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Ohio State University Extension


Involving Parents in 4-H

4-H Youth Development
Joyce A. Shriner, CFLE, Extension Educator, 4-H Youth Development/Area #18 Leader, Ohio State University Extension, Hocking County.

The family-oriented 4-H Youth Development program encourages positive relationships among volunteers, members, and parents. Volunteers provide opportunities for members in their club, members utilize the opportunities to develop life skills, and parents provide resources and encouragement for their child.

Volunteers should consider parents, grandparents, and other adult family members as assets. Getting adults involved in youth programs strengthens family relationships by improving “parent/child communication, bonding, and perceptions of one another” (Duerden, Witt, & Harrist 2013, p. 1). Adult family members “can provide: encouragement, assistance, transportation, guidance, knowledge, resources, leadership, and ideas” (Lafontaine 1999). In turn, they gain satisfaction from contributing meaningful service and making a positive impact in the 4-H club and/or community while making new friends and enhancing family relationships. In addition, parent involvement benefits the current and future 4-H programs as research shows that the shared event “prolongs the experience’s positive post-participation effects” (Duerden, Witt, & Harrist 2013, p. 1).

Parent volunteer with children building a diorama

Why Parents Get Involved

According to research conducted by Schrock and Kelsey (2013, p. 2), “People are driven by the need for power, achievement, and affiliation.” Parents who seek power are “motivated by the desire for influence and authority” (Schrock & Kelsey 2013, p. 2). Those motivated by achievement like to set and accomplish achievable goals, address challenges, and grow personally. Parents who enjoy talking and working with others, making new friends, and developing meaningful relationships may be motivated by affiliation. As volunteers develop relationships with parents, they will learn about what motivates them to participate. Then, volunteers can recruit them for tasks that meet their needs.

Why Parents Do Not Get Involved

In the article titled “Why Parents Don’t Volunteer (and What You Can Do About It)” written for PTO Today, Judy Yaron (2017, p. 2) cites the following reasons why parents do not get involved. Below each of Yaron’s points are suggestions for ways 4-H volunteers may address each reason.  

  • Volunteering is way beyond some parents’ comfort zone.
    • Parents that are new to 4-H may think that special skills or training is required to participate. Volunteers can re-assure them that no experience is necessary. Just like their children, they can learn by doing.
  • Some children “dread the idea of their mom or dad showing up.”
    • Volunteers and parents of long-time 4-H members can serve as positive examples of parents and children working together on projects and having fun. As a result, children will be more willing to have their parents involved.
  • Parents fear disappointing other parents, or even worse, their own kids.
    • Volunteers can reassure new parents that they will provide support, guidance, and advice as needed, to help guarantee that a task will be completed successfully.
  • Parent groups can be perceived as “private VIP clubs.”
    • A 4-H club should be welcoming to all. A parent meeting at the beginning of the year could include get acquainted and/or team building activities to help new parents become a part of the group.
  • Not every parent gets it—they have “no clue how much work is involved.”
    • As parents get involved with 4-H club activities, they will learn more about what is required and recognize the time commitment and effort others are contributing.

Identify the Tasks that Need Completed

When 4-H club volunteers meet to plan meetings for the year, make a list of tasks that could be completed by parents or older family members. Examples might include: creating and putting up the fair booth display; planning a special club outing; organizing a community service activity; leading the club’s fundraiser; providing refreshments or supplies; working in the food booth; teaching a clinic, etc. Be sure to describe the purpose of the task, the approximate time requirement, specific responsibilities, and share the university or county rules, if applicable, for that task.

Inform Parents About 4-H

“Effectively communicating with parents is a critical step in getting them involved. Informing them about 4-H and their role as parents will create a line of communication that will benefit all involved” (Lafontaine 1999). Consider the following strategies to build this relationship:  

  • Tell parents they are welcome and encouraged to attend meetings.
  • Have a meeting for parents at the beginning of the year.
  • Schedule a 4-H event in which all family members are invited to participate.
  • Communicate directly with parents by talking with them face to face, through social media, phone calls, club meeting notes/agendas/minutes and/or through 4-H member progress reports.
  • Invite parents to help. Share the list of tasks and find out what each parent is willing to do to assist.

Recruitment Strategies

Yaron (2017, p. 3) suggests the following recruitment strategies:

  • Throw the ball to other players: Let others do it their way for better or for worse. Volunteers should decide which tasks they are willing to turn over to others and then recruit member’s parents or grandparents to lead them.
  • Become a matchmaker: Consider creating a handout that lists each task that needs completed along with a check-off list where parents can indicate: “Things I like to do or do well; Things I want to learn; or Things I do not want to do—please don’t ask” (Torretta & Bovitz 2005, p. 3). Share the handout with parents and encourage them to indicate what they would like to do to help. Then, invite them to get involved. Let them know how much you need their help and will appreciate their assistance.
  • Reach out to one parent at a time: Approach them personally at a time when they are free to talk. Explain the task that needs managed and how it relates to the parent’s interests and skills. Ask him or her to think about the opportunity and get back to you with their decision.

Keep in mind that busy parents may be more willing to accept responsibility for a single, short-term project or activity rather than those requiring larger commitments.

Recognizing Parents

“Showing appreciation for assistance provided by parents will encourage future involvement. Recognize parents by giving praise, saying ‘thank you,’ providing public recognition of parent’s efforts, or holding special events for parents” (Lafontaine 1999). Also, encourage members to thank all the parents who assisted with cards, social media posts, personal thank you notes, etc.


Duerden, M. D., Witt, P. A., & Harrist, C. J. (2013, Winter). The impact of parental involvement on a structured youth program experience: A qualitative inquiry. Journal of Youth Development, 8(3), 1-17. Retrieved August 31, 2018, from

Lafontaine, K. (1999). Involving Parents [Fact Sheet]. Ohio State University Extension, Columbus.  

Schrock, J., & Kelsey, K. D. (2013). A phenomenological look at 4-H volunteer motives for service. Journal of Extension, 51(2), 1-9. Retrieved August 1, 2023, from

Torretta, A., & Bovitz, L. (2005). An affirmative approach to parental involvement in youth programs. Journal of Extension, 43(4), 1-4. Retrieved December 6, 2017, from

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Originally posted Oct 2, 2018.