February 15, 2011

Leading through the Essential Elements of 4-H

Jean Rogalsky, 4-H Youth Development Agent

The role of volunteers in the 4-H program is well known. How else could the program have survived a century across the United States if not for the multitude of dedicated volunteers? What is lesser known is the amount of research and science involved in training our corps of 4-H volunteers. In addition to the workshops and certifications in project areas available to 4-H volunteers are sessions devoted to how to best run a 4-H program to meet the needs of youth. These sessions are called the Essential Elements of 4-H Youth Development Programs: Key Ingredients for Program Success.

This training program got its start in 1999 when a team of evaluators at National 4-H Headquarters was tasked with defining the critical elements of the 4-H experience. While the team identified eight elements, former Director of Youth Development at National

4-H, Cathann Kress organized and condensed them into four concepts:
  • Belonging
  • Mastery
  • Independence
  • Generosity
Simply put, utilizing these four concepts will create the environment to produce positive results for youth in any 4-H or youth program, whether it is a community club, afterschool program or competitive event. A training curriculum has been developed to teach 4-H leaders and adults bring the Essential Elements to their 4-H club or program.

Let us take a closer look at the four concepts and the elements they contain. While there are references to the 4-H program, any youth organization can employ these concepts and elements within their existing program.

Belonging: A 4-H club should provide a sense of belonging. This sense of belonging is created by a caring adult, and an inclusive environment. This is an environment where all are welcome and feel safe to learn, grow, and make mistakes. The caring adult will nurture an environment where members feel safe physically and emotionally.

Mastery: 4-H members have the opportunity for mastery, especially in areas of their own selection. This usually refers to the 4-H project and the mastery is developed over time. An interested learner is an engaged learner and is motivated to expand and create new learning experiences. Through 4-H, youth can reflex on their mistakes and learn from their experiences.

Independence: 4-H members have the opportunity to see themselves as active participants in the future. By learning to set goals, youth realize they can shape their future by making the choices to reach those goals. While all the elements are important, the opportunity for self-determination is crucial. Youth need to understand they can have an impact on events that shape their future. Once youth realize they can influence their own lives, they can grow into self-directing adults.

Generosity: In 4-H, generosity refers to community service or service to others. Performing voluntary community service is often a way that a youth connects to the community and feels a sense of responsibility or ownership to the area. Service projects, which are part of nearly every 4-H program, open doors to the larger community.

The Essential Elements training took place last week at the Youth Development Institute in Gainesville. This conference was developed and hosted by Florida 4-H and was open not only to 4-H faculty, staff, and volunteers, but other youth development programs as well.

For more information on national 4-H research:

Kress, C. (2004) Essential Elements of 4-H youth Development,

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