How to be an involved 4-H parent in 10 easy steps – Step 2: Developing successful youth

Your child has joined a 4-H club, now what? Try out these tips on ways to develop a successful youth.

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 2: Developing successful youth

What attracted your child or your family to the 4-H program? For many youth, it is an interest in a topic or “project” area that is offered in the 4-H program. Does your child have a specific interest in science, art, community service, or maybe they wanted to learn more about animals, shooting sports or entrepreneurship? Regardless of their learning interests, the goal of 4-H is positive youth development.

As a parent, it is important to help and encourage your child in their current endeavors, and at the same time keep in mind the bigger picture of youth development. Below are ways Michigan State University Extension recommends you can foster success for your 4-H member.

Recognize skill development in your child. Your child will have the opportunity to gain knowledge, skills and competence related to their chosen 4-H project areas. In addition, your child will learn and practice life skills through their project areas that will be transferable to other aspects of their life including school, home and their future. If you would like to learn more about 4-H life skill development, see the Targeting Life Skills Model through Iowa State University Extension.

A few examples of project skills

  • Learning how to sew.
  • Baking and decorating a cake.
  • Demonstrating the proper steps to show a dog.
  • Growing tomatoes.

A few examples of life skills

  • Learning and applying critical thinking skills.
  • Being able to make healthy lifestyle choices.
  • Developing communication skills.
  • Working as a team player to accomplish a task.

Be sure you encourage your child for both types of skill development. To learn more about positive encouragement for children, check out the article “Praise vs. encouragement.”

Help set realistic goals and expectations for your child. Children go through developmental processes (physical, cognitive, emotional and social) at their own unique pace. It is important to recognize where your child is within each of the developmental categories and how their development may affect their learning environment. Work with your child, club leader and project leader to set learning goals for the year. Find more information on ages and stages in 4-H Youth Development. Be an advocate for your child’s learning needs. If you know they will have a better learning experience with modifications or specific accommodations, please be sure to bring your request to the attention of staff or volunteers.

Champion growth and learning in your child. 4-H is a year-round educational program. The typical 4-H year begins in September with enrollment and proceeds with learning opportunities throughout the year. New members are usually permitted to join throughout the program year – check with your local county 4-H program for specific deadlines. Parents should encourage their children to participate in all club meetings – check with your club leader for a club calendar. Some clubs will meet monthly throughout the year while other clubs, like SPIN, will meet only six to eight times. Regardless of the schedule of your club meetings, once a member is enrolled in 4-H for the year they are eligible to participate in all 4-H opportunities.

If your child continues their 4-H career in subsequent years, it will be helpful to urge them to review their past experiences and expand their goals for future involvement. Setting new goals and exploring new learning opportunities each year will ensure that your child retains interest in their project and does not get bored. The learning experiences each year should build from knowledge, skills and competencies gained in previous years.

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 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 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 3: A safe place to learn.

For more in this series

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