Friday, August 13, 2010

Getting Kids Started in 4-H with Chickens

Lately, I've been sorting through boxes containing my childhood memories . . . looks like I saved every scrap of paper!

One thing worthy of re-visiting is a booklet from my first year in 4-H called "Raising Fancy Poultry". As I leaf through it, the 4-H pledge draws my attention:

I pledge

My head to clearer thinking,

My heart to greater loyalty,

My hands to greater service and

My health to better living for

My club, my community,my country,

and my world

What parent wouldn't want their kids to think clearly, be loyal, work hard, and eat wisely and exercise to become a contributing member of society? A good 4-H leader models these values and promotes teamwork, personal responsibility, and excellence. Of course, it's up to parents to personally check out the club and get to know the leader before sending a child around the block to absorb God-knows-what from a leader who may have beliefs (and shares them with members) that you vehemently disagree with.

Over all, though, when kids participate in a 4-H project they learn valuable life lessons, from contributing as a team member to performing basic business operations. They're required to keep detailed records about their project, the costs associated with it, and the final outcome. Just as in sports activities, they learn to compete, win with humility, and lose with class. Then, when they lose, they're motivated to work even harder next time . . . a valuable habit to form at a young age.

The 4-H organization was formed as a result of the Cooperative Extension Acts in May and June of 1914, and is a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I tend to be wary of gigantic government programs, but at least back when I was a member it appeared that there was a lot of local control, though printed materials and lesson plans were conveniently provided for leaders. As with any group, the quality and culture of the program will be a reflection of the adults who choose to be involved, so parental oversight is always advisable.

You can learn about local 4-H groups by going to your county fair, contacting your county extension office, or searching the Internet. Since home farming, raising chickens as pets, and sustainable urban farming have become so popular, being involved in fair competitions just seems like a natural next step to take. And during the fair, kids learn to interact with attendees (learn customer service skills) which is helpful when they become teenagers and get their first job.

I have no regrets about spending much of my childhood as a 4-H member and am grateful for the leadership provided by volunteers in my club. But, one thing I wonder about today is whether membership has suffered due to the popularity of video games and such.

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