The Value of 4-H Project Record Books
Why Record Books?
The subject of 4-H record books generally elicits a very positive or a very negative response. Oftentimes it is the adults who value the practice, and the youth who cringe. The idea of creating a portfolio record of project activities and accomplishments has been around since the beginning of the 4-H program because it is such a valuable educational tool. Ideally, a 4-H record book should be a “brag book” of everything a 4-Her does and learns and eventually become a treasured family keepsake.
The 4-H program prides itself on developing life skills in youth, and the process of completing a quality record book supports skills such as planning, goal-setting, decision-making, problem-solving, communication, leadership, citizenship, and of course – record keeping. There is clearly much to be gained through 4-H record books, but the key is to make it less painful by breaking it down into small, easy to handle steps that are spread throughout the program year.
Breaking It Down
In September of each year 4-H members enroll in 4-H online and choose their project(s). They may choose one or several, something new or the same one year after year. Regardless of the project, there should always be the guiding question of “what do I want to learn and accomplish this year”? Not coincidentally, the first section of the 4-H Project Report is “Plans and Goals”. This section should be completed at the very beginning of the year. Doing so serves two purposes: first to make the activities for the year intentional and goal-focused, and second to create a sense of accomplishment that the record book has been started many months before it is due.
Other sections common to all project record books are leadership, citizenship, and project activities such as workshops, demonstrations, exhibits and competitions. These should also be intentional and can be coordinated with the activities of the 4-H club or county council. Even junior 4-H members can find opportunities to lead, help and learn that can be recorded in the project report. Older 4-H members should set goals to hold an office, chair a committee and participate in a community service project. 4-H clubs should encourage all members to present a demonstration or illustrated talk to the club about something related to their project. Those motivated to do so, may enter member exhibits and presentations at County Events Day both for awards and the possibility of advancing to district and state competition. Whatever the project area, giving thought at the beginning to leadership, citizenship and project activities will make completing those sections later in the year both easy and fulfilling.
Keep It Together
The bulk of the project record book will consist of elements directly related to the project itself. 4-H projects can be so varied that details cannot be adequately covered in this article. Animal projects require feed and health care records, cooking projects include recipes and foods prepared, and environmental science projects might include journals and samples from nature hikes. The possibilities are endless depending upon the project selected. The important thing to remember is to keep all the information in one place where it can be easily assembled when the time comes.
Wrap It Up
Finally, every record book will include photographs and a project story. The photographs should represent activities throughout the project year – so once again – planning is important. With cell phones always present, it is very easy to have a great selection of photos for the record book. The very last section that should be added is the project story. This is the one thing that is not planned in advance and can really only be done properly at the end. This is a time to look back and reflect on the current year and think about goals for the coming year. As a former 4-Her and a parent of 4-H members, I can assure you that this will be a precious keepsake one day and that the 4-H project record book is an invaluable experience that generates much future benefit to the dedicated 4-H member.