Today, 4-H offers more than 100 projects and learning experiences that actively engage youth to develop innovative ideas and life skills. 4-H projects rely on trained adult volunteers to work with youth as a partner and resource for learning.
The longevity of 4-H is partially a result of successful responses to change, both technologically and socially-from corn clubs in the early 1900s when members learned and tested the newest science to grow crops with higher yield than their parents', to robotics programs and military clubs that interest youth today, said Jill Martz, interim director of Extension and director of the 4-H Center for Youth Development. The program began with a plan to help young people and their families gain necessary life skills, and it's a value that continues to guide the 4-H mission.
"In our robotics program, parents take an interest too, because they can see their kid's enthusiasm for learning," said Gregg Switzer, Extension 4-H technology coordinator. "Parents who stay during a robotics class start picking up on the methods and learn to ask questions that help their kids learn more."
Switzer enjoys leading the program because he sees how it teaches kids to use both their mind and their hands, a combination of skills that he deems important for developing critical thinking and creativity for today's technological world.
The robotics program in Montana 4-H is taught to youth ages 9 and up, where kids get a chance to build and program multiple robots for specific challenges. Switzer supports the program throughout Montana from his own hands-on experience as one of the authors of the new national 4-H robotics curriculum.
Many youth find a niche in 4-H because of the various opportunities offered, from dog obedience or camping, to food and nutrition or wind energy, Martz said. The program reaches youth in rural, urban, and suburban communities in every state across the nation.
"4-H is about relationships and experiences that provide a way for youth to become competent, caring and contributing members in their families, clubs and communities," said Betty McCoy, 4-H member from 1954-1964, and State 4-H Leader from 1988-2004.
McCoy drew upon a personal history steeped in 4-H as well as her career to write the Montana 4-H centennial book, "Past... Present... Possibilities..."
"I worked to compile the centennial history book of 4-H to acknowledge the eight essential elements of the program curriculum," McCoy said. "The book features past and present member stories that illustrate how 4-H has adjusted to society's changes over 100 years,"
"Past... Present... Possibilities..." highlights, in photographs and text, the similarities in what youth have learned and the differences in what the program has offered through the years to remain a relevant and successful youth development program. The book is available from MSU Extension.