What are Life Skills?

You may have heard our agents at some point mention “life skills” and may have thought to yourself “what does that mean and why should I care?”

Life skills reach beyond subject matter education and provide the overall objective of our organization. The foundation of 4-H philosophies can be derived from examining the Targeting Life Skills Wheel developed by Patricia Hendricks of Iowa State University Extension, which breaks down youth characteristics agents, leaders, and volunteers cultivate based on the 4-H’s (Head, Heart, Hands, Health). These are skills employers look for when hiring, schools factor in for admissions, and society needs to be harmonic.

life skills wheel
Figure 1. Hendricks, P. (1998) “Developing Youth Curriculum Using the Targeting Life Skills Model”

By looking at this wheel there are a lot of what could be described as “buzzwords”, however these are research-backed fundamental traits that make youth well-rounded and successful in daily life and adulthood. These segments serve as overall goals for how, why, and what 4-H offers in terms of partnerships, programs, curriculum, contests and so on.

So what are life skills?

Life skills are abilities for adaptive and positive behavior that enable humans to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of life.

Life skills are capabilities such as:4H benefits are healthier choices, participate in stem activities, give back to communities

  • being able to speak in front of a crowd
  • knowing how to conduct themselves in an interview
  • working as a team
  • stepping up to lead a group
  • critical thinking and problem solving
  • being able to communicate thoughts effectively to others
  • …and other traits that would make them a successful and productive member of society.

By using this wheel as a framework for how programs are designed, 4-H Agents and researchers have proven the benefits of 4-H.

Learn By Doing

Like any skill, life skills are learned through practice and experience. Each 4-H program is designed so that along side the subject matter education the youth are provided with opportunities to practice life skills.

What does the practice look like? Here are a few examples!

Life Skill

Some Ways to Practice


  • Holding an officer position in club
  • Mentoring peers
  • Leading activities at events
  • Teaching peers
  • Standing up for fellow 4-H’ers
  • Volunteering to say pledges


  • Speeches/Demonstrations at club or competitions like County Events
  • Writing thorough project stories in record books
  • Presenting a group’s ideas at meetings
  • Oral reasoning for judging competitions

Self Responsibility

  • Being on time for meetings
  • Caring for project animals
  • Follow through with promises to club, agent, or event
  • Following the Code of Conduct

Critical Thinking

  • Advancing in project books
  • Participating in competitions like Hippology or livestock judging
  • Trying new project areas
  • Passing drills for the Youth Emergency Team
  • Training animals for shows
  • Engaging in civil debate

So how does this wheel tie in exactly to let’s say..a poultry project? Here is a brief outline of a scenario:youth holding chicken

Youth will of course learn subject matter content about poultry that can advance them in general animal science or prepare them for careers in the industry. They can advance their knowledge and critical thinking skills by completing project books. Their communication skill can improve by participating in County Events, which will also help their confidence, preparedness, and organization. A new 4-H’er may be interested and that opens up a leadership doorway for a mentoring opportunity. Youth can become an entrepreneur selling eggs which will require record keeping and self-motivation.

What about our non-animal projects such as the Youth Emergency Team, Robotics, or County Council?

4-H youth in youth emergency training

In each of these programs leadership will be needed to teach others, accomplish tasks, or hold positions such as mentor or club president. Teamwork is a critical skill for each of these programs, and often time wise use of resources to solve problems or provide activities. Developing conflict resolution and critical thinking skills will allow the youth to keep their groups running smoothly. Communicating needs, directions, solutions, and so on will be integral as well. Often these groups will work hard to plan events for others which nurtures their empathy.


As you hopefully see despite the club or subject many of these life skills are integrated as part of the routine for success. If you were to spin the wheel of life skills and think about any of your 4-H’ers programs you will be able to make a connection. Our programs overlap traits because ultimately it is not about the project you choose but the person your child becomes.



Posted: February 4, 2019

Category: 4-H & Youth, Clubs & Volunteers
Tags: 4-H, Life Skills, Youth Development

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