Building character strengths in 4-H

What are character strengths and how is Michigan’s 4-H Youth Development working to build character in youth?

According to the Search Institute, character strengths are sometimes labeled as soft skills, non-cognitive skills, character skills, social-emotional skills or 21st century skills. Personal skills, attitudes, values and mindsets are also good indicators of character strengths.

Michigan State University Extension’s 4-H Youth Development Program believes youth participating in 4-H are also developing life skills which incorporate and overlap the character strengths from the Search Institute. The 4-H program helps adult volunteers work with youth on projects so that youth are developing skills in a safe and trusted environment.

These volunteers use tools such as the Targeting Life Skills Model developed by Iowa State University. The Targeting Life Skills Model provides a simple and coordinated way for those who work with youth to incorporate life skills into their youth development work. There are 35 life skills on the Targeting Life Skills Model that are broken up into the following areas: living, being, working, giving, caring, relating, managing and thinking.

Both 4-H and the Search Institute feel that skills such as perseverance, responsibility, empathy and communication are critical for youth’s success in school and in life. 4-H’s motto, “learning by doing,” provides youth with hands-on opportunities that enable them to have experiences and develop skills around areas they are passionate about.

Having conversations with youth is a great way for youth to start thinking about the character and the life skills they might be learning through their projects. Here are a few examples from the Search Institute:

  1. You won $1 million. What would you do with it? How would it affect who you are and how you see yourself?
  2. You suddenly moved to a different continent. How would you adapt to that change?

Character strengths are important in life to be successful and to be happy. Let’s help develop these strengths with youth we interact with every day.

To learn more about getting involved in 4-H, contact your local MSU Extension office

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