When people hear about 4-H, often times they also hear about 4-H projects. What exactly is a 4-H project and why is it talked about so often?

Youth select one or more 4-H projects which are hands-on experiences that allow them to learn about what they are good at, develop different skills as well as finding their sparks. When youth enroll in 4-H, they have the opportunity to select general and/or livestock project areas.

According to 4-h.org/parents/programs-at-a-glance, annually, 5 million youth participate in science projects, 2.5 million do healthy living projects and 2.5 million do citizenship projects. The list of project areas is much longer and more specific than the categories listed above. It includes things like photography, arts & crafts, entomology, small engines, gardening, wildlife, animal science which can include live animals, etc. For a full list of project areas, you can visit the MN 4-H website at z.umn.edu/projects4H.

When youth work on a 4-H project, they are learning and developing skills that help them complete the project as well as skills to be used in the future. It can be project specific skills like learning how to measure, cut and assemble supplies in the shop project. Or the skills can be more general like goal setting, budgeting, and problem solving.

As they work through these learning processes, some choose to research and self-teach, while others learn from peer and adult mentors. As youth explore throughout their years as a member, whether they know it or not, many are preparing themselves for their future employment. 4-H alumni often share that they chose a job because of the projects they did in 4-H. I’ve also talked with many who mention the skills learned in 4-H have led to their classroom and job successes such as speaking in front of others, leading a team, etc.

Most of the time, these projects make it to the county fair where youth have an opportunity to speak one on one with a judge. Through conference judging, youth are challenged to think and talk about what they did, what worked or didn’t work, what could be done differently, how they can challenge themselves in the future, etc. Between the quality of the judging experience and finished product, the youth may be put on the list of state fair eligible youth.

So as we look at the cycle of a 4-H project, it starts out at a basic level where the youth choose a topic they want to learn about. With their hard work, education, guidance, and support, many more possibilities beyond that basic level of learning are created.

If you know young people in kindergarten — age 19 who would like to explore 4-H projects or other 4-H opportunities, and/or you are a caring adult who would like to share your expertise with young people, contact your local Extension office. In Rice County, you can call 507-332-6109 or email mnext-rice@umn.edu.

Kelly Chadwick is the Rice County 4-H Extension educator.

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