Is 4-H only for farm kids? Can my kids participate in sports and 4-H? Do my kids have to show animals in 4-H? Can my child only participate in shooting sports in 4-H? Why didn’t I know there are 4-H clubs in my community?

This past summer, at the county fair, I fielded questions from parents walking through the livestock barn where our daughters had their beef heifers. While I’ve fielded an array of questions about 4-H and FFA through the years, I was reminded this summer, outreach efforts need to continue.

Each and every parent who expressed interest this summer heard my 15-second pitch that yes, regardless of location or interests, your child between ages 8 and 18 has opportunities in 4-H. If your child is 5 to 7 years old, he or she can participate in 4-H Cloverbuds.

Yes, your kids can participate in school activities and 4-H. No, you do not have to show animals in 4-H. Yes, your kids can participate in only shooting sports. I advocate for diversity of skills and experiences and believe the full 4-H membership offers kids to expand beyond only one project or focus area.

Cody Draxton, Syver Thorsgard and Ander Thorsgard pictured at the 4-H Static Project Judging for the Grand Forks (N.D.) County Fair on June 22, 2021. All three boys are active in school activities and sports and joined a newly created 4-H club in Northwood, N.D. this past year. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)
Cody Draxton, Syver Thorsgard and Ander Thorsgard pictured at the 4-H Static Project Judging for the Grand Forks (N.D.) County Fair on June 22, 2021. All three boys are active in school activities and sports and joined a newly created 4-H club in Northwood, N.D. this past year. (Katie Pinke / Agweek)
September marks back-to-school activities and the time to sign up for a new 4-H year.

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Every county in the U.S. has 4-H clubs, camps and/or after-school programs, operated and run through Cooperative Extension at 100 public universities. Find your Extension office contact here: https://4-h.org/find.

Yes, your county has Extension office staff and volunteers waiting for YOU to sign up your kids or grandkids for 4-H this fall. If you’re willing to be a volunteer, your help is needed to continue and grow local club and activities.

I regret not taking my mom’s prompts to participate in 4-H as a child and not continuing our son in 4-H after we moved when he was a third-grader many years ago.

In fall 2020, when it was time to sign up our daughters for another 4-H year, I contacted the county we moved to the year prior to see which club location and meeting times could work for us. We needed to transfer their membership to our new county. What my husband, Nathan, and I also learned is we could transfer ourselves as volunteer 4-H leaders to a new county. With interest from another parent and numerous families we have been part of starting a brand new 4-H club this past year.

A new 4-H club opened my eyes to not doing things the “way they’ve always been done” and instead tapping into a wider experience from 4-H programs for different ages and types of kids.

To read more of Katie Pinke's The Pinke Post columns, click here.

Yes, 4-H is rooted in research-based educational, hands-on learning. Yes, members (and volunteers) learn by doing. I can check the boxes and see each and every 4-H talking point in my kids. But here are two real-world reasons why we are committed to another year of 4-H despite a host of school, sports and music activities.

  1. 4-H diversifies kids. From varied skills and new experiences, 4-H builds a strong future generation. 4-H allows kids to interact with people in their communities, counties and states they wouldn’t have previously known. You might have an idea of what 4-H is or was to some, which might be completely different for others. Diversifying the 4-H experience for kids deepens the connection to agriculture and is why I believe all types of kids have a place to grow in new experiences and alongside new people through 4-H.
  2. The selection of 4-H projects and focused areas is up to each member. If your kid needs less screen time and new hobbies and skills, 4-H has a program for them. From robotics, welding, entomology, cake decorating, communication arts to theatre arts, 4-H offers programming that can be tailored to your 4-H member to expand his or her skills. The glass ceilings have been broken in 4-H in my experience. Girls and boys equally share in opportunities and varied skills.

What are the reasons you will enroll your kids in 4-H this fall? Or why haven't you considered 4-H for your kids? Contact your local Extension office to learn more about what 4-H can offer you and your family.

Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at kpinke@agweek.com, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.