How to be an involved 4-H parent in 10 easy steps – Step 9: 4-H and the county fair

Your child has joined a 4-H club, now what? Consider these tips to have a successful and fun week at your local county fair.

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 9: 4-H and the county fair

It is likely that if you have a child enrolled in 4-H, you have heard about the county fair at some point during your 4-H journey. Perhaps attending your local county fair may have been the initial spark for your family to join 4-H.

Although 4-H and the county fair are likely separate entities, they work very close to make the county fair event possible. If you have not experienced fair as a 4-H parent, you will soon encounter this event from a whole new perspective. The following tips can help your family navigate the fair more smoothly.

Keep things in perspective

The county fair is one week of the year. Do not allow your child’s entire 4-H experience to be about this one event; your child will miss out on many other great opportunities during the other 51 weeks.

Consider how the following definitions found in the Michigan 4-H Member’s Personal Portfolio differ, but are still connected:

  • A 4-H project is the total experience that comes from having been involved in 4-H learning. It includes the planning, field trips, record keeping, hands-on doing and, most of all, the interaction between the adults and youth who work together in a 4-H project.
  • A 4-H experience is any activity that contributes to the learning in 4-H or around the project area. Examples include 4-H club meetings, project meetings, field trips, guest speakers, camps, workshops and trainings.
  • A 4-H exhibit is what you put on public display to show involvement in a project. It is, and should be, a relatively small part of the total 4-H perspective.

The county fair is the venue where 4-H members have an opportunity to publicly display what they have learned through their 4-H projects.

Make the experience educational

There are a number of Michigan State University Extension articles that provide tips on helping your 4-H member prepare for and get the most out of this educational experience.

In addition, you will find sample judging question lists on MSU Extension’s Sportsmanship and Competitive Event Resources page.

To increase the educational learning within a 4-H project area for your child, encourage them to explore and prepare additional exhibits that relate to their original project. Examples include creating a poster about safety related to their primary project area, completing a record book for a project, giving a speech or writing a story about what they have learned in their project area, or creating a scrapbook or photo journal of their project experience. These additional exhibit items may also be entered at fair.

Be prepared

Just as you have found during your family’s 4-H journey so far, you will likely discover that county fair week can be a large undertaking with a steep learning curve. The best way to increase your chances of a successful event with minimal bumps is to prepare in advance with these tips.

  • Familiarize yourself with the layout of the fairgrounds. Determine which buildings or areas will pertain to the project areas your 4-H member exhibits.
  • Know who your point of contact is for your project area. Most fairs will assign a superintendent to oversee each project area. The article “Fair superintendents: What is their role during fair?” can help familiarize you with these individuals.
  • Get acquainted with the schedule so you can ensure your family will be where they need to be on time. If your events have overlapping times, your 4-H member is responsible for communicating with each project area superintendent.
  • Check with your 4-H club leader to learn what expectations there are for 4-H clubs and members during the week of fair. Many fairs will require 4-H members to volunteer in various capacities including barn duty, working in a 4-H food stand, fundraiser or auction, setting up or tearing down exhibit areas, or helping with 4-H promotion. Ask about these expectations early in the year so you can plan accordingly.
  • If your 4-H member will be selling an item in a 4-H auction during the fair, make sure you are aware of the expectations.

Make memories and have fun!

If your child is enrolled in 4-H, fair will likely be a part of your family’s summer plans. As discussed in “Step 8: Make 4-H a family activity,” having fun and making memories together is a positive way to strengthen your family. Your role as a parent at fair can be instrumental in your child having a positive experience. The article “Smiles, laughter, and life lessons at the fair” provides great tips on your role in this event. Refer back to “Step 6: Being a positive role model” for pointers on keeping the experience positive for your 4-H member.

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.

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