Why do we have to keep those dreaded record books?

4-H programs encourage youth to fill out record books on their project animals especially during fair time. Throughout the years many people have questioned why these are so important.

4-H project book

Many county 4-H programs encourage, or even require, youth to fill out record books on their project animals especially during fair time. Throughout the years many people have questioned why these are so important. Do the youth learn anything from them? Why are they necessary? Does anyone take them seriously?

According to Michigan State University Extension, 4-H families, volunteers and staff should think about the record book as if it is the project. Bringing the animal to show is just a way to showcase the end result of that project. The record book is what shows the education and knowledge the youth gain. It also provides a great illustration of the life skills, leadership and responsibility levels that the 4-H program is trying to instill in the members.

In real-world settings, people are required to keep records to help make their day to day activities easier (i.e. checking, budgets, health, car maintenance, house payments etc.). The 4-H record books are a great starting point to help youth realize why records are important and to help them ease into record keeping later in life. Record keeping in itself is an invaluable skill that the youth are learning.

Record keeping will show the member how much work, money and time they put into a project. The bottom line will show if they made or lost any money but the record book is not all about money. In the case of a horse project area, the member is most likely not going to make money. They can however look at what they put into the project and weigh that with what they get out of owning the horse and decide if it is a worthwhile project. This can all result from the information kept in the record book. Losing money on a project does not mean that a member did a poor job or that it wasn’t successful. In many cases, loss of money causes a greater amount of learning when proper processing and reflection of the project takes place.

A goal of 4-H is helping youth have a successful future; the program is not solely trying to help youth learn how to run a hog farm or become successful dairy farmer. The program does however use these fun animal project areas as a means to teach life skills such as character, responsibility, empathy, self-motivation and so much more. In order to teach these things it is important to instill youth with the proper knowledge of how to raise a successful hog, cow or other animal. Good animal husbandry teaches empathy and character. Trouble shooting, when the project animal isn’t putting on enough weight, helps youth develop their problem solving and critical thinking skills. Getting up to take care of the animal every day because they depend on the member to survive, teaches self-motivation and self-discipline. Recording all of this into a record book will just make all of these learning opportunities stronger and help youth reflect back on what they have learned. Many times people learn something in life but do not realize the impact it had until years later. Recording lessons learned as they go, can help an individual capitalize on that knowledge much earlier and really drive them to success.

For tips on how to make the record keeping process easy, see "Tips for keeping record books painless." In addition, visit the MSU Extension Record Book webpage. Be sure to check with your county's 4-H and use the record book they support for your program.

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