Most of us working or volunteering in the 4-H Program truly believe that we are making a difference in the lives of children. The challenge has always been to connect 4-H participation to the over-arching goal of youth becoming responsible and productive members of society. In fact, studies have shown that children involved in 4-H youth development programs are more likely than non-participants to achieve this goal. The likely reason for this success can be found in the four essential elements of 4-H: sense of belonging, independence, mastery and generosity.
Essential Element: Belonging
Social media has transformed the ways in which we connect with others in society. Although the potential pool of people with whom we can communicate is larger, we often lose the true personal connections that are so important to our emotional health. Youth need a sense of belonging and 4-H offers a very positive means of meeting that need. In a 4-H club setting, children feel accepted and valued by their fellow 4-Hers and cared for by adult volunteers. A sense of belonging provides youth the confidence to stretch themselves to try new things and master new skills.
Essential Element: Mastery
Project work the very core of 4-H and provides the ideal means of developing mastery of skills. This mastery further develops self-confidence and should lead to the sharing of knowledge and skills with others. Presentations and mentoring younger 4-H members are examples of sharing mastered skills. 4-H events and contests provide opportunities to practice and apply these skills in ways that require critical thinking.
Essential Element: Independence
Independence and a sense of self-determination is encouraged in 4-H through project goal-setting and the plans to achieve those goals. Ideally, the role of the adult is to support, but not create the goals and plans. When youth see that they can determine their own path toward a goal, research shows they have a more positive outlook for the future as a result. Youth that believe they can determine their own future through hard-work are more likely to avoid the risky behavior that undermines success.
Essential Element: Generosity
Generosity provides youth a sense of meaning and purpose beyond themselves. Helping others develops empathy and compassion and connects youth to the greater community in which they live. The 4-H pledge states that larger service is core to the organization. This service is not limited to the club and community, but also include the country and the world as well. 4-H volunteers model this dedication to generosity every day through the very act of service to 4-H.
“Essential Elements“; 4-H National Headquarters Fact Sheet; April 2011
“The Essential Elements of 4-H Youth Development“; National 4-H Curriculum; Adapted from “4-H Essential Elements of 4-H Youth Development, Dr. Cathann Kress; 2004