Have you ever wondered which mineral makes fireworks red or how bees make a buzz? Do you love horses but live in town? Well join the club, the 4-H Club. These are life’s little questions that the over 4,000 Macomb County youth who participate in 4-H are finding answers to.
What is 4-H? 4-H is the nation’s largest youth development organization in the United States. 4-H programs empower six million young people through the 109 land-grant universities and Cooperative Extension in more than 3,000 local offices serving every county and parish in the country.
Any youth ages 5-19 have the opportunity to experience 4-H. Because Michigan 4-H is part of MSU Extension, the fun activities kids participate in are all backed by and based on child development research. We use experiential (i.e. hands-on) learning and spend time intentionally thinking about what’s been learned to make it a meaningful experience, with skills and ideas learned that last a lifetime.
Youth can participate in a wide variety of mediums. They can join one of the 27 traditional clubs already established in Macomb County or start a new club. It only takes one adult and five youth from two families to form a club. The MSU Extension office provides all the training and resources for adult volunteers to facilitate a club. During club meetings, youth experience fun hands-on learning activities in many different project areas. Projects are selected based on whatever the youth are interested in exploring. That can be anything from the traditional animal science, cooking, sewing and gardening areas to building robots and video games.
Let’s say your child was in a dog club. They would meet and learn how to care for their dog and how to train and handle their dog all year long. Then in the late spring, they could participate in the Fun Match. Fun Match is a family fun day hosted by the K-9 Dog Club each spring where youth who participated in dog projects compete in dog agility courses, dog showmanship and a fun costume contest.
Another venue youth can experience 4-H is through the Mentoring Program. The program focuses on meeting youth’s basic developmental needs through one-on-one community-based mentoring, peer mentoring in schools and group mentoring.
4-H also offers afterschool programming such as Tech Wizards. Youth meet once a week after school in various sites and focus on STEM projects with trained volunteers. 4-H also has in-school programs. In the spring, 4-H offers to all middle schools in Macomb County ready-made art program kits entitled China Art. This is a cultural experience where teachers check out the ready-made kits and use them in their classrooms.
In addition to all of this, MSU Extension hosts topic specific workshops offered throughout the year. One particularly fun program is Mad City Money, a financial literacy program. During the session, youth enjoy a real-life experience where they choose a portfolio based on the different occupations and careers offered. Inside the portfolio, they are given a synopsis of who they are, what their family is like, etc. Youth are then given instruction on how to write checks and manage a checkbook. The participants complete their portfolio according to their synopsis and visit vendors at stations around the room. It is utter chaos as you watch youth make decisions as to whether their child will have high end clothing or thrift shop clothing. Whether they will be purchase a modest home or extravagant loft. Of course, life happens and some youth receive random hazards (flat tires, taxes) as they progress or bonuses (winnings, pay increase).
There are also three statewide special events: Exploration Days (a precollege experience in East Lansing), Great Lake Resource Camps (a conservation program on Presque Isle) and Mentoring Weekend at the Kettunen Center in Tustin, Michigan. 4-H also provides three civic engagement and leadership opportunities to youth. One is at the state level called Capitol Hill Days; the other two are Leadership Washington Focus for youth entering seventh- through ninth-grades and Citizen Washington Focus for 15 to 19 years of age. Youth from all over the U.S. travel to the nation’s capital, visit historic sites and learn what citizenship means while gaining leadership skills.
It’s a fact that youth who participate in 4-H get better grades, are more likely to go to college, are less likely to use drugs, cigarettes or alcohol and are more likely to give back to their communities. For more information, visit the Michigan 4-H website, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/4-H and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/4H.
For more info, contact: Michigan State University Extension, 21885 Dunham Road, suite 12, Clinton Township, 48036 or call (586) 469-6090.
Lizz Duran is a 4-H program coordinator in Macomb County.