Essential Elements of Positive Youth Development

colorful hands raised with white backgroundAs a nationally recognized youth development program, 4-H has a one hundred year history assisting youth to develop into competent, contributing members of society! Through participation in a variety of activities, educational opportunities and club meetings, youth are developing the ability to make good decisions, improve their communications skills and learn to lead!

Over the years, the “magic” that is 4-H has been summarized into “essential elements” or building blocks of healthy development.

The safety of all 4-H members is a priority. Every club leader receives training to ensure that the leader is capable of providing an appropriate 4-H program. Extension staff work alongside the club leader to provide guidance and suggestions for club development. The need for “belonging” is strong and with this in mind, the club setting meets the need for belonging.

Another essential element is the need to experience “mastery.” As we age, we all desire mastery, whether in our work life or family life. The way we experience mastery in 4-H is through our 4-H project work. The 4-H club experience will give youth the chance to develop a set of skills with many opportunities to master the learning environment!

Gaining a sense of “independence” is the goal we each strive for every day! Parents provide the love, boundaries and environment necessary for youth to gain independence. With the support of friends, family and the community, youth can learn to be self-directing, making choices based on their own skill and ability. 4-H project selection supports youth and their ability to choose the activities that meet their needs. While members of the 4-H club make decisions about subjects to study, they may also choose to complete group community service projects.

Community service allows 4-H members to learn to give back and to practice “generosity”! Many 4-H clubs participate in community service projects that provide youth the experience of helping others while learning valuable decision making, communication and service skills.

4-H continues to meet the needs of youth, why not explore how 4-H can benefit your family! Learn more about Iowa 4-H! Reach out to your County Extension Office.

Barb Dunn Swanson

With two earned degrees from Iowa State University, Barb is a Human Sciences Specialist utilizing her experience working alongside communities to develop strong youth and families! With humor and compassion, she enjoys teaching, listening and learning to learn!

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Celebrate National 4-H Week

Each year, during the first full week of October, National 4-H Week is celebrated! As parents of young children, you may wonder why so many people have joined 4-H over the years. The answer is as varied as the learning experiences offered in 4-H! Some join to learn a new skill; others join because they know friends who have joined; others join 4-H because of the adult volunteers who organize the clubs. You see, 4-H is over 100 years old, making it one of the longest running, most recognizable youth organizations for boys and girls nationwide. Nationally six million kids are enrolled in 4-H, through-out the United States.

The learning opportunities in 4-H are centered around the essential elements necessary for positive youth development by providing youth with supervised independence, a sense of belonging with a positive group, a spirit of generosity toward others and a wide variety of opportunities to master life challenges. 4-H is safe and supervised, something all parents would agree is important today.

4-H involves “learn by doing” experiences that will encourage youth to experiment, innovate and think independently. 4-H clubs are involved in community service projects, livestock projects and leadership and citizenship projects all designed to assist members in developing skill and ability in a variety of areas.

In addition, quality youth development programs like 4-H evolve around the following five traits:

  • Connection – helping youth connect to peers, adults and their community
  • Character – helping youth show respect, loyalty, responsibility and integrity
  • Competence – helping youth to achieve mastery in social and academic areas
  • Caring – helping youth develop empathy for others
  • Confidence – helping others and an ability to make a difference.

Parents, if you are looking for a meaningful investment, why not give 4-H a look! Contact your local county Extension office. Find your county Extension office. Follow this link to get more information on 4-H! Learn more here!

Barb Dunn Swanson

With two earned degrees from Iowa State University, Barb is a Human Sciences Specialist utilizing her experience working alongside communities to develop strong youth and families! With humor and compassion, she enjoys teaching, listening and learning to learn!

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Science and Math in 4-H?

Of all the possible clubs and organizations parents and kids can choose to belong to, a 4-H club should be number one on the list. What do you know about 4-H? Some think it’s all about farms. And animals. Period.

We know it’s so much more. All the activities are and always have been STEM focused, meaning the members are engaged in science, technology, engineering and mathematic principles. Members of 4-H who belong to a 4-H club are immersed in STEM activities.

But, what if your child isn’t in 4-H? How about trying a summer camp? Most camps are open to all youth in the area. Those who attend will have much to write on “What did you do this summer?”

Examples of some camps ISU Extension and Outreach offer:

  • Robotics Camp I, II and III
  • KidWind
  • Free Style STEM
  • 1st Steps Vet Science
  • Explorations in Vet Science
  • Next Steps Vet Science
  • CSI:  Learn to Investigate
  • CSI:  Unsolved Mystery
  • Jelly Genes and DNA:  Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Green Thumbs, Dirty Fingers

Or, how about: photography camps, NASA Mars rover camp, nature STEM camps, sewing camps, explore medicine camps, and more. Many of the camps could not happen without community partnerships such as area hospitals, school science teachers, NASA astronauts (yes, really), and many more.

Want your child to Join 4-H? Contact a county office near you.

From guest blogger, Cindy Gannon, Northwest Iowa Marketing Coordinator

Lori Korthals, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Summer Learning Can Continue through 4-H and Scouts

I grew up on a farm in northeast Iowa and my summers were spent picking up rocks, cutting volunteer corn from soybean fields and learning from 4-H.   4-H was interwoven


into the culture of rural life.  Learning was at the center of summer and 4-H was the catalyst.  Fair projects provided the incentive for me to learn many things.  I learned about the science of cooking—why eggs turned green if boiled incorrectly, the process of canning and using a pressure cooker, tying a variety of macramé knots, the details of furniture refinishing, photography and the effects of different light exposures to only highlight a few.  Learning didn’t stop when the school bell rang, in fact, learning moved into high gear.  For me learning that was purposeful or necessary to do something was powerful.  I learned early the importance of how to learn and the joy and satisfaction that can come from learning.

How can we encourage this kind of learning today? Kids are still joining and learning through 4-H and the Scouting organizations are still running summer camps.   I’m seeing my 15 year old off to Scout camp this weekend for a two week stint and he can easily give testimony to what he has and will learn at camp.  Youth programs like 4-H and Scouts offer valuable opportunities for youth to learn not only practical, technical skills, but life skills like communications and getting along with other youth and adults.    Sadly, more should and could take advantage.  Summer youth programs can provide a unique opportunity for youth to learn in a relaxed environment outside of school.

It’s not too late to get your child enrolled!  It’s not too late for learning!  Call today.

Janet Smith

Janet Smith is a Human Science Specialist-Family LIfe with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She currently provides family life programming in eight counties in southeast Iowa. Janet is a "parenting survivor". She is the mother of Jared-21, Hannah-20, and Cole-15. She and her husband, David have faced many challenges together, including their son Jared's Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy diagnosis.

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And What Can We Learn From This?

Last week Molly shared some great thoughts about competition surrounding the county fairs. She ended by asking, “What strategies do you have for ‘staying cool, calm, and collected’ during intense competition?” I’m the new member on the blog team so guess I’ll jump right into the topic. As a former 4-Her and mother of a 4-Her, I have plenty of first-hand experience with the competition issue. And if you want to learn a little more about me, click on the “about us” tab.

Have I always stayed cool, calm and collected? Wish I could say yes but I will admit to a few lapses here and there. What I do know is that my demeanor (and that of my child or grandchild) usually follows my perspective on the event. If I focus on skills and experiences rather than the end product, it is easier to stay calm. Start by understanding what the real meaning of your child’s experience involves. Then provide the support and encouragement the child needs. My girls can still hear me saying, “And what can we learn from this?”

Sure it is fun to get blue ribbons, have an exhibit chosen for the state fair, show the grand champion animal, or be crowned fair queen. Reality is – only a few children can achieve these results. Does that mean the rest of the children (and their parents) lose? Of course not if we truly believe in the adage of “child first, winning second.”

Did you know that children 8-12 years want to be involved to have fun? Even in junior high, fun remains the number one reason to compete. If you need a nudge on this one, stop by the livestock barn or foodstand after the day’s activities. There you will find the children enjoying being together and those are the good memories that last long after ribbons and trophies.

— Donna

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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Competing in 4-H

I don’t have a strong background in 4-H, but I do know the competitions can get rough and tough. Just like sports, people spend a lot of time and money preparing for these events. So, if you’re a parent of a child competing in 4-H, how can you keep it all together at these competitions?

  1. Focus on the child. Every event, win or lose, is a learning experience, and an opportunity for your child to have fun. Let’s face it…if you can’t have fun as a child, when can you have fun?  So loosen up a little! Let your child enjoy it!!
  2. Resist gossip. Even if it’s juicy information about another competitor, parent, or fan…resist the urge to tell the world. Juicy gossip never builds self esteem, and often times, the people dishing it out are the topic of conversation for others.
  3. Focus on your role as a parent. You are not a judge, officiant, or worker at the competitions. These people are there for a reason. No matter who the authority figure is, you are crossing the line if you try to take over his/her position. Focus on your job as a parent, and work hard to be supportive of your child, and a good role model for him/her.

I realize that these pieces of advice fall into the category of “easier said than done,” especially when it comes to your child. So, I encourage you to start the day of by getting in the right frame of mind. Start by reminding yourself of the bigger picture or purpose behind the day. For example, we enrolled Timmy in 4H because (1) he likes animals, or (2) we wanted him to learn about the family business, or (3) it was an opportunity for him to learn about things I cannot teach him…the list could go on and on, but start by focusing on the larger purpose behind your child’s involvement with 4H.

Then, in moments of heated competitions and rising blood pressures, remind yourself of this “big picture”, and act in accordance with it. If the purpose of getting involved in 4-H was for Timmy to learn about the family business, don’t ruin all his progress by teaching him poor manners. Instead, keep in mind the values you wish to impart. Should you need further guidance, please don’t hesitate to Contact us.

What strategies do you have for “staying cool, calm, and collected” during intense competition?

— Molly

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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