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Get Involved with 4-H in Your State and Help Get Youth Outdoors!

Posted: April 17, 2014

Did you know that your state Cooperative Extension service has 4-H curriculum to help teach youth about the outdoors, wildlife, and even forestry?

By David R. Jackson, Penn State Extension Educator

Did you know that your state Cooperative Extension service has 4-H curriculum to help teach youth about the outdoors, wildlife, and even forestry? Through local 4-H community clubs and special interest groups, opportunities exist to teach youth from age 8-18 about a wide range of outdoor related topics. Visit the 4-H Mall (4-hmall.org) to view a host of outdoor-related curriculum books and facilitator guides. Some outdoor-related titles include: entomology, fishing, forestry, environment, and outdoor adventures. Combine these with state level curriculum on everything from camping, wildlife management, orienteering, archery, and riflery, and there are plenty of options to engage youth to get them outside learning about and experiencing nature.

How does 4-H work? 4-H is completely volunteer driven, generally under the direction of a county based 4-H educator with the Land Grant University system such as Penn State. Local adult volunteers lead either community clubs or special interest groups. 4-H youth have opportunities to participate in all kinds of projects, events, and activities. While activities mainly focus on the local 4-H club or group, members may also participate in group activities and events such as fairs, trips, camps, teen leader trainings, fundraising activities, achievement programs, and community service, as well as county, regional and state learning opportunities. 4-H relies on parent and adult volunteer participation to help provide many of these opportunities.

An “Outdoors Club” would be one type of special interest group. There are many others, ranging from livestock groups to robotics! An outdoors club can meet formally with regular meetings and elected youth officers, or meet informally to work on projects or host activities. Monthly meetings keep members involved as they plan upcoming events. These meetings also provide opportunities to host special guests to work with youth on particular interests. For example, youth in Pennsylvania might prepare to attend the annual 4-H Wildlife and Forestry Field Day. Preparation sessions might enlist the help of subject matter experts who can teach club members skills to compete in the forestry judging or wildlife habitat evaluation competitions. 

To start an outdoors club call or visit your county Cooperative Extension office. Don’t forget many outdoor related curriculum books already exist and they can guide your efforts. You don’t have to have subject matter expertise, all you need is the interest and the desire to work with youth and get them outdoors. Subject matter experts can be brought in to teach things like planning a hike, archery, using a compass and map, tree identification, or insect collecting. The important thing is to get started. Find a place to meet, advertise your club to the current 4-H membership and to schools, put an ad in the local paper, and find a way to get area youth and other adult leaders involved.

For more than ten years, I have worked with 4-H forestry at the state and national level. 4-H forestry is a great way to get youth outdoors learning about the natural world around them. With the help of volunteer leaders 4-H forestry participants learn about forest uses and benefits. Many states have organized forestry judging contests. State winners earn the right to represent their state at the National 4-H Forestry Invitational. If your state doesn’t have an organized state event, interested youth can still participate at the national level. Check with your state 4-H office to learn more about this process.

The Invitational is open to all 4-H members across the US, ages 14-18. All 50 states receive an invitation. Founded in 1980, the annual Invitational is held at West Virginia University’s Jackson's Mill State 4‐H Conference Center in Weston, West Virginia and attracts more than 100 participants. During the five-day event, 4‐H members compete for overall team and individual awards in several categories including: Tree Identification, Forest Evaluation, Tree Measurement, Compass Orienteering, Topographic Map Reading, Forest Evaluation, and Forest Health. Additional Invitational activities include forestry tours, wildlife presentations, campfires, an introduction to natural resource careers, and a woodsmen skills fun competition.

4-H Forestry and the National 4-H Forestry Invitational are two examples of how 4-H can get kids outdoors. There are many other opportunities. An outdoors club may be just what is needed in your area to get kids outside experiencing all Mother Nature has to offer. I hope you will consider becoming a 4-H volunteer leader. Your leadership will provide youth and your community with invaluable experiences. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or need additional information (drj11@psu.edu or 814-355-4897).