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4-H is an educational program that helps young people develop new skills, explore possible career choices, and serve their communities. It is the largest informal educational program for young people in the United States.

The 4-H slogan is "Learn by Doing." Members of 4-H acquire useful skills and knowledge by working on various projects and activities. These projects and activities deal with the environment, health and safety, leadership, nutrition, plants and animals, science and technology, and many other subjects. Members also learn to make decisions, deal with stress, build a good self-image, and develop other skills that help them become responsible and productive citizens.

The four H's stand for head, heart, hands, and health. Members show their high ideals with their motto, To Make the Best Better, and with this pledge:

I pledge My Head to clearer thinking, My Heart to greater loyalty, My Hands to larger service, and My Health to better living, for my club, my community, my country, and my world.

More than 80 countries have 4-H or similar programs. About 5 million young people in the United States, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands belong to 4-H. Canadian 4-H clubs have about 50,000 members. In the United States, approximately 500,000 adults work with 4-H members as volunteer leaders. About 150,000 teen-agers who have completed several years of 4-H work also serve as leaders.

In the United States, anyone 9 through 19 years old may become a member of 4-H. In Canada, the ages for membership vary depending on the province. Young people may participate in 4-H through a variety of programs. Many young people belong to 4-H clubs. However, youths also may form a 4-H special interest group. Members of a special interest group work on a joint project or workshop. The 4-H program also provides teachers with project materials for classroom use. These materials allow young people to participate in 4-H as a part of their schoolwork. In addition, 4-H offers membership through individual study programs and 4-H instructional television programs.

Members of 4-H serve their communities with one or more special projects a year. For example, a 4-H club might plant trees or conduct a bicycle safety program. Many clubs and groups prepare educational exhibits for community fairs.

There is no official 4-H uniform. However, many members wear 4-H pins or clothing with the 4-H emblem or other identification. The 4-H emblem is a green four-leaf clover that has a white H on each leaf.

The 4-H movement began in the United States during the early 1900's. At first, only farm children participated in the 4-H program. They worked on such projects as canning, raising livestock and poultry, and growing crops. Many city youngsters began to join 4-H after clubs added projects of more interest to them, such as career studies and automobile care and safety.

Today, only about a sixth of the 4-H members in the United States live on farms. The rest of the members live in other rural areas and in cities, towns, and suburbs.

The Cooperative Extension System, a joint project of the federal, state, and county governments, guides 4-H work in the United States. The extension system works in cooperation with state land-grant universities (see LAND-GRANT UNIVERSITY). An extension office in nearly every county in the United States employs one or more agents. The agents recruit and assist local 4-H volunteer leaders and help members with their projects.

Projects and activities

Individual projects. Each 4-H member carries out at least one project a year. In most states, he or she may select the project from a list of 50 to 100 choices. Members may also design their own projects. A 4-H project may involve almost any subject that encourages the young person to learn and to use the imagination.

Some subjects have several project levels, and so members may continue working in these subject areas over a number of years. Other projects are for certain age groups. For example, projects for older members include studies of possible career choices and of such health issues as drug abuse and physical fitness.

Many 4-H members who live in rural areas choose projects that deal with crops and livestock, forestry, and marketing. Both city and rural members enjoy projects involving clothing, computers, home improvement, nutrition, public speaking, and the conservation of natural resources.

Various 4-H projects that were once limited to farm youngsters have been developed to serve members in cities as well. A rural youngster, for example, may choose a project in raising and caring for a horse. A city youth who does not own a horse may select a project in horsemanship. Projects that once helped rural youths learn how to raise crops have also been made more flexible for city members. For example, suburban youths may learn how to plant large gardens. Inner city members, who have limited space, may learn how to tend backyard plots, window boxes, or indoor plants.

Each 4-H member receives a booklet that explains the requirements of the selected project. The booklet also contains information and questions to make the member think and learn about the subject. For example, a booklet for a food, nutrition, and fitness project might include information on consumer choices, food groups, and physical fitness.

The county extension office provides visual aids and other teaching materials to 4-H members. County agents and volunteer leaders visit members at home to review their projects.

Many 4-H members finish a year's project by preparing an educational exhibit about their subject for a local or county fair. Other members finish their project work by taking part in computer program demonstrations, public speaking contests, or other special activities related to their projects. Some members prepare talks and demonstrations to share what they have learned. Members may earn medals, certificates, ribbons, trophies, and scholarships for their work.

Group activities. Teen-agers interested in a particular subject, such as leadership skills or coping with stress, may organize a joint project or workshop dealing with that subject. Members of such 4-H special interest groups need not belong to a local 4-H club. After completing a project or workshop, the group may start another one. Or the members may join other special interest groups.

Most 4-H clubs and groups carry on community service activities. For example, they may assist when bloodmobiles visit their neighborhood, or they may lead community beautification programs. Many 4-H clubs and groups fight such problems as drug abuse and pollution. Members may help the aged, the blind, the mentally retarded, and the poor.

Members of 4-H get together for all kinds of recreation. They hold picnics and sporting events and go on hikes. Some clubs organize music and drama programs. Camping is a favorite 4-H activity, and about 400,000 members attend 4-H camps each summer.

Older 4-H members may join county senior clubs and councils or county junior leader groups. Members of these organizations are especially active in community service programs. Older 4-H members also develop leadership abilities as they help younger members with their projects.


In the United States, the federal, state, and county governments contribute funds to 4-H work through the Cooperative Extension System. They also cooperate in employing the county extension agents. The state land-grant universities and the United States Department of Agriculture supply educational materials for 4-H members. They also help organize national and state 4-H events.

The 4-H program in Canada receives support from the federal and provincial governments. The Provincial Extension Service, an agency similar to the U.S. Cooperative Extension System, has offices in each province. Business and nonprofit organizations also support 4-H in both the United States and Canada.

Young people may join a 4-H program already in their community, or they may organize a new club or group. In the United States, members join through their county extension office. In Canada, they enroll through the provincial 4-H agencies. The United States has about 153,000 local clubs, and Canada has about 5,000 local clubs.

Volunteers are essential to the success of the 4-H program. Most 4-H clubs choose their own adult volunteer leaders. Many select a parent or other relative of a club member. Adult volunteer leaders donate their time, provide transportation, and purchase some teaching materials. They help members with their projects and activities and also may lead a project group. Teen-agers may become junior or teen leaders after several years of 4-H work. They assist adult leaders and help younger members with their work and with their project records.

County extension agents help organize 4-H programs within the county. They also help train local volunteer leaders.

Each state has a 4-H leader at the state land-grant university. State leaders and their staffs choose the 4-H projects their state will offer and organize statewide 4-H events. They also help prepare aids and materials for members and volunteer leaders. At the national level, 4-H is directed by an assistant deputy director and a staff for 4-H and youth programs in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

4-H sponsors. In the United States, the National 4-H Council, a nonprofit corporation, supports 4-H work on a nationwide basis. The National 4-H Council helps arrange and conduct 4-H activities and events, operates public information services, and develops educational materials.

The council publishes project handbooks, leaders' guides, and the 4-H Leader, which is written for adult and junior 4-H leaders. The council also organizes sponsored programs in which outstanding 4-H members receive awards for their work. These awards include medals of honor, scholarships, and free trips to national 4-H events. In addition, the council operates the National 4-H Supply Service, a mail-order house that offers more than 2,000 items bearing the 4-H emblem.

The National 4-H Center in Chevy Chase, Md., is managed by the council. Members of 4-H may attend summer courses on leadership and citizenship at the center. The council also holds leader-training and professional improvement sessions at the center and at other locations throughout the United States.

The council sponsors the International Four-H Youth Exchange and other international programs. About 1,000 adults and young people annually participate in the council's international 4-H programs.

The National 4-H Council was established in 1976. The council resulted from the merger of two previous 4-H sponsors--the National 4-H Service Committee and the National 4-H Foundation. A 25-member board of trustees administers the National 4-H Council. Its work is supported by contributions from corporations, foundations, and individuals. The council has its office at 7100 Connecticut Avenue, Chevy Chase, MD 20815.

In Canada, most 4-H programs are administered by the provincial departments of agriculture. Two national groups--the Canadian 4-H Council and the Canadian 4-H Foundation--provide educational support. The council coordinates 4-H programs and events in Canada, and the foundation raises funds for 4-H. Members of both groups represent business and nonprofit organizations and the national and provincial governments. The council and foundation have their headquarters at 323 Chapel Street, Ottawa, ON K1N 7Z2.

National, state, and county events. Soon after Thanksgiving each year, about 1,600 American 4-H members meet in Chicago for the National 4-H Congress. Most delegates receive free trips to the congress as winners of state, sectional, or national 4-H contests in such areas as 4-H projects or citizenship. The congress also honors individuals and business firms for their services to 4-H. Delegates discuss problems that affect young people in the United States and hear speeches by leaders in agriculture, government, industry, and science.

Each spring, about 325 delegates from the United States and Canada attend the weeklong National 4-H Conference in Washington, D.C. These delegates include both young people and adults. They tour the city and attend workshops to discuss contemporary issues and plan future 4-H programs.

The United States observes National 4-H Week each year during the first full week of October. Newspaper and magazine articles and radio and television programs stress the educational values of 4-H. During National 4-H Week, clubs review their work and plan new programs.

Many states sponsor meetings similar to the national conferences. Other events sponsored by states as well as counties include fairs, workshops, camps, and exhibitions.

Each November, the Canadian 4-H Council sponsors a weeklong National 4-H Conference in Toronto. About 80 Canadian and 10 American 4-H members participate in the conference. The members tour Toronto, meet with government and business officials, discuss current social and economic issues, and exchange ideas about 4-H work.


The 4-H movement started in the United States in many places at about the same time. During the 1890's and early 1900's, educators in several states began programs to teach farm children useful skills. In 1896, Liberty Hyde Bailey, a naturalist at Cornell University, began to publish nature study leaflets for country schools and to organize nature study clubs.

Corn, canning, and poultry clubs that stressed learning by doing started in several Southern and Midwestern states in the early 1900's. Schoolteachers and school superintendents were responsible for organizing most of these clubs.

In 1902, A. B. Graham, a township school superintendent in Ohio, began one of the first clubs similar to today's local 4-H clubs. Graham's club held regular meetings with planned programs. Members worked on projects dealing with corn and other vegetables, flowers, and soil testing.

In 1902, the University of Illinois helped O. J. Kern, a county school superintendent, organize local agricultural clubs in Winnebago County, Illinois. In 1904, Will B. Otwell, an Illinois agricultural leader, encouraged 8,000 Illinois farm boys to exhibit their corn projects at the Louisiana Purchase Centennial Exposition (also called the St. Louis World's Fair) in St. Louis. W. H. Smith, a county school superintendent, began to organize local corn clubs in Holmes County, Mississippi, in 1907. Girls' canning clubs started in South Carolina in 1910.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture encouraged the formation of the clubs. It appointed Seaman A. Knapp, who had established a cotton demonstration farm in Texas in 1903, to direct club work. Southern land-grant colleges joined with the Agriculture Department in sponsoring the clubs.

In 1914, the Smith-Lever Act established what is now the Cooperative Extension System. The Smith-Lever Act also granted states federal funds to organize boys' and girls' agricultural clubs, and each state soon set up a club department. Gradually, boys and girls began joining the same clubs, as they do today.

During the early 1920's, agricultural clubs throughout the United States adopted the 4-H emblem and the name 4-H Club. Clubs in Iowa had begun to use a clover emblem with white H's about 1910.

Agricultural clubs grew more slowly in Canada. The first clubs began in 1913. But they were not organized nationally until 1931, when the government formed the Canadian Council on Boys' and Girls' Clubs (now called the Canadian 4-H Council). Most Canadian clubs have both boys and girls.

Today, more than 80 nations have 4-H or similar programs. In a number of countries, the groups have not adopted all parts of the 4-H program. But all the groups work to help young people develop useful skills and become productive citizens.

Critically reviewed by the National 4-H Office

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