4-H looking for more kids who want to learn by doing

As about 30 excited kids and adults find their seats in the Charlotte Grange Hall on a beautiful June evening, the group’s president lowers the gavel to begin our important meeting:

“I call this meeting to order at 6:32 p.m. Vice-President Sadie will now lead us in the 4H Pledge.”

The club chose to open this last meeting of the school year to our community, and I look around with awe at the Grange Hall transformed with student projects, delicious foods, and community members quietly smiling through the business meeting. It’s always inspiring to see the efficiency and confidence of our 11-year-old president and her fellow officers. As one of the volunteer leaders, I worried about whether it might be too much to expect these elementary students to lead a meeting in front of a room full of people, many of them unfamiliar faces from the community, but they rise to the occasion yet again and press on as though they do this every day. Even our 5-year-olds watch with quiet admiration and not too much wiggling.

Courtesy photo. 4H-ers plucking off dandelion petals for making honey dandelion cookies.
Courtesy photo. 4H-ers plucking off dandelion petals for making honey dandelion cookies.

“Committee reports,” the president announces, “No. 1: Horse project.”

While they share this month’s horse project activities (They got to play “Simon Says” and “Red Light, Green Light” on horses.), I glance over at the Jeopardy board the members helped create to stump their families and friends.

Of course, they choose the easy ones for younger members or siblings (“What animal in the horse family has black and white stripes?”), while they delight in sharing and proudly answering the tougher ones with parents and grandparents who came to support them (“Who is the person who trims and shoes your horse’s feet?”).

Not all kids come to this project with riding experience, but they do all come with an enthusiasm to spend time with these beautiful animals and words of encouragement for a fellow member experiencing that terrifying chore of picking a pony’s feet for the first time. By the end of the year though, they are all experts at it, thanks largely to the support of their friends.

“No. 2: Photography project.”

My eyes stray to the sunlit corner by the hall’s large windows where the favorite photos they took this year are on display. A family vacation to an aquarium. A visit to the Shelburne Museum winter lights display. The photo walk we took on Pease Mountain.

Admittedly, there might have been more laughing and running around than photography going on. A joyful side effect of an afternoon spent in the great outdoors.

“No. 3: Local foods project.”

For this report, you can hear the pride in the announcement that our refreshments for the evening were provided by our young localvores. After visiting Yates Family Orchard in the fall, we decided to experiment with substitutions.

The 4H slogan is: “Learn by doing.” In that spirit, our members made applesauce from scratch and used it as a substitution for oil in a chocolate chip pumpkin muffin recipe. Of course, you have to make one batch with all oil, one with half oil/half applesauce, and one with all applesauce for a proper scientific experiment.

We diligently tasted all three batches during the meeting to determine the best recipe. We might have needed a second taste for comparison. For science.

“I adjourn this meeting at 6:45 p.m.”

With the final bang of the gavel, the members jump up and excitedly run to their families to share the tabletop exhibits they created for the local and state fairs while our visitors gush over them and sample the refreshments.

(Did I mention the dandelion cookies that taste like honey and sunshine?) Once again, I marvel at the turnout of our community in support of these young people. I chat with several former 4H-ers who were curious to see how the next generation is embracing the connection between our agrarian roots and the modern communities we live in.

We also have a few new faces drawn by the promise of crafts. Tonight it is the inexplicably fascinating and always popular marshmallow-toothpick-building competition.

4H is a long-standing network of local leadership development clubs sponsored by Cooperative Extension and led by volunteers. Participants “pledge head, heart, hands and health” to build stronger communities and to improve themselves through applied learning.

We welcome all kids who want to learn by doing, are aged 5-18 or will be by Jan. 1, 2024.

Our first meeting of the 2023-24 4H year will be Wednesday, Sept. 13, 6-7 p.m., in the Charlotte Grange Hall (2858 Spear Street). If you are interested in joining or in finding out more about our program, please contact me.