4-H Guiding Principles: Youth are considered participants rather than recipients in the learning process

Explore how to implement the fourth 4-H Guiding Principle in 4-H clubs and communities by making youth active participants in their learning.

Experimental Learning Model

Michigan 4-H Youth Development has seven Guiding Principles for Positive Youth Development. This is the fourth installment of a series that explores each of those guiding principles, the fourth being “Youth are considered participants rather than recipients in the learning process.” This guiding principle is similar to the third one, “Youth are actively engaged in their own development.”

Youth are encouraged to actively participate in their own learning. Opportunities for youth to learn and develop take place in many different contexts and consider a variety of learning styles. The four primary learning styles are visual (seeing), auditory (hearing), reading/writing (text) and kinesthetic (hands on). Some youth learn through reading, others by listening and others through hands-on activities, but most people need a combination of styles.

A phrase used to describe this is that leaders should be the “guide from the side” rather than the “sage on the stage."

Learning is encouraged in both formal and non-formal settings, in planned and unplanned ways. Learning happens in a structured part of a meeting and also before the meeting even starts, and later on when they share the experience with their parents or peers. Opportunities for shared decision-making, planning and program implementation should be provided for youth.

The Experiential Learning Model is a good process to follow in 4-H clubs. For best results, give youth an opportunity to go through all the steps in the process:

  1. Experience the activity. This is the part of the process we often focus on and feel is most important.
  2. Share what happened. Give 4-H members an opportunity to talk about what they just did. It might seem obvious at first but giving participants a chance to vocalize what they did helps them remember the experience.
  3. Process what’s important. I like to ask participants, “What is the one thing you want to remember about what you did today?” This gives the youth a chance to sort through the entire activity and bring forward what is significant to them.
  4. Generalize the “so what.” What does all this activity mean? Does it relate to life beyond the project? Can you apply what you learned to school work?
  5. Apply the “now what.” Use the skills and knowledge gained from the activity in other aspects of life.

Too often, we focus on the experience of the activity and not on the reflection and learning associated with a project. When youth share their experiences and reflect on them, they can better determine their needs for the future.

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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