Fairs play a significant role in 4-H youth development

By taking a step back and looking at fairs through the eyes of an educator and the youth who participate, it’s easy to see the impact fairs have on 4-H youth.

As the Calhoun County 4-H Educator for the past three decades, I’m able to see a broader perspective on the important role that a county fair can play in helping to develop skills 4-H youth can carry on into adulthood. Through my eyes, I see dusty old barns come alive with the excitement of adults and youth coming together with paint brushes, cleaning materials, flowers and shrubs, benches coming out of storage, club banners being hung from rafters and the 4-H theme and clovers pasted in buildings they will occupy for a week.

The county fair provides a stage for the 4-H’ers to have their efforts publicly recognized and reinforces the skillful performances they have learned in their 4-H club throughout the program year. As part of the educational process, young people have input into their own learning. The fair offers the opportunity to present their projects to a judge for evaluation and gain positive feedback and suggestions on how they might improve or advance in their project area. Through my eyes, the young people are the project and the fair is more than just a place to display what youth have worked on during the year.

I see people from all walks of life in the county coming together for the benefit of the young people; many faces creating one community that we call “the fair.” There are the shows and auctions; leaders sometimes keeping a frantic pace to ensure that the events run smoothly as they give direction to the young people preparing for their day in the spotlight. Parents nervously, yet proudly, watching their children take their place among other exhibitors to demonstrate what they have learned. Grandparents conversing with their neighbors, gloating over their grandchildren and reflecting on life in general. The business community showing their monetary and moral support towards the 4-H program as a whole.

I see young people taking on responsibility and leadership roles; taking care of their livestock and non-livestock projects. To my amusement, the real joy is watching the children develop over the years, enjoying the simple things in life during fair: laughing and playing, whether it’s a card game in the barn or stick ball in the arena. The friendships many of them make will last a lifetime, or someone they meet could become a future boss, colleague or even a spouse one day.

One of our 4-H members, Hallie Adams, summarizes it this way: “When I was just a toddler, my fondest memories of 4-H was sitting in water buckets at the 4-H horse show at fair. You learn a lot just watching. I was blessed to have known a wonderful woman - Elaine Furu-Baker. She was the one who would fill up those water buckets for me. Her presence and small acts of kindness will never be forgotten and I consider myself incredibly blessed to have such an amazing person be a huge part of my childhood. As time moves on and I grow older, I can no longer fit into those water buckets. However, I will always carry on the concept that Miss Elaine taught me. It is always important, no matter how busy life becomes to sit back and simply watch. This has taught me how incredible others are.”

A child approached me at fair and stated very simply, “Fair to me is like Christmas.”

Through my eyes, the fair is a magical place in life. Through a child’s eyes, it is a secret world just unfolding. What do you see through your eyes?

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