Conducting a service-learning project during National 4-H Week can benefit youth and Michigan commun

National 4-H Week is an excellent opportunity for 4-H members and clubs to celebrate the spirit of 4-H by practicing good citizenship, developing valuable life skills and helping to address issues of concern or importance in their communities.

National 4-H Week, scheduled for Oct. 6-12, 2013, is a great opportunity for 4-H members, volunteers and leaders to engage in citizenship, which is one of the National 4-H’s Mission Mandates.  Through their participation in 4-H programs, youth have the opportunity to “make a positive difference by engaging in learning opportunities that give them a heightened sense of responsibility and capacity to connect as active members of their communities, nation and world.”  Regardless of what type of 4-H club or program a youth is involved in, they can plan a community-based service-learning project that will help them to make a difference in their community. According to Michigan State University Extension, participants will also develop valuable leadership and citizenship knowledge and skills; plus develop positive relationships with other youth and adults in their community.  According to recent research from Tufts University, 4-H youth are “nearly four times more likely to contribute to their communities.”

According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, service learning is defined as a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities. Service learning engages youth in an education process that helps them to develop knowledge and skills while contributing as active, engaged members of their community.  Service learning projects can be structured around virtually any area of interest that a group of youth have.  The Michigan 4-H publication, “Planning Your Community Service Project” provides those interested in doing a service-learning project with a list of 250 general project ideas.  Additionally, service learning projects related to specific 4-H project areas such as animals, environmental and adventure education, and science and technology)are also included in the guidebook.

Participating in a 4-H service learning project takes more time than other types of community service; it takes advanced planning and preparation that promotes critical thinking, leadership and effective strategizing by youth to meet the needs of their community.  A service-learning project, as described in the Planning Your Community Service Project guidebook, can be broken down into five steps:

  1. Pick a project by determining needs
  2. Plan your project and get some publicity
  3. Do the service
  4. Reflect
  5. Celebrate

While all the steps of the service learning project are important, it is the inclusion of the reflection and celebration steps that differentiate service learning from other types of community service.  Furthermore, it provides youth with a rich opportunity for developing knowledge and skills that can be applied to future efforts.   Reflecting on the experience and what youth are learning through their participation in the project is something that can be included throughout the completion of the project.  Incorporating time for reflection allows youth to discuss their experiences with others, to think about what they learned and to consider how they could apply their learning to other experiences.

Completing a service-learning project for National 4-H Week combines many important aspects of 4-H including youth working to “make the best better,” youth engaging in hands-on experiential learning and youth practicing good citizenship.  With a bit of preplanning, National 4-H Week can be a time for celebration of all things 4-H has to offer and is an opportunity for youth to learn a lot of new skills!

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