LUSK – The sounds of shuffling feet, giggles, clamoring questions and sewing machines greeted anyone who walked in the door of the Niobrara County fair building on Jan. 17.
It becomes obvious where the noise is coming from just a few seconds after entering the building – it is another 4-H Friday and activities are in full swing.
In the meeting rooms, school age children, volunteers and Extension staff are pinning, ironing and sewing as they work on pillowcases. More staff and children are hard at work in the kitchen, fixing chicken pot pies from scratch. Plenty of flour is on the counters, floors and participants. But that doesn＊t deter staff and volunteers from letting the kids take the lead on making the pie crusts.
4-H Fridays is the collaborative effort of Extension staff, Niobrara County Homemakers, 4-H Junior Leaders and parent volunteers. The idea took root after the Niobrara County School District announced plans to transition to a four-day school week.
Children, it was decided, would need something to do on the fifth day.
Around the same time, Extension educator Kelli Chichester wanted to get 4-H information out to a broader base of Niobrara County. A plan to incorporate Extension activities into the enrichment Fridays held at the school had already been discussed.
The idea 4-H is more than ※cows and plows§ has always been an obstacle to overcome. In a culture where 4-H enrollment is on the decline, it is more important than ever to reach out to those families who may not be familiar with the 4-H program, Chichester said.
4-H Fridays became the solution to both those problems. It would provide a half-day of supervised activities for those children whose parents needed childcare on the Fridays when there was no school and no enrichment activities planned. The program would also introduce students to the variety of project options available through 4-H and be open to all, hopefully pulling in some new families and children that were unfamiliar with 4-H programs.
Starting in September and averaging three Fridays a month, Extension staff plan a variety of life skills and science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) activities designed to promote 4-H. Each Friday starts at 9 a.m. and ends at 12 p.m. It includes a snack and two to four activity stations.
As with Extension services, the snacks and culinary activities are aimed at teaching children about healthy food choices and how to prepare snacks and meals. So far, attendees have made pot pies, dessert pies, smoothies, yogurt parfaits, homemade salsa and gifts in a jar. They have made fleece tie pillows, decorated homecoming t-shirts and sewn pillowcases. Bridge building, toothpick towers, coding and hunter＊s safety are just a few of the other activity stations that have been available.
Attendance has varied from 12 to 30 kids. Every activity involves the kids, from snack preparation to clean up. For some children, this is the first time they’ve ever baked a pie crust or harvested vegetables from the garden.
Every 4-H Friday is $5 per child and open to any school age child. Their parents must sign a participation agreement and code of conduct. They must RSVP the Wednesday prior to the activity day. Upcoming days are posted at the Extension office and online and there is a Facebook group parents can join.
For more information contact Kelli Chichester at (307) 334-3534.