Recordkeeping helps 4-H youth develop skills for life

Gloria Hafemeister
While 4-H members still need to turn in a traditional record book to the county in order to be considered for county awards, some leaders note that most members are not as interested in getting an award as they are in simply learning how to set goals and advance in their projects.

JUNEAU – 4-H has touched the lives of many thousands of people and has shaped their lives by stimulating interest in their communities via service, teaching them new skills or influencing their career choices.

Many successful business owners, including farmers, can trace their beginnings in the business world to their 4-H experiences.

One of the unique things about the 4-H program, when compared to other youth organizations, is it is planned and run by youth themselves. This opportunity to elect officers and do program planning with the guidance of adults, helps to build leadership and decision-making skills that these youth will benefit from for the rest of their lives.

4-Hers keep record books detailing their projects and activities. While recordkeeping is often not the most popular activity of the program, these books are a way of teaching 4-H'ers how to record what was learned in projects and to track finances involved. These skills go with them throughout life and 4-H alumni often credit their 4-H experiences and recordkeeping for their ability to cope with the recordkeeping that is a part of their business and personal lives.

Recordkeeping is a part of everyone’s lives, especially anyone who runs their own business such as a farm. It’s not just a way of keeping track of income and expenses, nor are the records kept just to satisfy the IRS.

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Keeping careful records helps keep family finances and business finances on track. Try to borrow money without good records. It won’t work. Try to apply for a job or a scholarship without a written record of past accomplishments and goals.

Tracey Malterer, general leader of the Sinissippi 4-H in the Hustisford area of Dodge County, says for many years there has been a controversy over the requirement to do record books.

Some 4-H'ers, although very active members, did not like recording all their activities on paper. There was also a concern that some youth were not interested in joining 4-H due to the requirement of recording project activities and reporting them at the end of the 4-H year.

Record books have long been a part of the 4-H program but as technology changes, so does recordkeeping.  Some 4-H clubs are opting out of the traditional recordkeeping and doing personal interviews and using simpler reports.  This is a traditional record book from earlier years when 4-H'ers were between the age of 10 and 21.

New options explored

Initially, record books were used as a way for leaders to evaluate the success of the 4-H member in their individual projects and were the basis for selecting award winners for each project at the county level.

Dodge County 4-H'ers and volunteer leaders addressed the concerns and decided to offer youth some options of how to report on their projects.

This year seven Sinissippi 4-H'ers chose to participate in a personal interview with Malterer. One member did a power point presentation on his project. One member reported on 4-H activities in a scrap book form.

Malterer said she likes the personal interview option. 

“During these interviews I was impressed that the youth didn’t talk about the ribbon they won at the fair or the animal they sold in the sale. They talked about what they learned through their projects and what they plan to do next year. That’s what 4-H is all about,” she said. “One youth actually brought financial sheets to show me how she recorded the costs and profits.”

Malterer says face to face interviews provide life skills needed to do an interview for a job or scholarship in a world where everyone just wants to text or communicate with technology.

Nikki Meagher, co-general leader of the Leipsic 4-H club.

Meagher says the 46 members of the Leipsic club discussed ideas on ways members can report on their year’s activities. Together the members decided to offer some alternative options for end of year reporting.

“Not everyone is skilled at writing things but most of them are good at telling about their projects,” Meagher said. “Our members decided to provide the opportunity to do a traditional record book or to take part in a face-to-face interview. Some of our members are in college and did their interview via Face Time. Others scheduled a time to meet with leaders to share what they did during the year.”

She points to another reason for the personal interview. 

4-Hers join at a younger age now than when 4-H started more than 100 years ago,she said. In the earlier years of 4-H, youth joined the organization at 10 years old and were eligible to be members until they were 21. Now youth are much younger when they get involved as Cloverbuds and they can remain in 4-H until age 19. 

Meagher says only two members of their club chose to do the traditional record book.

“I felt the interview process was more personal,” she said. “Seeing a young boy’s face light up as he talked about showing his calf for the first time this year is something that would have been missed had he written his experience in a book.”

Meagher says 4-H leaders conducting the interview prompted the members by asking specific questions about what they enjoyed, what they learned and about their goals for next year.

While 4-H members, at this point, still need to turn in a traditional record book to the county in order to be considered for county awards, she said most members said they are not so much interested in getting an award as they are in simply learning how to set goals and advance in their projects.

4-H clubs are organized at a local level with local project leaders available to assist in building skills in specialized areas. At the county level, older youth and adult leaders conduct fundraising events and plan activities and training meetings to fill in the gaps.

It is at these county leaders’ meetings where youth and adult leaders discuss what is working well for clubs and what things could be changed. Record books continue to be a topic of discussion at the Dodge County Leaders Association meetings. When leaders like Malterer, Meagher and others share their ideas about changes in recordkeeping for 4-Hers they are doing just what the 4-H motto states: “Make the Best Better.”