Engaging youth in the fair experience

Fairs and 4-H go hand in hand. Both aim to educate!

It’s that time of year again; fair time! There are several fairs that occur during the summer months across our great state. One common theme that can be found at most fairs you visit is youth 4-H exhibits. After months of toiling on their projects, the fair is the perfect opportunity for youth to show off what they have achieved during their year in 4-H. Many youth exhibit animals or still life projects such as sewing, cooking or arts at their local fairs. Some people may be thinking, so what? What does showing off a project at the local fair accomplish besides going home with a ribbon? Michigan State University Extension has the answer for that: a judged competition is part of the “experiential learning model” that it bases its 4-H programs upon.

Utilizing the Experiential Learning Model helps youth engage in their experiences. Rather than telling youth what they should learn and how they should feel about an experience, they have the opportunity to discover their own learning through a guided process. The Experiential Learning Model includes five specific steps:

  1. Experiencing
  2. Sharing
  3. Processing
  4. Generalizing
  5. Applying

During competitive activities, youth are sharing and processing their experiences with trained evaluators or judges who are experts in that particular project area. Judges may ask youth questions during the judging process about their projects such as:

  1. What was your favorite part of the project?
  2. Is there anything that you did not like about the project?
  3. What went well during the project?
  4. What is one thing you did new this year that was successful?
  5. What is one thing you plan to do different next year? Why?

This type of questioning helps youth process their experiences critically which enhances learning.

For more information on how the Experiential Learning Model can be used in competitive events, please feel free to visit the Competitive Event Resources page for helpful resources. View the pre-recorded webinar, “The Experiential Learning Model in action: fairs and other competitive events” as well.

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