In a week, I went from loathing 4-H—and thinking that we would certainly be 4-H dropouts—to deciding that we definitely need to do it again next year!
The motto of 4-H is to develop young people’s heads, hearts, hands, and health. Thus, the four Hs. Kids in 4-H work on projects to be judged and displayed at the county fair, with the grand champions going to the state fair. I liked the 4-H motto. I also liked the idea of my kids choosing their own types of projects. For the bulk of the school year, I dictate all of their subjects and learning material. With 4-H, they could pick something that sounded interesting to them. They could decide what to study and what skills to learn. So we signed up.
Since I did not grow up participating in 4-H, I was unfamiliar with how the program worked and did not have the fond memories of doing it as a kid, to keep me motivated.
When I had questions, I was often confused by a lack of information online and some seemingly conflicting information. I will also admit that I waited too long to have my children start their projects. The school year was busy, so we put off much of the 4-H work until the first of June.
When we finally did start our 4-H projects, I started having a bad attitude when I realized that, even though the school year was over, we would basically be doing more “school” because of 4-H. I was ready for a break! I was not looking forward to having to help keep my older children accountable and help them with more projects.
As I mentioned above, 4-H has four Hs: head, heart, hands, health. I wanted to add a few more: like headache and hassle.
Cake decorating especially tried my patience. I wish I could say I am always a glowing example of serenity, deftly crafting a positive educational environment, and being a good example to my children. But I’m not.
The 4-H handbook gave specifications for the size of the Styrofoam cake dummy to be decorated, and the size of the cake board. We also had a separate paper from a club meeting with different size specifications. We were unsure which one was right, so we stuck with the handbook measurements. One thing was clear. The cake board had to be three inches larger than the Styrofoam dummy. There was no obvious retailer anywhere in my major metropolis, however, who even sold a Styrofoam dummy cake and a cake board that were the exact sizes specified. So we had to either cut the circumference of the circular cake board, or the cut cake dummy itself, so that the board was three inches larger than the dummy. It was very frustrating. In fact, here is a picture of my husband trying to help my daughter cut the cake board to size. [He did do 4-H as a child and even he thought it was all a little ridiculous.]
At long last, the Styrofoam dummy cake was decorated with vanilla-scented buttercream frosting and we drove to the county fairgrounds to drop it off at the specified time.
My resolve to be a 4-H dropout was crumbling a little bit at this time because I saw how proud my daughter was to complete her cake decorating project (and a fine arts project as well). Her eyes shone as she handed in her frosting-slathered chunk of Styrofoam.
Cake decorating was something she chose to do herself. Maybe this will even be a lifelong passion? If not, maybe my grandchildren will have better-looking birthday cakes because of my longsuffering.
She was judged by a third-party and given some constructive criticism. She was taught that 1) perseverance to complete a project—despite any bad attitudes your mom might exhibit—and 2) doing excellent work—even if it’s within the confines of tedious handbook requirements—are both valuable things to learn.
My second-born daughter did Mini 4-H, which has fairly lax requirements. She also enjoyed submitting two simple projects and reading the judges’ comments about her work. She was told that her no-bake cookies were so yummy that the judges fought over the last bites. That gave her a lot of confidence and a desire to keep on baking!
Now that July is over, I’m already starting to forget the headaches and hassles of 4-H. I’m realizing what a good thing it really is. Next year we will start sooner and I will build on the knowledge I already have. It will probably be easier. I will be more patient. Or at least I will try.
4-H is a good thing. I recommend it! If it doesn’t kill you, you will love it. Really.
Photo Credit: All photos by Amy Koons.