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Illinois Country Living

Patti Faughn
Judith M. Taylor, Youth Development Educator, University of Illinois Extension

Safety & Health:

Safety is a Life Skill
4-H youth learn safety skills with each project

Each October, 4-H’ers across the nation celebrate National 4-H Week. This is about the same time that they choose new projects for the coming year, a common practice for more than 100 years in the 4-H program. The specific projects have changed as our society has changed. There are now projects in robotics, geospatial technology and biotechnology, as well as more traditional projects like leadership, animal science, foods and nutrition, and visual arts.

4-H’ers learn about these topics in a process called “experiential learning” - learning by doing. They get involved with a learning activity and then participate in discussions that help them understand not only what they have just learned, but how they can use the information or skill in other situations. This unique way of learning is how knowledge, attitudes and skills are gained in every 4-H project.

Another commonality among 4-H projects is that members gain life skills while learning about a specific subject. A 4-H’er may gain public speaking skills as she gives a demonstration about getting her dog ready for show. Another 4-H member may gain leadership skills as he chairs a committee to plan a behind the scenes tour of a restaurant for the members enrolled in foods and nutrition projects.

One theme you’ll find throughout the 4-H program is safety. Almost all the projects have some safety component. Some of the safety lessons are about keeping the 4-H member safe and others have to do with safety procedures specific to the project area.

Here are some examples. 4-H’ers are taught safety as they work with animals, large and small. Learning to read a dog’s body language can tell you whether it’s safe to clip his toenails or whether you should get out of your car when a strange dog approaches. Besides safe handling of the animal to protect the youth working with that animal, 4-H’ers learn about keeping their animals safe from disease and other environmental hazards. Participating in crops and horticulture projects require understanding the safe use of pesticides and other chemicals.

4-H’ers enrolled in foods and nutrition projects use kitchen tools safely and learn how to keep the food safe to eat while preparing, serving, storing and reheating foods. Those involved with outdoor cooking add safely building and extinguishing a campfire to their safety skills.

Besides learning safe practices for working with electricity, an electricity project member may learn how to test grounded outlets and make an electricity safety checklist for her home. One of the health projects includes making a first aid kit and practicing first aid skills. In the bicycle and horse projects, youth learn to use helmets and rules of sharing the road with motorists.

Small engine members learn how to start a small engine safely, as well as removing, sharpening and replacing mower blades. There are lots of safety lessons in the tractor project. Youth identify safety precautions around augers and power take-off shafts as well as safety with flammable fuels.

Projects are not the only part of 4-H that stresses safety. Adults and teens who want to volunteer to work directly with youth in the 4-H program must first pass several screenings. Their background is checked through Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, the Illinois State Police and through interviews with people who know the applicant well. Paid staff must also pass these screenings.

Once volunteers have been accepted, they attend a series of orientations to learn about their roles as 4-H volunteers and are encouraged to develop risk management plans for every activity they plan for the youth in their group. They learn ways to reduce risks of the activities by providing plenty of adult supervision, checking for and removing hazards from facilities, having access to cell phones and first aid kits, and having emergency plans should such a need arise.

Safety is important to any organization. Without utilizing safe practices, people, places and continuation of the organization can be in jeopardy.


For More Information:

Judith M. Taylor, Youth Development Educator, University of Illinois Extension, Springfield Center, 217-782-6515.


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