Frederick County 4-H clubs are getting creative to keep members engaged and involved during COVID-19.
Normally, club members go to meetings, participate in state and county 4-H events and do community service projects.
“As an educator, I’ve been just extremely proud of our families for the way that the club leaders are trying to be forward thinking with ideas to keep their kids engaged and be creative while still respecting our governor’s stay-at-home order and obviously our county stay-at-home order as well,” said Donielle Axline, 4-H educator with the University of Maryland Extension in Frederick County.
All 4-H meetings, events and programs are suspended through July 31. 4-H summer camps are also suspended and a decision about 4-H participation in August fairs will be made by June 15.
In the meantime, some 4-H clubs are using online platforms like Zoom or WebEx to meet as a group while others are using platforms like Flipgrid or Rallyhood to engage with members.
“We’ve got club leaders that are asking their kids to kind of do some fun things like, you know, draw a painting of your project or write me a letter talking about why 4-H is so special to you,” said Rachel Bayer, 4-H educator with the University of Maryland Extension in Frederick County. “We’ve also had a lot of clubs that have worked on community service projects.”
4-H is a youth development program and there are more than 25 clubs in Frederick County alone. Not all members show animals at The Great Frederick Fair as part of animal science projects. There are clubs centered around other topics like robotics, entomology and photography. Some clubs are content specific and others have members that “dabble in a little bit of everything.”
While some members are still able to work on their projects at home, others, like those training to be livestock judges, are training online.
The program runs for 15 weeks, and children learn to evaluate different species or types of livestock the same way a judge would at the fair. Each week, the kids focus on a different area and visit local farmers and the kids practice the skills they learned by evaluating that farmer’s animals, Axline said.
They can’t get that hands-on experience right now, but they are using a platform called livestockjudging.com that allows the members to watch videos of animals to simulate the farm experience without being there. They also might be able to see a more diverse array of animal breeds that aren’t available locally.
Axline said she also reached out to judges that evaluate shows on the national level and recorded videos forthe members detailing tips, suggestions and knowledge.
“That’s something that we’ve never been able to offer our kids before,” Axline said. “Typically our kids might watch a livestock show online or go to a livestock show and be able to hear the critique of the judge in the ring, and since these events aren’t happening right now, the kids aren’t getting that experience.”
The videos allow members to still hear the terminology, critiques, guidance and knowledge used in the livestock industry from the safety of their homes.
For the members who would typically show animals at events, Axline said this time has its positives and negatives. If members live where their animals are, this might be an opportunity to get outside and spend more time with and care for their animal.
“I know for myself, personally, when we take our recess break in the middle of the day from doing our school work, my children go outside and we work with their animals and we brush them and exercise them before we go back in and start back up with our school work in the afternoon,” Axline said.
On the other hand, while they can practice at home, they are lacking feedback they might have gotten at live events to improve the skills that they’re practicing.
“A huge part of our shows and events is just the socialization piece,” Axline said. “And I know that’s something that weighs heavy on our 4-H’ers hearts.”
Some additional ways for members to learn at home include 4-H Friday Activities that focus on a specific topic such as indoor gardening.
A Thursday webinar series is also offered. Topic examples include, livestock judging and public speaking.
“The kids can sign up for any of those that interest them and they’re able to keep engaged and keep learning through those types of opportunities as well,” Bayer said.