Building and practicing life skills in a 4-H club setting: being

4-H clubs provide an important learning experience for youth to build and practice life skills. Learn how 4-H club leaders can help youth gain skills in the “being” life skills category.

4-H programs provide youth ages 5-19 a structured out-of-school experience where they can explore a variety of interest areas through hands-on learning.  4-H members gain leadership, citizenship and life skills through their involvement.  Many of the learning experiences provided in 4-H are centered around 4-H projects in specific interest areas of the youth including animals, science, arts, culture or any of the other topics offered through 4-H.  One important learning environment that is often overlooked is the 4-H club experience.  This series of articles will utilize the Targeting Life Skills Model to explore how 4-H clubs can integrate learning experiences that promote life skill development into 4-H club culture.

This article, by Michigan State University Extension, will focus on the life skills category of “Being.”  The life skills identified under being include Self-Esteem, Self-Responsibility, Character, Managing Feelings and Self-Discipline.  Following are examples of activities or experiences that 4-H clubs could implement to promote development of being life skills.

The Essential Elements of 4-H Youth Development Programs identifies “belonging” as one of the four concepts of 4-H programming.  The elements of belonging in a 4-H club include building positive relationships with a caring adult, having an inclusive environment and fostering a safe environment.  Your club should structure itself so that it is welcoming and inviting for members so that all members feel they are a valued part of the group.  Your club should be able to identify to new members the benefits or unique aspects of the club that set membership in your club apart from other clubs (why would someone wish to belong?).  Lerner’s 4-H Study of Positive Youth Development indicates that quality youth programs enable youth to develop skills in competence, confidence, connection, character and caring.

Group decision making and planning
It is important that all members have an equal opportunity to express their opinions and offer contribution to group decision making, planning and projects.  Be mindful in the club setting that you may be working with members that range in age from 5-19; you may also experience a variety of temperaments amongst your members—from youth that are quite shy to youth that are very outspoken.  Regardless of the differences within your membership, it is important that all members have an opportunity to be heard and feel included.  Use of group facilitation techniques may be necessary at times to ensure that a person(s) does not dominate the decision making process.  Examples of facilitation techniques are brainstorming, sticky-dot voting and round robin.  Additional sample exercises in decision making can be found here.  Your group may find it helpful to write a script for younger or shy members to read in order to make motions during your meeting. Some clubs implement a meeting rule that a member may only make one motion during the meeting so that less forceful members have a chance to increase their self-esteem through active participation in parliamentary procedure.  Through any project or activity the club decides to pursue, the members should be certain that everyone is assigned a role and held accountable for their assignment.

Competition will likely be an aspect of the 4-H experience for most members.  Discussion about healthy competition should take place at the club level.  Clubs should build a culture that is encouraging and supporting for all members.  Volunteers as well as peers can support members in setting goals and tracking their progress throughout the year. Setting aside time for journaling or record keeping during the club meeting provides an opportunity for members to consider their progress; opportunities to share with the group can help build confidence and reinforcement through positive feedback.  It is vital to stress to club members that learning is the most important aspect of their experience and that they should strive more to improve their own skills over their past performance than directly compete with another youth.  Most importantly, good sportsmanship should be modeled by parents and volunteers.  A fact sheet, “The Lessons of Competition,” is included in the MSU Extension Life Skills Sheets.

Life skills development can be accomplished through nearly every 4-H experience.  4-H club leaders play an important role in helping guide the members of the club through the learning process.  The Experiential Learning Model provides leaders with a process for helping members make the connections between the learning experience, the knowledge and skills gained, and relevance of the life skills in their future.  Many of the 4-H curriculums and resources available to clubs will provide questions and discussion topics for sharing, processing, generalizing and applying that club leaders can facilitate with their 4-H club members.  More information on teaching life skills can be found at the MSU Extension Bookstore or additional articles in this series, including:

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