Character development: Learning responsibility through 4-H livestock projects

Michigan 4-H teaches youth character attributes to help them learn responsibility while showing their livestock projects.

Michigan 4-H provides many opportunities for young people to develop character and experience personal growth, not only through the general 4-H projects, but also through the 4-H livestock program.

The Josephson Institute Center for Youth Ethics, as a part of its nationwide CHARACTER COUNTS! project, has created a curriculum called “Exercising Character.” The curriculum identifies six core character attributes children should acquire and develop; the second is responsibility.

Being responsible involves being in charge of your own actions and choices, carrying out what needs to be done, and being a good role model.

Responsible behaviors in the 4-H livestock program include providing timely and appropriate care, feed and housing for the animal, as well as preparing for the show. Maintaining an accurate project record book is another important component of the 4-H livestock program; members should responsibly record their animal’s health, feed, age, etc., and take pictures of their livestock project to document growth.

It is important that parents also show good character by being responsible and good role models. Perhaps they could become an assistant 4-H volunteer in the livestock club or study to become knowledgeable and coach the members of the club on an aspect of livestock production. They should also be available when needed, show proper work habits and model for the members that the value of the 4-H livestock experience is much more significant than being the top winner.

There are many activities that help youth understand the role of responsibility in livestock projects. For example, divide the club members into groups so that each addresses a different step in the livestock production and exhibition process. Have the groups brainstorm and identify an exhibitor’s responsibilities related to the step they are assigned. Take turns having each group present their list. After each presentation, encourage the members to further discuss the importance of responsibility in the step.

The 4-H livestock program provides 4-H club leaders with many opportunities to teach character education and life skill development. There are many opportunities for 4-H members to practice and demonstrate good personal character. For more information, contact your local Michigan State University Extension office.

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