Michigan 4-H pilot “visual letter” art exchange with Poland and Canada

Michigan 4-H is excited to be piloting a three-way 2019 “visual letter” art exchange with Warsaw, Poland, and Manitoba, Canada, with Lenawee County 4-H in Michigan.

Sample of visual letters artwork
A sample of a youth’s visual letter by a 10-year-old girl titled “Canada’s Sport” with the story, “I really like hockey and I play recreational hockey. Hockey is a big thing in Canada and even though it isn’t I like to consider hockey as our national sport.”

The Michigan 4-H Children’s Art Exchange with China has had a positive impact on youth for over 25 years. During 2018-19, Michigan 4-H in Branch County had a positive art exchange with Turkmenistan. Also during 2018-2019, Lenawee County 4-H in Michigan has now had a second successful “visual letter” three-way art exchange with Manitoba Canada 4-H and Warsaw, Poland.

How did this pilot project get started? In 2017 at the Global 4-H Network Summit in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Michigan State University Extension staff formed a networking relationship with Manitoba 4-H staff. Michigan 4-H staff was already working virtually with Poland as an international 4-H Ag Innovators partner. Michigan and Manitoba staff presented together at the Summit, which is where the 4-H Children’s’ Art Exchange with Michigan, “visual letters,” was introduced and global connections were inspired. Conversations with Poland, Lenawee County 4-H staff plus a 4-H volunteer arose and then after communications the possibility of a three-way exchange was created. Everyone involved was excited and the proposal formed to complete a pilot program in 2019.

Here is an abbreviated version of the proposal: A youth art exchange between Manatoba, Canada, Warsaw, Poland, and Michigan, USA, will create a cultural understanding and appreciation of similarities and differences of the way of life between the countries. The art exchange will be patterned after the established China Art Exchange. In 2018-19, the program will be piloted in Lenawee County at the Onsted Elementary School and then expanded to other Michigan schools in future years.

 Students will:

  • Learn many similarities between their lives and the lives of their counterparts halfway around the world.
  • Gain a sense of being part of one world, whether they live in Michigan, Canada or Poland.
  • Have a significant learning experience that includes language, social studies, natural science and the arts.
  • Develop awareness, understanding and appreciation of other cultures that will last a lifetime.
  • Share their country’s culture through their artwork and a description of the artwork.
  • Learn about art and how to critique and share.
Visual letters artwork
A sample of a youth’s visual letter by a 12-year-old girl titled “Hay” with the story, “Children in Polish villages like to sleep in the hay. I have a barn in which I sleep in the hay too. Hay is very comfortable. P.S. When I write this, my cat is very bothering me.”

The pilot year was a great success since we were able to overcome unexpected challenges and we have established a timeline for the continuation of Michigan 4-H visual letters art exchange.

Dawn Krinke, Manitoba 4-H Council Inc. said, “When we learned about the International Art Exchange at the 2017 Global 4-H Network Summit, we were happy to become involved in this exchange as it was an opportunity to expand the Art Challenge 4-H Manitoba had undertaken in celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary. To have their art shared internationally and learn about their counterparts in other countries through their visual letters is exciting for our members.” 

Grażyna Tucholska, Warsaw Poland educator, commented, “Our school exchanged many pieces of art with UE countries while doing multiple projects, but this one is special. Many of the participating students were eager to search for information about the USA and Michigan, Canada and Manitoba. They made presentations and quizzes for their colleagues, but the real excitement was to send and receive original art works. A visual letter is so much more than an email or a postcard; it is full of expression and emotion which make communication among children more meaningful.” 

A sample of a youth’s visual letter by a 11-year-old boy titled “My Dads Jeep” with the story, “My dad’s Jeep that we take on all our vacations. He got it in 2008 and it still looks brand new. So now it is green and black. It was gold and silver but now its different colors.”

Sheryl Moll, MSU Extension 4-H program coordinator in Lenawee County, stated, “Working with this program really expands the world for the youth who are involved. Not only do they think about what is important to them, portray it in art and write about it, they also see what their counterparts in other countries value. Knowing that something they have created is being displayed and valued by others is exciting and empowering. These young people are learning that they do have an impact in the world!” 

Cheryl Davis, teacher at Onsted Elementary School, commented, “This project has been so much fun for me and my students! They have really enjoyed sharing things about themselves and their families, hobbies, interests and life in Michigan through their artwork and stories. The art exchange has been a great opportunity to promote interest in other countries and cultures, and allow my students to see how their lives and interests might be very similar or very different from children in Poland and Canada.

I can't wait to share the artwork and stories with them!” 

A sample of a youth’s visual letter by an 11-year-old girl titled “On The Lake on Fourth Of July" with the story, “Every year on the Fourth of July my family and me go on the pontoon on the lake we live on.”

The word is spreading of positive impacts from the visual letter art exchanges and new pilots are already forming for 2019-20 with Japan and Taiwan 4-H. Michigan 4-H international exchange programs are enriching the knowledge and lives of youth around the world.

Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program helps to prepare youth as positive and engaged leaders and global citizens by providing educational experiences and resources for youth interested in developing knowledge and skills in these areas.

Other global educational opportunities including the Michigan 4-H China Art Project can be found on the MSU Extension Global and Cultural Education website. For more information about 4-H learning opportunities and other 4-H programs, contact your MSU Extension county office.

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