4-H conjures up visions of little red-headed boys with cowlicks playing alongside little tow-headed girls wearing gingham dresses. But nothing could be further from the truth. The children that attend 4-H are as varied and normal as in any classroom – there was nary a cowlick among them.
4-H came into existence in 1952 and is under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Through the years 4-H has helped many young people reach maturity. One study conducted in New York showed that youth that participated in 4-H do better in school and have improved life skills in leadership and problem solving, among other things.
There were nearly as many adults involved as children. The parents stayed, seated with their children and there were five leaders. So the adult-child ratio was about 2 to 1. There were three long tables that was nearly full of children and parents. Seated at the white tables were children from 5-years-old to 15-years- old, all dressed in play-clothes, all of which paid rapt attention to the front. And the adults gave them equal their attention. This was their day and their meeting. It was all about the children.
The Praying Mantis Junior Master Gardener’s Club meets at the County Extension Office on the second Saturday of the month at 1:00 p.m. The County Extension Office today is in a modern, red-brick building. It was so neat and pristine that the word sterile came to mind.The leaders were all Master Gardeners and have a love for children and nature. Van Biven’s has brought his son Avery for about six months. “I began coming because it is an opportunity for Avery to get experience with nature and gardening,” he said.
The format of the meeting was standard parliamentary procedure and so soon it was called to order. There was ample opportunity for all to participate. Sophia Calzada is a 14-year-old with Down syndrome and she was the song leader. She passed out a sheet with the song “The Paw Paw Patch” on it, and then she led the singing. The sheet also included information on what a paw paw patch is.
Terri Smyers brought her grandson Carter Smyers. Terri proudly discoursed on how Carter won two blue ribbons last fall at the Washington County Fair. Carter took the blue ribbon for pumpkin pie and for flower arranging, all at the age of seven. “There is no better opportunity to bond with your children or grandchildren than in this program,” Terri said.
Grace Costella, 12, got involved because her older brother is a master gardener. She gave a presentation on the water cycle. She easily walked to the front of the room with all the accouterments of an experienced presenter. She stood at the front of the room with no apparent fear and said “Since water is so important to life, I’m doing a demonstration about watershed.” She then proceeded to share the water cycle, with such aplomb that it was hard to remember that she was just a child. She drew pictures and thoroughly explained concepts such as condensation and evaporation. She explained it in such an easy way that Gail Pianalto, one of the leaders, said afterward that she finally understood the water cycle.
The meeting was adjourned, once again following parliamentary procedure so that the fun could begin. The children, parents and leaders all trooped out to the master garden beside the extension office. There they all put on plastic gloves and made seed-balls out of composted-dirt and seeds. They squished the dirt between gloved fingers, as they felt the coolness of the loose earth slosh around their fingers and mixed into the earth the hard, crunchy wildflower seeds. They then ran outside of the fence to an area marked for planting and threw the balls into the wind. The balls flew through the air and landed upon the ground, where over the next several months the rains will melt the compost and the seeds will soak into the ground. In a few months, flowers of surprise will shoot up through the earth and the sun and the children will welcome them. Pianalto made it a point to say several times that the children would be surprised at what came up.
After the balls were made and flung, the children realized that it was a cold February morning and began to shiver. So everyone marched back inside for a snack. Several of the leaders had stayed inside and popped popcorn on the stove (sans salt) and homemade cocoa. The children and parents talked excitedly about the fun they had had. After all, next month’s meeting is just around the corner.