High quality 4-H activities engage youth in subject area topics (content) in an environment (context) where youth feel safe and free to share, learn, and grow. Focusing on both content and context is a critical piece in helping youth thrive.
Research shows that when youth are engaged and self-direct their own learning, the learning is optimized. Adult volunteers and teen educators are essential to this learning - facilitating the learning process using hands-on, experiential methods, where youth are free to explore. See the 4-H framework below:
4-H educators and volunteers use different approaches when engaging with their youth. The two major approaches are education and youth development. Content is the information and experiences created by individuals, institutions, and technology to benefit audiences in venues that they value. Content is closely aligned with the education approach to 4-H Youth Development. Context is the circumstances or settings that determine, specify, or clarify the meaning of an event. Context is related to the youth development approach.
The following are the three different mission areas within the education approach: citizenship, healthy living, and science, engineering and technology (STEM). 4-H encourages citizenship by providing youth with opportunities to connect with their communities. Healthy living involves programs that promote physical, emotional, and mental health among youth. Youth can engage in hands-on activities and explore careers in Science, Engineering, and Technology (STEM) in 4-H.
Youth development encompasses the following essential elements: belonging, independence, generosity, and mastery. Belonging is achieved when 4-H educators create a safe and inclusive environment for youth. Independence is occurs when youth have the opportunity to see oneself as an active participant in the future, and when youth are given the opportunity for self-determination. Generosity is when youth are given the
opportunity to value and practice service for others. Mastery refers to when youth are engaged in learning and have the opportunity for mastery.
4-H clubs incorporate both the essential elements of youth development and mission areas of education in youth activities. Service learning activities incorporate equal amounts of education and youth development. School enrichment and afterschool programs are more education focused. Camps and community service are more youth development focused.
4-H Healthy Living Programs. (n.d.). Retrieved June 07, 2016, from http://www.4-h.org/youth-development-programs/kids-health/.
4-H Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM). (n.d.). Retrieved June 07, 2016, from http://www.4-h.org/youth-development-programs/4-h-science-programs/.
Citizenship. (n.d.). Retrieved June 07, 2016, from http://www.4-h.org/youth-development-programs/citizenship-youth-engagement/.
McKee, R., Ph.D., & McKinley, S., Ph.D. (n.d.). Essential Elements of 4-H Youth Development [A presentation on the different approaches used by 4-H educators and volunteers.]. Purdue University, West Lafayette.