National 4-H Week is held annually in October and this year fell from Oct. 4-10. But like almost everything else in 2020, it’s looked a little different than most years.

“This year has created a bit of a change for us to do to the COVID-19 pandemic. And so we're conducting more opportunities virtually this year,” says Brad Cogdill, chair of the Center for 4-H Youth Development within NDSU Extension and state 4-H program leader.

Brad Cogdill is the chair of the Center for 4-H Youth Development within NDSU Extension and state 4-H program leader. (North Dakota State University photo)
Brad Cogdill is the chair of the Center for 4-H Youth Development within NDSU Extension and state 4-H program leader. (North Dakota State University photo)
In North Dakota, that meant a virtual scavenger hunt. In South Dakota, that meant asking people to share their 4-H stories online, with a different theme every day.

“National 4-H Week is kind of our spirit week, essentially,” explains Hilary Risner, Regional 4-H Youth Program Advisor for South Dakota State University, adding that it’s an annual opportunity to tell the story of 4-H and try to get more youth involved at the beginning of a new 4-H year.

This year’s theme for National 4-H week was “Opportunity4All,” while Risner says is a good reminder of the vast nature of programming in 4-H. While the program’s roots are in agriculture and rural life, it has developed with time to also incorporate things like science and technology. 4-H hosts an annual “STEM Challenge,” which this year is a Mars Boot Camp that incorporates skills in mechanical engineering, physics, computer science and agriculture. And Risner said South Dakota 4-H has a “robust robotics program.”

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And even in the midst of a pandemic, 4-H continues to roll out new opportunities. South Dakota 4-H this year launched the South Dakota 4-H Legislature Program, which allows youths to learn about civic engagement and government, including drafting, debating and passing bills, and hearing from state leaders. Another new South Dakota program is ETHICS South Dakota, which 4-H worked on in conjunction with South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks. ETHICS stands for Ecology, Trapping, History, Identification, Conservation and Stewardship — all skills taught in the course.

Hilary Risner is the Regional 4-H Youth Program Advisor for South Dakota State University. (South Dakota State University photo)
Hilary Risner is the Regional 4-H Youth Program Advisor for South Dakota State University. (South Dakota State University photo)
“4-H is all about hands-on learning and the doing part of the process, experiential learning,” Risner said.

Providing those hands-on opportunities has been especially difficult in 2020.

4-H is a national program but is administered on the state level by university Extension. So down to the club level, university standards during the pandemic have been in place. That meant a stretch of months with no meetings, disrupted fairs, adjusted events and more virtual programming than ever before.

When clubs were able to start holding meetings and events again, there were some stipulations for how they must do so during the pandemic. In North Dakota, Cogdill said clubs with more than 25 participants — both members and adults — have to get authorization from local Extension offices. Indoor events with more than 25 people need plans and approval from Extension to move forward, with up to 50% occupancy in a venue, while outdoor events are acceptable with up to 250 people.

“Our offices, however, are getting creative about how they can maintain all the social distancing and and other expectations and still being able to conduct some of their normal, what we would call in-person, events at the local level,” Cogdill said.

South Dakota 4-H also has meeting limits, requires social distancing and encourages masks be worn during 4-H functions, especially those with close quarters, Risner said.

“We have really taken the challenge of COVID and made modifications to our programming through the whole duration of the pandemic,” she said.

Both Cogdill and Risner said the advent of virtual activities has opened up new avenues for reaching youth, too. 4-H programs at state and national levels have developed at-home programming for people looking for enrichment opportunities for students

“That opportunity is opening up the chance to reach young people and adult volunteers in different ways than before as well,” Cogdill said.

For more information about 4-H programs in your community, contact your local Extension office. For hands-on activities that can be done at home, visit https://4-h.org/about/4-h-at-home.