What is 4-H?
4-H is the youth development education program of Washington State University Extension, which is conducted jointly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, your state land grant university (WSU) and King County. Today 4-H is everywhere–in cities, suburbs, small towns, and rural communities.
4-H is the largest youth development organization in the nation. The United States has more than five million members and 600,000 leaders. Around the world, 4-H-type clubs exist in at least 82 countries.
No matter the location, all 4-H programs are guided by research-based curriculum and follow an experiential education approach, which means youth learn by doing. 4-H enables youth to develop the knowledge, attitudes, and skills they need to become competent, caring, and contributing citizens of the world. These life skills include positive self-esteem, effective communication, teamwork, leadership, healthy life choices, problem solving, and much more.
All 4-H programs are similar in that they focus on experiential education in four program areas: STEM, CITIZENSHIP, HEALTHY LIVING, and MENTORSHIP.
Here in King County, there are many different ways to connect with 4-H, including volunteer-led clubs, after-school programs, in-school programs, Ropes Courses, day camps, teen conferences, and fairs.
Here are some examples of the ways 4-H is helping youth to thrive in King County:
- In the north, we have Cooped Up In Seattle, Seattle’s first urban farming-focused 4-H club featured on NPR
- In the south, all 6th graders at Totem Middle School in Federal Way participate in 2-day hands-on engineering projects (e.g. wind turbine design with our National Youth Science day project Wired for Wind or Eco-bots) as part of a 4-H in-school program
- In the east we have the Fall City Flames, a horse club with members who take initiative to help others in need
- In the west, youth in Vashon Island’s Eyes of the Future club raise guide dog puppies for Guide Dogs for the Blind
- We also offer opportunities for youth from across the county, including unique teen leadership opportunities such as Know Your Government, an annual 4-day teen conference in Olympia, and Health Rocks!® a program in which teen and adult facilitators partner to educate youth on the consequences of substance abuse.
- And of course, there is the King County Fair where youth from all over the county compete and showcase their projects from the last year, hoping to make it to the Washington State Fair!
4-H Youth Development education creates a supportive environment for all youth and families to reach their fullest potential. This will be accomplished through a systematic approach of foundation and mission-driven science to meet the 4-H goals to:
- Provide formal and non-formal experiential learning
- Develop skills that benefit youth throughout life
- Foster leadership and volunteerism in youth and adults
- Build internal and external partnerships for programming and funding
- Strengthen families and communities
- Employ research-based knowledge and the land grant university system
- Embrace and expand the traditions of the 4-H Youth Development program
What is 4-H?
Youth leadership is what 4-H is all about. In 4-H, you are in charge of your own programming. Adult volunteers work with you and/or your club to plan your activities to meet the goals you have set for yourself. In King County, we offer many different levels of leadership opportunities.
Club leadership – you may choose to serve on a committee, as an officer or to lead an event. Each individual club has a slightly different structure; once you’ve joined a club you can set goals for what leadership roles you might want to take.
4-H Participation Models
Community Club: A club is a group of youth who are led by volunteers. Clubs may be a single-project club, where the group only participates in one project area (like only dogs, or only cooking) or multi-project club, where the group participates in many project areas.
After School Program: If you’re in an afterschool program, we will work with your program sponsor to begin offering 4-H projects.
Independent Member: An independent program is offered for those youth who are not able to join a club. This program involves setting goals, quarterly meetings to discuss progress and end of the year activities. Independent Member Plan
Dear 4-H Community,
We hope you are continuing to stay safe and healthy during this unchartered time. We are as anxious as you are to once again meet face-to-face, but we also know that ensuring everyone’s good health and safety is critical and our first focus. Of special concern is making sure our high-risk populations remain protected and safe.
Thank you for sharing many of your heartwarming stories and creative ways about how 4-H clubs are connecting with each other online, by phone, and by mail. It continues to be extremely important for our 4-H youth to find virtual ways to connect with their 4-H leaders and 4-H clubs to maintain their sense of belonging, so thank you all for your extra efforts during this time.
We know how difficult it is to hear about fairs being canceled or postponed. For an alternative, we have a team of 4-H faculty, staff, volunteers and youth creating guidelines so counties can host a Virtual 4-H Showcase Event. It is important to give our 4-H youth the opportunity to highlight mastery in their project area(s), demonstration speeches and other creative displays online. If you have any questions regarding what this may look like in your county, please reach out to your county 4-H staff through their website, email or phone.
For our 4-H Youth Development re-opening plan, originally we were following Governor Inslee’s plan for the K-12 community, and June 19th was the last day of school. Now the mandated guidance states all government entities must follow Governor Inslee’s Safe-Start four phased plan. This plan allows for rural counties to move through the phases at different times based on population of county (those under 75,000 approved to move first), while making sure that during each phase no one tests positive for COVID-19 for three consecutive weeks. At this time, the recommendation for the 4-H Youth Development Program to meet face-to-face will be for that to occur when your county reaches Phase Four. For the five counties that were allowed to move to Phase Two on May 6, the earliest they could potentially begin Phase Four is June 19 if they do not have any positive COVID-19 cases before that time and meet the other published requirements. Please consult with your local health department and County Extension Office for when your county may be allowed to move to Phase Four.
We are developing a sequenced re-opening plan for the 4-H Youth Development program intended to help mitigate possible spread of the virus for use when your county has reached Phase Four. Please know that we appreciate your continued patience and your focus on health and safety of our entire 4-H family.
Please take care, and stay healthy
Nancy C. Deringer, PhD, AFC®
State Program Leader, 4-H Youth Development
Washington State University