Twenty-four years of global education: Michigan youth ‘visual letters’ to China

Since 1991, the 4-H Children’s Art Exchange has asked Michigan youth to create ‘visual letters’ to send to youth in China. This year, nearly 4,000 children participated in the 2014 Michigan 4-H Art Exchange with China.

More than 4,000 Michigan youth participated in the 2014 Michigan 4-H Art Exchange with China. Photo credit: Jan Brinn | MSU Extension

More than 4,000 Michigan youth participated in the 2014 Michigan 4-H Art Exchange with China. Photo credit: Jan Brinn | MSU Extension

In 1988, Michigan 4-H partnered with China and one of the many significant efforts to come out of this partnership is the 4-H China Art Project. Since 1991, the 4-H Children’s Art Exchange has asked Michigan youth to create ‘visual letters’ to send to youth their own ages in China. This year, close to 4,000 Kindergarten through sixth grade children from 36 counties participated in the 2014 Michigan 4-H Art Exchange with China. Among the counties were 27 schools, two after-school programs, one library and seven 4-H clubs.

As part of the art exchange, Michigan children are asked to paint or draw “visual letters” for Chinese children their own ages. A visual letter is like a written letter in that both tell stories, share important ideas and feelings, and connect youth regardless of where they live. However the medium is different in that visual letters use images rather than written letters that use words; therefore youth are communicating and telling their story in a medium that can be understood by those who speak another language.

Collected evaluations of the program remain consistently positive and impactful. Some written comments from 4-H Resource China Art teachers or 4-H club leaders include;  

  • “I love this program – It’s part of my curriculum.”
  • “Great opportunity for my students! Parents love to hear about it.”
  • “Excellent chance for students to focus on a global world.”

After completing their artwork, 20 counties submitted samples for the selection process. Of the thousands, one hundred pieces were selected to send to China. The 2014 group of selected artwork will be proudly displayed on the Michigan State University Extension 4-H Youth Development China Art Resources web page.

The Michigan children’s artwork sent to China will be exhibited in schools in Shandong Province.  Song Lize, the Michigan contact whom works with the Education Bureau of Binzhou City, Shandong Province, China, stated in a recent e-mail correspondence; “really, it is a bridge for children from two countries.”

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In addition to the artwork sent to China, only a certain number were allowed to be sent to MSU for the selection process. This year the participating counties sent more than 400 pieces of children’s artwork that was selected to represent them as part of the 2014 Michigan 4-H Art Exchange. The volunteer selection committee comprised of individuals with a global education background and/or passion for this challenging selection process.

For more information about the 4-H Art Exchange and other 4-H programs, contact your local county MSU Extension office or or Jan Brinn, MSU Extension China Art Coordinator.

Specific notes for editor: Photos attached for use of artwork selection process – use what you feel woruld work best with the article. Verbal permission was given of indivudiuals; plus majority written permission via e-mail.

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