“We have too many jobs to do this summer,” said our 11-year-old daughter to me this past week. She was sitting on the dining room floor with silk floral stems around her, working on the beginnings of a 4-H flower arranging project she had planned, practiced and prepared to exhibit at the county fair. I said, “You don’t have to do all those projects you planned if you don’t have time.”
She quickly replied, “No, I love these jobs!”
Part of the parenting strategy my husband and I have learned to follow is to keep kids active and busy. Yes, allow for down time but in small doses.
Every kid and family is different. There is no guidebook to follow as any parent knows. But our general summer strategy is to front load the first half of the summer. The heaviest load of activities comes from their participation in 4-H. The culmination of the 4-H “jobs and work” comes to fruition this weekend at the 4-H Achievement Days at our local Tri-County Fair.
Each year I see our daughters build upon what they have learned through 4-H in the prior year.
The 4-H mission listed in the current strategic plan says, “4-H empowers youth to reach their full potential working and learning in partnership with caring adults. The mission of 4-H is to provide meaningful opportunities for all youth and adults to work together to create sustainable community change. This is accomplished within three primary content areas, or mission areas — civic engagement and leadership, healthy living, and science...”
What I see my girls doing is not “jobs” through 4-H but they are too young to fully understand yet the life-lasting impact 4-H is positively giving them.
What I see as a 4-H mom is a varied development of skills, leadership and character growth, access to high-quality programming and an opportunity to learn in sound research-based experiences. I see them being taught and led by other adult leaders and learning by doing. I watch them volunteer and give back to their community and to others. Most of all, I see our kids as 4-H members having fun as kids and with their peers through exactly what the 4-H mission lays out, civic engagement and leadership, healthy living and science.
In my observations, 4-H kids aren’t spending the first half of their summer bored. They aren’t kids who need to be limited with screen time or have too much time to play video games. They are committed to what they are doing for the county fair. And the work and preparation tire them out. When our kids get done with 4-H preparations and home from the shop or barn, they have chores to do around the house and then sleep.
For one daughter, she has a passion for livestock. This year is her first time showing sheep with a broken elbow which put a hiccup to her plans but she is continuing as a one-armed novice sheep shower. She has role model adults and older 4-H members teaching and leading her. She has spent long days and weeks learning to care for, feed, walk, train, wash and show her sheep. She also made a recycled door exhibit and another woodworking shelf stand exhibit.
For another daughter, her passions in 4-H are not in the show ring or with livestock. We don’t need to box in our kids and limit their opportunities. 4-H is wide open for all kinds of kids with varied interests and skills. She loves the static projects and exhibits her skills and work through woodworking, recycling and repurposing, floral arranging, photography and her favorite, baking.
What is the end goal? I think most would say, a blue ribbon or purple ribbon, the highest of honors or taking your animals or exhibits onto the state fair. Of course, we’ll celebrate all the accomplishments but ribbons or banners of any color get tossed into a box or get dusty eventually on a shelf. What lasts through 4-H experiences and is most exciting to me is youth who are active leaders, learning new healthy living skills and are rooted in science-based programs.
The life of a 4-H kid in the summertime is a good one. Get out to a local county fair where you’ll get to see firsthand the “jobs” and exhibited work of many kids this summer.