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A Summer of Virtual 4-H Experiences: Three Lessons Learned

It was recently noted that anyone in the year 2015 who answered the question “where do you see yourself in five years?” would have been completely wrong!  Certainly, those of us in the Florida 4-H program never would have guessed that our summer 2020 programs would be comprised completely of virtual experiences.

I must admit that when faced with the reality that all our normally in-person 4-H camps would become virtual, I was overcome by the thought that kids would not enjoy this mode of delivery and that our participation would be low. As it turns out, I was quite wrong about that. In fact, over the course of three months of online programs, three important themes became very clear to me.

Kids WANT to Learn

Kids have an innate desire to learn new things about topics that interest them and even after three months of online school, they were still willing to join us each day to learn more. We certainly planned our sessions to pique participant interest and be engaging, but more often than not, the questions came first from the 4-H campers themselves. If they were not familiar with a term or concept, or maybe missed an instruction, they spoke up because they wanted to understand and not be passive learners. The learning stimulated a desire to take action and youth enjoyed sharing what they created, completed, grew or designed after participating in the previous days of camp.

Kids NEED to Connect

The process of sharing was one way in which kids who had been isolated for months were able to connect with other people and feel valued. Rather than just focusing on content and projects, we also provided opportunities to get to know the campers as individuals and affirm each of them for their interests and talents. Daily icebreakers were a great way to get that process started and allow the kids to identify with one another. Educators made sure to acknowledge the campers’ verbal participation as well as comments in the chat box.

In fact, the chat box was a very important and active part of the sessions that allowed questions and comments to flow in real time with the presentations. The chat was so busy that at least one adult educator was assigned daily to monitor the chat and respond to camper questions. The chat was also a place for campers to respond to and affirm one another. Even youth who did not utilize a microphone or video feed could actively engage with others using the chat feature. It was very clear that kids needed to connect and belong. By the final session of each week, most said they did not want the 4-H camp to end.

Kids can ENJOY Virtual Programs

The bottom line is that the campers found the virtual 4-H camps a positive experience. This was evident through their comments, level of engagement, attendance and survey feedback. I am sure all of us can agree that face-to-face 4-H programs are the ideal. But when circumstances such as these we are experiencing prevent that, we know we can indeed provide quality experiences through virtual means. It has been said that many of the ways in which life has changed may be with us going forward, and it is likely that virtual learning will be a big part of our 4-H future. In light of that, it is encouraging to know that we are able to create enriching and effective programs that meet kids’ needs to learn, connect and of course have fun.