Positive Youth Development Through 4-H Community Clubs
4-H Critical Elements – An Opportunity for Self-Determination
Self-determination is believing that one has some impact over life’s events rather than submitting passively to the will and whims of others. Young people must foster a personal sense of influence over their own lives, exercising their potential to become self-directing, autonomous adults.
The premise of the fifth critical element – that of taking advantage of the opportunity for self-determination – is that youth are encouraged to try new things and learn about themselves. As a result they discover and practice their individual interests and skills, test their independence, and take control of their lives.
4-H volunteers might consider the following questions: In our 4-H club…
- Are members challenged to attempt new things or learn new skills?
- Do youth have opportunities to discover something about themselves?
- Do members have the opportunity to be someone special?
- Do members have the opportunity to apply subject matter content and life skills learned in 4-H to their everyday lives?
Some practices the 4-H club may want to implement if they are not already in place include:
- Allow all youth to have a voice in selecting activities for the club. A good club program plan should provide every member the chance to do something that they are personally interested in. If members are not interested in the club plans, they will not attend and participate fully.
- Encourage project leaders to use the experiential learning cycle – experience, share, process, generalize and apply - when working with members in large or small groups.
- Allow plenty of time for members to talk about their own experiences at 4-H meetings. Youth need to be active by doing and experiencing. They also need time to share feelings, ask questions, and consider how what they have learned affects them and how they might apply their new knowledge or skill to other phases of their daily life. Each member should have three opportunities to speak during the duration of the club meeting.
- Provide opportunities for older youth to test their independence. Match them with younger members as “Big Friends” or mentors for the year. The Extension Office has resource materials to provide orientation for “Big Friends.”
- Have the older members plan, implement, and evaluate a program or activity for younger members. Be sure the opportunity provides some challenges for the older members. As leaders be supportive and interested in the project but allow the group to work through the problems and come up with their own solutions. At the end of the project, take time to sit down with older members and help them to reflect on their leadership experience.
- Introduce older members to the Clover Challenge project opportunity. Those youth who are 15 years of age or older and who have completed all of the activities in the member manuals for a given project may create their own educational plan for advanced work in the same project area. Contact your Extension Office for specific details on the Clover Challenge.
- Make certain that young people are heard and taken seriously by others. It’s difficult for youth to learn to speak up and express themselves if they feel no one is paying attention. That’s why it is so important that youth be given a chance to be involved in making choices and decisions that affect them. A good way to show that they are being taken seriously is to invite them to contribute their ideas, concerns and opinions in committee discussions. Volunteer training on involving youth in decision-making is available from your Extension Office.
- Be sure that once youth have joined decision-making groups, they are not ignored. Adults tend to forget that they aren’t the only ones with important things to say. Listening is a skill that takes effort and practice. It is helpful for adults to try summarizing what they are hearing in order to be sure that they understand youth correctly.
- Encourage youth to participate in decision-making activities within the club (committee chair, club officer, junior leader, member of program planning committee) as well as urge them to apply for leadership positions at the county, regional, or state level. Talk to your Extension Unit Youth staff for more information about these opportunities.