Smiles, laughter and life lessons at the fair

Appreciate the adults and the roles they fill at fair.

MSU Extension educator Katie Ockert and youth exhibitor Kassidy at the Berrien County Fair. Photo by Sheila Smith, MSU Extension.
MSU Extension educator Katie Ockert and youth exhibitor Kassidy at the Berrien County Fair. Photo by Sheila Smith, MSU Extension.

Fair is an event that requires effort on the part of countless parents, volunteers and leaders, but yields great rewards for those who can appreciate the smiles, laughter and life lessons it offers our young people. In “The magic of fair,” I talked about what I see when I observe youth exhibitors at fairs and the magic I feel the moment I step onto a fairgrounds. The magic is real because it is my heart and soul as a 4-H alumni, parent, volunteer and staff member. I invite you to take a moment and consider the following when you visit the next fair and look into the eyes of the adults who surround the exhibitors.

Adults serve in some important roles and these are just a few of them.

Supporter. Parents, volunteers and leaders support the exhibitors and their families as they compete and participate. They offer kind, encouraging words to help them understand defeat and be humble when they win. They celebrate success and handle defeat, processing what may be done differently to improve for the future when the time is right, not necessarily right away. Support comes is a variety of forms: a smile, an encouraging word or a handshake.

Cheerleader. They are in the stands and on the sidelines cheering on youth exhibitors, anxiously awaiting the results and watching the judge to see how they place the class. Adults need to be careful to not interfere with officials or distract members while they are competing. Coaching takes place before the event, not during the event. The best coaches know when to step back and let their players perform; exhibitors are performing their skills learned when they are in the ring or presenting their project to the judge. Give them the time to shine.

Teacher. Sometimes the teacher presents the most important lessons when they are silent and allow the student to learn for themselves. At other times, the teacher helps the student process all that has happened by listening, reflecting back and conversing with the young person. A good teacher knows to adjust their techniques to fit the situation and the student. Adjust as necessary.

Role model. Be the example. It sounds simple but it is really hard, especially when you are tired, hot, on day five of the fair, and did I mention stressed out? Be the person you were meant to be—the kids are watching! We need you to be the role model who inspires them to be their best. When you are not up to the task, take a timeout and defer to another adult. You expect the best from your members, so expect the best from yourself.

Helper. Hold the halter, carry supplies, walk alongside and fetch more projects from the car so the child can stand in line to be interviewed and judged. This is the week when some of us need to step aside and assist because it is their project, not ours. We ask what they need help with because we know they have it under control; we are simply there to be the driver and helper. The bonus is we get to take it all in and smile as we look on. This is your que to beam like a proud parent or volunteer.

You may see parents, family members, leaders and volunteers in these roles and more. You may see them display signs of being nervous, proud, overwhelmed or filled with a lot of emotion; after all, this is their child’s moment in the spotlight, regardless if they are holding a rabbit, pillowcase, cake or the halter of a steer. They are waiting to hear the name of their child, the ribbon and the look on their face. They know how hard their child has worked on that project and hope the stars will align for them in this moment when the judge decides what their rating will be.

The adults are trying to find the balance between helping too much and guiding just enough. This is a delicate balance and they might not get it right the first time, so be kind and lead by example if you have the chance. Support the new fair families in your club and appreciate those who are carrying on the tradition of mentoring the next generation.

Being an adult with an exhibitor at the fair means you experience endless joy as your exhibitors exchange smiles, laughter and tools for the project area. However, you may also find that tears come easy because you are sleep deprived after the camper or tent experience, eating elephant ears, corn dogs and cotton candy, and swelling with a pride that comes from knowing you taught your members valuable skills in the last year. Skills that helped them achieve the goals they set at the beginning of the year.

Buyers who show their support for our exhibitors send an important message to our young people and help them develop skills as sellers. Learning how to approach a potential buyer, market your product and thank a buyer are important skills members learn in the process.

Superintendents, fair board members, clerks, judges and volunteers of all types help make our fairs the success they are by serving in roles that are essential to getting the projects, people, programs and shows in place. It is this teamwork and dedication that creates the magic that we enjoy as fair.

Yes, I know it is not all cotton candy and blue ribbons, but when the year is done and we step back to truly reflect, we can all admit lessons are learned. If we grow through those lessons, we look forward, set new goals and move forward.

Life is better than a box of chocolates; it is ferris wheel ride with your best friends, you just need to climb aboard. So the next time you visit a fair, think about all of the people who have made it possible and consider the lessons learned, the journeys traveled and appreciate the value for members, volunteers, leaders, parents and families.

To begin your journey in 4-H, contact your Michigan State University Extension county office and find out how you can become a 4-H member or 4-H volunteer.

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