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4-H County and District Events Showcase Life Skills

One of the tenants of the 4-H program is the opportunity for youth to showcase what they have learned. Sometimes this occurs during the county fair or a contest. But youth also have the opportunity to showcase their knowledge and skills during county and district events. This competitive opportunity is the culminating experience of a 4-H project. County and District events are typically held in the spring and qualify for state demonstrations, illustrated talks, public speaking, and share the fun (talent) acts.  While participation is optional, this program was designed to give youth a safe space to practice life and leadership skills and receive recognition for all their hard work during the 4-H year. Together, this helps build youths’ self-confidence and poise. If you are new to 4-H, or not familiar with county and district events, this article will provide an overview, as well as some resources to help prepare!

What are County/District Events?

County and District events are an opportunity for youth to showcase what they have learned about their project and practice communication skills. Of all the life skills we teach in 4-H, communication is probably one of the top skills that can benefit youth regardless of what career path they choose. During this event, youth have the opportunity to showcase their skills and knowledge through a variety of contests which include: prepared public speaking, demonstrations (show and tell presentations), illustrated talks (speeches with visual aids), graphic design, photography, and talent show.

What Skills Do Youth Learn Through This Program? 

County and District events are an opportunity for youth to learn how to communicate with others. It also helps them work towards a standard. Judges provide positive feedback about their presentation and suggestions for improvement. This helps youth build poise and confidence when speaking in front of groups. Youth who receive a red or blue quality ribbon at County Events have the opportunity to proceed to District events and compete with youth from surrounding counties. Agents and volunteers can work with the youth between competitions to polish their presentations, but the overall topic/theme should remain the same. Senior youth (ages 14-18) who receive a red or blue quality ribbon at District events can proceed to the state competition which takes place during 4-H University.

Why Should My Child Get Involved?

County and District 4-H Events provide a safe space for youth to learn and provide a positive competition experience. While not everyone gets a trophy, youth compete against themselves- that means they are judged against a standard and earn a ribbon based on the standard score. They also receive constructive feedback on how to improve.

What Resources Are Available to Help My Club/Child?

Most county extension programs offer a workshop to help youth prepare their presentations. You can find more information in our 4-H Events and Activities Handbook. We also have previous blog posts with links to the criteria, judging sheets, and training videos. If you are interested in more opportunities like this for your child, OR if you are willing to serve as a judge for competitive events, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office.

What Does a Strong Youth Leadership Team Look Like?

One of the things I love about 4-H is that it offers so many different opportunities for youth to learn leadership skills while pursuing and exploring their sparks. And leadership roles are not confined to the club level- there are opportunities for youth to serve at the district, state, and even national levels. Youth leaders are grown, not born. And just like any living thing, they must be nurtured over time in an intentional way to develop strong leadership skills. This article will describe what a strong youth leadership team looks like and provide some resources to help grow your team.  Over the years, I have had the privilege of working with some amazing youth leadership teams at all levels of the 4-H organization. But it was something that we had to cultivate over time- we didn’t start out as a high-functioning team. A strong youth leadership team can be identified by the following five characteristics (download this graphic):

  1. Clarity
  2. Cohesiveness
  3. Communication
  4. Confidence
  5. Collaboration

Clarifying the roles of each team member

It’s essential that everyone in the group understands their role and that they have something valuable to contribute to the team. Youth are usually pretty quick to understand their role- often it involves planning an event or solving a community issue through service learning. But the roles of the adults are much vaguer. Some adults view the role as advisory the same way they would a dictator. They want to tell the youth what they should do when they should show up, and how to do everything. But as advisors, our role is to empower youth- make sure they understand their role, and that they are cohesive, or have ground rules for how the group will function.

Establishing a sense of cohesiveness

Once everyone is clear about their roles on the team, the group needs to establish ground rules, or group norms to create a sense of cohesiveness. If the adult mentor sees the group wandering away from the group norms, then it is their job to call the youth out on it and bring them back to a more cohesive state. Not too long ago, I was working with a group of teens to plan a retreat. We had a new member who was constantly putting down other youth’s suggestions. The group got quiet except for the outspoken youth. It was my job to remind everyone that one of our group norms is that each person gets an opportunity to speak, and we don’t put down others’ ideas. Holding the group accountable for these group norms keeps the group cohesive and focused, which is essential for building the next characteristic, communication.


Leadership teams are a great place for youth to practice communication skills- particularly if they are nervous about speaking in front of large groups. Typically the youth leading the team is responsible for making sure everyone is recognized and heard. However, some youth might need encouragement to speak up- that’s when the adult advisor can help!  It is also important to discuss how the team wants to communicate outside of meeting times- reminders about meetings, or any other issues that might come up in-between meetings.  As the advisor, make sure everyone comes to a consensus on how and how often the team wants to communicate within meetings (and outside of meetings). As youth become more comfortable with communicating, their confidence will grow.


When the members of your youth leadership team are clear about their roles, are cohesive in their approach to leadership, and communicate well with each other, they will be empowered to lead. Teams that are empowered understand that every person on the team has something to contribute. As adults, it’s often easier to just “do it ourselves,” but instead we need to empower youth to take responsibility for a different part of the program the youth are leading. However, we do need to make sure they have the information and tools they need to be empowered. For example, if they want to do an activity they have little experience with, such as sewing dog toys for a pet shelter, connect them with people who have experience and expertise with that type of activity.


The ultimate characteristic of a strong leadership team is collaboration. It is the combined effect of the other four characteristics working together in unison. The collaboration stage is also when youth become role models- not only for other youth but for adults as well. And that is when organizations begin to grow. People will be curious about why and how your youth are working so well together.

Additional Resources:

The UF IFAS publications listed below are free downloads that include hands-on, experiential activities you can do with your youth to help build a strong leadership team:

The best-selling book 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens written by Stephen Covey is a must-read for any 4-H faculty, staff, or volunteer working with teen leaders.

  • Covey, S. (1998). The 7 habits of highly effective teens: the ultimate teenage success guide. New York Simon & Schuster.

Overview of 4-H Positive Youth Development

What is Positive Youth Development?

While 4-H isn’t new, the field of positive youth development (PYD) is. For over a century, educators and parents have seen the positive effect 4-H programs had on the way youth developed into productive and compassionate adults- we just didn’t have a fancy name for the process. PYD garnered attention in the early 1990s as society looked for ways to address risk behaviors in teens. Rather than looking at youth as “problems to be fixed,” scholars began to look at youth as “partners.”  Through that lens, PYD leaders in PYD research like Karen Pittman and Peter Benson (founder of the Search Institute) emphasized helping youth build assets and nurture skills rather than “fixing behavior deficits.”

PYD research continued to advance with Dr. Richard Lerner’s longitudinal study conducted in the early 2000s. This led to the 5C’s Model, which provided insight into the outcomes youth gain. The 5Cs include competence, confidence, connection, character, and caring, which leads to the 6th C of contribution. Participation in PYD programs leads to young people who care about others, provide leadership, and are civically engaged (Lerner & Lerner, 2013). Youth development programs play an important role in supporting and shaping the lives of young people.

Most recently, research has shown that the 4-H Thriving Model of Positive Youth Development (developed by Mary Arnold, and published in 2018 and 2019) forms a solid foundation for the 4-H approach to positive youth development. It is what scientists refer to as a “predictive model.” When youth experience quality 4-H programs and are engaged, we can predict they will thrive. Youth thrives when they grow up to experience academic or vocational success, and economic and emotional stability, are civically engaged, and have happiness or well-being.

How do we “do” PYD?

It begins with the developmental context or the “soil.” Looking at the 4-H Thrive graphic, plants need high-quality soil to grow. Youth need the same thing, but we call it the “developmental context.” The “soil” young people need to grow includes opportunities for sparks, quality programs where youth feel they belong, and caring relationships that foster youth voice and engagement.


A spark is a passion for a self-identified interest or skill or a capacity that metaphorically lights a fire in a young person’s life, providing energy, joy, purpose, and direction. 4-H plays an important role in helping young people discover and pursue their sparks. Project work, contests, exhibitions, and other 4-H activities are designed for youth to develop life and leadership skills while learning about their spark. Because learning in 4-H is driven by a young person’s interest, 4-H programs provide a rich context for youth to identify, explore, and sustain their personal interests, often resulting in the development of a young person’s sparks.

Program Quality Principles Where Youth Feel They Belong

Research shows that youth programs must be done well to make a positive difference in a young person’s life. There are eight program quality principles that guide our 4-H programs.

  1. Physical and psychological safety- youth need to feel safe in 4-H programs and be able to interact positively with others.
  2. Appropriate structure – whether it is a club meeting or leadership camp, 4-H programs must have clear and consistent rules and expectations, with clear boundaries and age-appropriate monitoring.
  3. Supportive relationships- all youth need to feel the warmth from and closeness to others in 4-H. Youth need to feel others care about and support them. They also need to receive clear guidance and communication from 4-H volunteers and staff.
  4. Opportunities to belong- all youth need to feel included in a meaningful way in 4-H, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, race, or ability. Youth should have opportunities to share their culture and heritage with others and to forge a positive identity.
  5. Positive social norms – Youth should experience clear rules and expectations for participating in 4-H, including the values, morals, and ethical expectations of being a 4-H member.
  6. Support for efficacy and mattering – Youth in 4-H should be taken seriously and respected for their ideas and contributions. Youth should be given opportunities to develop responsibility and be challenged to set and achieve goals.
  7. Opportunities for skill building – Youth need to develop physical, psychological, intellectual, emotional and social skills as they grow and develop. 4-H provides opportunities for youth to develop these skills, skills that support a young person into adulthood and the workplace.
  8. Integration of family, school and community – Youth in 4-H do best when there is a connection to their 4-H experience with their family, school, and community. This is why 4-H programs begin at the local level, in the community where youth can practice their emerging leadership skills as they grow and develop.
Developmental Relationships that Foster Engagement and Youth Voice

Research shows that the relational quality between the 4-H leader and member is connected to positive youth development. Developmental relationships begin by creating a secure attachment between the 4-H member and adult volunteer, reflected in mutual warmth, respect, and trust. These relationships increase in complexity over time. As such, healthy developmental relationships shift power over time and should reflect strong youth-adult partnerships- particularly as a young person’s competence, personal autonomy, and decision-making skills increase.

There are five dimensions of developmental relationships:

  1. Expressing care, through listening, warmth, and dependability;
  2. Challenging growth by holding youth accountable, expecting them to do their best, and helping them reflect on failures;
  3. Providing support by empowering and advocating for youth as well as helping them navigate situations and systems, and setting appropriate boundaries; 4. Sharing power through inclusion, respect, and collaboration;
  4. Expanding possibilities by exposing youth to new ideas and opportunities and connecting them to others who can help them reach their goals

Over the next few weeks, we will explore these “ingredients” a little more closely, and share tips and activities 4-H volunteers, parents, and families can do to help youth thrive. For more information about how your child can thrive in 4-H, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office


  1. Arnold, M. E., Gagnon, R. J. (2019) Illuminating the Process of Youth Development: The Mediating Effect of Thriving on Youth Development Program Outcomes. Journal of Human Sciences, 7(3), 24-30. Retrieved from
  2. Arnold, M. E. (2018). From context to outcomes: A thriving model for 4-H youth development programs. Journal of Human Sciences and Extension, 6(1), 141–160.Retrieved from
  3. Lerner, R. M., & Lerner, J. V. (2013). The positive development of youth: Comprehensive finding from the 4-H study of positive youth development. National 4-H Council.

MLK Day of Service

Did you know that MLK Day is the only federal holiday designated by US Congress as a national day of service?  Instead of a “day off” from school or work, Americans are encouraged to spend the day serving others. Coretta Scott King said:

“The greatest birthday gift my husband could receive is if people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds celebrated the holiday by performing individual acts of kindness through service to others.”   MLK Day is always the third Monday of January.

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy of service, this blog post brings together several resources to support 4-H service projects to live out our motto, “make the best better.”

What is the Difference Between Service Learning and Community Service?

Service to the community is one of the pillars of 4-H membership. Our pledge includes “My HANDS to larger service.”  All 4-H members and clubs are encouraged to plan and execute at least one service project each year. Community service and service learning are often confused. Community service can be court-mandated and sometimes has a negative connotation. However, the biggest difference between community service and service learning is that community service is usually a “one and done” activity where youth collect food, clothes, or other items for a local organization or pick up litter. There is nothing wrong with these types of activities, but youth usually have little input on them, and they are one-time events. This is perfect for younger youth. In contrast, service learning is a longer-term process where youth identify a community need, develop a proposal or plan to address that need, and often involve other community organizations or officials to take action. Service learning is a great way for older youth and teens to develop awareness and empathy. For more information about the differences between service learning and community service, check out our previous blog post.

Getting Youth Involved in Service to Others

Service to others is a huge part of the 4-H Model. Not only is it part of our pledge, Generosity is one of the 4-H Essential Elements, and something we strive to integrate throughout our programming. 4-H Clubs are encourages to participate in at least one community service or service learning project each year- it one of many standards for club and individual members. If you are not familiar with standards of excellence, it is part of our 4-H Awards and Recognition Program. To learn more, check out this previous blog post or be sure to attend our workshop on Awards and Recognition next weekend at our Northwest 4-H Volunteer Forum.

Finally, there is a grant program to help clubs with service learning!  It’s called 4-H Community Pride, and not only does this program provide funding for service learning, there is a comprehensive leader’s guide to help volunteers, youth, and parents plan, execute, and celebrate thier service learning.

Ideas to Kick Start Community Service or Service Learning

If you are in need of some fresh ideas for service learning, be sure to read “17 Ways to Kick Start Your Service Learning.” We will also offer a workshop on Service Learning during our Northwest 4-H Volunteer Forum next weekend in Destin, FL. Finally, during our upcoming Northwest 4-H Teen Retreat, youth will have the opportunity to participate in a service project our youth planning committee selected. They will be making teddy bears to give away at a summer camp for youth with disabilities.

Rolling out the Red Carpet for 4-H Teens

Our youth planning committee has been hard at work planning the 2023 Northwest Teen Retreat. This year’s theme is “Lights, Camera, Action!” and promises to be a fun-filled weekend of learning and friendship. The retreat will be held February 17-19 at 4-H Camp Timpoochee. Registration is open to all youth ages 12-18 in 4Honline. This event is planned for teens, by teens, and is designed to help youth develop and practice workforce-ready skills. Over the weekend, youth also have the opportunity to explore different 4-H project areas. Here’s a run-down of the agenda, and what to expect:

Friday Night After check-in, enjoy some pizza, tour the camp, and participate in District games. This year youth will have the opportunity to try to beat the adults!
Saturday Morning After breakfast, youth will have the opportunity to participate in a service project, learn about 4-H awards and scholarships, and how to deal with different personalities.
Saturday Afternoon After lunch, youth will select a fun shop to learn more about a 4-H project area. This year, our teen planning committee selected the following:

1.       Grilling- learn about fire safety, food safety, and how to win a scholarship in the 4-H Tailgating Contest

2.       Sports Fishing- Camp Timpoochee is a great place for fishing. Learn some angler skills and how to participate in the 4-H Sports Fishing Tournament and Skill a thon.

3.       Cake Decorating- If you love those baking shows, then you will love this session! Practice decorating a cake with icing like a pro.

4.       Dance- Get your exercise will learning some fun new line dances, as well as a few favorites.

5.       Forensic Science- This session is about forensic entomology. Work as a team to solve the murder of a Florida Black Bear- a mystery solved by science!

Saturday Evening After dinner, walk the Red Carpet Saturday and dance the night away.
Sunday Morning As soon as breakfast is over, pack up and head home.

Thanks to generous sponsors, the registration fee is only $120 per youth and includes cabin accommodations, meals, workshop supplies, and a t-shirt. Your county 4-H program may be able to offer additional discounts or scholarships, so check with your local 4-H office before registering in 4Honline.  Download this handy packing list to your phone.

If you have any questions, please reach out to your local UF IFAS Extension Office. Registration is open from December 16 through January 31st.