Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Ahh... the relaxing, quiet, days of summer

We are a 4-H family. Some families are sports families. Some are video game families. Some are simply TV watching families. We are a 4-H family.

What does that mean? It means many things and at any given time of the year my answer to that question may be different. Right now, today, the beginning of July, it means that fair is quickly approaching and our time is filled with record books, project meetings, and discussions about exhibits and showmanship.

We knew when our 4-H year began (October 1st each year) what the fair dates would be. We knew. It's written on all of our 4-H calendars and published each month in the Lines for Leaders newsletter mailed out from the extension office. Yet, come June every year we run around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to make sure we've met all the project requirements, completing our record books, and preparing for fair. I think it's a possibility that 99% of all 4-Hers are procrastinators (and so are their leaders).

About this time every summer I begin to question whether I'm willing to be a 4-H leader next year. I question my own organization, teaching abilities and methods, and wonder how I could have forgotten to include subjects n and x during project meetings this year. I fear that my kids won't be prepared for competition and that their embarrassment will be all my fault.

I forget that as a leader I am responsible for assisting the members in my projects. Assisting. There are members who always ask questions and seek out knowledge and experience on their own. They gain skills and knowledge in the gap between meetings. They attend functions other than club meetings, like shows and contests, and through experience their skill set expands.

Then there are the members who only attend meetings (and don't make it to every meeting). They don't go to the shows and contests that occur during the year. Their skill set is developed during our project meetings. Their skills don't change much from meeting to meeting. I feel more responsibility to them because everything they know comes to them through me. But I can't teach everything in a year. Expertise comes through repeatedly experiencing and participating in activities and events that build their skills.

I can only assist. Ask me a question. I'll tell you where to look to find answers. Work with me. Come to meetings and participate. Participate physically as well as mentally because knowing isn't as important as doing. Through doing you'll gain the knowledge. You'll also gain confidence in your own ability to learn and succeed. If you let me, I will help you, but I can't do it for you.Remember that you are in charge of your own learning experience. I'm the assistant.

I wish we'd learned more about diseases this year- but we had one member show up at the January meeting and one member show up at the February meeting where we would normally discuss health and diseases. I wish we'd butchered a rabbit this year, but we're really out of time. I wish all of my rabbit and cavy members had attended an open show this year. The opportunity was there, but only one member participated in the local open show. I wish the members understood that in order to really master this subject they have to immerse themselves within the industry in some way. They don't have to own 40 animals and breed them, but it would be great if they looked for opportunities to handle and examine as many animals as they can find.

I wish that I didn't feel as if the desire to learn about this project means that mastery of the subject is the ultimate goal. I wish that I could relax and accept that mastery comes over time and one year is not much time to spend learning. I wish that parents would also relax and look for mastery over time instead of mastery by fair time.

4-H isn't about the fair. 4-H isn't about winning. 4-H isn't even about the record books.

4-H is about building life skills. It's about making goals and incrementally meeting those goals. It's about teamwork and cooperation and learning how to learn. It's about sportsmanship and responsibility. It's about giving your best effort. Some days it's simply about showing up.

All year long we've shown up. We've put in time every month working on this project. We've worked with members of three different 4-H clubs. We've formed friendships. We've learned not to brush our teddies. We've learned to bring ice bottles with our rabbits during summer travel. We've filled out camp scholarship applications. We've learned to fill out entry forms and record books. We've learned to pose our animals.

Fair is coming. 4-H isn't about the fair.

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Jake camping in the living room

Jake camping in the living room