What is 4-H?

4-H youth programs provide opportunities for youth to develop skills they can use throughout their life. Iowa 4-H builds upon a century of experience as it fosters positive youth development that is based on the needs and strengths of youth, their families, and communities.

The Iowa 4-H Program’s priorities:

  • STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics)
  • Healthy Living
  • Leadership and Civic Engagement
  • Communication and the Arts

align with Iowa State University, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, 4-H National Headquarters, and statewide initiatives. 

The program priorities are cross-disciplinary. It is important to ensure all Iowa 4-H delivery modes (afterschool programs, camps, events, clubs, schools) are moving youth and their parents toward sustainable learning communities, usually referred to as 4-H Clubs. Iowa considers 4-H Clubs/Learning Communities as its deepest and most sustainable level of intervention.


Positive Youth Development

The Iowa 4-H Positive Youth Development experience is outlined in the 4-H Equation. Iowa 4-H follows the principles of Positive Youth Development symbolized in the Circle of Courage via Experiential Learning and draws on the knowledge base of 4-H youth, Iowa State University, and other institutions of higher education in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture. The Iowa 4-H Program’s vision and mission statements clearly view youth as partners working with staff, volunteers, and as full participants in planning and working for individual and community change. 

Experiential Learning Model

The Circle of Courage, which has guided 4-H for 10 years, embodies Iowa 4-H priorities and follows a Native American model of youth development. The circle symbolizes a medicine wheel in several Native American cultures. The circle also symbolizes that all are connected, interconnected, and dependent on one another. If the circle stays intact, each has the courage he or she needs to care for others and make good decisions for himself or herself. However, if the circle breaks, people become discouraged, which affects how they treat others and how they make decisions.  

Circle of Courage


Fulfilling the Needs of Youth

Belonging:  Youth need to know they are cared about and feel a sense of connection to others in group settings. 4-H gives youth the opportunity to feel physically and emotionally safe while actively participating in a group.

“Belonging is more than tolerance, acceptance, or inclusion. Belonging means we feel connected, important, valued, and part of the group. It is our group, our program, our community.” – Bengu Erguner-Tekinalp, Ph.D. (April 2016 YPS Meeting).   

Sometimes, youth find themselves in situations where they are the out-group. They use their mental energy to monitor for threats, leaving fewer resources for higher cognitive processes. This concept is why Iowa 4-H builds the capacity of youth, volunteers, community, and staff to work in the context of diversity. We build programs that are welcoming, inclusive, and reflective of ALL YOUTH, regardless of geography (urban/rural), gender, race, culture, language, disability, national origin, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status.

Belonging is represented in the 4-H pledge by the words "Head", "Heart", and "Health."    

Mastery: Iowa 4-H strengthens the feeling of mastery by using the Experiential Learning Model (Fig. 3). The Experiential Learning Model is the process of learning through reflection and doing, which begins with the interests and strengths that every youth possesses and are channeled into the learning process. Mastery focuses on the process of learning, not on the subject of the learning.    

Mastery is represented in the 4-H pledge by the words "Head", "Hands", and "Health."  

Independence: Youth need to know they are able to have influence through positive decision making and action. The Iowa 4-H program works toward providing youth with age-appropriate opportunities to develop ownership over their learning. By exercising independence through 4-H leadership opportunities, youth mature in self-discipline, responsibility, and learn to better understand themselves. 

Independence is represented in the pledge by the words "Head" and "Hands."  

Generosity: Youth need to feel their lives have meaning and purpose. 4-H citizenship efforts empower young people to be well informed and actively engaged in their communities and the world. 4-H also gives youth opportunities to give back and to share with their community through service learning and community service. 

Generosity is represented in the 4-H pledge by the words "Hands" and "Heart."  

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