4-H Guiding Principles: Youth are actively engaged in their own development

Explore how to implement the third 4-H Guiding Principle in 4-H clubs and communities.

Michigan 4-H Youth Development has seven Guiding Principles for Positive Youth Development. This is the third installment of a series that explores each of those guiding principles, the third being “Youth are actively engaged in their own development.”

Too often, adults think they are helping young people by doing things for them. Adults, including 4-H educators, don’t know what youth need unless they ask them. 4-H members need opportunities to decide for themselves what they want to learn. Although youth are busy, experiences will be more valuable if they are allowed to direct their own learning.

Make sure youth are involved in all stages of their development, including planning a project from start to finish, gathering the needed resources (people, financial, equipment, informational, etc.), conducting the project and reflecting afterwards on how it can be improved in the future.

Here are some ideas on how to do this at your club meetings and activities:

  • Have youth plan the yearly calendar for the club. Brainstorm ideas for educational programs or activities the youth might want for a year, then have each club member vote. The top 12 become your monthly activities, then decide what activity belongs in each month.
  • Have youth discuss their strengths and weaknesses in a particular project area, then seek out individuals who can help youth in areas where they want to learn more.
  • Have youth plan an educational field trip; include budgeting and fundraising as part of this process.
  • Work with youth to have them develop a personal improvement plan. During a club meeting, have youth write down something they would like to improve upon for the next club meeting. Reward those who meet their goals.
  • Make sure youth are setting the agenda for all activities within the club. If you have a young club, you might limit it to a few choices for a topic at club meetings.
  • Play show and tell—an oldie, but a goodie.
  • Have youth evaluate each other’s projects. Make sure youth say at least one good thing and one thing that needs improvement for each project.
  • Have the youth plan a community service project and gather the resources for the project.
  • Facilitate a discussion with your club about what makes a “perfect” community. Then create an action plan to make your community more perfect.
  • Have youth plan every step for a show. Let the youth hire judges (or act as judges themselves), plan the show bill, gather money for trophies and evaluate the program.

Hopefully you will find some of these ideas helpful in your own clubs.

To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, citizenship and service and global and cultural education programs, read our Impact Report: “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways MSU Extension and Michigan 4-H have positively impacted individuals and communities can be downloaded from the MSU Extension website.


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