WESTERN PRODUCER — The country’s largest out-of-school educational program makes its classroom wherever young people gather to learn
On Jan. 11, 4-H clubs in Canada celebrate the organization’s 110th anniversary.
The first 4-H club in Canada was formed in 1913 at Roland, Man., and quickly spread across the country. Only 11 years earlier, the idea began in the United States, filling a need for a way to pass agricultural knowledge on to young people.
With many good ideas, we like to be able to single out a particular person as the one who started it. But in the case of 4-H, a few people with a similar idea at the same time can be given credit.
Albert Belmont Graham (1868-1960) began an after-school youth program in Springfield, Ohio, on Jan. 15, 1902, and he is credited as the future club’s mastermind. He earned a reputation for his enthusiasm in teaching agriculture and rural values to young people.
The first club was called the Tomato Club or the Corn Growing Club. Graham’s purpose was to teach new farming methods to youth and get them interested in agriculture.
T.A. Erickson of Minnesota started local agricultural after-school clubs and fairs, also in 1902. Eventually, it came to be known as the Boys and Girls Agricultural Club. This name was commonly accepted across all of North America for years.
At first, the stated purpose of the early Boys and Girls Clubs was to provide rural young people with the opportunity to learn farming and homemaking skills. The unique learning approach made significant headway and Learn To Do By Doing became the official motto.
In 1910, Jessie Field Shambaugh designed the clover leaf pin with an H on each leaflet, chosen to represent the four Hs in the pledge: head, heart, hands and health.
By 1912, some clubs began using the name 4-H. In Canada, the name remained Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs until adopting the new name of 4-H in 1952. They had become a popular component of communities for years before that time.
During the mid-to-late 1950s, a critical shift of initiatives took place. A change in focus placed the emphasis on a member’s development rather than the project. The club goal switched from the best calf or crop to the most well-rounded individuals. That focus still holds today: building leadership and life skills that equip youth with the tools they need to reach their full potential and become contributing citizens.
The 4-H program now emphasizes all aspects of the mental, emotional, social and physical growth of its members. By helping members acquire a positive attitude toward learning, 4-H helps them increase their knowledge and develop valuable skills.
Volunteer leaders are vital to the success of the 4-H program. They are also supported with training, seminars and resources. In 1959, the first 4-H Leadership Week took place, a program that still runs today under the name Provincial 4-H Leadership Camp.
More than 8,000 adult volunteers provide guidance to 26,000 members aged eight to 21 (age varies in each province) who regularly recite the 4-H pledge:
“I pledge my head to clearer thinking,
my heart to greater loyalty,
my hands to larger service,
and my health to better living,
for my club, my community,
my country and my world.”
The original intention was learning more about harvesting corn, planting a garden, testing soil samples, tying knots in rope and identifying natural life such as weeds and insects.
The 4-H program is still well-rooted in a strong agricultural history, but recognizes that everyone can benefit from the holistic and socially conscious approach 4-H takes to learning.
Today, the organization has expanded from its rural roots to include more than 50 project options. Members and leaders have access to learning experiences tailored to the needs and interests of each individual. 4-H focuses on leadership, community and personal development. All members develop leadership skills, primarily through the completion of projects.
4 H out-of-school programming, in-school enrichment programs, clubs and camps also offer a variety of science, technology, engineering and mathematics opportunities, from agricultural and animal sciences to rocketry, robotics, environmental protection and computer science, improving skills in key scientific fields and the ability to take on new challenges.
At the beginning of each club year, members choose one or more projects to work on. Through the exploration of a project, they develop knowledge and skills in an area of their interest.
There is a long list of project options on the website at 4-h-canada.ca. Beef and light horse are popular but other options include archery, astronomy, drama or gardening. Members can also create their own project. They receive a package of project materials including a record book and a newsletter that keeps them informed of events available to their club.
There are clubs dedicated to one theme but others are multi-purpose. For a list of examples, see the Manitoba website at 4h.mb.ca/find-a-4-h-club-near-you/.
The program also incorporates life skills development in an expanding number of delivery modes. In addition to the core 4-H community club model, youth may participate through urban groups, community resource development, special interest groups, nutrition programs, school enrichment, camping and interagency learning experiences.
Members also meet with their group to work on projects together. They use their project manual, do activities and take tours and trips to learn more about their project topic. As their motto says, they’ll “Learn to Do by Doing” and keep track of all they’ve done in their record book. A club may decide to take a trip, help out in the community, or fundraise for the club’s needs. Most clubs will have competitions such as public speaking and fun social events.
At the end of the year, the club has an achievement day, a time to celebrate all they’ve accomplished during the year.
4-H is Canada’s largest out-of-school education program. Its classroom takes place around the kitchen table, outdoors or within the community with hands-on projects and demonstrations, leadership development and personal economics.
There is a 4-H museum at Roland, the birthplace of 4-H in Canada. Today there are clubs in every province, although none exist in the territories. Similar programs are found around the world.