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4-H's unique approach teaches life skills

4-H Teaching

Minnesota 4-H has come a long way in 100 years. Young people from cities and towns now learn the basics of life skills that mostly rural kids were getting back in the early 1900s. And 4-H's unique principle of engaging kids in something they like—"learning by doing"?—helps them make better decisions, give back to their communities, and grow up to be solid, contributing citizens.

Adult volunteers still guide kids through the learning process. But young people today develop their "head, heart, hands and health"? by designing and participating in their own activities. In 2007, some 113,000 young people throughout Minnesota participated in 4-H.

Volunteer 4-H leaders attend first national forum

4-H Volunteer

In 1960, the first nationwide forum for volunteer 4-H leaders was held at the National 4-H Center in Washington, D.C. Adult volunteers play a critical role in 4-H's unique learn-by-doing model. They guide kids through a discovery process by getting them to question, analyze and reflect. They are trained in the important "keys to youth development"? and they make sure youngsters feel a sense of belonging.

Today, more than 11,000 Minnesota volunteers contribute 92,700 hours annually. That's a contribution worth more than $21 million each year. But volunteers' greatest value is the incalculable contributions they make to the lives of young people.

4-H youth conservation programs take root

4-H Conservation Program

As early as 1926, 4-H participants were contributing to conservation and environmental work. The Conservation Leadership Camp at Itasca, begun in 1934, continued for 51 years. Each year, 200 youth learned firsthand about wildlife and land conservation. Taking their knowledge back to their hometowns, they planted thousands of trees, started windbreaks, built bird feeders and seeded forest tree nurseries. The seedlings the early campers planted in Itasca State Park are now towering red pines that park visitors still enjoy. 4-H environmental work goes on today in county camps and programs.

4-H pledge comes of age

4-H Pledge

By the 1920s, 4-H club work appeared in every county's plan of work. In 1927, based on the term 4H-Club work and the fourfold concept of head, heart, hands and health, Extension adopted the well-known 4-H 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 family, my club, my community, and my country.

Minnesota and Maine were the only states to add "my family"? to their pledges. The only other change, in 1973, was the addition of "world"? to the pledge.

St. Paul hosts first junior livestock show

Livestock Show

A state 4-H livestock show was the brainchild of Extension livestock specialist W.A. McKerrow. Supported by the Minnesota Livestock Breeders Association and the St. Paul meatpacking firms, and with rules set up by the boys and girls club staff at University Farm, the show was held at the South St. Paul stockyards in December 1918.

The first show produced 31 only "rather plain beef calves,"? but the idea caught on and became a major 4-H event. Most valuable, the program gave agents a way to build trust with parents by teaching their children how to manage their livestock.

4-H grows out of first boys and girls clubs

4H Club Photo

Minnesota's 4-H clubs grew out of the boys and girls clubs in the early 1900s. The first 4-H symbol, in 1907, was a three-leaf clover, for head, heart and hands. The fourth leaf was added in 1911 to symbolize health (resistance to disease, enjoyment of life and efficiency). In 1914, the Smith-Lever Act brought 4-H into Extension nationwide. By the early 1920s, the clubs were known everywhere as "4-H clubs."? By immersing kids in learning and leadership activities and instilling a healthy spirit of competition through project judging, 4-H contributed directly to the nation's leadership position in world agriculture and other industries.

Early 4-H projects include seed corn contests

Barrel of Corn

Growing seed corn and baking bread were the first statewide 4-H club projects. In 1904, T.A. Erickson, then Douglas County school superintendent, organized seed corn contests for local boys and girls clubs. The aim was to educate youth (and their parents) about raising better corn. Seeking wider involvement, Erickson organized Minnesota's first county school fair, at Nelson School in Alexandria. Project exhibits included corn, potatoes and poultry.

Erickson, who became Extension's first state 4-H leader, wrote 4-H's founding principles: to interest youngsters in county life, to teach kids and adults at the same time, and to help the schools "teach boys and girls how to do things worth while."?

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