Spice up the 4-H experience

Explore ideas to add a twist to the business, fun and education of a 4-H program.

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Canva graphic, created by Laurie Rivetto and Amanda McNerney

Are you a 4-H volunteer or staff member looking to spice up your Michigan 4-H program, event or meeting? You can add flavor to your 4-H program with Michigan State University Extension by first breaking the 4-H experience into its main parts (fun, business and education) and exploring ways to enhance each component.

Starting with the business portion of 4-H events (about 20 percent of the time together), it is easy to get stuck in the details of what needs to happen and who will take the lead. While important work, there are a variety of ways to spice up this portion.

  • Change up the meeting location, particularly during nicer weather, as it can help break out of a routine. Maybe visit a park pavilion or meet in a backyard space.
  • Take breaks within the meeting and include some of the fun or education.
  • Don’t start with your ice-breaker activity and instead stop during the business portion to play a 10-minute icebreaker game.

Youth officers could meet in advance, plan the agenda and end up with a few points for discussion and reminders. This shortens the content and helps maintain youth voice, particularly if the group contains a larger number of younger or newer members. Remember, business could only be 5 minutes to remind everyone of next steps and details before moving on to fun and education.

Education should be the largest portion and focus of our time with 4-H members, or about 40 percent of the time. With education, you can spice up the learning by adding new topics and content to the group. While many 4-H groups may focus on a project area, it can be easy to add a short 10-15 minute activity that allows youth to learn a new skill or try out a different project or topic. Consider:

Check with your local MSU Extension office for curriculum or activities to borrow. Utilize the MSU Extension news article website for content and short lessons. While your group may come together to do education or activities related to a specific project, these extra educational experiences can be 20 minutes or less and truly build long-lasting life skills (and maybe even spark a new interest or career path) for a young person.

Most of us think our “fun” portion of a 4-H program (20 percent of the time) is pretty simple to do. Ice-breakers, refreshments, games or team-building make up this portion of time with members. To spice up the fun of your 4-H experience, review what you are doing for fun and incorporate more youth voice.

  • Let youth take leadership for the fun activities; deciding, planning, preparing and leading the activity.
  • If the group members would benefit from more bonding and team-building, consider a time focused primarily on fun with less of a focus on business and formal education. This could be more life-skills or simple relationship focused time, such as a museum visit, picking produce at a farm, doing a movie night, or playing a sport or game as a group.
  • Ask other volunteers and youth leaders about their favorite game, ice-breaker or fun activity to add to their youth programming.

Incorporating new approaches to your activity’s fun, business and education invigorates the 4-H experience and generates new memories!

For more information on spicing up your 4-H program and other helpful volunteer training content, check out the MSU Extension Michigan 4-H Volunteer Webinar Series webpage.

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