GAINESVILLE --- With so many extracurriculars available these days, parents and kids are overwhelmed with choices.
To choose the right one, know what to prioritize, says Heather Kent, associate director of the Florida 4-H youth development program, part of University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension.
“The 4-H motto is ‘To make the best better.’ The research shows that kids are more likely to find success as adults when they feel confident and capable in the face of new challenges,” Kent said. “You want to find a program where kids can find their spark in a safe environment.”
So, when comparing extracurricular programs, keep this checklist in mind, Kent said.
1. Does it help them do better in school?
Look for programs that complement a child’s day-to-day school work. “Each 4-H activity has an educational component to it,” Kent said. “Compared to their non-4-H peers, 4-H youth report better grades, higher levels of academic competence and an elevated level of engagement at school.”
2. Does it teach them how to speak up?
Give your child a chance to express him or herself to others. “4-H alumni often say that the public speaking skills they learned in 4-H have helped them throughout their careers, no matter which field they are in,” Kent said.
3. Does it include STEM?
“One of the goals of 4-H is prepare young people for the workforce, which means introducing them to STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — through hands-on projects in areas like horticulture, robotics and embryology,” Kent said.
4. Does it broaden their horizons?
“The members of a 4-H club may not all go to the same school or live in the same neighborhood. Meeting people who have different backgrounds from yourself expands your worldview,” Kent said.
5. Is it a good return on investment?
Some programs give you more bang for your buck. “Annual registration for 4-H is $20, and there are scholarships available. That gives youth access to a wide variety of projects and events—everything from aerospace to agriculture. If not for their 4-H membership, they might have to join several other organizations to get all the same opportunities,” Kent said.
6. Does it help them explore their interests?
“Finding a passion teaches youth about delaying gratification and taking pride in their work. That’s something they take with them into their careers,” Kent said.
7. Does it develop organization skills?
Choose activities that require kids to stay on top of things and plan ahead. “For a project to be successful, 4-H members know they need to stay organized. For instance, you can’t raise a prize-winning animal without a plan for how you are going to reach that goal,” Kent said.
8. Is it open to everyone?
Consider whether the whole family can participate. “4-H is open to both boys and girls ages 5 through 18. There is also collegiate 4-H and adult volunteering opportunities. Unlike other programs, 4-H is something everyone in the household can be a part of,” Kent said.
9. Does it introduce kids to mentors?
Having adult role models who aren’t one’s parents is an important part of youth development, Kent said. “Our trained volunteers and Extension agents form a support system for 4-H members. Knowing that another adult cares about you is a big confidence boost and helps kids feel comfortable trying new things.”
10. Is it well established?
Learn about the history of the program. “4-H has been around for more than 100 years, and it’s been researched and developed through the U.S. Land Grant university system. In Florida, there are more than 200,000 youth in 4-H, and each of them benefits from being a part this longstanding, well known organization,” Kent said.