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Ohio State University Extension


4-H Project Learning

4-H Youth Development
Jo Del Williams, Extension Educator, 4-H Youth Development, Ohio State University Extension, Scioto County

Four teens working together on a project with fabric.In 4-H, club members learn about different subject matter through their work on projects. More than 220 projects are available to Ohio 4-H members. Through these projects, members learn about topics that are of interest to them, at a pace that is set by them. The project is a way for youth to learn to set and accomplish goals. The projects offer a learn-by-doing approach for the youth to master skills at different levels.

A Volunteer’s Guide to Assisting with Individual Member Projects

Project books are the resources by which 4-H members experience a project’s content in a meaningful way. The project books are designed as self-study manuals for members to read and complete under the supervision of a project helper. The information and activities in these books are arranged in a unique experiential fashion. Members begin by experiencing the project subject matter in a meaningful way. This is followed by activities that allow members to reflect on a deeper meaning of the content. Following this, members generalize what they learned to other examples. Lastly, members apply what they learned to real world situations.

4-H Project Experience

At the core of every member project experience is the project helper. This can be a parent, relative, friend, or interested adult. The duties of this caring adult include helping the member Focus on the tasks at hand, providing Support and Feedback for the learning taking place, and conducting a Debriefing exercise to determine what was done well, what could have been done differently, and where to go from here. As a project helper, adults can nurture and cultivate a member's interest in a project by guiding the member's planning, motivating the member to complete the project activities, and recognizing the member for a job well done. While the project helper may be a parent, interaction with a non-parental adult can have a beneficial effect.

Helper’s Role

  • Help 4-H members and their families select projects that are meaningful to them. Project Central ( is an excellent resource for this, as is the Ohio 4-H Family Guide (
  • Become familiar with the material in the project book.
  • Support the member in their efforts to set goals and complete the recommended number of project activities.
  • Provide feedback as requested or needed.
  • Date and initial the activities that have been completed.
  • Recognize the member for a job well done. Project completion certificates may be available from your county Extension office. Adult involvement as a project helper is one of the essential elements for positive youth development. These elements affirm the need for youth to become actively engaged in meaningful learning activities with caring adults in a safe and supportive environment. For more information on the Essential Elements for Positive Youth Development, visit our web page at

Group Projects

Sometimes a group of members may want to focus on a project of particular interest or take on a club project in addition to individual projects. To meet these needs, group project work is often organized and conducted by a project leader who is responsible for directing project work. Group project work can be conducted as part of, or separate from, the club meeting. When separate from the meeting, project advisors can provide a more in-depth exploration of the topic and involvement in project activities.

Sometimes members from surrounding clubs are invited to be a part of these specialized project sessions. When this occurs, these members are considered part of a 4-H Special Interest group.

Organizing Your Project Group

Once you and your members decide on a project topic, you will need to begin locating the necessary materials. Start with the Family Guide. This resource lists specially prepared materials for teaching a variety of topics in individual and group settings. If there is a particular 4-H project that members want to explore as a group, yet no group materials are listed, use a copy of a member project book or an idea starter instead. Ohio's member project books offer a variety of project activities, and useful, specific guidelines for completion. You are not, however, limited to project topics or materials offered through 4-H. Feel free to use additional teaching materials from libraries, associations, or special interest groups.

Involve Members in Project Planning

As much as possible, involve your members in planning project work sessions. They will have a greater commitment to the project if they have been involved in its planning. The length of time members spend on project activities will depend on the nature of the project and the ambitions of the group.

Setting Individual and Group Goals

By the second meeting, ask members to determine their personal goals for their project and the goals of the group. However, this needs to be done with consideration for the individual abilities of each member. One of the roles of the project helper is to guide members in setting realistic goals for both themselves and the group.

Preparing for Project Instruction

Successful learning depends on how well you involve members in hands-on activities. You may want to use a variety of techniques such as role playing, experiments, demonstrations, and discussions to maintain member interest in the project.

Project Advising, Review, and Recognition

Male adult helping teen boy and girl on computers.One of the jobs of the 4-H leader is to monitor the project work of club members, in both individual and group projects. This includes having members give regular project reports at club meetings. Project reports give advisors an opportunity to check on the work each member has done, especially if it is done at home. If members have encountered difficulties, they can be discussed. Project reports naturally lead into project demonstrations, which are typically assigned in advance. The demonstration provides the opportunity for members to highlight important things they learned about their projects at home. For additional information on giving 4-H project demonstrations, refer to fact sheet 4-H-46.

Project Review

Review of the member's accomplishments should take place once the member's project goals have been met. Typically, this evaluation is done at home by either a project helper or at a time and location agreed upon by the club. The purpose of this evaluation is to assess “to what degree” members have achieved their project goals. Additionally, members may take part in a club level evaluation to assess contributions in leadership, civic engagement, and community service; participation in 4-H events and activities; involvement in the club; and personal growth through 4-H. Typically, this level of evaluation is conducted as part of or following a member’s project review. It is usually done to assign the member a final grade or a particular “Honor Member” type of award.

Members also can be encouraged to take part in county-level judging, sometimes referred to as county project judging. However, this level of assessment is designed to determine “how well” rather than “to what degree” a member has achieved within a project. Normally, a judge reviews the planning section of the member's project manual in order to assess the scope of the member's project knowledge and involvement. Members may also be required to bring a project exhibit or demonstrate an activity as a way of assessing project skills. Members should check the county web site to find project requirements and judging criteria. Normally, grade ribbons (A, B, C) or color ribbons (blue, red, white) are assigned to reflect individual project achievements as determined by the judge. At the highest level of member assessment, called “competition against others,” members are judged against standards of excellence and against the achievements of others. Typically, this takes place during county-level evaluation at the time when award winners and state fair participants are determined. It also takes place at county and state fair contests and special competitive events.

Member Recognition

Counties sometimes offer special achievement awards for recognition in specific projects. County offices can share information about availability and other details. Individuals who earn recognition for project and membership achievements should be recognized among fellow members. Don’t forget, pats on the back and verbal praise can be done at any time, not just at the completion of the project.

Additional opportunities to recognize significant member achievements may be available through your county, state, and national 4-H award programs, depending on the project. Don’t forget to encourage eligible members to apply for achievement awards in specific subjects, trips to state and national events, and academic scholarships. For additional information, contact your county Extension office for a copy of its county award packet.


Project Club: Five or more youth from at least three families who meet under the direction of a trained 4-H volunteer to elect officers, conduct club business, plan the club program, and enroll and complete 4- H projects.

Individual Project: A project selected by a member based on their interests. The project is completed by that member with assistance of an adult project helper, who may be an advisor or parent.

Club or Group Project: An advisor directed project that two or more members of the club take and complete together.

Project Group: Group of members who work together on a project either as a part of or separate from the club meeting.

Special Interest Group: A short-term program, offered by one or more 4-H advisors, and focuses on a topic of particular interest to local youth. These groups are not required to conduct business meetings, nor is there a specific length of time for them to meet.


Developing 4-H Project Work, Oklahoma 4-H Volunteer Development Series, 4H. VOL. 111, Oklahoma State University. Retrieved from

McNeill, B. (2010) The Important Role of Non-Parental Adults with Youth Learning Leadership, Journal of Extension, 48(5). Retrieved from

This original version of this fact sheet was published in 2004 and written by Robert L. Horton, 4-H Youth Development, Ohio State University Extension.


Demonstrations for 4-H Members (4H-46), retrieved from

Project Central, retrieved from

Family Guide, retrieved from

Program Area(s): 
Originally posted Jun 9, 2020.