Is 4-H raising animals or raising leaders?

4-H may teach youth to raise animals, but it is also building leaders one life skill at a time.

When people outside of 4-H hear someone talking about the program, they most often think of raising animals. Some people wonder why they would want to have their child learn about raising animals because that isn’t important to them. Others may feel they can’t participate in the program because it isn’t feasible. “My child can’t be in 4-H because we do not have room for animals,” is a statement heard often. Michigan State University Extension and other Extension programs across the United States have been trying to expand the public’s knowledge of 4-H for many years. Staff and volunteers explain how 4-H has something for every child’s interest, from rocketry to woodworking or crafts to, yes, animals.

4-H’s most important role, however, is youth development. 4-H teaches life skills such as character building, responsibility, citizenship, leadership and the list goes on. 4-H uses the project areas to get kids interested, but builds these life skills into every project. Although every project can have leadership skills built into them, the animal areas are easy to show where life skills are learned.

When an 11-year-old 4-H member states the following in their record book, 4-H staff and volunteers all across the land can pat themselves on the back.

  • I like the challenging work. (Self-motivation)
  • I have always liked working with animals.
  • I like to get new animals every year and the challenge of starting training all over again. (Learning to learn)
  • I like that animals have their own personality and have good days and bad just like me. I see that on their bad days, it can sometimes be like my bad day and I feel like my parents don’t understand. (Empathy)
  • I also like the challenge of improving each year and even though I get discouraged when things don’t go as planned, I know to just try harder and learn from it for next time. (Resiliency)
  • I love to show my animals and win with them, but when I don’t win, I love to see my 4-H friends win. (Sportsmanship and character)
  • I, of course, like getting all that money, but I also put in a lot of money and hard work to earn the original price of the pigs from my parents. (Entrepreneurship)
  • I have learned patience through working with animals. (Patience and understanding)
  • I have learned the responsibility of feeding and caring for animals because they depend on me. (Responsibility and concern for others)
  • I learned to not give up. To keep working my animals and changing my program to fit their needs all the way to the day of the show. (Goal setting)

The evidence of the positive impacts of 4-H listed above is from one member, but these statements can be heard from 4-H members present and past from many different 4-H programs. 4-H may teach youth to raise animals, but 4-H is building leaders through this process and doing it well, one life skill at a time.

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