Benefits of fair experience extend beyond having fun

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Jeremy Elliott-Engel

Jeremy Elliott-Engel

NEOSHO, Mo. – According to a recent article in the Journal of MU Extension, the greatest motivator for participating in a county fair, is “having fun.”

However, Jeremy Elliot-Engel, 4-H youth development specialist says participating in a county fair is much more.
“Youth who participate in a fair also learn independence, receive feedback, mastery and gain positive relationships with caring adults,” says Elliot-Engel.

The county fair experience allows youth to balance their desire to have fun with the responsibilities of preparing and caring for livestock for exhibition all under a time structure.

“It is an opportunity for youth to learn how to balance their responsibilities with their desire to have fun. Youth that go to fair with livestock projects learn how to handle the world,” says Elliot-Engel. “They have deadlines, like show times, that they need to meet. Their efforts are linked to their success with ribbons and placing). Moreover, they sometimes learn the world is not always fair depending on the judge that day. These experiences all build independence.”

Throughout the year, 4-H youth are working on projects in all project areas (not just livestock). A county, regional or state fair provides an opportunity for each young person to get feedback on their project.

“County Fair competition is not about who wins grand champion, or who gets a blue ribbon; it is about learning about how your effort and skill has paid off,” says Elliot-Engel.

A youth starting out may not know how to prepare their animal for the show ring, and will ask another 4-H youth. This mentoring is innate to 4-H, and each year youth will return, growing and learning the skills necessary to have a successful project. Eventually, they will be in the role as a mentor, rather than the mentee.

“When youth are asked to share their information, this is when they feel they have reached a level of mastery. When they know enough to be able to give back to their community, peers, and the younger youth that is a level of mastery,” says Elliot-Engel.

Of course, there is no fun, mentoring or feedback unless there are also volunteers and parents helping everyone be successful. It should be no surprise that it takes caring adults to volunteer to make a fair happen and help youth gain important life skills from the fair experience.
“This year at the fair, when we are all hot, sweaty and tired, keep in mind that we are there for more than fun. We stay because of the many benefits our young people receive that will last far longer than any placing, ribbon or check.”

Missouri 4-H is University of Missouri Extension’s youth development program. The 4-H program helps to create opportunities for young people to be valued, contributing members of their community. To learn how to get involved locally go to mo4h.missouri.edu.

Residents of southwest Missouri can contact any of these 4-H youth development specialists and educators with MU Extension for information:
Jennifer Hancock in Christian County at (417) 581-3558.
Bob McNary in Jasper County at (417) 358-2158.
Karla Deaver in Lawrence County at (417) 466-3102.
Jeremy Elliott-Engel in Newton County at (417) 455-9500.
Velynda Cameron in Polk County at (417) 326-4916;
Willa Williams in Taney County at (417) 546-4431.
Janice Emery in Texas County at (417) 967-4545.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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