Tips for a successful inclusive 4-H program

Staff and volunteers have an impact on successful inclusive 4-H programs.

Having a successful inclusive 4-H program is the responsibility of 4-H staff and volunteers. These adults should lead by example, as 4-H members will be watching to see how staff and volunteers react and interact with youth with disabilities. Wyoming 4-H offers three tips to staff and volunteers to having a successful inclusive 4-H program.

  1. Display a positive attitude; do not look at inclusion as another hoop that must be jumped through. Look at it as a way to give youth of all abilities an opportunity to become their best. 4-H members count on leaders to provide them with examples of how to relate to a member with a disability and the best way to teach this is with words of encouragement and a smile.
  2. Everybody counts. When planning activities, take into account everyone that will be participating and design the activities so that each individual’s needs can be met. Make sure that each member feels he or she is an important and unique part of the group.
  3. Adaptation is acceptable. Throw out the idea that “this is just how we have always done it.” Take on the new idea that “we can work together to find a way to include everyone.”

Another essential step is to research the youth’s disability. It is important to understand how a disability impacts the youth and what modifications may need to be made for the youth. Staff and volunteers should remember that even if they educate themselves about the disability, they most likely do not have the insight that comes with living with a disability on a daily basis.

Michigan State University Extension has additional information on inclusive 4-H, predominantly related to the long-time Proud Equestrians Program. Other examples of successful inclusive 4-H programs include the Northwestern Michigan 4-H Livestock Council. The Best Friends 4-H Club in Berrien County is another program model for making the most of an inclusive 4-H experience.

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