Learning leadership at 4-H Exploration Days – Part 2
Discover how this 4-H pre-college program helps youth develop leadership skills that’ll last a lifetime.
4-H Exploration Days is a program open to Michigan 4-H youth ages 11 to 19, and creates a space for participants to exercise and develop a variety of skills. “4-H Grows True Leaders” is the theme of the 2016 4-H Exploration Days pre-college program. When asked about the decision for this year’s theme, the program’s coordinator, Laura Potter-Niesen, said, “Suggestions from counties and committee ideas are all considered and kept in a running list from year to year. This year there were a couple of top contenders, but encouragement from Michigan 4-H director Julie Chapin resulted in the decision to align this year’s theme to the National 4-H campaign. The goal of the theme is to highlight one aspect or topic of exploration at the event.”
Part 1 of this series outlined some of the leadership skills youth develop by participating in 4-H Exploration Days. Additional characteristics of a leader that are supported at this event include:
- Networking. 4-H Exploration Days is the largest statewide youth development program hosted by Michigan 4-H. With so many youth from all over the state coming together in a single location, the opportunities to meet new people are endless! Participants will interact with new and diverse peers and adults in sessions, whole group activities, free time and during meals and dorm time. Friendships that last a lifetime are made over the course of this three-day program.
- Teamwork. As mentioned in Part 1 of this series, high expectations are set for youth who attend this program. From time management to campus navigating, choosing free-time activities to problem-solving, 4-H Exploration Days staff asks youth work together as a team. Two heads are always better than one, and this event aims to create an environment where all participants support and encourage one another.
- Taking positive risks. There are a lot of opportunities to try new things at 4-H Exploration Days. From the time youth register for sessions and all the way through the event, they are given the opportunity to take positive risks such as trying out new activities or learning new skills like presenting in front of others. Today, young people are often deterred from trying new things out of a fear of failure. 4-H Exploration Days offers a space where “failure” is just an experience to learn, and youth are highly encouraged to go out of their comfort zones to try new things.
- Confidence and self-worth. Throughout the development of skills mentioned in this two-part series, Michigan State University Extension staff, 4-H volunteers and MSU faculty members are truly invested in positive youth development and continually support youth participants. With safe spaces, adult encouragement and the opportunity to try new things and develop new skills often comes an increase in confidence and positive feelings of self-worth. These intrinsic boosts in the way youth view themselves are invaluable as they grow into young adults.
While leadership is explicitly a part of this year’s program theme, its development in participating youth is always an inherent part of 4-H Exploration Days’ foundation. Potter-Niesen commented, “The whole point of Exploration Days, what we strive for, is youth gaining confidence and seeing the world beyond themselves. It’s all about growing, maturing and discovering what they can accomplish. From that growth, youth become leaders both at the event and later in their counties through 4-h club, school activities and other forms of community engagement.”