definitely would have enjoyed it. My daughter has all of her ribbons proudly displayed in her room, except for the trophy she received last year for her “Fairfield County Good Character Does Count” award. That one is displayed in our family room where we all can see it. Can ya tell I’m a really proud mama? I thought my heart would burst last year when she walked up to receive it. With so much negative pressure on kids these days, 4-H is a great positive force. Sounds like your children enjoyed a lot in their 4-H clubs, too! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  2. Kay (old cowgirl) Montoy says:

    I am a proud 4-H member. I took many different ones during my growing up years.
    I started with 4-H sewing, where we learned as 1st graders to hand sew a rabbit and basic skills in what you will need and how to take care of it.
    4-H machine sewing and 4-H Leather work and finally 4-H Horsemanship.
    In between I was a Brownie Scout and Girl Scout where I learned many more skills. We lived in a small town and this was our main lively hood. I lived in town so livestock was not something I was able to have until in High School my girlfriend, who’s horse I had been riding for several years talked me into going into Horsemanship. I loved it.
    Children now are lucky they can have so many more things they can do and have. I grew up with dogs but in those days no such thing as 4-H dog training. I could have done that too.
    Hugs
    Kay

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Kay, Sounds like 4-H served you well! Love your comment…thanks for sharing. With all you’ve done, you are sound like a true-blue farmgirl, too! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  3. WE LOVE 4-H!
    I find it to be one of the most rewarding partnerships in our lives. My daughter is one of the California 4-H State Ambassadors this year :). She just wrote an article in the HuffPost Teen about her last 7 years. You can find it at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/justina-sharp/7-years-a-4her_b_5956568.html. I really wish more people knew about it, and saw the wonderful programs 4-H offers for older kids too! Thanks for sharing :).

    Heike
    FarmGirl #2245

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Heike, Wow! Congratulations to your beautiful daughter and all of her accomplishments! Kudos to her article…I just read it…awesome! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  4. Carleen says:

    All 3 of my children showed steers….heifers….hogs..at our county fair and went on to show at state level….We had big wins…losses… We enjoyed every minute of it..It taught our children how to work hard..appreciate where food comes from…that family really is everything…I would encourage any family that can join 4h…DO SO…no matter what you decide to belong to…just do it…Also the time you spend with your children doing whatever project you choose will be the best memories when their grown…but the main thing is there with you…not doing other things they shouldn’t.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Carleen, that is so true! We just went to the fair this past Saturday. I have as much fun as Audrey does. 4-H is so family-oriented, and there’s no pressure. It also is not costly for families to have kids participating. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  5. Denise says:

    Nicole, my sons are part of a traditional 4H club here in the Midwest. Yes, we have shown animals at the fair, but 4H is so much more. Learning by doing is a slogan, but as a family, we all learned a lot with the kids doing their various projects. My kids have participated at the county, state and national level through various 4H opportunities. One of my sons even helped carry a US flag in the Independence Day parade on the 4th of July in Washington DC. while on a 4H trip. For my older sons, the skills they learned through 4H continue to help them in their college pursuits and have given them the confidence to pursue their dreams. In today’s schools, sometimes kids can get lost in the shuffle. 4H is a “safe” place where they can belong, try new things, and better themselves, all while having fun! Can you tell I’m a fan?

  6. Joan says:

    Nicole, what a super shout out for 4H. I was an honorary 4Her because I was too young but my Aunt was a leader and she took me with, I learned much. My son and daughter-in-law are leaders and the grandchildren are members, so wonderful for them too. Thanks for sharing the lovely pictures and congratulations to Audrey for the ribbons and awards and just for giving it her all. God bless.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Joan, A special shout-out and big thank you to your family that are leaders. I see how much the leaders in our clubs give it their all, and they are so appreciated! Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole

  7. 4-H programs have changed for the better the lives of many. What do the 4 H’s stand for? I think hand, heart, head, health. Audrey with her blue ribbon is precious!!!! It’s just so very exciting to see kids in goal oriented programs like this … supported by great parents like you two! Great post.

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Thank you, MaryJane! I love that photo, too. She was so nervous before that event, I thought we’d turn the car around before we got there! I’ve really seen Audrey grow the past two years being in the 4-H. I myself did not know about it until the principal at her school mentioned it to us, after seeing how much Audrey adored all the therapy dogs that were at school that year. Maybe with this post, other parents will be inspired to find out more about the 4-H in their area, too. Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole
      PS: Also, yes, that is correct on what 4-H stands for.

  8. Beverly Battaglia says:

    I am the proud grandmother of Audrey! I was so thrilled when she won her ribbon for her speech! I was always interested in public speaking and in Toastmasters won the best speech award a few years ago. The first speech I made I felt the audience could hear my knees knocking so I know how nervous Audrey was beforehand. In Houston Texas, when you were growing up Nicole, they had the Houston Livestock Show with the Rodeo once a year, and that is all I knew about the 4H, when children would enter their animals that they had raised. Some won enough money and still do, to pay for college.
    So glad Audrey is involved in the 4H. Interesting blog and lots of comments! Love, Mother

    • Nicole Christensen says:

      Hi Mom,
      I was proud of YOU, with your awards, too! 😉
      I think I only knew about FFA (Future Farmers) in school, and we weren’t zoned for farm animals. Glad you enjoyed the blog! Love, Nicole

  9. CJ Armstrong says:

    Mary Jane . . . you are correct in what the 4 H’s stand for.

    I (and my siblings) all did 4-H. A wonderful way to learn skills. Most of my siblings included animal projects in their “career”. I didn’t . . .focusing on sewing, foods, and junior leadership.

    Unfortunately, in this area (where I grew and was in 4-H) it’s not as well participated in as it used to be.

    YAY for 4-H

  10. Denise says:

    Sounds a great organization

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