In 1999, five evaluators from the National 4-H Impact Design Implementation Team were given the charge of answering the question, “What positive outcomes in youth, adults and communities result from the presence of critical elements in a 4-H experience?”
The group reviewed the basic and applied research on characteristics of effective programs for youth development. Emphasis was placed on using existing empirical research on what impacts positive youth development. Another criterion used by the group was relevance to 4-H that could be communicated to colleagues, researchers and volunteers. From this process, eight elements critical to youth development and central to the 4-H experience emerged:
- A positive relationship with a caring adult
A caring adult acts as an advisor, guide and mentor. The adult helps set boundaries and expectations for young people. The adult could be called supporter, friend and advocate.
- A safe environment -- physically and emotionally
Youth should not fear physical or emotional harm while participating in a 4-H experience whether from the learning environment itself, adults, other participants or spectators.
- Opportunity for mastery
Mastery is the building of knowledge, skills and attitudes and then demonstrating the competent use of this knowledge and skills in the manner of a proficient practitioner. The level of mastery depends on the developmental ability of the individual child or youth. The development of mastery is a process over time.
- Opportunity to value and practice service for others
Finding one’s self begins with losing yourself in the service of others. Service is a way for members to gain exposure to the larger community, indeed the world itself.
- Opportunity for self-determination
Believing that you have an effect on life’s events rather than passively submitting to the will and whims of others is self-determination. Youth must exercise a sense of influence over their lives, exercising their potential to become self-directing, autonomous adults.
- An inclusive environment (encouragement, affirming, belonging)
An inclusive environment is one that creates a sense of belonging, encourages and supports its members with positive and specific feedback. Healthy groups celebrate the success of all members – taking pride in the collective efforts of all.
- Opportunity to see oneself as an active participant in the future
The ability to see oneself in the future is to harness the hope and optimism to shape life choices to facilitate the transition into participating in the future.
- Engagement in learning
An engaged youth is one who is mindful of the subject area, building relationships and connections to develop understanding. Through self-reflection, youth have the ability to self-correct and learn from experience. The engaged learner has a higher degree of self-motivation and an inexhaustible capacity to create.