Make 4-H youth active participants in their learning

Explore how to implement the fourth 4-H guiding principle in 4-H clubs and communities.

Illustration of the Experiential Learning Model.Michigan 4-H Youth Development has seven guiding principle for positive youth development.This is the fourth installment of a series that explores each of those guiding principles.

The third Michigan 4-H Guiding Principles for Positive Youth Development is “Youth are considered participants rather than recipients in the learning process.”

This guiding principle is similar to the prior one, “Youth are actively engaged in their own development.”

Youth are encouraged to actively participate in their own learning. Opportunities for youth to learn and develop take place in many different contexts, and take into account a variety of learning styles. Some youth learn through reading; others by listening; others through hands-on activities – most people need  a combination of styles.

Learning is encouraged in both formal and non-formal settings, in planned and unplanned ways. Learning happens both in a structured part of a meeting and also before the meeting even starts, and later on, when they share the experience with their parents or their peers.

Opportunities for shared decision-making, planning and program implementation should be provided for youth.

The Experiential Learning Model (pictured, top right) is a good process to follow in 4-H clubs; for best results, give youth an opportunity to go through all the steps in the process:

  1. Experience the activity
    This is the part of the process we often focus on and feel is most important.
  2. Share what happened
    Give 4-H members an opportunity to talk about what they just did. It might seem obvious at first, but giving participants a chance to vocalize what they did helps them remember the experience.
  3. Process what’s important
    I like to ask participants, “What is the one thing you want to remember about what you did today?” This gives the youth a chance to sort through the entire activity and bring forward what is significant to them.
  4. Generalize the “so what”
    What does all this activity mean? Does it relate to life beyond the project? Can you apply what you learned to school work?
  5. Apply the “now what”
    Use the skills and knowledge gained from the activity in other aspects of life.

Too often, we focus on the experience of the activity and not on the reflection and learning associated with a project. When youth share their experiences and reflect on them, they can better determine their needs for the future.

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