Michigan 4-H Capitol Experience creates a youth learning laboratory in the state’s capitol

Capitol Experience: an experiential youth activity teaching youth civic education through experiential learning.

Does all learning have to be classroom style to be effective? Absolutely not! In fact, youth learn better with a “hands-on” experiential learning approach to education, such as the “Learn by Doing” motto in Michigan State University Extension 4-H.  It’s also true that youth will remember more about the activity if learning takes place experientially.

Actually, a combination of instruction and activity is probably the best way to learn new skills. First, learning the skills and then applying the skills in an active way where youth get to try on those new skills. After the skills are practiced and the activity is over, it’s easy to forget another important part of the learning: processing the activity. Focus on the “so what” of the activity by asking questions like, “what just happened?” Asking the questions and letting the group discover the answers through the discussion that takes place after the activity. Asking about the activity and connecting to the learning that has taken place assures the greatest retention and future successful application. Evaluating the experience is a vital way to show impact and to improve function for another year.

4-H civic engagement and leadership youth activities help young people develop their “voice,” and practice using their voice as they serve on boards and committees. Michigan 4-H holds a statewide leadership and civic engagement event each year in March which illustrates the experiential model and “learn by doing” . 4-H Capitol Experience involves youth aged 14 and older who participate in an event staged in Lansing, Michigan’s capitol. Over 100 participants spend three days learning the legislative process by writing a bill and meeting with groups that may affect or impact the bill as it moves through the approval process in the senate and house and finally to the governor to potentially become a law. Each student chooses an issue group of interest such as agriculture, state police, education, jobs and economy, health, and crime. In each issue group, participants learn about the “hot topics” that are being discussed in the legislature and around the state. Special visits are arranged for each issue group including a lobbyist, legislative aide and state agency.

The event also provides time for youth to meet with legislators to express ideas in other concerns. This event gives youth a voice in state government and helps them learn how to use their voice to make changes in state government. Youth visit legislators’ offices and both the house and senate in session. With each visit, speakers share their group’s impact on the topic as youth learn about the group’s function. After all visits are completed, issue groups revise their bills and even write ammendments to their bills for final vote in mock senate and house sessions. All bills that pass the house and senate are sent to the “governor” (a past legislator who is currently in city government) to approve by signing or veto the bill by not signing. During the event, youth learn about other governmental opportunities such as collegiate student government. Each year after the event, participants are invited to serve on the capitol experience planning committee. Teens who serve on the planning committee are actively involved in planning and conducting the event. All of the issue groups are facilitated by teen committee members with an adult committee member to help. Teen committee members learn their roles through conference calling and face to face training to prepare for Capitol Experience.

4-H provides many experiential learning activities, with Capitol Experience being a premier event in civic engagement and leadership. For more information on 4-H programs, visit the Michigan 4-H website.

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