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Belonging is More Than Fitting In

In 4-H, belonging is more than simply fitting in with a group.  So what does it mean for a youth’s 4-H experience? According to Kress (2004), three essential elements shape the concept of Belonging. Let’s look at each of them and how adults can help create a sense of belonging.

Positive Relationship with a Caring Adult

Youth need to be surrounded by caring adults with whom they can have positive, meaningful relationships. So while every parent should be this for their child, 4-H leaders can also help fill that role. Good club leaders are those who develop caring relationships with their 4-H’ers.  Parents can help the leader accomplish this by volunteering to lead a community service project or heading up a fundraiser. Therefore, the leader spends time on building the caring relationship through project activities that make the 4-H club experience so special.

An Inclusive Environment

4-H provides youth with the opportunity to express themselves beyond academics.  In the club setting, they can be with other kids that share their interests. 4-H’ers collaborate to complete projects related to horses, sewing, archery, cooking, or robotics, to name a few. Thus, youth are included in activities as part of a group that is working together for common goals.  This strengthens group identity.

A Safe Environment

Environments should be safe in two different ways: physically safe and emotionally safe. 4-H club meetings, events and contests provide opportunities for youth try new experiences, exercise skills and explore new ideas without fear of ridicule. To do this, 4-H club leaders work to provide youth with the guidance for developing new skills and improving existing ones.  This happens in an environment free of harsh criticism or put-downs from peers. Parents can help by teaching their children the importance of not bullying others. Extension agents train volunteer leaders on University-approved risk management practices to ensure that activities are occurring in locations with minimum risk. Also, leaders learn the ages and stages of youth to help them make safety decisions based on a child’s development.

St. Johns County 4-H provides the opportunity for members to engage in activities fostering a sense of belonging.  By working with caring adults and peers that share their interests, they feel a sense of belonging. The screened and trained adult volunteers leading the St. Johns County 4-H clubs and projects are always striving to create a sense of belonging for their club members. Thus, youth have more fun while learning at the same time.  To learn more about the Essential Elements, visit http://www.4-h.org/.