Innovative Learning for Youth..Check out 4-H at the Fair

Distant from the office, the cafeteria, and the gym, back in the far north-west corner of my high school, there was a room. I was in this room once. I remember a bulletin board with some information that had to do with 4-H and county fairs. I thought, probably to myself, “How there could possibly be something going on in this building that I know nothing about? Did the farm kids really get their own room? I can’t believe my mother never signed me up for any of this stuff – she signed me up for everything.”

That was it. Pretty much all I knew about 4-H in a nutshell – a quiet room in the back of the high school that provided a mystery to my imagination. Oh, I also figured the booths at the county fair, filled with all kinds of projects, had something to do with that room. The 4-H clover thing was a big clue.

I was no city girl in small town Wisconsin, but I grew up on the east side of town near the lake. While we did have cows, a horse, and a cornfield all within walking distance, somehow the 4-H experience missed my circle of experiences.

Years later, with an inherited passion for “signing my kids up,” I finally figured out what 4-H is all about. Their mission is to engaging youth to reach their fullest potential while advancing the field of youth development. The name and the clover represent four personal development areas of focus for the organization: head, heart, hands, and health. The goal of 4-H is to develop citizenship, leadership, responsibility and life skills of youth through experiential learning and a positive youth development.

At the start of the fall season, my kids sign up for projects that they will work on under the guidance of trained volunteer leaders. They have done leather-crafting, book clubs, arts and crafts, air rifles, Lego building, horseback riding, bee keeping and I don’t even think we have scratched the surface of what’s available. They also attend a monthly meeting run by youth leaders. They are learning how to run a meeting, how to organize volunteer projects, and how to speak in public. The season peeks with the county fair where they show their work and have it evaluated by a certified judge. Finally, they are required to reflect on the experience with a record book that tracks their years of participation in the organization.

Along with being a mother, I am a classroom teacher who is excited to find an organization that brings together the skills and experiences that the most innovative education leaders are writing and preaching about daily. 4-H provides an opportunity for hands on learning, goal making, creating, presentation, leadership, and reflection – 21st century learning at its best.

If you’re at a county or state fair this summer – I encourage you to check it out. That dusty, hidden room in the back of the high school might be the most exciting place to be.

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Anna Mae and Truman at the fair this week.

 

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Reading Logs Kept and Shared – Inspiration

This s20120702-080559.jpgummer I began keeping a reading log. Inspired by a pretty notebook, I began writing all the thoughts that come up as I read. It’s not formal. There are doodles and notes, quotes and questions. In addition to books, when checking out a blog or in a discussion that seems relevant to my reading life I’ve found myself pulling out my notebook to record that too.

So today when I happened upon Jessica Johnson’s Sharing my Reading Life blog I just had to smile. In her blog she shares a batch of ideas on how her reading log has inspired her students and teachers to read.

Isn’t it cool when you happen upon the next stepping-stone in a journey? It’s like stopping at the gas station and receiving directions to your next destination before you even get a chance to ask.

Similar to Johnson, when I talk about books other readers and soon-to-be readers share what they are reading or what they want to read. I do talk a lot about books. My fellow teachers pass books around, I’m in a book club with my girlfriends, and I love seeking out books that my husband and I will both enjoy reading. I also know that the more I get my students reading the better they do in all their classes.

Johnson has taken my inspiration to the next level. In addition to a notebook of reading inspired thoughts – I think it’s a great ideas to keep a record of what I am reading, when, and what kind of book it is. Like Johnson I believe this will help me see and understand my own reading habits and be better able to share and model them with my kids and my students.

In fact, the kids and their cousins just spent a weekend together. Between swimming and firefly catching, there was lots of reading. My sister and I are both teachers, but we didn’t have to do anything to inspire them except load them up with books and time. The questions and ideas they shared sounded just like the book group discussion I enjoy with my friends. Now I wonder what would happen if I handed them each a journal for writing and doodling and remembering…?

I think I’ll do that right after I finish Forged by Laurie Halse Anderson as I promised it to a student who saw me reading and writing about it at the pool last week. Happy reading!

If you want to visit Jessica Johnson you’ll find her @PrincipalJ on Twitter and at Reflections from an Elementary School Principal on blogger.