Tools for Building Strong Clubs

November 30, 2023 - Author:

Activities and recreation are tools that can strengthen an already energetic program or revitalize one that is lagging. VanWinkle, Davis, Skubinna and Larwood (2005) define recreation as “games, skits, parties, songs, camping, hikes and refreshments.” They suggest that recreation – which can occur at any time – is important because it allows participants to (a) feel a sense of belonging, (b) become acquainted, (c) practice cooperation, (d) develop leadership skills and (e) release excess energy. In particular, they suggest using the following ideas for helping to build a strong 4-H club:

The information that follows lists these activities, defines them, provides their purpose and offers examples and other pertinent material. It can help your group think about how to make the coming year the best one yet!

Group-Building Ideas for 4-H Club and Group Meetings is an excellent resource for volunteers who are looking for specific ideas for club activities. It’s available on the Michigan 4-H website at

Educational Games

  • Educational games are fun activities that teach the participants a skill, concept or content.
  • They are designed to help participants learn while having fun and to help participants develop trust and teamwork. Educational games provide healthy, monitored learning opportunities.


Quiz bowls, television game shows, drawing games and sports are educational. (Some sports may need to be adapted to include an educational component.)

Things to Consider:

Before starting the game:

  • Make sure that the knowledge and experience level of the participants is equal to that of the game.
  • Gather all of the materials necessary for the game.
  • Give complete instructions and rules.
  • Create an environment that is physically and emotionally safe.
  • Remind the participants that education is the primary goal.
  • Stage a “dry run” of the game so that the members can demonstrate their understanding of how to play.

During the game:

  • Be enthusiastic about it.
  • Allow other participants to help a player who does not know the answer to a question.
  • If possible, be part of the group.
  • Quit playing while the participants are still having fun.

After the game:

  • Encourage all of the players.
  • Instead of keeping score and rewarding the winner, give prizes for all participants.
  • Reinforce the participants’ learning by using the information in the game throughout the meeting.

Educational Kits

  • An educational kit is a group of items (such as laminated posters and supplies for running hands-on activities) collected in a container and used to teach a particular subject matter.
  • They are designed to provide interactive, entertaining learning materials for specific project areas.

Things to Consider:

It may be possible to borrow, buy or build a kit related to project areas in which your 4-H’ers are interested. Many county Michigan State University Extension offices have animal science, science, leadership, international, and other educational kits available on loan. You can also build a kit from materials you or your 4-H’ers already own. For example, homemade kits could contain magazine photos of animal breeds or plant species, posters of the parts of a particular animal species, photos or actual samples of tack, equipment and supplies related to the project area and printed labels for everything.

After you or your 4-H’ers have put together a kit, have the group play games such as pulling the name cards out of a bag and placing them next to the appropriate picture, pulling a photo out of the bag and matching it with the appropriate label, or racing to make correct identifications.  


  • Exchanges involve individuals or groups in visiting or hosting a 4‑H’er or group of 4-H’ers from a different club, county, state or country. Exchanges generally vary in length from a few days to a few weeks, with a few exchange programs lasting six months or a year.
  • Exchanges are a fun way to learn about different ways of life, make new friends, learn and teach about one’s own heritage, develop coping skills in unfamiliar situations, and develop leadership and communication skills.
  • Exchanges can occur through letters, experiences such as crafts from around the world, presentations and demonstrations.


Cross-county, interstate and international exchanges: Michigan 4‑H participates in international exchanges ( with countries such as Argentina, Costa Rica, Japan, Norway, South Korea and Taiwan.

Visual Letter Art Exchanges: China (

Crafts Around the World series ( Projects come from six of the seven continents.

Things to Consider:

  • For more information, contact your county MSU Extension 4-H staff.
  • For information on organizing local or interstate 4-H exchanges, see A Guide to 4-H Youth County Exchange Programs, which is available from your county MSU Extension office. For information on international 4-H exchanges, visit


  • An icebreaker is a brief (5- to 15-minute), fun, energetic, interactive activity used at the beginning of a meeting or event.
  • It is designed to help participants become acquainted, develop social skills and learn what they have in common. Icebreakers provide energetic fun that focuses the group on the present and on the subject or task at hand.


Examples of icebreakers can be found in Group-Building Ideas for 4-H Club and Group Meetings on the Michigan 4-H website at

Things to Consider:

Before starting the icebreaker:

  • Make sure that the developmental level of the participants is equal to the requirements of the icebreaker.
  • Gather all of the materials necessary for the game.
  • Give complete instructions and rules.
  • Create an environment that is physically and emotionally safe.
  • Stage a “dry run” of the icebreaker so that the members can demonstrate their understanding of how to play.

During the icebreaker:

  • Be enthusiastic about it.
  • If possible, be part of the group.
  • Quit playing while the participants are still having fun.

Judging Contests

  • Judging contests are competitions in which items or projects are compared, evaluated and ranked in order of quality or merit, after which the judge’s decision is explained.
  • They are designed to help members develop important decision-making skills (such as observing carefully, evaluating their own work and recognizing quality) and communication skills (such as expressing themselves clearly and demonstrating recognition to others). Leaders can use judging contests as a means of determining their members’ current knowledge and skill levels.


Common examples of judging contests include livestock, small animal, horse, dairy and foods judging.

Things to Consider:

When planning a judging contest for 4-H’ers who have never participated in such an event, consider the following suggestions to help develop an informal approach. Have your members:

  • Examine one item and then discuss its strengths and desired improvements.
  • Visualize an ideal item and discuss its strengths and compare it to the example.
  • Compare and rank two to four animals or objects then explain the decision.

Before holding a judging contest, be sure to clearly explain:

  • Judging criteria.
  • Important judging steps (such as observation, comparison, decision and explanation).

To compete at the state level in judging contents, please reach out to your MSU Extension office for resources to help prepare for events.

Outside Speakers

  • An outside expert can be invited to make a presentation to your group.
  • This is a great way to increase the participants’ subject area knowledge.


Local businesspeople, artists and craftspeople, individuals with unique skills, or those who have traveled to other countries or unusual places are good examples of outside speakers.

Things to Consider:

When bringing in an outside speaker, prepare the speaker and the audience. Make sure your speaker knows the age of the audience, where the program will be held and how much time has been planned for his or her presentation. Find out if they need any special equipment or room arrangements for their program. Before your speaker comes to your meeting, spend time with your members preparing questions they might ask. This will keep the youth more involved in the conversation and make the program more enjoyable for the presenter and participants.


  • Presentations commonly involve a member doing a demonstration (showing how to do or make something), giving an illustrated talk (using visual aids) or giving a speech (using no aids or equipment).
  • Clubs can use presentations to teach subject matter or share personal information, talents and interests. They are a great way to help members develop public-speaking, research and organizational skills.


Presentations can be done using interviews, team presentations, introductions, impromptu games (for example, the presenter pulls an item out of the bag and describes it) and demonstration kits (for example, a bag containing items related to a specific topic to be described). Presentations can also be done using technology or presentation slides.

Things to Consider:

The Communications Toolkit: Fun Skill-Building Activities to Do With Kids (4H1560) ( by Michigan 4-H Youth Development is an excellent resource to support this activity


  • Record-keeping is an important activity for a-4-H club. It involves members keeping records about their projects or records about the group’s activities.
  • Members learn to be neat, to follow directions and to be organized (especially when sorting out important from unimportant information). Keeping records in 4-H gives members practice for record-keeping later in life. Records can show profit or loss in projects in which financial information is important. Carefully kept written records are more reliable than human memories.


Examples of records include livestock project record books, journals, secretary’s minutes and treasurer’s records.

Things to Consider:

The Michigan 4-H Member’s Personal Portfolio (4H1192) is available through your county MSU Extension office and on the Michigan 4-H website at Encourage your members to use this publication regularly.

The Michigan 4-H Market Animal Project Record Books are available on the MSU Extension 4-H Animal Science website:

The Michigan 4-H Cloverbud Animal Science Project Record Book and the accompanying parent and leader supplement are available on the MSU Extension website:

Before introducing record-keeping:

  • Be positive and enthusiastic and help your members see the importance of keeping records.
  • Let parents and guardians know the importance of their children’s 4-H project records and what they can do to encourage their children’s record-keeping efforts.
  • Thoroughly explain how to keep records and use good examples to illustrate this.

As the record-keeping is underway:

  • Consistently devote time during your meetings for record-keeping or have special record-keeping meetings.
  • Remember that each member’s records are going to be unique, just as their interests, personalities and learning speeds vary. If you have a member or members who have a disability that makes one type of record-keeping difficult, explore other record-keeping alternatives.
  • Keep record-keeping as simple and easy as possible.
  • Show interest in each member’s records.
  • Give members help if needed and consider inviting older 4‑H’ers – who take pride in their record-keeping – to work with younger members.

Role Playing

  • Role playing involves setting up a realistic scenario and having participants play the roles of characters in the scenario.
  • Role playing helps young people develop a feel for real situations they may face and learn how to plan for emergencies. It can also help volunteer leaders learn about their members’ decision-making skills.


Some possible role-playing scenarios could be: a) A teen leader is asked to step in for a project leader who is ill and who was going to demonstrate a complex project of which the teen leader has some knowledge. b) A first-time exhibitor goes through a series of steps to prepare for the county fair. c) A member comes home to an empty house and finds an animal showing unfamiliar symptoms.

Things to Consider:

There are two ways to set up a scenario.

  1. Write the scenarios ahead of time. Gather the necessary supplies. Give the players time to read the scenario, look at the supplies and decide how to deal with the scenario. Then give them 10 minutes to play out the scenario in their character.
  2. At the meeting before the role playing is to take place, tell the members to bring scenarios for role playing and the supplies needed for the scenarios to the next meeting. At the role-playing meeting, have the members exchange scenarios so that no one is role playing a scenario he or she wrote.

Before the start of the role playing:

  • Make sure that the participants have the level of knowledge they will need to act out their roles.
  • Gather all of the materials the members will need for their roles.
  • Create an environment that is physically and emotionally safe.

After the participants have acted out the scenario:

  • Encourage and thank the players.
  • Ask the audience for their feedback (both the positives of the solution as well as anything that would strengthen it).


  • Skillathons are a series of stations designed to help participants (either individuals or teams who rotate through the stations) understand how to do a skill.
  • The purpose of a skillathon is to provide a fun, hands-on learning and teaching experience that increases knowledge and gives members the opportunity to practice a skill.


Examples of skillathon stations include mounting an insect or butterfly for an entomology exhibit, making pinch pots from quick-drying clay, feeding a premature kitten, tying a quick-release knot for livestock handling and evaluating a feed sample.

Things to Consider:

Planning and organizing skillathons takes time. Each station should take three to five minutes to complete, so don’t plan too many stations for the time available.

Recruit experienced older youth and parents to help plan and conduct a skillathon. Having helpers at each station is important, especially if you have young members. After the event, recognize and praise the participants and helpers.

Tours and Field Trips

  • Tours and field trips are typically a group outing that may last for a day or longer.
  • They can be a fun, interactive, educational experience that provides a change of surroundings that develop members’ leadership, research, planning and evaluation skills.


A hands-on museum, a veterinary clinic, an artist’s studio, a historic place or a local farm are all good places to take field trips. Consider career-focused tours such as food processing plants, grain elevators, specific industries or factories.

Things to Consider:

As you plan the trip:

  • Consider your end goal – fun, educational, career focused or project based. If it’s educational, consider what you would like the group to learn and who the teachers will be.
  • Include your members in the planning as is appropriate for their age. If you have many young members (11 and under), you may have to do most of the planning. If most of your members are aged 12 to 19, however, they can take care of such details as researching and planning transportation, food and lodging.

When considering an overnight field trip, please contact your local staff to review overnight field trip policy.


VanWinkle, R., Davis, W., Skubinna, T., & Larwood, L. (2005). Active teaching — active learning: Teaching techniques and tools. Oregon State University Extension Service.

The 2023 “Tools for Building Strong Clubs" is based on and adapted from the “Activity and Recreation as Tools for Building Strong Clubs” section of Keys to a Successful 4-H Club, 2005. A version also appears as “Tools for Building Strong Clubs” in the 2009 version of the Michigan 4-H Club Development Guide.

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