How to be an involved 4-H parent in 10 easy steps – Step 7: Taking responsibility

Your child has joined a 4-H club, now what? Try these tips to help 4-H members and parents have a successful experience.

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 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 benefit 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 7: Taking responsibility

Now that you have likely had the chance to get acquainted with the 4-H program, you have probably discovered the vastness of the opportunities available. Hopefully your child is engaging in opportunities in the project area of their choice, but also exploring additional project areas and learning experiences. If you haven’t realized by now, which you likely soon will, the 4-H program has more opportunities available than one child will likely ever have the time to pursue. Your family may find it valuable to have a conversation at least once per year about your 4-H involvement as it pertains to the family’s resources, including time and money. Involving your 4-H club leader and project leaders in relevant discussions may be helpful.

The 4-H program has the potential to lead your family down many different paths. For families who are already involved in more than one extracurricular activity, 4-H can feel like one more thing on their schedule. For other families, 4-H may be their primary activity choice, as it offers options for all ages and genders of children with a wide variety of topics available. Regardless of where your family falls on this spectrum, it is up to you to establish the boundaries of your participation.

The Michigan State University Extension articles “Professional boundaries to consider” and “When boundaries are crossed” provide a few tips for establishing and maintaining boundaries. As your family establishes boundaries of your 4-H participation, be sure to consider your investment of both time and money.

  • Consider the organizational rules—are there minimum expectations for participation to maintain membership?
  • What is your personal preference—does your family prefer to stay busy or do you appreciate more down time?
  • What is best for your wellbeing—how will your level of participation affect your family?
  • Communicate your boundaries to others—be upfront about what your family will be able to do.
  • Address concerns if boundaries are crossed—have a conversation with your child and club leader if your 4-H participation is veering outside the established boundaries.

Have a conversation at the beginning of the 4-H year with the club leader to outline the expectations of the club’s leader and your family. Involve your child in the conversation as well; look for ways they can take responsibility for specific roles. This will be especially prudent in the event the leadership of the club changes; people have different expectations and ways of doing things. Having a conversation about expectations may also be beneficial with project leaders. Some key elements to decide include:

  • Does the leader allow the child to be dropped off for meetings, or does the leader require a parent to attend meetings with their child?
  • Who submits the enrollment paperwork?
  • Does the club charge dues?
  • Are families requested to provide snacks? How often?
  • Is there a minimum number of meetings the child must attend to maintain membership?
  • How does the club keep the family informed of upcoming activities?
  • Are there other required expectations within the club such as fundraising or community service projects?
  • Does the club plan any events or activities during the year that the family would need to contribute time or money toward?
  • Which projects are financially supported by the club? Which projects are the family required to financially support?
  • Can the leader provide an estimate of the cost of projects the family will need to financially support?
  • What are the leader’s expectations for fair participation?
  • Are there county level expectations for the club? Will your family be requested to have a role in fulfilling these expectations?
  • What are the expectations for the club or family to seek out information in the county newsletter?

Your family should take responsibility for keeping track of deadlines for paperwork and registrations; your leader may or may not remind you of upcoming deadlines, but the responsibility ultimately lies with your family. As your family lays out the expectations for the roles you each will play in 4-H, there may be an opportunity to help your child gain life skills as they learn how to identify deadlines and execute a plan to meet them. In many circumstances, the registration deadline for an event is months in advance of the actual event and may require prepayment.

Your club leader will serve as a valuable source of information, especially during your child’s first year of enrollment. To stay informed of all 4-H happenings, your family will also want to subscribe to the county newsletter and may also want to connect with Michigan 4-H via social media channels. 4-H families should be cognizant that 4-H leaders are volunteers, and cannot rely solely on the leader to provide all information. If your family is interested in an opportunity, contact the event organizer or your county program coordinator to learn more.

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 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 8: Make 4-H a family activity.

For more in this series

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