Empathy: 100 years and growing

4-H animal science projects continue to prepare children and youth for the future.

Most practices over 100 years old are considered old-fashioned and outdated.  While we may appreciate them for their historic perspective, we seldom consider something that old to be relevant and useful today.  However, try telling that to the thousands of 4-H youth that raise, care for and show their animals at county fairs across Michigan.  Just as the generations before them, 4-H youth put months of time, care and learning into their animal projects and come to fairs to show their animals and test their knowledge and skills. According to Michigan State University Extension, through this 100 year old practice of raising and showing animals in 4-H, today’s youth are still learning vital life skills that help them grow into successful adults. 

One of the life skills youth continue to develop through 4-H animal science projects is empathy.  Empathy can be defined as being aware of and sharing another person's feelings, experiences and emotions. Raising and caring for an animal can bring many highs and lows.  Youth may experience the miracle of an animal’s birth, animal injury, illness or death.  Part of positive youth development is providing experiences to youth that will instill life skills.  These skills, like empathy,  not only help them grow as a young person, but can be applied to family, school and life.  Teen and adult leaders work closely with youth to help them navigate their emotions, identify what they are feeling and learn how to respond.  Youth raising and caring for animals can experience the amazing joys and hardships that life brings.  These experiences not only breed a sense of compassion for their animals, but also empathy with other youth as they work together in 4-H clubs, sharing, learning and helping one another.  The four H’s of 4-H are Head, Health, Hands and Heart.  Developing experiences and skills in each area is important in developing the whole child.  Empathy falls firmly in the heart area, and while this skill may not be as discussed as some others, is a vital attribute that is learned through 4-H animal projects.  It is also a skill that will be practiced throughout life.

Today’s youth face a future that requires a different set of knowledge and skills than the youth 100 years before them.  However, developing a sense of empathy in young people remains just as important today as it did to our grandfather’s and grandmother’s generation. 4-H animal science projects provide great experiences and life skills that help young people practice and appreciate empathy, and much more.

To learn more about 4-H animal projects or life skills youth gain, like empathy, contact the 4-H staff person in your county.

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