All right, so if you live in a rural area of the prairies, you’d probably need to be living under a pretty big rock to not have heard about 4-H. Am I right?? I, myself, am a result of 11 years in 4-H. I learned SO many things from those years. Public speaking is probably the most important skill of all the ones I gained, but courage to try new things, go new places, meet new people, and perseverance in the face of a 1300 lb steer that just wouldn’t move are only a few of my highlights from those great years.
The 4-H motto is “Learn to do by doing” and that is exactly what they do.
As a VERY shy kid, public speaking was downright traumatic for me. I stood in front of “everyone I knew” holding a piece of loose-leaf paper, with a speech that was too short and shaking so badly I could hardly read the words I’d scribbled out. The result was tears of embarrassment and frustration but, more importantly, determination. I was determined that wasn’t going to happen again and decided that I would be better prepared from that day forward, which I succeeded at.
Throughout my years as a member, I held almost every role on the club executive. Through that period, I learned how to behave at a board meeting, then how to run them. Those skills have served me well in my adult life as I’m now the president of our local Ag Society and frequently chair board and committee meetings. A well-run meeting can take less time and can resolve more issues than one with no clear direction or steering from the chair.
It’s amazing to watch these kids blossom and grow over the year, to see a shy, soft-spoken teen find their voice and learn to take control of a room full of their peers. That’s no easy task and our club president has risen to the challenge quite well this year. 4-H operates with a slightly modified Robert’s Rules of Order, simplified to suit the age of the members at the table. They are expected to stand to address the chair, make motions and second them. They go through an election for the club executive at the start of each year with members making nominations or volunteering for a role and voting by secret ballot.
Members learn to keep financial records and track the timeline of their project. In the case of livestock projects, there are feed records to be submitted each month. Receipts must be kept and turned in at the end of the year with their record book. Even with the life skills projects, any receipts for expenses over the year must be tracked and recorded. At the end of the year, they must pull all of their revenues and expenses into a summary so that they can calculate their profits over the project year. Kids learn how to budget, the true cost of livestock production or equipment maintenance, and how to determine profitability.
Obviously, there are all kinds of practical things to be learned from 4-H, but the social aspect is equally important. Maybe more so in the eyes of the kids! There are annual camps held in each region that members can attend over the course of the winter with lots more camp options over the summer. My own children have attended Winter Bonanza the last few years which is always a hit. They have so much fun, learn new skills and meet new friends with similar interests. They’ve gone to archery camp and summer camps with canoeing and various other outdoor activities. There are trips for older members to Canada’s arctic, the United States and points in between.
As the kids get older and gain experience, they are expected to assist with the younger members of the club. By teaching much of what they have learned, they cement that knowledge into their own minds as well as transferring it to the next generation as it were. The goal is that we encourage them to want to come back as adults and volunteer to keep the program strong and thriving.
4-H has been known for over 100 years as an organization for farm kids with steers, sheep and horses, but there is SO much more to 4-H now. I’m now the general leader for a multi club located in High River. Being a multi club means that our bylaws allow for multiple different types of projects instead of a single project like the beef club I grew up with. We currently offer light horse and archery and are planning to add welding next year. Today, I spent my day going through the entries for the Calgary Region’s 4-H on Parade event for my club. In addition to the meat animals and saddle horses, kids can now bring their cat, their dog, their chickens or rabbits and almost any kind of artistic handicraft from sewing to photography or cooking and trade skills like welding and small engines. For a complete list of projects offered by 4-H check out Projects – 4-H Alberta.
Once you’ve had a chance to review the projects available, feel free to reach out to your provincial 4-H body 4-H Alberta, 4-H Saskatchewan, Manitoba 4-H Council, 4-H British Columbia and they can direct you to the correct region and district for your location and assist you in choosing a club that best suits your interests.
I suggest that you find a club you’re interested in and plan to attend their achievement day as it will give you a much better idea of what to expect and you’ll be able to ask the kids what they think of it, too. The club year runs from September 1-August 31, similar to the school year, with May and June being when most clubs hold their achievement days. Ask lots of questions! They’ll have grins from ear to ear as they tell you about all they did this year. Happy (sometimes dirty) faces say it all. 😉
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