When my daughter Abigail (Abi) wanted to join 4-H I wasn’t too keen on the idea, for I’d mistakenly assumed, because of its history, that this organization was primarily an agricultural club for rural youth, a group comprised mainly of farm kids. We lived in the heart of the city and owned no chickens, goats, pigs, cows, or horses to show off at the county fair. But I let her go to the meetings just to check it out. How surprised I was to learn of the myriad activities 4-H offers. Their slogan is “learn by doing.” And learn she did. But I never dreamed she'd win gold at the state level.
Abi began her adventure by entering her prized possessions at the county fair. Last year she came home with a handful of ribbons for her photography display, including blue ribbons and cash prizes. But fair entries were only the beginning of Abigail’s involvement in 4-H opportunities.
Her major area of interest is now 4-H Congress. Every spring she spends weeks at home preparing for her presentation. There are numerous given categories to choose from, but her niche is Expressive Arts & Communication, which covers a broad range of topics from visual to performance arts to creative writing; from journalism to broadcast radio & TV, video and film production, special effects, film animation, web cast, blog development; woodworking and heritage crafts; and public speaking. Every topic requires researching the chosen subject, exercising critical and analytical thought, organizing ideas in logical order, teaching and sharing information, and mastering public speaking skills. Those who place in district go on to compete at the state level on a scholarship, where they catch a glimpse of dorm life when they spend the week at NC State University. In addition to gold medals and trophies, Abi has also received savings bonds. Her topics to date have been: music (I’ll Be Bach); sign language (Do You Hear What I Hear?); and theater (There’s No Business like Show Business). Last year she ascended from bronze and silver at district and state levels to gold at both. 4-H calls it “making the best better.” Formal presentations have helped Abi develop more than a few 21st century life skills. In addition, they’ve taught her to reflect on her own experiences and convey personal anecdotes in a creative and engaging manner. I’ve encouraged her to produce interactive presentations which will not put the audience (especially not the judges) to sleep, to avoid dry lectures by showing, not telling – as the rule goes, dramatize, don’t summarize! Time and time again I’ve advised her to let the storyteller within rule.
- Never would Abi have achieved the same level of subject mastery had she studied this or any information merely to pass a test in school. But when required to communicate an idea by demonstration, children not only master their material more thoroughly but they also learn to integrate a number of life skills such as planning, preparation, and performance in the process - not to mention the major boost to their confidence and self-esteem. I’d advise any parent of homeschoolers to take advantage of community organizations such as 4-H.