Youth shows and fairs provide a valuable opportunity for young people to develop a wide range of life skills. From responsibility and communication to planning and organization, these events offer a unique learning experience that can help young people build important skills for success in all areas of life.
Can a youth’s participation in County fairs and Shows help to develop them into responsible adult? The answer is yes! The Florida 4-H Program seeks to be inclusive to all youth by using a variety of vehicles to teach youth life skills in traditional and non-traditional settings. A recent article in The Journal of Extension by Oregon State professionals found that “having fun” “spending time with friends” and “teamwork” were the highest-rated motivators for youth that participated in fairs.
The study also revealed that participation in fairs through 4-H had a significant positive effect on participants’ levels of caring, contribution, and character. These characteristics are also part of the Essential Elements of 4-H that youth experience by being in an active 4-H program throughout the year. Those elements are Belonging, Independence, Generosity, and Mastery.
One of the most important skills that youth learn through participation in youth shows and fairs is responsibility. Whether they are caring for animals, plants, or other projects, youth must take on the responsibility of ensuring that their projects are healthy, well-cared for, and ready to be presented to judges and visitors.
Communication is another key skill that youth develop through participation in youth shows and fairs. Through active participation youth learn the ability to articulate complex ideas, listen actively, and respond thoughtfully to questions and feedback.
In addition to these skills, youth shows, and fairs also emphasize important values such as sportsmanship and fair play. Participants are encouraged to respect their competitors, accept both victories and defeats graciously, and uphold the highest standards of ethical behavior. This helps young people develop important social skills, including the ability to work collaboratively with others and build positive relationships.
Finally, participation in youth shows and fairs can help young people develop resilience and perseverance in the face of challenges and setbacks. These events can be competitive and stressful, but they also offer opportunities for young people to learn from failures, bounce back from disappointments, and remain motivated to achieve their goals.
A few of the Florida 4-H Shows and Fairs are as follows:
- State 4-H Dairy Show Okeechobee March
- 4-H Chick Chain Show Chipley April
- Area North Horse Show Green Cove Springs May
- North Florida Fair Tallahassee November
*For additional opportunities to participate in 4-H Shows and fairs please contact your local 4-H office.
In conclusion, participation in youth shows and fairs can offer a unique and valuable learning experience for young people. By developing important skills such as responsibility, communication, planning, and organization, as well as important values such as sportsmanship and fair play, youth can build the foundation for success in all areas of life.
More information on this study can be obtained by visiting the Journal of Extension at www.joe.org and viewing volume 45, number 6.(Arnold, Meinhold, Skubinna, and Asthton)
Figure 1. Hendricks, P. (1998) “Developing Youth Curriculum Using the Targeting Life Skills Model”
During the summertime, 4-H typically offers more opportunities for our teen audience since school is not in session as their schedules are more flexible. Because of this, we want to ensure that we are targeting skills that are specific to our teens’ immediate and future wellbeing and success.
In this article, I will discuss why life skills are so important, what 4-H programs already established target, which life skills are most beneficial for our teens and what, when, and how teens can get involved.
WHY DO WE CARE SO MUCH ABOUT LIFE SKILLS?
We know that life skills are abilities learned that help individuals reach their full potential in life. They assist in helping folks successfully handle day-to-day life experiences. We believe they are developed through hands-on learning, activities, and practice.
Life skills are the foundation of 4-H. Utilizing the Targeting Life Skills Wheel (Hendricks, 1998), we connect life skills through 4-H projects, programs, and events to real life experiences based on our Head, Heart, Hands and Health model. By helping youth achieve these life skills, 4-H professionals and volunteers are providing the framework for future academic and employment success, as well as youth thriving and community outreach.
Five essential life skills from the Targeting Life Skills Model commonly developed by participating in 4-H are:
- Interpersonal Relationships
PROJECTS & EVENTS RELATED TO LIFE SKILLS FOR TEENS
Below are just a few 4-H projects and events in Florida 4-H for teens to get involved in to develop and strengthen essential life skills:
- 4-H Tailgating Contest – This program teaches healthy living and the science of grilling seafood, pork, poultry and beef safely outdoors. This program teaches decision making, healthy lifestyle choices, and communication life skills, among others.
- Gator Pit – The Gator Pit is a program open to all teens ages 14-18 in Florida. Youth are taught how to develop entrepreneurial skills through mentorship, competition, and networking to the business community.
- 4-H Legislative – Florida 4-H Legislature provides an opportunity for teens ages 14-18 to experience state government procedures and prepare them for potential leadership in the American democratic process. Youth learn, practice, and defend public policy.
- 4-H University – Florida 4-H University is an opportunity for teens to participate in educational workshops lead by UF faculty, explore potential careers, strengthen interpersonal relationships with peers, and develop critical life skills that will help them become leaders and engaged citizens in their communities.
The Florida 4-H Curriculum Clearinghouse is a list of 4-H resources available, including project curriculum, record books, club resources and other educational publications that meet the standards of Florida 4-H. In this site you can view resources for specific projects. To learn more about 4-H opportunities for teens, please contact your local UF IFAS County Extension Office, or visit http://florida4h.org.
Hendricks, P.A. (1998). Developing Youth Curriculum Using the Targeting Life Skills Model: Incorporating Developmentally Appropriate Learning Opportunities to Assess Impact of Life Skill Development. Iowa State Extension Publication. https://extension.purdue.edu/4-H/about/impact-targeting-life-skills.
Irvine, K. (2019). What are Life Skills? https://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/nassauco/2019/02/04/what-are-life-skills/
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):
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.
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.
Figure One. The Experiential Learning Model. (Experiential Learning Model, 2022)
“Hands-on,” and “learn by doing” are terms you often hear in 4-H and they both refer to the Experiential Learning Model, which is the instructional strategy we use in 4-H programs. The hands-on experiences that 4-H is known for offer youth the chance to engage all their senses in the learning process. One of the prevalent models guiding hands-on experience design is the experiential learning model (Experiential Learning Model, 2022). Figure one illustrates this model, highlighting the three notable stages of doing, reflecting, and applying which serve as the core of the model. While the hands-on experience is critical, it is also important to remember that reflection and a focus on how to apply what was learned are also necessary for a compelling experience to result in impactful learning outcomes.
Designing for Experiential Learning
When designing programs, it is important to keep in mind that leaders must intentionally foster experiential learning through the careful planning and execution of programs. Three tips to keep in mind are:
- Build in Time – While this may seem obvious, it is important to keep in mind that time needs to be built into the program to allow for a thorough exploration of an experience, the reflection, and the application phases. The amount of time needed will likely vary with the experience and how many youth are involved. While the experience generally takes up the most time, be sure to reserve time for reflection activities. It is through the intentional carving out of time that it is possible to foster the whole of the experiential learning process. Ten to fifteen minutes for a reflection activity should be sufficient.
- Identify a Leader – Identify an individual to take point with each section or activity that is planned. This will help relieve some of the pressure and will allow for focused efforts on each section. When considering the reflection stage, it is important to identify an individual who will be able to facilitate the process in a meaningful way. Specifically, someone who will be able to ask unassuming questions and will be able to respond to the information shared, and relate it to the experience and application stages.
- Mix it Up – Utilize a variety of different activities to facilitate sharing and reflection. Reflection activities may be anything from using a thumb ball with specific questions passed around to free-form conversation as participants feel comfortable in contributing.
Experiential learning is easier with practice, but we have several resources to help!
- Florida 4-H Experiential Learning Cards are a handy reference tool that include questions you can ask youth for each step of “do-reflect-apply” to help them process the activity. Once you have done this a few times, it will come naturally and you won’t need to refer to the cards, but these are helpful if you are new to this teaching strategy.
- Participate in a workshop! Both online and in-person workshops are available for volunteers who want to learn more!
- California 4-H has developed an excellent website with tip sheets, resources, and even an online module to learn and practice experiential learning. They have a toolbox to support volunteers and 4-H professionals- it is all free and you don’t have to register to use the tools!
- During our Northwest 4-H Volunteer Forum, January 20-21, we will have a guest speaker who will lead us all in a workshop on experiential learning! If you would like to attend, registration opens in 4Honline on October 15th.
Norman & Jordan, 2019)
The experiential learning process is broad and well-covered in studies and educational design. If you are interested in learning more, check out the resources referenced in the article below.
Photo By National 4-H Council
Positive youth development is an intentional process that promotes positive outcomes for youth by providing opportunities that build on young people’s strengths and fostering positive relationships with peers and caring adults (Youth.Gov, 2020). 4-H uses many different strategies to promote the healthy development of youth; but how do we know if positive youth development is really happening in our clubs and programs? One way to be confident that your club is nurturing opportunities for positive youth development is to look for signs that positive youth development is taking place. In the business and education realms, this is known as “continuous improvement.” Continuous improvement is using information (such as data, observation, or self-reflection) to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of an educational program or initiative (Clark et al., 2013). 4-H has been doing continuous improvement from the very start, when the 4-H Motto “make the best better” was adopted in 1920 (4-H History Preservation Program, 2010). Evaluating the 4-H program is a shared responsibility between faculty and staff and volunteers and helps us demonstrate the 4-H Motto to our members. While the evaluation of the total 4-H program tends to be more formal, volunteers can use feedback, self-reflection, and quality standards to continuously improve the programs so that youth can have the optimum positive youth development experience. This blog post offers three solid strategies to help 4-H professionals, volunteers, parents, and youth leaders continuously improve the 4-H groups or clubs they work with.
Feedback helps 4-H staff and volunteers close the gap between our current performance and desired performance (Pearson, 2016). Our desired performance is that 4-H experiences provide opportunities for youth to thrive while exploring their sparks in a safe environment, guided by a caring adult. Feedback should be relatively simple. You can solicit feedback from youth, parents or even other volunteers. One simple way to get feedback from younger youth is to have them complete the Clover Feedback Form. Youth can write or draw a picture about what they learned, what they would like to learn, what they enjoy about 4-H (how it makes them feel), and what they would change if they could.
Self-reflection is like feedback, but instead of asking others to describe what is (and isn’t) taking place 4-H staff and volunteers reflect on what worked well and what could be enhanced to encourage positive youth development in their club or program. Self-reflection can help 4-H professionals and volunteers reflect on what is working well and what can be improved. Some questions you might ask yourself include (adapted from Thiran, 2018):
- Is my reason for being a 4-H volunteer/youth leader the same now as it was when I started?
- Do I make myself accessible to my members, parents, and other volunteers?
- Do I seek input or feedback from my members and parents?
- If I were a 4-H member, how might I rate myself?
- Is my club/program vibrant? If not, why not?
The 4-H Quality Checklist is a simple tool to see if elements of positive youth development are taking place in your club or program. The checklist can help identify areas where your club is strong, as well as areas for improvement.
Taking time to check in with yourself, your members, and your parents can provide opportunities to apply our motto “Make the Best Better.” Leaders and 4-H professionals should set aside time at least annually to evaluate where the club or program is, and whether it is providing opportunities for youth to experience positive youth development. After spending some time thinking about continuous improvement for your club or program, discuss your findings with your local 4-H professional.
- Clark, S., Hironaka, S., Carver, P., & Nordstrom, L. (2013). Continuous improvement in education [white paper]. Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. https://www.carnegiefoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/carnegie-foundation_continuous-improvement_2013.05.pdf.
- 4-H History Preservation Program. (2010). 4-H Motto, Creed, and Pledge. https://4-hhistorypreservation.com/History/M-C-P/.
- Pearson. (2016). Providing Educational Feedback [white paper]. Higher Education Services. https://www.pearson.com/content/dam/one-dot-com/one-dot-com/us/en/pearson-ed/downloads/Feedback.pdf.
- Thiran, R. (2018). 5 Self-Reflection Questions Leaders Should Ask Themselves. Leaderonomics.com. https://www.leaderonomics.com/articles/leadership/5-self-reflection-questions.
- Youth.Gov. (2021, March 10). Positive youth development. Youth.Gov. https://youth.gov/youth-topics/positive-youth-development.
What is Subject Matter Expertise?
Subject matter expertise refers to the “technical knowledge and skills possessed to perform tasks related to a specific field(s)” (Harder, 2019). While county 4-H professionals (also known as agents) often bring subject matter expertise in one or more areas to the job, the subject matter expertise of program volunteers helps to expand the availability of potential program offerings. As an organization, 4-H strives to provide opportunities for learning evidence-based content (subject matter) and apply age-appropriate positive youth development (PYD) strategies to facilitate experiential learning via a collaborative youth-adult partnership.
What is a Subject Matter Expert?
Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) “are professionals who have advanced knowledge in a specific field” (Indeed, 2020). Generally, an SME will have “a deep understanding of a particular job, process, department, function, technology, machine, material or type of equipment” (Reh, 2020). In the workplace, being known as an SME is part of a career trajectory and this role or status is often based on a combination of education or training and experience. In the 4-H setting, it is possible that a subject matter expert has gained expertise through informal learning and hands-on experience. The 4-H subject matter expert may not always work professionally in the area of expertise that they bring to 4-H. For example, a skilled volunteer may work as a nurse in their professional career but leads a 4-H sewing club where she can share a deep knowledge subject knowledge and extensive skills gained through years of practice and self-guided study.
Why is Subject Matter Expertise Important to 4-H?
In 4-H, adult staff members and community volunteers work as partners with youth members to help youth “learn by doing.” The 4-H learning experience is based on the idea that “learning is an integrated process where the learner, the educator, the physical space, and culture all are changed by each other” (NIFA, 2016). 4-H clubs provide youth with opportunities to learn subject matter and develop life skills (Knowles and Diem, 2018).
While adults and youth may learn a new skill or acquire new knowledge together in a discovery process, the most common 4-H experience involves working with a subject matter expert who will help to facilitate experiential learning. 4-H learning is intended to be a “dynamic experience in a shifting learning ecosystem” (NIFA, 2016). Together, 4-H staff and community volunteers work together to bring new research and best practices into the learning experience.
How Do We Find Subject Matter Experts?
One way that 4-H can provide specialized subject matter content is through partnerships. For example, 4-H has been successful in partnering with industry professionals and university faculty to implement a variety of STEM programs. A multiyear partnership with NASA has provided many opportunities for youth to explore the world of aerospace science. However, it is not necessary to be a rocket scientist to have subject matter expertise that can be helpful to a 4-H program.
In 4-H, agents have several options available to help develop volunteer subject matter expertise. Agents may look for potential volunteers with specific subject matter expertise to match youth interests. Another option is to engage a caring adult volunteer with a desire to learn an unfamiliar skill or acquire a new knowledge set. For example, a 4-H agent with youth members who want to have a beekeeping club may find a local beekeeper to be a club leader. Another way to match a volunteer with a potential beekeeping club would be to find the adult and arrange for them to attend an Extension education program on beekeeping. Finally, it is also possible to have a volunteer with positive youth development skills that can lead a club and invite guest speakers with expertise to provide subject matter content.
Over time, youth may also become subject matter experts. For example, youth members in Wakulla participated in a poultry science club as Cloverbud and Junior members. After several years of completing projects and participating in competitions, these youth have gained considerable subject matter expertise and have started to teach content and skills to other youth at annual workshops.
Volunteers who want to increase their subject matter knowledge and expertise will find a wealth of resources within 4-H and the larger world of Cooperative Extension. Varied modes of learning are possible – from online seminars, to resource-rich publications, to hands-on experiential learning. For example, volunteers had the opportunity to network with subject matter experts and have robust experiential learning opportunities during our Northwest 4-H Volunteer Forum. After the Forum weekend, volunteers shared that the the event provided opportunities for them to network and connect with other volunteers to gain access to subject matter and experiential expertise. By popular demand, the Northwest 4-H Volunteer Forum will return in January 2023. Watch this space for additional details on how to connect and be part of the weekend event!
How to Get Involved
Do you have a passion for a particular subject matter area, or do you have a skill that you want to share? A variety of volunteer roles with 4-H are possible. Volunteers may serve as club leaders or project leaders, or be a guest instructor, or be a judge for a competition. We would like to build a directory of subject matter experts to support 4-H volunteers and clubs across the Florida Panhandle. If you have expertise you would like to share, please complete this short survey.
Remember, you do not necessarily have to be a subject matter expert to get started as a 4-H volunteer! If you are a caring adult with a desire to learn new skills and play an important role in the lives of youth in your local community, 4-H can help you gain new skills to help guide youth in a transformative learning experience. We offer subject matter trainings for volunteers throughout the year on a variety of topics.
For more information about how to become a 4-H volunteer, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension office.
4-H Learning Experience
Priorities Competencies for County Faculty
Subject Matter Expert
The 4-H Volunteer Training Series
What is Subject Matter Expert?