By Kelley Rice, Extension Educator and 4-H Coordinator for Panhandle Extension District

A framework is a frame or structure composed of parts fitted and joined together, according to It is also a good analogy for the way the multi-faceted parts of Nebraska 4-H work together to fulfill its mission to empower youth to reach their full potential working and learning in partnership with caring adults.

At the core of the 4-H framework is Positive Youth Development, which uses the experiential learning model (learning through experience) coupled with positive relationships with caring adults.

The positive effects of 4-H on youth have been documented by research. The Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University partnered with land-grant universities for more than a decade to define and measure positive youth development. The study’s findings, issued in December 2013, found that “that 4-H's unique hands-on approach gives youth the opportunity to learn by doing and build life skills.”

The study found that youth who participate in 4-H are:

  • nearly 4 times more likely to make contributions to their communities.
  • about 2 times more likely to be civically active.
  • nearly 2 times more likely to participate in science programs during out-of-school time.
  • 2 times more likely to make healthier choices.

Other core elements of the 4-H framework are Science Literacy and Quality Learning Engagement, keys to helping youth succeed.

Science Literacy is an inquiry, active-learning-based model where the youth’s interests are piqued through posing problems and questions that require youth to engage in critical thinking. Teaching youth to take on difficult problems and research solutions allows them to not only become life-long learners, but also positive contributors to society.

Quality learning engagement is how 4-H helps youth engage in making decisions and learning new content. The avenues of learning can be anything from a 4-H project manual to developing an app, as long as the focus is on meaningful learning.

In addition to the core features, other key elements of the 4-H framework are the content outcomes, divided into three areas where 4-H focuses its work:

Engaging Youth in STEM and Ag Literacy revolves around the content areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math as well as teaching youth about where their food comes from and how they can be confident it is healthy and safe for consumption.

The second area, Empowering Youth Leadership and Entrepreneurship, focuses on Entrepreneurship, Leadership and Community Development. The goal of 4-H entrepreneurship programs is to increase knowledge of how to identify a need in their community and become the entrepreneur who can fill that need. These skills correlate well with Leadership and Community Development as youth develop the necessary skills to become leaders and activators within their communities.

The third area, Preparing Youth to Make Decisions for Today and the Future, works through the content areas of Career and College Readiness as well as Healthy Living. Programs such as Connect the Dots and Next Chapter help youth prepare for life after high school.

Participating in these programs will help the youth make the best decision about the career path they choose, whether it is to continue their education or step into the workforce. Of course a successful career will not be possible if youth do not learn about healthy lifestyle choices. Programs within this content area focus on healthy food choices, physical activity and how to stay emotionally well.

The outer circle of the 4-H framework illustrates how 4-H is able to deliver all of its rich content:

After-school and School Enrichment programs take 4-H to the local school systems, where 4-H educators, assistants and aides strategize with teachers and after-school providers to offer a variety of expanded learning opportunities.

4-H clubs meet on a regular basis throughout the year with caring adults, who serve as leaders and volunteers and help teach a variety of content related to 4-H projects.

Special Programs are focused on a specific topic or area such as shooting sports, Wear-Tec, or Robotics. These youth spend countless hours digging deep into the content perfecting their knowledge and skills.

4-H Camp provides both overnight and daylong experiences for youth where learning is centered on a theme. Whether you attend camp at Halsey or it is part of a local 4-H program, this model allows youth to develop great friendships while exploring an area of interest.

Youth in 10th through 12th grade are invited to choose from a wide range of topics at our Big Red Summer Academic camps. These events are held on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus and focus on career exploration.

Viewing the entire framework of 4-H, none of the work described here would be possible if it wasn’t performed through the lens of Positive Youth Development. Nebraska 4-H is dedicated to help the youth of today become the responsible and productive leaders of tomorrow.

For more information about Nebraska 4-H, visit the website,