Character development: Learning citizenship through 4-H livestock projects

Michigan 4-H helps young people learn character by showing animals. Through this experience, they learn good citizenship skills.

One aspect of citizenship involves being active. You have a choice to become a good citizen, whether it is at home, school or work. You cannot make a difference without being personally involved. Those who are involved in the livestock production and exhibition are responsible for what they do with their animals and with their own personal conduct. When youth exhibit their animals at a livestock show, fitting, showing clinics or county fair, what they do or say reflects on their entire community.

The Josephson Institute Center for Youth Ethics, as a part of its nationwide CHARACTER COUNTS! project, has developed a curriculum which identifies six quality characters children and youth should develop: fairness, responsibility, citizenship, caring, trustworthiness and respect. The Michigan 4-H Showing Character series has incorporated the six characters to fit livestock projects.

As stated in the series, being a good citizen includes making the home, community and country a better place to live for yourself and others. Some of the key ideas for older youth are to accept instruction, win and lose with grace, help others at stock shows, teach the younger members – be a good role model especially to those first year 4-H members, treat animals humanely and ensure that the meat is safe for consumption.

When youth show as an exhibitor or as a presenter, they also show their citizenship – by assisting fellow exhibitors, cleaning up after the animals, being a team player by obeying the rules, learning how to exhibit correctly, showing respect and doing their best to promote good character. Michigan 4-H follows these same guidelines under Life Skills. Using the Iowa State Life Skills model, "respect," "character," "responsibility" and "decision making" are only a few key words found on the life skills wheel.

Other ways to help young people become good citizens could be putting up poster displays, present a skit, share an activity relating to citizenship. You may do this at school, a PTA meeting, 4-H club meetings, etc. Volunteer to help at an animal shelter, plan a showmanship clinic and review rules, procedures and updated information on animal care.

The purpose of the 4-H Livestock program is to provide opportunities for young people to develop character. Being a good citizen and having the traits of a good citizen means you are personally involved and not sitting on the sidelines. Michigan State University Extension provides young people an opportunity to practice good citizenship by participating in Michigan 4-H. Contact your local MSU Extension office for more information.

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