Tuesday, September 11, 2018

10 Years of 4-H ~ did I really learn anything?

This is a guest post by Arlene. She originally wrote it in June, but somehow it got lost in the activity of summer. It is long but worth your time to read until the end.  :)


4-H, life lessons, perseverance


As you probably know, this was my last year of 4-H and mom and I were both looking forward to its end. Not that it was bad, but I’m glad that I can have summers free to do other stuff now. Maybe I’m deceiving myself (remember I’m still new to the adulting thing) and I will be even busier next summer then I was this summer but for now I’m simply looking forward to moving on and moving forward. As I look back over the many projects I did in my 10 years of 4-H I occasionally wonder if I really learned anything. 

The more I think about it the more I realized that I learned quite a lot, and I’m not just talking about learning to make button holes for sewing or how to use a table saw for wood working. I learned many things that can't just be told or taught, but lessons that only come for trying new things for myself. So while I know how to use the rule of thirds to compose a good photo, how to shoot a muzzleloader, and how to press leaves to save for display, I’m here to talk to day about the things I learned in 4-H that helped me grow as a person. (If you want know however what I learned on the technical side of 4-H I will be glad to talk about that later). So to really remember what I learned each year we should start with a list of all the projects I have done over the years.

Let’s see all the projects I have done, I started with wearable arts, forestry, weeds and woodworking my first year. My second year I picked up shooting sports and sport fishing. my third year picked up photography and sewing and dropped sport fishing, weeds and wearable arts. I dropped woodworking in my 4th or 5th year and added fine arts in my 5th or 6th.  I did one year off needle craft in there somewhere but I don’t remember when that was. And last year I did miscellaneous arts and crafts for the first and last time. The only project I have done all 10 years is forestry but I have done sewing and photography for 8 years. As for what I did each year let me think...

* indicates the project went to state fair. (*) are one’s where I don’t remember of they went or not

Year 1
Woodworking I don’t remember, I think a napkin holder or something.
Forestry was a leaf collection
Wearable arts I decorated a sweatshirt.
Weeds was a collection of weeds from around the state 

4-H, life lessons, perseverance


Year 2
Wearable arts I decorated a T-shirt to look like a Jersey for my favorite football player. Hines Ward.
Woodworking was a step stool
Forestry was a different kind of leaf collection about different kind of leaves.
I did a poster for sport fishing 
Weeds was a collection of weeds from around the state that were toxic or poisonous *
And I took archery and rifle for shooting sports 

Year 3 
Woodworking was a book rack
Sewing was a sundress
Forestry was about forests, I did a report on our local state park 
Photography was a 10 print color board
Shooting sports was archery and rifle again 

Year 4 
I didn’t keep as good of records starting my 4th year so this is a little more guess work from here on out.
Woodworking was table top corn hole game
Sewing was a backpack*
Photography was a 10 print color board
Forestry was… I think a report on wildfires *
I think this was the year I did needlecraft and I embroidered a pillow 

Year 5
Photography was again a 10 print color board 
Forestry was a report on state parks (although I may be mixing years 4 and 5) *
Sewing was a two piece outfit top and skirt (the skirt being one of the few sewing projects I still have/wore after fashion revue was over)

Year 6
Forestry was a report on the invasive emerald ash borer which is a bug that eats trees (*)
Photography was a 10 print board however that year I switched to black and white *
Sewing was a 3 piece outfit top, jacket and pants
I did non-wearable sewing in year 6 or 7 (I can't remember which) and I made placemats
I think this was the year I added fine arts and I did a pencil drawing.
I also did fashion review for my sewing outfit *


Year 7
Fine arts was a water color and another pencil drawing 
Sewing was a sundress and jacket
Photography was a 10 print black and white board
Forestry was on old growth forests *
I also did fashion review for my sewing outfit that year as well *

Year 8
Forestry was on the Indiana big tree register *
Sewing was a sundress *
Non wearable sewing was a small quilt that worked as a chess/checker board *
Photography was a 10 print black and white board*
Fine arts was an ink drawing and a water color
I also did fashion review for my sewing outfit that year

4-H, life lessons, perseverance


Year 9
Non wearable sewing was a large quilt with a T.A.R.D.I.S on it*
Fine arts was a pencil drawing and a water color 
Forestry was on maple syrup*
Photography was a 10 print black and white board
Arts and crafts was a scarf a wove myself and a binder to go with it

Year 10 (this year)
Sewing is a three peace free choice outfit made up if a bathrobe, and Pajamas pants and a button-down top
Photography is a 10 print black and white board*
Forestry is a report on Yellowwood State Forest* 
Fashion Revue for my sewing outfit*

I think that is all of them, if you want to know more details ask because I remember almost all of them. And yes, I still have almost every project here at home somewhere, I can only think of 2 that I gave away.

Yes it is a lot, I apologize now to my poor mother because up until last year it was not just all of my projects but all of mine and my sisters that she had to help us with and/or pay for. 

Anyway moving on from what I did we get to what did I learn from it all? Well, lets start at the beginning.

Year 1, Getting it done yourself: In year one I learned that you have to do it yourself, it's not going to get done for you by someone else just because you don’t feel like doing it. I had always done stuff as a kid. Growing up homeschooled lessons were always really hands on but my first year of 4-H was when this lesson of having to do things myself really came true for me. I’ll give you an example. My grandfather is good at wood working and I wanted to learn so I went over and he taught me how to use a saw and hammer and sand wood and all that important stuff, but a trip to grandma’s was always more about fun and I will admit I was not the best student, working outside even in the shade in Indiana’s hot June days was not always fun and I would have much rather been inside watching TV and talking with grandma. It was this year that I learned that deadlines are a real thing (something I had not known as there were no real deadlines in homeschooling when I was little) and that to get something done in time and really learn what you needed to know you had to apply yourself to it all the way to the end. This was a good lesson to learn that first year because I would have to remember it all the years following it (although I admit I did ignore it a lot in later years).

Year 2 rules are there to be broken… NOT! This was the year I learned that paying attention to the rules is important. These days I read all rules for projects myself several times over instead of relying on others to tell me what can and can’t be done as I was nocked down from what would have been a higher placing for my project simply because I forgot one important card. Reading the rules and fully understanding a project before it starts is so important so that you know what to do and how to do it both creatively while still being inside the necessary perimeters. 

Year 3 I did it my way: This was the year I learned that it is ok if your project is not the way everyone else thinks it should be done as long as you still like it. When I was in 5th grade I made a sundress. It was my first year of 4-H sewing and I was excited. I had sewn before but never for 4-H and I couldn't wait to get the big ribbon that is reserved only for sewing projects at our county. That year however we had a very particular judge and while I met all the rules and did a very good job on my project (except for one small thing that didn’t look quite right) the judge gave me a red (the equivalent of getting a B in school), as a kid who was always a blue ribbon project kid this was devastating to little 5th grade me. So was the day a week later when I got another red ribbon in photography which was the other project I had picked up that year. It was that year that I really began to learn that sometimes others have a different way of doing things that they think is the best way and if you do it differently you can butt heads sometimes. But that's ok at then end of the day if you did the project the way you liked it and it still met the requirements, it doesn't matter if someone does it differently. You did it your way and you learned something along the way which was the main point. This is a lesson I have had to take with me over all my years of 4-H and even other events in life as you always come across people who think of things differently. This was something I even had to remember last year when my photography got a red again for the first time in 4 years. I loved my project, I loved my pictures, and I still love them but the judge was more of a lover of formal photography, landscapes and portraits and that sort of thing and not of my more whimsy style. But you know what - its ok. I did it my way and I love what I did so it doesn't matter (of course I was devastated that day but I soon got over myself and remember what I had learned that day in my 3rd year).

Year 4 Keep on: Another lesson from sewing surprise surprise! I have a lot of these from over the years. This was the year I learned that even if something is really hard you still do it to the end. You don’t just give up, that year my sewing project was hard. It was much more complicated than the year before and I made a lot of mistakes but you know what in the end it was worth it! I kept going, got to the end and when I took it to be judged I finally got that coveted big ribbon and it was the first of my projects (besides weeds which doesn't really count as there were only 2 people in the whole project) to go to the state fair! Hard times and hard projects aren't there to tell you to give up, they are there to remind you that you are capable of so much more then you know when you push yourself to be better. 


Year 5 plan ahead: There is no rule in 4-H that says you can’t start your projects until the month before judging. However, this seems to be the unspoken rule in our house as we always said next year we will start sooner and we never did. Until that year. It was a good thing I did too even thought it was only on one project because I know if I hadn't I would have never finished. Planning ahead and starting early is so important! That year I was making a pleated skirt not a hard task in and of itself the hard part was matching the horizontal strips that went all around the bottom. I know for a fact that that project if it had not been started earlier would never have gotten done. It may seem like you will have time later but isn’t it just better to get it done with so you can go enjoy yourself without having to worry about the project later?

4-H, life lessons, perseverance


Year 6 it’s ok to change your mind: Remember what I said earlier about hard things being there to help you grow? Yeah, year 6 was the year I ignored that rule and went for the easy option instead. This was another lesson I learned from sewing and it is one I keep in the back of my mind for times (like this year) when things aren’t simply too hard but don’t even make sense. That year I was making a three piece outfit: pants, top, jacket. The pants went fine (they go with the skirt from 6th grade under the I actually still wear it category), the jacket was harder but with mom’s help I made it through, the top however was a different matter, I was not used to being independent on my sewing projects yet, at least not my wearable ones, and so I made it about 1/3rd of the way through the top - picking and choosing which steps to follow -before throwing it (I think actually at my mother) and sobbing telling her I wasn’t doing sewing anymore. Looking back with the skills I have now I could probably make that shirt but I was not as confident back then or as determined and willing to not just cry when something didn’t go the way I thought it would. Mom however was mom about it all and soon found me more fabric and a much simpler pattern. I learned that year that sometimes you just need a break from whatever is frustrating you. Coming back to the project refreshed and with a better plan of attack is so helpful and in the end you can still do what you thought was too hard originally.

4-H, life lessons, perseverance


Year 7, don’t do too much: This year (and several before it) I learned that not everyone wants to know everything about everything you know. This is a very important life lesson for everyone in all sorts of different aspects of life. The thing was when I learned a lot about something new I wanted to share everything I had learned with new people. This lead to several years of forestry posters (Yes, I know, I learned lessons from something besides just sewing!) that were crammed full of tiny text telling absolutely everything I had learned about that year's subject. It is a lesson I try to remember in other aspects of my life because I have a tendency to talk too much and at a point I realize that the person I’m talking to doesn’t really care and is only still listening to be polite. Sharing new information is good, and education on any matter is important, but you have to be able to read your audience and learn when they are ready to move on instead of trying to keep them with you when they are clearly done. 

Year 8, reach out to learn more: This year was another year of lessons from forestry. The Indiana Big Tree Register is a project done every 5 years or so mostly for fun, cataloguing the biggest trees of the native species in Indiana. Unfortunately, while I had the previous Big Tree Register, I did not have the one that was compiled the year before as the Indiana DNR has many important tasks across the state and the Register, unfortunately as it is not mandatory to be printed, had gotten pushed to the bottom of the to do list. However I learned that year that just because things don’t immediately go the way you want them to there are other ways to do it that will get you the same result (similar to what I had learned before with my sewing projects). I looked everywhere for the Register but couldn’t find it. Thankfully, however, I had somehow gotten the business card of the woman in charge of the project and was able to email her and obtain the information I was looking for that I had not been able to find online. By evaluating what I had I was able to find out what I wanted to know but didn’t, and put together what was my best forestry project in a long time. There are many people willing to share what they know, you just have to find the right ones who know what you want to learn about and most of the time they are more then willing to share. 

Year 9 no project is too big... well maybe a little too big: Last year I learned that sometimes when you dream big you dream too big and you need to come back down to earth a bit. I learned this while slowly floating back down to earth using my queen sized quilt as a parachute. You see the problem was this: almost every year at out state fair there would be a quilt made of blue styled to look like a T.A.R.D.I.S. the time traveling vehicle from one of my favorite shows, Dr. Who. So I decided that this was the year, I wanted a T.A.R.D.I.S. quilt and by golly I was going to have one if I had to make it myself. This grand idea started with my quest to find pictures of dozens of different T.A.R.D.I.S. quilts and design a pattern to make one for myself. At first this didn’t seem like it would be too hard but then I remembered that I hate math and that designing patterns is not for amateurs. In the end it turned out the pattern designing was the easy part the hard part was figuring out how to quilt a Queen sized quilt on our normal sized sewing machine due to the fact that I couldn’t rent one until I was 18 and the only person I knew with one couldn’t help me as her son was getting married during the time I would need her help and obviously the wedding was her main priority. In the end, with a lot of help from mom simply holding half of the quilt while worked on the other half, the project was finished and I learned the importance of evaluating a task before I start and seeing if the end is worth all the time and effort I will have to put into it.  

4-H, life lessons, perseverance


Year 10, how to give up and start over: In year 9 at the end I had spent so much time on my projects that to be allowed to finish my 10th year I was told I had to have all my projects done before my birthday at the end of May and that I could only do the 3 I was both good at and really liked so mom could actually have part of a summer. This year I was originally so excited for my sewing project. I had had the pattern and the fabric picked out since the year before and was ready to start. But as the fabric was expensive mom said I first had to make a practice coat to make sure it fit. It was a good thing I did because the coat was a pain and honestly there are still days now where I want to take it out of my closet and cut it into 100,000,000 pieces. It was then that I remembered all my lessons about perseverance and dedication and pausing and evaluating from years past and decided with only a moth left to do my projects to switch what I was going to do and do something totally different. In the end it was for the best and I did get my projects done before my early deadline and it made me wonder why I had never done such a thing before as now I have the summer ahead of me and no projects to worry about. This year I reflected on past lessons learned and realized that I had learned so much more from 4-H then just how to sew and how to do reports. I had learned how to evaluate what I wanted to do with my life and stick to a project start to finish to get it done not just on time but early and at a quality I’m not ashamed of. 

In conclusion, I have learned so much from my 10 years of 4-H and I encourage people who don’t know much about it to learn more and if they can to join a club. 4-H now as far as projects go is different than when my grandmother did it, it’s different than when my mom did it, really it’s different than when my sister started 12 years ago and when I started 10 years ago. The projects change, the way clubs work change, I mean even the program itself varies from state to state as my family who does it in Illinois can tell you from the conversations we have had about it. But the one thing that doesn’t change is that 4-H can teach you great life lessons that you can’t learn in a classroom, you don’t have to do it for 10 years like I did, you may only do it a few years and them move on to other things, but I encourage you to try. Who knows, you may find a project that ignites an interest in you that you didn’t know you had. If you had told me 10 years ago that forestry would be the one project I did every year for 10 years I would have told you that you were weird that I liked being outside but that I didn’t like Science. But that forestry project was what led me for years to having a dream of being a naturalist at Yellowstone Park, a dream I carried up until just a few years ago, when I realized again that science wasn’t my thing. But you know what? You don’t have to be a Ph.D. in science to enjoy the outdoors and you can love learning new things even if it seems like you will never need to know them. Sometimes it’s ok to go outside your comfort zone to learn new things and make new friends. Maybe later I’ll tell you about the things learned from 4-H that are actually a result of the projects, but for now know that life isn’t just about checking off boxes to make sure your kid learned what you are required to teach them, it’s about the real lessons that they can only learn through their own trial and error.



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