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

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 “thinking” life skills category.

Michigan State University Extension 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. Many of the learning experiences provided in 4-H are centered around 4-H projects of specific interest to the youth—whether it be animals, science, arts, culture or any of the other topics offered through 4-H.  In addition, 4-H members gain leadership, citizenship and life skills through their involvement.

Throughout the 4-H experience, one important learning environment that is often overlooked is the 4-H club. 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. In particular, this article will focus on the life skills category of “thinking.” Individual life skills identified under thinking include learning to learn; decision-making; problem-solving; critical thinking; and service-learning. Following are examples of activities or experiences 4-H clubs could implement to promote development of thinking life skills.

Meetings with Educational Programs
The focus of all 4-H experiences should be education and the club meeting setting is no different. Regardless if the club is a project club or a community club, the majority of the club’s meeting time should be set aside for learning opportunities. A community club may offer more intense learning opportunities outside of the full community club meeting, but it is still important the community meeting offer an educational component. This could mean that each project area takes a turn leading a demonstration during the community meeting a few times a year, or the club could decide to offer a more general educational activity for all members. The Michigan 4-H Club Development Guide gives many examples of educational activities to incorporate into your club meeting including: guest speakers, field trips and demonstrations by members.

Community Service Projects
Community service-learning is a productive way for teens to gain skills in problem-solving, decision-making and critical thinking, especially when tasked with the job of gathering information about their community needs and initiating a service project to address those needs. The Youth Experiencing Action! Community Service-Learning Guide is a great resource for clubs to use when trying to develop a team of youth excited about identifying and solving problems in their community.

Teen Facilitation Skills Training
Group decision-making, and the process for arriving at a group decision, is a great opportunity for 4-H members to learn valuable thinking life skills. Youth can learn cooperation and empathy in reaching the end decision, but can also learn some techniques for the act of making decisions along the way. Teens who engage in group decision-making processes, and especially those who take a leadership or facilitator role in helping guide the group through the process, gain valuable skills in critical thinking, decision-making and problem solving. This article on group facilitation provides teens with some tool to take charge of the decision making process.

As you can see, life skills development can be accomplished through nearly every aspect of 4-H, including the club experience. In this environment, 4-H club leaders play an important role in helping guide 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 application 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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