Occasionally I mention the fact that we're involved in 4-H and then Jennifer hints that she'd like to hear more. I repeatedly promise that I'll tell her more, and then I neglect to do so.
Today, I will do so.
We first got involved with 4-H about three years ago. A friend described the club she belonged to, and we joined. The club was a great introduction for us, if ultimately not a perfect fit. The leader was a sweet, very talented (think Craft Mom) woman who planned an activity for each monthly meeting, thereby providing us with several completed projects which were ready to enter in the county fair when summer rolled around.
The only problem with this method (for us) was that our supposedly completed project always ended up being our "practice project" and the girls regularly wanted or needed to redo it once we knew what we were doing. The exception was their pillows, which amazingly were beautiful.
I say "amazingly" not due to any lack in my girls, but because of my sewing fears. So, Pillow Beauty came at a price, but, hey, we did it. And we learned something, just as we did when we sewed pillowcases and discovered the Knifty Knitter.
Some of the projects the girls have pursued on their own include a "Family History" display (in which we dug into the family tree), an animal science report/poster on cat allergies, an interview with a favorite author, scrapbooks chronicling participation in plays, reports on community service, cookie baking and cake decorating.
We were club members for two years and did a lot of fun projects, but due to both scheduling conflicts and the desire to be more in control of what we did, we decided to become independent 4-H members. So, last year, we weren't affiliated with a club, but simply signed up as independents. We received all the same mailings and project/fair information as everyone else, but we set our own goals, schedules and projects and had no monthly commitment.
This worked pretty well for us last year. Each of the girls chose projects that best suited them. Perusing both our local 4-H website and the county fair guidebook, the girls found ideas that they were excited about, and the requirements for entering any given project in the fair. Our only problem with the independent route was our haphazard scheduling. We ended up cramming a lot of work into June, in order to be ready for the fair.
To summarize the pros and cons:
Pros of a club for us:
A leader who taught us the 4-H/fair ropes
Experience in formal club proceedings (officers were elected, my girls learned about secretarial duty, note taking, leading a meeting/discussion)
Planned projects and the creative input of others
New ideas or new avenues for community service
Cons of a club for us:
Lack of scheduling control
Projects that may not be a priority for us
Pros of Independent Membership:
Control over schedule and amount of involvement
Ability to choose/focus on areas that the kids are really excited about
Cons of Independent Membership:
Accountable only to ourselves, which results in procrastination (however, we had the same problem the two years we were in the club, especially since we were constantly redoing projects.) Obviously, this con is really just dependent on one's level of commitment and prioritization.
Jenn, does this even begin to answer your questions? If not, I promise to post more. Soon. Really.
The best way to find out more about 4-H is to call your local county extention office, or take a look at the national organization's website, which can direct you to the right place.