Life skills, service learning and project areas: Seeing the connection

It’s difficult to know how life skills, service learning and project areas connect. Learn how this connection can be made through a project area like environmental science.

According to Manstooth (2004), service learning is growing in popularity as a methodology for teaching youth life skills, along with 4-H project knowledge. How do we know that there is a connection between life skills, service learning and specific 4-H project knowledge? Life skills become a prominent attribute of the youth and the project knowledge turns into something that can be passed on to others through service learning.

Are you familiar with the Iowa State University Extension Targeting Life Skills Model? The Iowa State University Extension model was created to provide a way to simplify coordination of life skill development with ages and stage tasks, so programs could be developmentally appropriate and more effective in achieving identified outcomes. The model is segmented according to the four H’s of 4-H: head, heart, hands and health. There are two general sub-categories followed by four identified skills. In total there are 32 life skills listed, yet they are not a complete list of the skills we aspire for young people to gain in 4-H. Instead they assist in program planning as we strive for youth to reach their full potentials.

Service learning is best known as a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility and strengthen communities (National Service-Learning Clearinghouse, 2012). In Michigan 4-H Youth Development, we are committed to the seven guiding principles which provide the foundation for the work staff and volunteers. The guiding principle that well reflects service learning is “youth are engaged in their own learning.” This service learning stretches beyond community service to apply the guidelines of the experiential learning process. 

What about 4-H project knowledge? For example, how can we connect life skills and service learning to a project like environmental science? First, we must understand that 4-H environmental science generally means that youth learn about the interconnection of people and nature as they develop respect and appreciation for natural resources (Michigan 4-H Youth Development, 2012). Through the environmental science project area, youth have the opportunity to learn and gain life skills, then use their new-found education and skills to improve their community through service learning.  

A few examples of life skills that youth have the opportunity to gain through environmental service learning are critical thinking, problem solving, concern for others, cooperation, teamwork and self-responsibility. We know when youth are engaged in their own learning through a project area they will gain life skills. When life skills are matched with service learning, they are able to expand their skill set and create optimum impact on others in their community.

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