4-H prepares youth for the 21st century

21st century learning skills emphasized in 4-H youth development programs.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has identified common skills, knowledge and expertise that prepares youth for the unique challenges of the 21st century. The partnership explains that youth must develop important skills in critical thinking, problem solving, communication and collaboration. Specific life and career skills identified by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills include flexibility, initiative, cross-cultural skills, accountability, leadership and responsibility. A previous article by Michigan State University Extension, introduces and defines these skills in more detail.

In addition to the development of important soft skills, youth that are adequately prepared for the 21st century should also receive education in new emerging topics including global awareness, financial literacy, civic literacy, health literacy and environmental literacy. These topics address important educational themes that are unique to the challenges of today’s world. These subjects can be addressed through the lens of a traditional textbook, but bring forward new subject areas that may not have historically been an area of focus in classrooms.

Michigan 4-H is grounded in the concept of developing youth life skills and can play an important role assisting youth to be 21st century ready. Foundational 4-H programs are delivered through community clubs, in which 4-H members determine the activities and projects that interest them. Youth serve in officer roles in clubs and are responsible for leading the direction of their clubs. Through participation in community clubs, youth can develop important life skills in leadership, responsibility and initiative among many others.

Beyond the scope of most community clubs statewide, Michigan 4-H programs offer opportunities for youth to engage in experiential learning around topics related to science, financial literacy, civic engagement and many others as well. 4-H Capitol Experience is one example of a civic engagement program for youth, which takes youth outside of a traditional classroom environment and immerses them in an in-depth state government simulation. Rather than learning about government processes through the lens of a text book, youth are afforded opportunities to interact directly with current and former Michigan legislators and lobbyists, use their ideas to formulate “bills” that are important to them, and tour community and state agencies in order to understand how laws are implemented within a broader context. The 2014 4-H Capitol Experience event will be held March 16-19, 2014 and registration is now open online.

Michigan 4-H programs also offer opportunities for youth to be better connected with the environment and natural resources. The Michigan 4-H Youth Conservation Council brings high school aged youth together to discuss important environmental issues that can be addressed through policy, conduct research and present suggestions for new laws to address these issues to decision-makers at local and state levels. Both of these programs are examples of how 4-H programs help in the development of important 21st century skills. 4-H is an out-of-school educational opportunity providing youth flexibility to learn about things that are important to them while developing skills that will help them succeed in their future.

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