Getting Your Kids Involved with 4-H and FFA

Getting Your Kids Involved with 4-H and FFA

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By Virginia Montgomery – The fair season was always filled with awe and wonder in my household, even from an early age. My father would take us through the livestock exhibits, and I would look up at the cages of poultry in amazement at the various colors and shapes of chickens. I used to beg to put a few hens in our backyard as pets. Quickly, I was shut down with the common misconception that we would need a rooster.

It was in middle school that I truly found myself in a livestock setting. It started in an Agriscience education classroom. I had decided I wanted to be a farmer after a visit to a dairy farm, and immediately, I signed up for an Agriscience class and thus quickly bought my first rabbit, a Dutch I named Kool-Aid. I went on to win third place in the spring show, and I was hooked. FFA and 4-H had become my passion.

Years later, I competed with rabbits, chickens, and a goat named Echo. Echo became my best friend and showed me the support I needed during difficult times, as did 4-H and FFA. The lessons I learned helped form me into the person I am today. Now that I am a parent, I find myself using these lessons with my children, especially as my son grows closer to joining 4-H.

4-H and FFA are very similar programs, with the main difference being age requirements. FFA is for students from seventh grade until they graduate, though some join the collegiate level. 4-H is aged five to 18. Another difference is that FFA is sponsored through a school and 4-H is done through a county extension program with many clubs in the area.

Children and teens in both clubs are encouraged to explore interests through projects. Sometimes these are agriculturally based but not always. Both programs encourage leadership, entrepreneurship, and community through their programs. Often, students choose a path of entrepreneurship and learn responsibilities associated with such.

One example is market animals. Frequently, they raise an animal to auction off for meat. The child is responsible for a record book and keeps track of expenses. Students learn the value of work through this. Both programs offer a leadership program where students learn meeting agendas and planning. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) is also heavily influenced within FFA.  

FFA students will learn hands-on through an SAE project, also known as a Supervised Agriculture Experience. The projects can vary from market animals to food preparation. This provides students an opportunity to explore their interests. They can even do a research-based SAE. Regardless of the type of SAE, these can help provide an opportunity for a child to take initiative in their learning.  

Being in FFA can allow students to compete in contests and even get college scholarships. FFA encourages students to pursue career paths. In my most recent agriculture classroom, we learned interview skills and built resumes. Some advisors even helped with job placement for students. 

Many programs have various certifications, including welding, where the students will receive a welding certification. This helps students by providing the ability for them to leave school with a well-paying job. Many programs encourage alternatives to college, such as trade school. Trade schools help students who are not academically inclined. They gain a broader knowledge about other options for them and receive encouragement from pursuing their passions.  

When I had my first son, I had preconceived notions that he would be competing like I did within 4-H. He grew older, and now he would rather play Minecraft than work in the garden with me. He enjoys the chickens but loves to play video games.

For a while, people asked if I was upset that he would not be in 4-H. I laughed. 4-H is not just about agriculture. 4-H is an agriculture and STEM program, and their main view is “learning by doing.” This means a child can do just about anything they want. My son can learn programming through 4-H and enjoy his interests while doing so. Unlike other youth programs, 4-H gives the child a choice in what they pursue. Almost every interest your child may have can be pursued as a project area within 4-H.  

These programs allow kids to have a choice in learning instead of being told to learn something. Children thrive in a nurturing environment where they can be themselves. 4-H is often used within a homeschool setting since it provides socialization to those kids involved. These kids are allowed to choose their interests and form their own opinions on topics and self-identity. The 4-H organization releases annual reports, including statistics regarding the benefits involved in students. Many of these show a positive impact on children.  

My main project areas for both were livestock. I recommend starting small with any project and finding a mentor for your child. A mentor will be able to answer questions your child may have. A lot of times, the youth leader at either organization will have a piece of excellent knowledge in the overall projects that a student will be interested in.  

Overall, youth programs are always a fantastic idea when your children are young. When involved in programs that center around family, they are far more likely to enjoy it. I look back often at my time engaged in both programs and think fondly about my time. I encourage everyone to look into FFA through their local schools, and 4-H can be located through a local county extension office.

Originally published in the March/April 2022 issue of Countryside and Small Stock Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy. 

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