Michigan 4-H Visual Letters Art Pilot Exchanges

Michigan 4-H has been successfully exchanging visual letter artwork with China for 30 years. Now pilots are forming with other countries around the world with Michigan.

Kado LABO party in 2005
Kado LABO party in 2005. Photo by Fuyuko Kado.

Michigan 4-H has been exchanging visual letters successfully with China for 30 years and has expanded with pilot programs around the world, including Turkmenistan, Japan, Taiwan, Poland and Canada. As part of the art exchange, children are asked to paint or draw visual letters for children their own ages across the globe. A visual letter is like a written letter in that both tell stories, share important ideas and feelings, and connect children regardless of where they live. The medium is different from a pen pal program in that visual letters use images while written letters use words.

This program provides a global education, hands-on experience for grades K to 12 in all settings. The program is evaluated by questionnaires collected annually from the educators of the visual letter art exchange programs with positive results documented.

Counties that have participated in the Michigan 4-H Children’s Art Exchange with China for many years are adding to their program by having the youth compare the artwork from 30 years ago to what is received today.

Recently, a successful three-way art exchange with Warsaw, Poland; Manitoba, Canada; and Michigan started in 2018. You can read more about that in the Michigan State University Extension article, “Michigan 4-H pilot visual letter art exchange with Poland and Canada.” The art exchange relationships continue with monthly Zoom meetings with discussion on the enrichment and expansion in all three countries. Strong relationships have been formed and the passion for positive youth development endures.

The other pilots with Michigan 4-H that are still in process due to the COVID-19 pandemic include a pilot with Turkmenistan in Branch County. You can read more about that MSU Extension article, “Michigan 4-H to pilot art exchange with Turkmenistan.” This was started from the relationship built with a Michigan 4-H International Exchange Academic Year Program student in 2017.

The Taiwan pilot is with Wayne County, which was started from the relationship built with a Michigan IFYE guest and MSU Extension staff participating in a States’ 4-H International Exchange Program Staff Development Tour to Taiwan and Japan. Read more about 4-H in Taiwan in the MSU Extension article, “4-H around the world: Taiwan.”

The 2021-2022 pilot with Japan will be in Midland County, which was started from the same States’ 4-H International Exchange Programs Staff Development Tour in 2018, the Michigan 4-H International Summer Exchange Program and a long, strong relationship built with the Kado LABO Party. The Kado LABO party will be celebrating their 20th anniversary in 2021. Due to this celebration, the virtual letter art exchange is timed perfectly with Michigan youth having the opportunity to visually celebrate with the Japanese youth.

Midland County 4-H program coordinator Dee Howe said, “I have so enjoyed being a part of the China Art Exchange Program for the last five years and appreciate this opportunity to expand this program in partnership with Fuyuko Kado. We are currently exploring ways to share a few personal cultural experiences with youth, with the plan of involving youth beginning in January 2021.”

Kado Labo Party 15 year anniversary celebration
Kado LABO 15-year anniversary celebration. Photo by Fuyuko Kado.

States’ 4-H International Exchange Program has been working with LABO for over 45 years. LABO started as English language classes for Japanese businessmen in 1962 and expanded to children in 1966. Tutors like Fuyuko Kado, made up of stay-at-home mothers, organized LABO parties near their homes in Tokyo. They taught English through nursery rhymes, songs and skits. By 1970, membership reached over 30,000 children with LABO parties throughout Japan. If you wish to learn more about LABO, it is explained in the MSU Extension article, “What is LABO?

It is exciting to see how the program has expanded and continues to expand due to the longevity and success of the Michigan 4-H Children’s Art Exchange with China. Relationships built through 4-H International Programming has ignited visual letter pilots across Michigan and even other states and countries. During the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021-2022 virtual visual letter art exchanges are being explored and created to keep this cultural communication learning experience moving forward.

Participation in a visual letter art exchange provides a global experience, something new for the eye to see, the excitement of learning about another culture, and a deeper understanding about one’s own culture. Young people are challenged to be part of the solution to make the world a better place for all—the simple activity of just looking at a piece of artwork can ignite the spark in global awareness for our global future leaders.

Be a part of the cultural experience by contacting your local MSU Extension office. Let’s have a conversation and share more information on how to join in the long-lasting Michigan Children’s Art Exchange with China, or how to start your own Visual Letter art exchange. A resource has been created, Michigan 4-H Children’s Art Exchange with China: Visual Letters Art, connected to the Grab-N-Go “Crafts Around the World” series, including a 12-minute video about this visual learning opportunity.

We live in a globalized, interconnected and rapidly changing world. Henri Bergson stated, "The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend." See what your youth learns or a new way of thinking from participating in a visual letter art exchange.

Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program help 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 can also be found on MSU Extension’s Global and Cultural Education website. Enjoy learning about other educational cultural opportunities by visiting the Michigan 4-H International Events page. For more information about 4-H learning opportunities and other 4-H programs, contact your local MSU Extension office.

Did you find this article useful?