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Thursday, 22 August 2019 07:52

For 4-H members, fair projects provide learning for a lifetime

Written by  Guest Opinion: Debbie Burkman
4-H is a nationwide program that provides opportunities for youth, grades 5K-13, to develop expertise in areas of interest while building a battery of life skills that will position them for success as adults.
Members of 4-H community clubs participate in 4-H year-round, allowing them an amplified chance to learn and grow. They meet with their clubs monthly to conduct business, participate in educational programs and plan service projects for their communities. Along the way, every single community club member also chooses at least one “project” to build knowledge and skills around and ultimately display and celebrate their accomplishments in — oftentimes through competition in the youth divisions at their local county fair.

This August, the vast majority of Walworth County’s 775 4-H community club members will be showing up and showing off thousands of fair entries at the Walworth County Fair in Elkhorn. Many will be prepping animals for the show ring and brushing up on their showmanship skills. Some will be creating posters and displays that encapsulate what they have learned on a specific topic. Some will be building or refinishing items of furniture, crafting home décor, painting canvasses, taking photos, sewing garments, baking and preserving foods, programming robots, engineering Lego structures, recording videos, selecting top crops, veggies and flowers from their gardens, and much more.

During the shows, they will communicate with and demonstrate to judges what they have learned this past year. They will carry out a variety of volunteer roles to ensure that shows and judging run smoothly. They will carefully tend to their animals and oversee exhibit areas to ensure that displays are safe and becoming of the high standards of the 4-H organization. They will pitch in to help their fellow exhibitors succeed, and they will share their knowledge and skills with younger members who need advice. At the end of the fair, they will leave with a sense of pride about what was accomplished through their project work — often without even realizing the true impacts the experience that began months before has had on their lives.

What are the true impacts of the yearlong 4-H experience that ends at fair? The true impacts are the multitude of life skills that have been developed and finessed throughout — self-discipline, responsibility, managing feelings, communication, cooperation, planning and organizing, goal setting, self-motivation, leadership, community service volunteering, keeping records and more. Though they may not recognize it until they reflect back on their 4-H experiences later in life, 4-H alumni will often say that 4-H helped them develop their leadership skills, become more well-rounded citizens and enabled them to see the bigger picture.

For many 4-Hers, the opportunity to show at the fair is the carrot that keeps them rolling out of bed early each morning to do chores, weed and fertilize their garden, finesse their painting and drawing skills, strategize to get the perfect photo angle, apply the second or third coat of polyurethane, go the extra length to make a visually appealing poster and more. Spending time in the celebratory environment of the fair among family, friends and fair visitors who are interested in what they have done is a perfect ending to an incredible learning experience. It is also one of the hooks that keeps members engaged year after year.

Walworth County 4-H is the youth development program of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension. Learn more about Walworth County 4-H at, contact the Walworth County Extension Office at 262-741-4951, or visit our promotional display in the Youth Building at this year’s Walworth County Fair (Aug. 28 through Sept. 2).


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