Parents: Want self-reliant children? Enroll them in 4-H

  • Published: Thursday, July 30, 2020

4-H member sewing

Lawrence County 4-H member Vincent Welters sews a pillowcase made from his uncle’s camo shirt. The pillowcase was one of Vincent’s 4-H project exhibits this year.

MOUNT VERNON, MO – As parents across the country send their children off to college for the first time this fall, many are wondering if they have prepared them for life on their own. While there numerous lists of essential skills every 18-year-old needs to be self-sufficient, enrolling children in 4-H at a young age will provide regular opportunity for children to learn these essential skills in a safe environment.

According to Karla Deaver, County Engagement Specialist in 4-H Youth Development, the 4-H experience not only provides the opportunity for children to not only learn essential life skills with caring adults, but also helps them learn about failure and overcoming obstacles. “Children have the chance to try new things in 4-H. It’s a great way for them to try something they are interested in. They find out if they are good at something, if they truly like it, or maybe that they don’t like it. Even when they fail, there are adult project leaders, 4-H staff, and teen mentors there as a safety net to help them process and understand their failure,” Deaver said.

Here are 10 essential skills kids need to be self-sufficient. 4-H teaches each of these skills in fun and interesting ways.

1.      Food preparation. Through 4-H projects such as Foods, children can learn to prepare their own meals, practice food safety and learn about balanced, healthy diets.

2.      Learn to swim/water safety. 4-H camps often provide a safe environment to not only learn to swim, but do other water sports such as canoing, kayaking and more. As with all 4-H programs, safety is the first priority.

3.      Plant and grow a garden. Gardening projects are a wonderful way for children to learn to grow their own food, and appreciate having fresh produce.

4.      First aid and the importance of health. The fourth “H” in 4-H stands for health, and is one of the fundamentals of 4-H. There are projects in health and fitness, keeping fit and healthy, including first aid. Many 4-H camp counselors are teens in the program, and learn CPR as one of their skills, along with basic first aid techniques.

5.      Managing money and basic budgeting. Many 4-H clubs do fund-raisers and have checking accounts overseen by club officers. Club treasurers must learn to account for income and expenses of the club. In addition, the Financial Literacy project helps youth understand money, budgeting, spending and saving. For members interested in starting their own business, the entrepreneurship project helps them develop a business plan, budgeting and more.

6.      Time management. At 4-H camps and events, youth are often responsible for getting themselves to their sessions and meals on time. Youth also learn time management through learning to meet registration deadlines for events, getting their projects completed by the fair or achievement day, and more. Part of time management is accepting responsibility. Members learn responsibility through caring for livestock projects, following through on commitments to the club, and more.

7.      Teach them to take care of their own things/be organized. Overnight 4-H camps provide the first chance for many children to be responsible for their own belongings. One of the first steps toward independence, this important life skill is one 4-H campers most often say they learned at camp during post-camp evaluations.

8.      Social skills. This is an area where 4-H truly shines. From ice breakers to team-building and more, 4-H provides small and large group activities to help children learn to interact with other youth and adults. Many families who are looking for social activity for their children seek out 4-H.

9.      Clothing care and sewing.  The 4-H Sewing project teaches both hand and machine sewing. Members learn important skills like sewing on buttons, mending clothing and making minor repairs. In the clothing project that has a focus on consumer skills, members learn about purchasing clothing that is versatile and fits their budget.

10.  Decision-making skills. Through judging activities and teams, children in 4-H learn how to make a decision and then defend that decision through oral reasons. The ability to make and defend one’s decisions is utilized throughout life.

While there is debate over which skills are essential in adulthood, one thing is certain: 4-H teaches life skills in a fun and engaging way. For youth ages 5-18, there are a number of different ways to get involved in 4-H. For more information about 4-H and how to enroll, visit or contact your local county Extension center.



Writer: Karla Deaver

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