In a recent study, one of the top things 4-H volunteers are looking for are ideas for adapting activities to different age groups (Kent, 2022). Florida 4-H offers experiences for four different age groups: Cloverbuds (ages 5-7), Juniors (ages 8-10), Intermediates (ages 11-13) and Seniors (ages 14-18). One of the great things about 4-H is that the whole family can participate! This also means that 4-H volunteers often find themselves working with a variety of age groups. That might seem a little overwhelming, but this post series gives practical tips and strategies to make it less daunting. This week’s post is focused on adapting activities for intermediate-age 4-H members. In case you missed it, check out the previous couple of weeks posts to learn about cloverbuds and juniors.
What are “Ages & Stages” and Why Does it Matter?
“Ages & stages” is a phrase commonly used in youth development that refers to the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development of a young person. These categories of development are based on the work of researchers such as Piaget and Erickson. Understanding these categories help 4-H volunteers and professionals provide opportunities for youth to thrive through social and emotional learning and are a key part of the 4-H Thrive Model (Arnold & Gagnon, 2020). There are several benefits of selecting (or adapting) age-appropriate activities for youth:
- First, it makes learning fun! Fun is important; boring is bad.
- Youth are more engaged. When activities are not too challenging or too easy, they are in what’s called the “zone of proximal development,” or ZPD (Vygotsky, 1978). This is key to help learners master new skills. ZPD refers to skills or knowledge that are too difficult for a youth to master on their own, but possible to master with guidance from a more knowledgeable person- like their 4-H volunteer!
- Youth can build on past learning experiences and create future opportunities to grow.
- When learning is fun and youth are engaged, youth stay involved in 4-H!
How to Use “Ages & Stages” to help Intermediates Thrive
Social Development of 11-13 year-olds (how they act)
Youth who are 11-13 years old are undergoing several physical changes associated with puberty. Along with the physical changes, youth this age often struggle with personal identity. During this time, adolescents either establish their own sense of self or become confused with who they are and what they want to do in life. Helping youth discover their sparks- their own passions and interests- can help them form their self-identity.
|Typical social behaviors for 11-13-year olds include:
||Strategies for supporting social development of 11-13-year olds:
- Developing their self-identity – what makes them unique
- Self-conscious because of puberty and the concept of self-image
- Wants more freedom from parental control and the power to make some of their own decisions
- Still likes to participate as a member of a group but now aware of and exploring the different roles (leader, participant, supporter, etc.) in a group
- Seeks peer group acceptance like before, plus now, status matters
- Understands the benefits of sharing and working together.
- Provide opportunities to share, learn and explore people’s different values, abilities, uniqueness, etc. so they can begin to identify their own
- Engage youth in healthy living discussions about self-image and puberty
- Extend the teamwork discussion and encourage youth to talk about different roles and the status we attach to these roles.
- Give youth the opportunity to plan, implement and evaluate 4-H activities.
- Incorporate teamwork as a component of your 4-H activities, allowing for discussion of roles, and for participants to try different roles.
- Foster a sense of belonging in which youth are accepted, encouraged, and supported by their peers.
Cognitive Development of 11-13-year olds (how they think)
Youth who are 11-13 years old can think logically and apply abstract reasoning. They can also manipulate mental representations. This is a great age to introduce youth to more complex ideas- particularly related to social and scientific issues that may impact their community. One way for youth in this age group to learn is through service-learning. Where they identify a problem in their neighborhood, school, or community, brainstorm solutions, select one, and implement and evaluate it.
|Typical learning behaviors for 11-13-year olds include:
||Strategies for Supporting Cognitive Development of
- Enjoys exploring ideas and these can be abstract or virtual
- Challenges norms, questions what is right and wrong, reasons, etc.?
- Learns best when new ideas are linked to their interests
- Able to multi-task
- Able to plan a whole event (with supervision)
- Engage in current events that have a right and wrong aspect, and ask them, “Thinking about this, can you come up with some reasons when someone could consider this wrong and when it could be right?”
- Engage teens in County & District Council, activities, teams, events, & projects.
- Encourage teens to identify their interests, and further explore them by allowing them to select their projects, events, etc.
- Empower teens to lead and plan a wide range of activities, encouraging them to be creative and put their own “twist”
- Engage teens in exploring what a positive body image, self-esteem, identity, etc. looks like – focus on many answers and this differs for each person
Ages & Stages Application Examples
Throughout this series, we have been using examples from each of the three pillar programs in 4-H: Citizenship & Leadership, Science, and Healthy Living. These examples are meant to help parents and volunteers see how an activity can be adapted for each of the different age groups. For examples for other age groups, check out our previous post about Cloverbuds and our post about working with Juniors.
- Citizenship & Leadership: For citizenship & leadership, we have been using the example of a 4-H club business meeting. Eleven to 13-year-olds are going to be more interested in learning about leadership roles. Once they have some experience leading meetings at the club level, encourage them to get involved in the county and/or district leadership 4-H council. At this age, they can easily understand the proper order of a business meeting and how to make a motion. Encourage them to model this behavior to younger youth in the club. They may also be interested in leading a committee. Encourage them to be involved in planning club celebrations, fundraisers, and especially service projects.
- Science: For science, we have been using the 4-H entomology project as an example. Entomology is the study of insects. Eleven to 13-year-olds can catch, identify, and pin insects to create an insect collection. This collection could be exhibited at their county or regional fair, and can also be used as part of the 4-H Insectathon contest. Youth this age would enjoy competing in a state event like this!
- Healthy Living: For Healthy Living, we have been using the 4-H personal wellness project as an example. This project area helps youth learn about nutrition, physical fitness, and mental health. For intermediates, ask them to identify a problem at their school or community that has to do with personal wellness. Have them brainstorm solutions, select one, and plan a service project to address the need. After they implement the project, celebrate their accomplishments and help them evaluate and reflect upon their success.
Using the “Ages & Stages” approach with youth reinforces the Essential Elements of 4-H: Belonging, Mastery, Independence, and Generosity. This is also key to helping youth thrive. However, each individual youth grows at their own pace and might not completely meet the general tendencies listed above. As volunteers and 4-H professionals, it is important to observe youth and meet them where they are physically sociality, and intellectually. Adapting activities on the fly gets easier with practice- download this set of flashcards for a quick reference guide You can print them, cut them out, and punch them to fit on a lanyard as a handy teaching aid. Your local 4-H agent is always available to help and provide additional resources if you have questions.
Arnold, M. E. & Gagnon, R. J. (2020). Positive youth development theory in practice: An update on the 4-H Thriving Model. Journal of Youth Development, 15(6), 1-23.
Erikson, E. H. (1963). Childhood and Society (2nd Ed.). New York: Norton.
Kent, H.C. (2022). Informal learning to support volunteer performance. [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Florida State University.
Lee, F. and Go, C. (2002). Developmental stages. UC ANR 4-H Youth Development Program.
Piaget, J. (1971). The theory of stages in cognitive development. In D. R. Green, M. P. Ford, & G. B. Flamer, Measurement and Piaget. McGraw-Hill.
Pleskac, S. (2000). Educational design and delivery: Use of age-appropriate activities. VRKC fact sheet.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
How do you know when it is appropriate to send a thank you card? Have you ever received a gift from someone? Did a volunteer donate their time for an event or for a club meeting? Are you in 4-H and someone purchased your project animal at auction? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you should have written a thank you note to them! It does not just have to be a life changing event, such as a wedding, birthday, or baby shower, that warrants a thank you card. Whenever someone has done something nice for you, it is definitely worth sending them a thank you card.
Writing thank you notes is a skill that many people should have, but many overlook. What exactly do you need to say in your thank you note? Here is an easy guide for a few things that you should include in your thank you note, regardless of the reason you are writing it!
Make sure that you start off by thinking of why you are writing a thank you note! Thank you notes let the individuals know that you care, that you are proud of your accomplishments, or make them feel appreciated for something that they have done for you!
A decorated academic cap at commencement. Photo taken 04-29-17.
Make the letter personal by starting with a salutation. Address the individual(s) by their name. If it is someone that you are well acquainted with, it is alright for you to address them by their first name. If it is someone that you are not as familiar with, stick to Mr., Mrs., Ms, and/or Miss last name. Below are a few examples of how to address someone:
Dear Aunt Renae,
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Leonard,
- Get right to the point and express your gratitude. Some examples could be:
“Thank you so much for your generous wedding gift.”
“Thank you for the birthday present.”
“Thank you for donating your time at the Horse Club Meeting.”
“Thank you for purchasing my steer at the Calhoun County Livestock Show.”
- Maybe mention a specific detail or two. There is no need to exaggerate about their gift, but tell them what it might be used for or what you appreciate about it. Here are a few examples of things to say.
“I am so excited to get to use the birthday money on my upcoming trip to Disney World.”
“I’ve had my eye on a smoothie maker, and now I am a smoothie making machine!”
“We are saving the wedding money to help build our future home together.”
“The knowledge you shared at the meeting is incredibly valuable and the kids were soaking it up!”
“I am going to save the money from my 4-H steer project in my college fund.”
- Look ahead to the future. You may be excited about your trip to Disney World or the new smoothie machine, but make sure they know that you appreciate them or enjoyed working with them. If you are likely to spend time with them again in the future, this is a good way to move your letter towards wrapping up.***This suggestion may not apply to every letter.
“I can’t wait to have dinner with you again.”
“I’ll be up that way here in a few months and would love to see you.”
“I am interested in the position and look forward to hearing from you soon.”
“We cannot wait to have you teach us again at the club meeting next month.”
- Wrap it up with another thank you and sign off. Make sure that your letter is clear, you want to thank them for their time, donation, money, etc. You do not have to use fancy language to end your letter.
“Thank you again for thinking of us on our special day!”
“Thank you for being so generous to our organization.”
“Again, thank you for spending your time with us.”
Albert the Alligator Florida Gator mascot holding a thank you sign. Photo taken 11-16-16.
Make sure to end your letter appropriately, whether that be professionally or casually.
When in doubt, write a thank you card. Your recipient will feel extra special that you want to show them your gratitude!
Like me, you make ask, what is a “sense of belonging”? Have you ever felt out of place when going to a club, meeting, or gathering? Do you remember how it made you feel? Maybe you were nervous, had a funny feeling in your stomach, a knot in your throat, or weren’t sure if you belonged?
Volunteer working with youth. Calhoun County Animal Science Camp 2021
One of the essential elements of 4-H Youth Development is belonging. Youth members need to know that they are important to you, cared for by others, and feel a sense of connection to the group they are in! As a facilitator of a 4-H activity, whether that be volunteer, adult, or Extension agent, it is important to provide youth with a safe, inclusive environment when participating in groups. When the facilitator creates a space where youth feel physically and emotionally safe, youth tend to form positive relationships with their peers and role models. Feeling connected to others will affect their behavior, mental health, academics, as well as other life skills. Creating this sense of belonging for all participants is a solid foundation to build a program on!
Now you may be asking, how on earth can I create a sense of belonging?
Since you are the adult facilitator in this setting, it’s your job to provide youth with the opportunity to feel safe during activities. To do this, use discussion questions that engage all the youth members, and encourage them to learn from each other. Below are a few ideas to foster this sense of belonging.
- Welcome new members. Youth who are already part of the group will feel more comfortable than those that are just starting. Assign existing members a role in welcoming newcomers, similar to a welcoming committee. 4-H and other group activities like team sports, can be overwhelming because there is a lot of information given, so think about preparing welcome packets for new members or families. These packets could include information on how to enroll in 4-H Online, club calendars, brochures, frequently asked questions, contact information, and more!
- Ice breakers. Ice breakers and team building activities are really important to help all members feel
Calhoun County Animal Science Camp Ice-Breaker. What is Agriculture? Summer 2021
comfortable with each other! These types of interactions help build relationships within the group. These are helpful when a group is just starting out, as well as continuing to build bonds overtime. Being deliberate in choosing these types of activities will help any group feel more cohesive. Adjust the activity to suit the group that is participating. Keep it simple for cloverbud age youth (5-7) or add challenges if the group is older or has been together for a period of time. “Ice breakers, get acquainted games, or even roll calls that ask questions about member’s interests (answer roll by making the sound of your favorite animal) can help members get to know each other better.” (Kent, 2015)
- Create a safe space. It may seem easy to create a safe space for youth and other adults but it’s much more difficult in practice! We all think about keeping youth safe physically, but what about the emotional aspect of safety? We must be aware of “microaggressions”, which is defined as a statement, action, or incident regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group such as a racial or ethnic minority. As a leader, you will want to be able to identify these so you can educate and redirect the situation. It is our job, as adults, to help youth, and other adults, understand the impacts of their words. Creating a shared set of ground rules for everyone to follow can help everyone feel comfortable, knowing the expectations of the group as well as having a voice in creating the space.
Intro to Animal Handling- Gulf County Summer Camp 2021
- Encourage engagement. Engaging youth members can be done in multiple ways! Various options include using discussion questions, club committees, or even silly ice breaker games – anything constructive to grab and hold their attention. Using discussion questions allows youth to learn from each other while also encouraging a sense of curiosity for life-long learning. Having different committees allows for smaller work groups, which is much less intimidating than a single large group. It is easier for opinions and thoughts to be heard in a smaller setting. Ice breakers may seem silly, but they are a fun and wonderful way to get youth involved.
While a sense of belonging is important for youth, it may take some time and intentionality to create the space to provide the sense of belonging. Our youth members come from all different walks of life and as the adult leader, you must think about the challenges youth may face that makes them different. Some youth may look different physically; some may come from a family that has never done 4-H; some may have experienced trauma; some may have special needs.
A 4-H club, program, or activity can provide a space that youth belong to, as well as allowing them to learn invaluable life skills. Adults, volunteers, and agents are essential to creating this space, while also helping other members see how to increase the sense of belonging for others. What will you do to help make all members feel welcome?
Creating a Welcoming Environment in 4-H Clubs
4-H offers many different ways for volunteers to get involved. No matter how much time you have, volunteering with 4-H makes a difference by helping youth grow skills and knowledge that last a lifetime. Here are a few ways you can engage as a volunteer with 4-H:
- Help youth lead a club- our 4-H clubs are led by youth officers and members, but they need adult guidance. Most clubs meet once a month during the school months, but some clubs meet more frequently for a shorter period of time.
- Teach a skill- share a skill by speaking at a club meeting, teaching a workshop, or leading a project. Florida 4-H offers more than 60 different project areas!
- Judge projects- we need judges to provide constructive feedback to youth on their project work.
- Plan or help with an event- 4-H offers many events throughout the year and we need volunteers to help with the planning, set up, registration, refreshments, and of course- clean up!
- Serve on an advisory committee or board- each county has an advisory committee to help provide direction and financial oversight of 4-H funds.
- Be a project mentor- Advise a 4-H member on their project work- help youth set goals, implement a plan, and reflect on what they learned.
- Help deliver a program- Volunteer at an afterschool project, summer program, or school garden.
- Serve on a fair committee- Volunteer with your local or regional fair to help provide learning experiences for youth.
- Share your professional skills- share your technical skills and knowledge with youth. Coach youth on how to build a resumé or interview for a job. Volunteering with 4-H can also be a great resumé builder!
- Share your experiences- share your passion by serving as a guest speaker or short term instructor. Allow youth to shadow you for the day.
Check out this video about different 4-H volunteer service roles:
You can also find detailed descriptions of these service roles on our 4-H club hub site. 4-H can work with you to tailor a service role that fits your interest and schedule. Whether it’s once a week, once a month, or once a year, 4-H needs caring adults like you to inspire the next generation. Contact your local UF IFAS Extension office to start a conversation about how you can contribute to growing #TrueLeaders!
Have you ever wondered how 4-H came to be? 4-H has a rich history that started in the late 1800’s (around the time of the civil war). The Morrill Act of 1862 gave each state in the US land for agriculture research and teaching. This established the land grant university system. The second Morrill Act in 1890 made racial discrimination illegal for land grant universities receiving federal funds….unless a separate institution was established and maintained. This second Morrill Act gave rise to many of the historically black colleges. However, university researchers struggled to get these new practices adopted by farmers. Adults just didn’t trust new technology, but young people were. So researchers took these new practices into public schools and provided hands on lessons in the hopes that the new concepts would be shared at home and adopted on the farm. These early 4-H clubs were known as Tomato or Canning Clubs for girls and Corn and Pig clubs for boys.
National 4-H Historic Preservation Project. Marius Malmgren , a member of a corn club in Virginia, grew 209 bushels of corn on one acre in 1912 when national corn yields averaged only 45 bushels per acre.
Before there was 4-H, agriculturally based youth clubs began in 1902 as a result of these hands on agricultural learning experiences, years before Cooperative Extension was created! Specifically in Clark County, Ohio and Douglas County, Minnesota, youth clubs were born. The Corn Growing Club for example, was an after-school club. Fairs also began in this same year allowing a venue for youth to share what they had ‘learned by doing.’ To honor youth’s efforts, Jessie Field Shambaugh created a four-leaf clover pin to honor the efforts of the youth. In 1910, the H was added on each leaf of the clover and shortly thereafter the title ‘4-H Club’ was born.
The original mission of the 4-H club was to introduce school aged youth to the agricultural community in which they lived with the intent of helping youth to gain practical, hands on experiences and aid with becoming productive members of their communities. These clubs empowered youth by teaching them valuable life skills enabling them to be better prepared for their transition to adulthood.
Cooperative Extension was born as a result of the Smith-Lever Act in 1914. As a result, 4-H became a nationwide club opportunity, and the clover emblem was adopted. Otis Hall, a state leader from Kansas created the 4-H pledge that was adopted in 1927 at the very first National 4-H Camp held in Washington DC. The motto ‘to make the best better’ was also proposed by Miss Carrie Harrison and adopted that same year. The 4-H pledge is still used today with one small addition in 1973, the words ‘and my world’ added to the end.
In less than 50 years, specifically in 1959, the National 4-H Center was opened and provided trainings and experiences for volunteers, youth, and professional staff. Eventually, the National 4-H Foundation and the National 4-H Service Committee merged to create today’s National 4-H Council. This rapid growth is a testament to the important positive youth development role 4-H has provided. Sadly,
4-H will celebrate it’s 120-year anniversary in 2022! Today, 4-H proudly serves youth from rural to urban areas and everything in between. Experiences still include school enrichment, agriculture, and livestock related projects, but have also branched out to include science, robotics, food safety, healthy living and more. From such humble beginnings, 4-H has grown and adapted to remain relevant while continuing to offer educational opportunities to teach concepts and skills guiding today’s 4-Hers to become productive citizens.
4-H and Extension have had (and continues to have) a huge impact on our country. Teaching today’s 4-her’s about the rich legacy of our organization can help develop a sense of belonging and connection. Focusing on 4-H history can also build excitement and anticipation for our 120th anniversary next year. Here are a few ways you can incorporate some 4-H history into your club meetings this fall:
- Share this video at your next club meeting. What was different about 4-H back then? What is the same?
2. Design a fair booth highlighting 4-H History in your county
3. Ask 4-H alumni from different decades to come speak with your club. Ask them to bring photos, record books, and memorabilia to share with youth. Help youth prepare questions in advance about what alumni did and learned when they were in the program. Talk about what is different, and what is the same.
4. Host a 4-H history quiz bowl. The National 4-H Historic Preservation Project has lots of information. You can also refer to Florida 4-H: A Century of Youth Success (your local 4-H office or library most likely has a copy you can borrow).
5. Work with your 4-H agent to form a committee to plan your countywide 120th anniversary celebration.
Parents, grandparents, and other family members are assets to the 4-H program. One of the best things about 4-H is that it promotes (and welcomes) family engagement! And there are benefits of family involvement- Duerden et al. (2013) found when adults were involved in youth programs, it strengthen family relationships and improved parent-child communication and bonding. Family involvement is a win-win-win for youth, adults and volunteers!
Make them Feel Welcome– Just like you would do for youth, make adults and other family members feel welcome!
- Encourage them to participate in get to know you games, or introduce them to other adults associated with the club.
- A parent meeting at the beginning of the club year is a great idea to help new parents feel like part of the group.
Communicate Clearly– Communicating with parents is essential. In fact, in a survey of new 4-H families in Florida, communication with the club leader was a major factor in whether or not the families returned to the program the following year (Hensley, 2020). Try these strategies to build strong communication with families.
- Set up clear lines of communication with parents by asking them how they prefer to receive communication. Some clubs use social media, texting apps (like GroupMe or Remind), or email. Find a method that works for your 4-H families.
- Make sure the club schedule works for everyone and that the location is accessible for all.
- Give each family a copy of the club program calendar, and ask another parent or club officer to send out reminders before meetings.
Help them Learn 4-H– 4-H is a large organization and has something for everyone, which is great! But it can also be a little overwhelming when you are new to the program.
- Explain the club cycle, such as when things normally occur during the year (service projects, fundraisers, competitions, awards programs, camp). That way, they can plan ahead and set goals for engagement.
- Ask a seasoned 4-H family to mentor a new 4-H family. This can help them learn about the program, and identify things that their children will want to participate in.
Discover their Skills, Knowledge & Interests– New 4-H families may think that they need special training or experience to contribute to the club. As a volunteer, let them know that we all “learn by doing” and everyone has something to contribute!
- Use the parent interest survey to find out how the adults might be willing to serve.
Identify Tasks and Make the Ask–
- Make a list of things that you need help with, then write each item on an index card (one item per card). Ask each family to select one or two items they are willing to be responsible for by writing their name on the back of the card.
Make Individual Asks for More Complex Tasks–
- Reach out to parents individually (when they are not distracted) and share some of the tasks you need help with that are a little more complex. For example, you may need a parent to help train club officers, teach parliamentary procedure or work with the service learning committee. Provide any resources they may need (such as an officer handbook or service learning guide) and let them know that the 4-H office will provide support for them in this role. If the task requires a level II background screening, then be upfront about that.
Duerden, M. D., Witt, P. A., & Harrist, C. J. (2013, Winter). The impact of parental involvement on a structured youth program experience: A qualitative inquiry. Journal of Youth Development, 8(3), 1-17. Retrieved August 31, 2018, from jyd.pitt.edu/ojs/jyd/article/view/88.
Hensley, S. (2020). Florida 4-H Retention Study.