6 Reasons To Join 4-H and Grow Beyond the Farm
There was a time when 4-H was about “cows, plows and sows.” But these days, organizers say, the club’s farm-based past has melded with a science-focused future, with participants enjoying everything from photography to rock climbing to safely riding all-terrain vehicles.
The first week of October is national 4-H Week, a time of celebration for the 6 million members who make it the world’s largest youth organization, and Pulaski County’s 4-H clubs will hold an open house at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 4.
The free event, at the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service center at 2301 S. University Ave. in Little Rock, gives leaders a chance to show off a modern focus on citizenship, healthy living, science and technology.
The agricultural tradition “is still around and still very important,” said Angie Freel, a state 4-H Citizenship/Leadership Specialist, but open house organizers hope to expose Arkansans to a wide variety of activities. “Experienced-based learning and positive youth development” are central to the 4-H philosophy, said Freel, who described 4-H as perfect for families. “I’ve seen adults grow just as much from being involved as do the youth.”
The 4-H pledge identifies the four Hs — head, heart, hands and health — but Little Rock Family is going above and beyond, offering six great reasons to join up.
1. Good Choices and Yoga Poses
Families and 4-H leaders work hard to help youngsters avoid too-common risky behaviors. The Healthy Lifestyle Choices Program teaches violence prevention, nutrition, fitness, safety and the dangers of substance abuse. The curriculum aligns with the National Health Education Standards, but just because the subject is serious doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. For example, Yoga for Kids focuses on simple exercises designed to increase fitness, decrease stress and improve mental focus while emphasizing fun and non-competitiveness. Routines can be performed at home, at camp or at school. Yoga for children isn’t always as quiet and calm as adult yoga, but the high-energy program does help children learn how to relax and focus.
2. Please Feed the Animals
The 4-H Wildlife Food Plot Project allows 4-H’ers from ages 9 to 19 to establish and maintain a small food plot for native wild species. The program provides enough seeds (often wheat — a particular favorite of whitetail deer) to let youths create a one-eighth-acre preserve, and teaches them how to establish native plants, thin forests, employ prescribed burning and control invasive plants and animals. Participants are also taught how to observe wildlife without being noticed.
3. Point and Shoot
Whether their interests lie in archery, rifles, pistols, shotguns or black powder/muzzle loaders, young people joining the Arkansas 4-H Shooting Sports Program will find more than fun. They’ll also get training and safe instruction in weaponry. The courses are modeled on the 4H National Shooting Sports Program, and participants take part at the C.A. Vines Arkansas 4-H Center in west Little Rock, learning from trained and certified instructors. Safety equipment is provided, and close supervision is a constant assurance. More information is available at UAEx.edu.
4. Riding Right
ATVs are fun and useful, but they can be dangerous. More than 100,000 Americans are seriously injured in ATV accidents each year, and many riders hurt in Arkansas are younger than 16. So 4-H offers basic riding and safety instruction in a controlled environment. The American Safety Institute’s RiderCourse covers pre-ride inspection, starting and stopping, quick turns, hill riding, emergency stopping and swerving, and riding over obstacles. Participants also learn about protective gear, local regulations, places to ride and environmental concerns. Since parental supervision is required, it’s a great way for the entire family to have fun together.
5. Rope Tricks
In the ExCEL program, energetic youths enjoy high- and low-rope courses and rock climbing. The program, part of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture’s experiential-based training efforts at the Arkansas Outdoor School, even features a 300-foot zip line for the particularly brave. Activities hone leadership skills, goal-setting, creative problem-solving and teamwork. Trust, communication and individual responsibility go hand in hand with the fun and hard work outdoors. “This program gives a tremendous boost to self-confidence and makes a lasting impression,” Freel said.
6. Seek and You Shall Find
4-H has a youth program to fit just about any kid. And Seek – Science Enrichment Education for Kids – caters to home-schooled youths in Grades 1-12. A component of the 4-H Arkansas Outdoor School, it lets students meet one day a week between December and March at the center off Ferncliff Road in westernmost Little Rock. Younger participants study trees, animals and wetlands, keeping journals about what they learn. Older students learn about space and astronomy, physiology and biology. It’s a great way for home-schooled students to interact with kids they might not otherwise meet, and to gain learning experiences that would be difficult to replicate at home — like dissecting frogs. Top-quality instruction and facilities also enhance the experience.