4-H is an informal, practical, learning-by-doing educational program for youth. The purpose of 4-H is to help youth acquire knowledge, develop life skills, and form attitudes that will enable them to become self-directing, productive members of society.
Professional and volunteer staff provide educational projects and activities in animal science, home economics, natural resources, and handcrafts, as well as leadership and citizenship.
4-H is America's largest out-of-school educational program for youth. Nearly 4.5 million youth nation wide now participate in 4-H, under the guidance of 600,000 extension-trained adult volunteer leaders. An estimated 36 million American adults are former 4-H members.
What is now 4-H began in the early 1900s, when youth agriculture clubs appeared in different parts of the country at the same time. These early efforts were organized in rural schools or through "Farmers' Institutes" organized by agriculture colleges to bring the latest scientific information to farmers and their families.
In 1914, the U.S. Congress the Smith-Lever Act, formally establishing Extension work on a cooperative basis among the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the state land grant colleges, and counties in each state. Funds were included for youth programs, which became known as 4-H in 1924.
The four H's stand for Head, Heart, Hands, and Health. "Head, heart, and hands" was a familiar phrase with public speakers in the early 1900s. Educators expresses the liberalizing of conventional education ("the three R's") to include practical arts ("the three H's").
The three H's were adopted by program organizers to reflect the educational theme of 4-H. A fourth "H" was added for health. Together the four H's symbolized the development of the head, to think, plan, and reason; the heart, to care for others, accept citizenship responsibilities and develop positive attitudes; the hands, to be useful, helpful, and skillful; and health, to practice healthful living, enjoy life, and use leisure time productively.
The national 4-H emblem is a green four-leaf clover with the letter "H" on each leaf. The design was adopted as the national emblem in 1911. Congress has twice passed legislation protecting the 4-H name and emblem. Similar to a copyright, this protection means that the 4-H name and emblem cannot be used without authorization by the national organization.
Green and white are the 4-H colors. Green symbolizes springtime, life, and youth, while white stands for high ideals.
The 4-H motto is "To make the best better." It was adopted in 1927 when the 4-H pledge was introduced.
I pledge ....
My head to clearer thinking
When repeating the pledge, a member raises the right hand to the side of the head while speaking line one, lowers the hand to heart while speaking line two; extends the hand, palms upward, while speaking line three, and stands straight while speaking lines four and five.
The pledge was adopted in 1927 during the first National 4-H Club Camp in Washington D.C. Otis Hall, state 4-H leader in Kansas, was responsible for the original wording, which remained unchanged until 1973 when the words "and my world" were added.