It all started when a fellow homeschooling mom waxed enthusiastically about the benefits of participating in 4-H's "family membership." As I am always on the lookout for creative ways to improve my homeschooling, my curiousity was piqued.
As a result, Cookie innocently got my offspring and me involved in the largest informal educational program for young people in the United States.
Joining 4-H on the family membership plan (for free, by the way) allowed me to start my own 4-H club for my sons. This, in turn, gave us all the advantages of participation without the hassle of driving to club meetings.
"What are these advantages?" you might be wondering. I can think of three aspects of the 4-H program that were instrumental in helping our family gain new skills and knowledge. Knowledge that -- surprise, surprise! -- supplemented our study of science.
Let me explain.
- Educational Literature Access. 4-H has an extensive number of informational packets that are available at no cost or modest prices to members. Topics, which vary widely, include small engines, wood science, clothing construction, vegetable gardening, first aid, horse safety, and electronics. In addition, 4-H also provides record sheets for any long-term project junior might want to keep tabs on.
- Fairs and Exhibits. 4-H hosts fairs in the spring and/or summer months. These events are usually a more low-key affair than high-powered, hyped-up county fairs. In lieu of the science fairs homeschoolers miss out on, 4-H fairs are ideal, non-threatening places to display homemade wares or hobbies. Entrants can be as young as five or as old as seventeen. Exhibits include canned goods, crafts, plants, rock collections, Lego masterpieces, and even pet rabbits. Ribbons and premium money are awarded to winners, and participants can enter many different categories. (This is a sure-fire way for your wanna-be entrepreneur to earn bucks from his or her labors.)
- Livestock and Poultry. Ducks, lambs, turkeys, and pigs can all be obtained below market prices through 4-H sponsorships. There's even an embryology project for those who want to witness the birth of a baby chick.
On a personal note, I purchased an adorable pet pygmy goat for $35 (a $75 value) at the annual 4-H auction. My sons have been raising broiler hens and egg layers for several years. And 4-H provided amateurs, like ourselves, plenty of tips as we learned the dos and donts of raising these critters.
4-H is a nationwide program that is under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture. Consequently, there's a good chance there is a 4-H program in your community.
4-H county agents, like Hampshire County (MA) Extension Agent Nancy Searle, are eager to include more homeschoolers in their programs.
Wid Lyman feeds baby chicks—another 4–H project that's pretty “cheep”!
"I know there's a large network of homeschoolers out there. I'd like to reach out to that network and let them [homeschooling families] in on what's available for them," says Searle.
Searle, who had homeschoolers in her rabbit club, believes the 4-H approach to learning is compatible to many homeschoolers educational philosophies.
"4-H offers a nice practical hands-on approach to teaching kids. Our motto is, after all, 'learn by doing.' That's the way kids learn best. Plus, our resources come through the research base of state land grant universities. Parents can feel comfortable that they're getting the best information that's available," Searle explains.
If you're interested in learning more about 4-H, contact your State 4-H office. To find them, look in the phone book under U.S. Government-Dept. of Agriculture, or try your local state university's cooperative extension office.
A WORD TO THE WISE
Like every other secular organization, 4-H is now under pressure to prove itself "politically correct." Some homeschool parents have alerted us to questionable content in some 4-H leader's material. Make SURE you know your 4-H leader well -- or volunteer yourself!
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