Did you know that your state Cooperative Extension service has 4-H curriculum available to help teach youth about the outdoors, about wildlife, and even about forestry? Through local 4-H community clubs and special interest groups, opportunities exist to work with youth from age 8-18 teaching them about a wide range of outdoor related topics. A visit to the 4-HMall (4-hmall.org) shows a host of outdoor related curriculum books readily available for youth, many with facilitator guides. Some outdoor related titles include entomology, fishing, forestry, environment, and outdoor adventures. Combine those with state level curriculum on everything from camping, wildlife management, orienteering, archery, and riflery and there is no excuse not to find something that will interest our youth and get them outside learning about and experiencing nature.
So how does 4-H work? 4-H is completely volunteer driven, generally under the direction of a county based 4-H educator. Local adult volunteers lead either community clubs or special interest groups. 4-H youth have the opportunity to participate in all kinds of projects, events, and activities. While activities focus mainly on the local 4-H club or group, members may also participate in group activities and events such as fairs, trips, camps, teen leader trainings, fundraising activities, achievement programs, community service, as well as county, regional and state learning opportunities. 4-H relies on parent and adult volunteer participation to help provide many of these opportunities.
An “Outdoors Club” would be one type of special interest group that could be formed. There are many others, including livestock groups and even robotics! Members of an outdoors club may meet on a formal basis with elected youth officers and hold regular meetings, or meet informally to work on projects or host activities. Monthly meetings provide an opportunity to keep the membership up to date and plan upcoming events. They also provide an opportunity to bring in special guests to work with youth on particular topics of interest. For example, youth in Pennsylvania might be preparing to attend the annual 4-H Wildlife and Forestry Field Day. Sessions might revolve around hosting subject matter experts who can work with youth to teach what they need to know to compete in the forestry judging or wildlife habitat evaluation competitions.
To start an outdoors club in your area begin by talking to your county 4-H Educator in the Cooperative Extension office. Most counties are in need of adult volunteer leaders and would welcome the opportunity to offer such a program in their area. Find out what 4-H in your state is already offering that may be outdoor related. As I mentioned above, many outdoor related curriculum books already exist. Don’t be deterred if you don’t feel you have the subject matter expertise, all you need is the interest and the desire to work with youth and get them outdoors. Subject matter experts can be brought in to teach things like how to plan a hike, shoot a bow, use a compass, identify trees, or collect insects. The important thing is to get started. Find a place to meet, advertise your club to the current 4-H membership and to schools, put an ad in the local paper, and find a way to get area youth and other adult leaders involved.
4-H Forestry is just one example of what 4-H has to offer that gets kids outdoors. There are many other opportunities. An outdoors club may be just what is needed in your area to get kids outside experiencing all Mother Nature has to offer. I hope you will consider becoming a 4-H volunteer leader. Your leadership will provide youth and your community with invaluable experiences. Contact your county 4-H coordinator to get started.
A new 2 minute video by the US Forest Service illustrates many of the positive effects on the bodies and minds of kids who play outdoors. Watch the video on You Tube here.