4-H Exploration Days: The opportunities abound

4-H Exploration Days took place on the Michigan State University campus for the 44th time, June 19‒21. This successful pre-college program is MSU’s largest. More than 2,500 people attended. A little more than 2,000 of those attendees were youth aged 11 to 19 from 77 counties. The event even boasted youth and adult guests from as far away as Poland.

When we talk about a pre-college program, we might be thinking of students sitting in desks in the summertime – not something the average kid dreams of as a way to spend a few precious days of summer. But that could hardly describe 4-H Exploration Days. Attendees this year chose from more than 200 sessions.

Some sessions focused on animal and veterinary science. Besides taking part in hands-on activities such as exploring the inside of goats and caring for horses’ hooves, attendees took field trips to the various MSU teaching and research centers for horses, dairy cattle and sheep as well as the MSU Veterinary Medical Clinic.

Participants also choose from a wealth of other possibilities. They launched rockets, explored emergency service careers at the MSU Fire Station, explored Michigan government and history at the State Capitol and Michigan Historical Museum, and learned about the juvenile justice system. They got creative with sewing and other crafts, writing, singing, dancing, songwriting and performing in theatre. Kids learned to better communicate through sign language, news reporting and public speaking. They delved into entomology, fishing, history, cooking and nutrition. They explored new languages and culture, learned to manage money and studied technology. They got physical with basketball, field hockey, ice skating, running, bowling, archery and volleyball. You get the picture. But just don’t take my word for it. Check out the list of activities here.

As you might imagine, it takes a tremendous amount of time, effort and people to put on an event of this magnitude. Nearly 300 served as session instructors or helpers including adult volunteers, teen volunteers, MSU Extension staff (both on- and off-campus) and outside resource people. Many of the adult volunteers and staff doubled as chaperones in addition to the 167 adults who volunteered to attend as chaperones. The event racked up more than 20,000 volunteer hours this year.

Judy Ratkos, MSU Extension 4-H Youth Development senior program leader and coordinator of 4-H Exploration Days said, “4-H Exploration Days gives youth an authentic collegiate experience, develops important life skills like decision-making and critical thinking, and often sparks college major or career interests. Our participants stay in MSU residence halls and attend classes in their interest. Many are inspired to come to college at MSU because they feel confident here and are excited about all the opportunities MSU offers.”

A special feature this year was the launch of the Samsung Summer Science Program to engage more young people in science and related fields to support future career exploration through inquiry-based science activities. Judy and Extension program leader Jake DeDecker promise to provide more information to counties about this new initiative in the coming month.

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