How to be an involved 4-H parent in 10 easy steps – Step 1: Get to know the 4-H program

Your child has joined a 4-H club, now what? Here are tips to help 4-H members and parents have a successful experience, starting with getting to know the 4-H program.

Let’s start by clarifying there is no such thing as “easy” when it comes to being a parent. Parents play an important role in 4-H programs by supporting and encouraging their child throughout the 4-H experience, in much the same way that they would advocate for the child through school, sports or other activities. Being an informed and supporting parent can enhance your child’s 4-H experience to ensure they receive maximum benefits from the program. This article is part of a series that will provide a number of tips for 4-H families to bolster their 4-H experience and apply the 4-H motto, “To make the best better.”

Step 1: Get to know the 4-H program

4-H is the nation’s largest youth development program with over 6 six million members. 4-H takes place within your local community and also ties to the bigger 4-H program at the county, state, national and even international level. It’s huge! It’s not likely that you will figure it all out in the first year your family joins 4-H. That’s OK, you have plenty of time to explore as Michigan 4-H serves youth ages five to 19. The fact is, you may not ever interact with every aspect of 4-H, and that’s OK too.

An important step along the path of getting to know the 4-H program is meeting the people involved with the program. Here are a few people you will want to meet right away.

  • 4-H club leader. This is the primary person who organizes the club. The club leader (there can be more than one) is usually the person who will help you complete your enrollment and registration paperwork. They are typically a point of contact between the club and the county Michigan State University Extension office.
  • 4-H project leader. This person is the go-to person in the club to teach on the specific projects or topic areas that youth are interested in learning. Depending on which projects your child decides to participate in, they may work with one or more project leaders in the club.
  • 4-H club officers and teen leaders. Encourage your child to get to know the other members in the club. Often, older club members will mentor younger members.
  • County MSU Extension staff. Every county has at least one 4-H program coordinator who is assigned to work with 4-H volunteers to oversee the management of the county 4-H program. Some counties may have more than one 4-H program coordinator or they may have a support staff person who can help with 4-H questions.

As your family becomes involved with 4-H, you will have the opportunity to network with lots of people – other members and their families, 4-H volunteers, other 4-H clubs, 4-H committees and MSU Extension staff. You may begin to develop your own extended “4-H family.”

4-H has a wealth of educational opportunities for children in each age category. Some of these events will take place at the club level, others may take place at the county, regional, state, national or even international level. 4-H staff and volunteers do their best to share these possibilities with your family using a variety of communication sources.

  • Newsletters. Your club or county 4-H program may publish a newsletter. Newsletters could be published weekly, monthly or bi-monthly and delivered in a hardcopy or electronic format. Check with your club leader and your county 4-H program to ensure you are added to the recipient list. Additionally, there is a Michigan 4-H electronic newsletter.
  • Social media. Your club or county 4-H program may also promote opportunities using social media sources such as Facebook. If these options are available, feel free to “like” or “join” the page to keep updated.
  • Websites. You will find information about many 4-H opportunities on the Internet. Here are a few websites you may want to bookmark: Michigan 4-H Youth Development, MSU Extension 4-H and 4-H Youth Development.

These are just a few sites to get you started. As you delve deeper into your 4-H journey, you may find it helpful to bookmark links to specific projects or programs within these sites or other related sites.

Your family’s 4-H journey can provide your child with an unlimited number of learning encounters. Whether your journey is just getting underway or if your family has been involved in 4-H for years, you are likely to find something new to learn and experience at every step along the way. You will find that there are people along the path to help guide you, but ultimately the path of your family’s 4-H expedition will be individually determined.

Look for the next article in this series soon – Step 2: Developing successful youth.

For more in this series

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