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Ohio 4-H Youth Development

Ohio State University Extension


About Ohio 4-H

What Is 4-H?

4-H is a community of young people across America who are learning leadership, citizenship, and life skills as they work in partnership with caring adults.  What does that mean? In 4-H we are committed to helping young people develop skills that will help them succeed. We want to empower all youth to reach their full potential.

4-H Is Positive Youth Development

In 4-H, youth learn by doing projects that are designed to fit their needs at different ages. Through a variety of projects—from food and forestry to rockets and rabbits—4-H gives children and teens opportunities to learn life skills, to practice them, and become confident in their ability to use them in the future. 4-H teaches young people how to meet their needs for belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity in positive ways. More specifically, 4-H programming is built around Eight Essential Elements, sometimes also called the Eight Key Elements:


Essential Element 1: A Positive Relationship with a Caring Adult
A caring adult acts as an advisor, guide and mentor. The adult helps set boundaries and expectations for young people. The adult could be called supporter, friend, or advocate.

Essential Element 2: An Inclusive Environment
An inclusive environment is one that creates a sense of belonging, and encourages and supports its members with positive and specific feedback. Healthy groups celebrate the success of all members, taking pride in the collective efforts of all participants.

Essential Element 3: A Safe Emotional and Physical Environment
Youth should not fear physical or emotional harm while participating in a 4-H experience, whether from the learning environment itself or from adults, other participants or spectators.


Essential Element 4: Opportunity for Mastery
Mastery is the building of knowledge, skills, and attitudes and the demonstration of the competent use of this knowledge and skill by a proficient practitioner. The level of mastery is dependent on the developmental ability of the individual or youth. The development of mastery is a process over time.

Essential Element 5: Engagement in Learning
An engaged youth is one who is mindful of the subject area, building relationships and connections in order to develop understanding. Through self-reflection, youth have the ability to self-correct and learn from experience. The engaged learner has a higher degree of self-motivation and an inexhaustible capacity for creativity.


Essential Element 6: Opportunity to See Oneself as an Active Participant in the Future
The ability to see oneself in the future is to have hope and optimism to shape life choices, which facilitates the transition into participating in the future.

Essential Element 7: Opportunity for Self-Determination
Believing that you have impact on life’s events rather than passively submitting to the will and whims of others is self-determination. Youth must develop a sense of influence over their lives, exercising their potential to become self-directing, autonomous adults.


Essential Element 8: Opportunity to Value and Practice Service to Others
Finding yourself begins with losing yourself in the service of others. Service is a way for members to gain exposure to the larger community and, indeed the world itself.


4-H Is Hands-On Learning

Ohio 4-H works with young people in a variety of settings including schools, day camps, overnight camps, afterschool care, clubs, and other learning environments. Regardless of the environment, we rely on the experiential learning model in which learning takes place when youth experience, share, process, generalize, and apply a particular practice, idea, or piece of information.



4-H Is Based on Research

4-H Youth Development is part of Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension research shows that Ohio youth credit their 4-H clubs with making them better citizens, leaders, and communicators.  Research from Tufts University shows that 4-H youth are competent, confident, caring, and connected, and that they exhibit strong character. The Tufts study shows that 4-H’ers contribute more to their families and communities, achieve higher grades in school and are more likely to go to college than youth who are not in 4-H, or even youth who participate in other out-of-school programs. In addition, youth involved in 4-H lead healthier, more productive lives, are less likely to suffer from depression and are less likely to participate in risky behaviors like drinking and smoking.


4-H at The Ohio State University

In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act. This provided "land grants" to enable states the establishment colleges of agriculture, mechanic arts, and homemaking with all phases of instruction. Many of the states acquired land form the government, and sold the land, investing the profits to pay for buildings, staff and associated expenses.

Ohio State University is a "Land Grant University" which was the product of Hatch Act of 1887. It established the foundation for experiment stations for discovering agricultural knowledge.

On May 8, 1914, President Wilson signed the Smith Lever Act, the federal bill that provided the mechanism of obtaining mutual support between the federal, state, and local, governments to provide an educational program that was to get its ideas and inspiration from people at all levels, from the farmers of the land to Washington D.C., thus creating extension, and the home of 4-H.

There are lots of fun things you can learn in 4-H and in a variety of ways. You can participate in 4-H through clubs, camps, your school, and short-term experiences. You can learn about animals, computers, public speaking, cooking, art, gardening and environmental sciences, just to name a few projects.  

All 4-H programs focus on active involvement and quality experiences which stimulate lifelong learning of values and skills.