By Kay Langford and Terrie Wolverton
How would you like to be part of the largest informal education program for young people in the United States?…a program where your child can learn leadership and public speaking skills?…a program that offers free-of-charge, non-biased, age- and/or skills-specific curriculum that has been researched at Texas A&M University and appeals to all avenues of learning: audio, visual, and kinesthetic?…an organization that welcomes family involvement and is run by volunteers?…a program that has the motto, “To make the best better”? That best is our children.
So what is this wonder program? It’s 4-H! Many of you might remember 4-H from your childhood as a program for only agricultural-related studies. But today’s 4-H is so much more! Children ages 9 to 19 can participate in a whole range of learning experiences and projects: wood science, shooting sports, gardening and horticulture, food and nutrition, health, citizenship, safety, entomology, forestry, clothing and textiles, photography, bicycling, electricity, dog care, and agriculture projects in horse, beef cattle, meat goat, poultry, range grasses, and soil sciences, etc. This is only a partial list of opportunities!
4-H was started as a boys’ and girls’ agriculture club in 1902 by A.B. Graham in Ohio. These clubs quickly spread to other rural areas. In 1908 the first boys’ Corn Club was started in Texas. In 1912 Tomato Clubs for girls were organized. But today 4-H is for rural, suburban, and urban youth and emphasizes using projects and learning experiences in a wide range of areas to teach boys and girls not only subject matter, knowledge and skills, but also important lessons in relationships, leadership, and citizenship.
The 4-H pledge is, “I pledge my HEAD to clearer thinking; My HEART to greater loyalty; My HANDS to larger service; and My HEALTH to better living—for my club, my community, my country, and my world.” The 4-H emblem is a four-leaf clover with the letter “H” on each leaf, representing the pledge.
Konos 4-H Club has 45 members and is one of 19 clubs in Bell County. Our club began 10 years ago, taking our name from the Greek word for “cone.” The inverted cone symbolizes God at the top of all creation and learning. Every area of our lives and of our 4-H career is shown as a reflection of God to glorify Him. Our club is unique because we are comprised of Christian home schooling families where the parents are always available to handle any discipline problem, or even an uncharitable attitude. We stress working together in Christian love. We start each meeting with prayer, a devotional, and announcements. We then try to have an educational program, followed with a time of visiting or fun. The meetings are run using parliamentary procedure.
Community service is the focus of Konos Club. We have “adopted” a nursing home, and reach out to the residents by visiting, bringing homemade gifts, caroling, and holding sing-a-longs. The children work regularly at the Ronald McDonald House cooking, cleaning, and doing yard work.
We pick up trash on four miles of highway in the Adopt-A-Highway Program. In the spring the children take food baskets to needy families. We have supported a clothing pantry at a local church and have supported Food for the Hungry by collecting food donations and by working at a local food pantry. With fund-raising activities, our club purchased electric fans for the elderly who have no fans in the hot summer. Children in the Clothing Project sewed preemie clothes for Scott and White Hospital. Some of the children cooked and delivered food for the Meals on Wheels program. The whole club collected used Bibles for the Bible recycling program of the Bible League. Collected cans and pennies are used for missions’ organizations.
Konos Club has had many great educational programs, including a Civil War re-enactor with replicas of period clothing, guns, and other articles; a meteorologist from a local TV station; a cowboy storyteller in costume; a local nurseryman sharing tips on gardening; and a member of the Operation Safety Team teaching on safety around railroads.
Tap the resources in your own club. In our club, we have a dad who studies herpetology and gives a hands-on program with reptiles and an older 4-H member who presented a program on safety in the wood shop. Method demonstrations (show and tell) can be a part of any meeting. Give the children plenty of opportunities to share about their projects with the other club members. This helps all the members by teaching leadership and public speaking to the child giving the demonstration and by giving new information to the members listening.
There are many opportunities to develop leadership skills within a 4-H club. Your child can hold an office in the club, lead the United States or 4-H pledge, pray at the meeting, lead a game, take the lead in a community service project, or teach younger 4-H members new skills in a learning experience. Children can serve as officers on different county, district, and state councils.
Your child can participate in county-wide competitions, which require the child to speak before judges in method demonstration, food show, fashion show, judging teams (livestock, grass, soil, entomology), and consumer decision-making. The children have opportunities to tell about their projects, teach others new information and skills, or orally state reasons why they judged different objects the way they did. The children with the best scores in the county competitions go on to district and state competition.
The hardest task in 4-H is the record book competition, a culmination of everything done in the 4-H year. This is an annual, written record of the projects completed, listing learning experiences and showing growth. It includes a personal history written by the child, photos, details of leadership experiences, and community service. The discipline of record keeping, enhanced with creativity and writing skills, makes the perfect home school project!
There are many areas of 4-H that can enhance your home school curriculum. Your local 4-H office has (or can order for you) a wealth of literature with step-by-step skills and ideas for you to use. These are great teaching manuals.
Skills are built on what was learned previously. Pick a project that you and your child want to work on, or one that the whole family can learn about together. A project can be in any area of 4-H that you are interested in learning more about. To complete a project, learn or do at least six different activities or things. This can be as simple or as complex as you think your family can handle.
You can do any project as a family while being part of a 4-H club. You, as the parent, are the project leader. You may or may not want to open the project to other 4-H club members. Also, your club will offer group projects from time to time. Make each 4-H project uniquely your own. Use the best that 4-H has to offer, and add scripture, art, science, or even a chapter or two out of your textbook to make the learning experience better. Have the children share what they are learning with others through a fair, competition, or the child teaching others in their club.
Younger children will have much simpler goals than older children. For example, in aquatic sciences, you could do the following: 1) learn types and history of aquarium fish, 2) care for an aquarium, 3) tour a local aquarium, 4) learn about different types of fish food, 5) make aquarium decorations, or 6) display your aquarium at a local pet show or at your club meeting.
In photography, another example could be: 1) learn types of cameras available, 2) learn types of film and know what kind to buy, 3) learn how to care for your camera, 4) learn how to take pictures from different angles, 5) make a picture story or enter in a fair, and 6) learn why people have “red” eyes in photos.
While participating in the food show, one family held a unit study on health and nutrition by learning about vitamins and minerals in foods, making healthy menus, practicing cooking skills, food contamination and proper kitchen cleaning habits, kitchen safety, the benefits of exercise and drinking water, setting a beautiful table, and the biblical character trait of stewardship.
We studied the history of flight aerodynamics and NASA while participating in the Blue Skies Below My Feet (aerospace) project, a video presentation that can be checked out from a county extension agent. We built and flew kites and model rockets. We also studied scripture on what it meant to “soar as an eagle.”
In gardening and horticulture, we planted a wide variety of plants in a vegetable garden, flowerbed, and lawns. We studied insects around our home; read the Secret Garden and Charlotte’s Web; held plant experiments; studied botany, soils and erosion; made nature sketches, wrote poetry; and searched the Scriptures for gardens (Eden, Gethsemane) and plants (parables, “planting seeds” in spiritual terms); and practiced the character trait of patience.
We always want to stress in all projects the importance of building character. It is not just the finished project (sewn dress or hand-made birdhouse) that is important, but how the child grows closer to the Lord and deals lovingly with others along the way of learning the new skill.
Konos Club, and others clubs comprised of home schoolers, has been able to deal with 4-H being a government institution, which sometimes has a slightly different viewpoint, and still keep our standards high. When Konos Club was first established, it was comprised of several Christian families. More Christian home schoolers joined because of word-of-mouth advertisement. We cannot and do not try to keep secular or public school children out, but in all instances, once they saw how our club was different, they chose to join another club. We have to be very cautious. We must walk this fine line without being critical or having a judgmental attitude toward the 4-H organization or the other clubs in our area. We must be encouraging, share ideas, and be “real” with those we come in contact with throughout the county and state. This is a great opportunity to be “salt and light” in our community.
There are many great experiences that are offered through 4-H. Our club members have participated in fairs with a variety of homemade crafts, sewing, baked goods, canned goods, and animal projects. At computer camp, the children learned how to use the Internet and make a Power Point presentation using computer skills and video conferencing. The Honda Training Program was an unbelievable opportunity to work with the instructors at the Honda Training Plant in Irving, Texas, learning electricity, auto maintenance, and auto mechanics. At Safety Day Camp, the children were put through many situations in which they had to spot the safety problems, get out of a burning building, deal with “chemical” problems, and more. In Share the Fun, everyone can share his talent in song, musical instruments, poetry, drama, and dance. Many essay contests and scholarship opportunities for 4-H members are offered.
I encourage you to look into a local 4-H club or to start a home school club. 4-H has a lot to offer your family; more than I could even list here! 4-H is more than you ever imagined!