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Learning about life through 4-H

October 3, 2013 - Karen Schwaller
Sometimes I think 4-H parents are the ones who should get the blue ribbons. Our daughter’s first year in 4-H was a fun one — that is, until her club embarked on a group sewing project, which they were all to take to the fair. They decided to have the girls sew pillow cases to cover some pillow forms. Our daughter, a fourth-grader at the time, couldn’t imagine why anyone wanted to spend time sewing. The leaders told the girls they needed to buy some heavier fabric — such as denim or light twill. When we perused the fabric aisle our daughter found all kinds of fabrics she liked, but they were lightweight cotton fabrics. “Part of being in 4-H is learning to follow directions,” I said, seeing that she plainly disagreed with my thinking. We chose a bright yellow twill fabric. When we got to the next meeting, most of the other girls had brought some pretty cotton lightweight fabrics. I was less than popular. The cutting and sewing began, and when she finished, her pillowcase lacked meeting in the back by about an inch. “Well,” I told her. “… it’s what you learned that counts in 4-H.” Then came the really bad news. Once the pillowcases were sewn, they were to applique them and do some decorative stitching. Our daughter nearly had kittens right on the spot. I helped her choose some applique fabric from the selection they had there at the meeting, while quietly stifling her objections. She learned the decorative stitch and took it home to finish it. The project sat for days, then weeks. It could have grown a pretty good beard when time ran out and she had to get it done. She sat for a long time working on it, making sure I knew how much she disliked that project, and becoming overwhelmed that the fair was coming so quickly. Judging day arrived, and I said to her as we talked about the gap in the back and the stitching that looked like it had been done by fourth-grade hands. “Don’t be surprised if you get a red ribbon on this. Just remember to tell the judge what you learned.” I heard the judge say to her, “Sometimes we just run out of time, don’t we?” (God bless her for that.) They talked all about it and she came away with a blue ribbon and a big smile. Our daughter had completed a painful project, but walked away with good memories from it — because the 4-H judge understood her dislike of it and rewarded her for sticking with it and for doing it by herself. It made the project worth it in the end. During one of her high school years she became our county fair queen — another 4-H experience that involved talking to a panel of judges, and displaying knowledge and confidence. What kids learn about responsibility and sticking with something they started, striving to always do their best, stepping out of comfort zones to try new skills, speaking in front of their club members each year, taking on leadership roles, and talking to judges about their baked goods, welding or livestock exhibits are skills that 4-H kids carry with them — and use — for a lifetime. Though our children have long been out of it, my husband and I are still 4-H leaders, and he and our sons are all on various livestock committees. Having been through it all, it’s hard to walk away from the chance to help someone else’s children be the best they can be. Our children are adults now, but when someone asks them how they know about this or that, they can say with every ounce of truth, “I did it in 4-H.” And the blue ribbon goes to the parents who bit their tongues and consumed large quantities of aspirin to help them through all of those new experiences.

Schwaller is a Farm News correspondent from Milford. Reach her by e-mail at


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