4-H Myths and Urban Legends

By Carolyn S. Hansen

Extension Educator


If you are asking:  “What 4-H Myths and Urban Legends are you talking about?” let me share a few with you.  

Myth: To be a 4-H member, you have to live on a farm!  

Answer: NO! As a 4-H alumna, child of a 4-H agent, former volunteer and now 4-H Educator, I am always surprised when people tell me they think that the 4-H of today is only for farm kids or kids who live in the country! Even when I was a 4-H’er in the 1960s, I never lived on a farm, and I never showed a cow. (In fact, the number one National 4-H Leadership winner when I went to 4-H Congress in 1968 was a young black man who started 25 4-H clubs in Cabrini Green.) 

Myth: Projects are all about agriculture

Answer: Actually, when 4-H first began in 1902, in Clark County, Ohio, it was started in the town of Springfield, as an after-school program; 4-H members didn’t show animals at the fair; and there was a lot of cooking. In Illinois, what began as a Corn Club became 4-H and was focused on farm life. We are proud of our Cookies and Cows beginning and it is still the foundation of some of our projects. But now, you’ll see rockets, robotics, photography, geocaching, geospatial, theatre arts, and so much more in our catalog of over 150 projects. As our country’s demographics have changed, so have the projects, structure and membership of our 4-H program. We have had to change to be relevant to today’s youth.

Urban Legend: Adult leaders do all the planning for what happens in a 4-H Club.

Answer: NOPE! Our 4-H clubs are led by students for students. We believe in the power of youth. What hasn’t changed is the Positive Youth Development (PYD) volunteer leaders and professionals use to guide our members as they grow in the program. Leadership and citizenship are hallmarks of our program.

Myth: 4-H exists only in the Midwest.

Answer: Absolutely untrue! You’ll find more than 4,000,000 4-H’ers from across the 50 states and Guam. We are also in seventy-two countries around the world!

Urban Legend: 4-H is its own organization, with no ties to any other group or entity.

Answer: Definitely not true. The 4-H is a part of every state’s Extension program. Extension is in every state through their Land Grant University. In our case, 4-H and Extension educators, community workers and other staff are part of the University of Illinois. Our educators and County directors are considered academic professionals. Because of this tie to the Land Grant Universities, our curricula and programs are developed by educators and are evidence and research-based. Our 4-H project guides also follow the Common Core Learning Standards, thus, the lessons and activities truly serve as an enrichment to the classes youth attend in elementary, middle and high schools.  

Myth: Because of the number of projects, there’s no real focus to 4-H.

Answer: Again, not true! Our three national mandates of Science, Engineering and Technology; Healthy Living; and Civic Engagement are designed to help our 4-H members grow their leadership, citizenship and communication skills while learning valuable lessons that enrich their school education and prepare them for careers.  

Urban Legend: You can only be in a 4-H program from ages 8 to 18.

Answer: Uh, no! There are lots of 4-H programs available to youth from ages 5 to 18. Cloverbuds is kind of like a Junior 4-H in which 5 to 7 year olds meet as a group. They usually join the 4-H club for the call to order and the pledges and then branch off for their own program. Only five children, ages 5 to 7 are needed to start a Cloverbud group and it does not have to be attached to a 4-H club. 

Myth: You have to be in a 4-H club to experience 4-H!

Answer: Not totally. Some of our programs, such as Learn and Fun Day (usually the third Saturday in January) is just one day long and Science Sleepovers are open to the public. Of course, we believe involvement in a 4-H club or Cloverbud group will give you a more sustained and long-lasting experience. You can find out more about 4-H in our tri-county area (Livingston, McLean and Woodford) by going to our website http://web.extension.illinois.edu/lmw.

Urban Legend: You can only join 4-H right before, or right after, the County Fair.

Answer: Again, nope! Any youth can join 4-H throughout the year. The 4-H year runs September 1 to August 31. That means enrollment is right around the corner—September 1. There is a program fee of $20 that is required at the time of enrollment. For families in need, scholarship funds are available. No child will ever be turned away from 4-H because of financial difficulties.

Myth: You have to be in a community club to be a 4-H member.

Answer: Things have changed. We now have 4-H clubs in after-school settings. We can start a club within a church. You can also join a 4-H SPIN (SPecial INterest) Club, which is a group of young people (who may or may not be in other 4-H clubs) who wish to dive deeply into a special subject such as geospatial science, robotics, horses-animal science or sewing. This fall, McLean County will be starting 4-H Clubs and Cloverbud groups at Oakdale, Sugar Creek, and Cedar Ridge Elementary Schools. We also have SPIN Clubs either started, or on the brink of organization, in GPS/GIS, Shooting Sports and Robotics.

Urban Legend: 4-H is All Cookies and Cows.

Answer: Hopefully by now you’ve learned nothing is further than the truth! 4-H is a thriving, growing, relevant program for youth ages 8 to 18 with Cloverbuds ages 5 to 7! Come join us. For additional information check out our website at http://web.extension.illinois.edu/lmw or call us in Livingston County at 815-842-1776, McLean County at 309-663-8306, Woodford County at 309-467-3789 or at Normal’s Unity Community Center at 309-862-4041.