Inclusive 4-H

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) emphasizes that children with disabilities and their families should consider participation in extra-curricular activities. However, this often does not happen due to exclusionary practices, whether intentional or unintentional. Extra-curricular activities such as 4-H can be greatly beneficial to children with disabilities. 4-H activities can be a valuable way to gain new skills such as responsibility, integrity, leadership, and communication just to name a few. Extra curriculars can also help these children build relationships, explore their interests, and gain a sense of belonging. With some intentional planning, 4-H can be an inclusive program for children with disabilities and their families. 

Studies have shown that there appears to be limited interaction between families of children with disabilities and families of children with no disabilities. Although they may be interested in participating in clubs and organizations, families may feel self-conscious about joining groups designed for children without disabilities. They may feel overwhelmed by their child’s disability and may worry about their child being unable to build friendships with or be accepted by their peers. 

All youth need opportunities to be involved in activities unique to their own talents and interests. This is where 4-H can play an empowering role in the lives of individuals with disabilities and their families. 4-H can be an empowering pathway for youth with disabilities and their families to receive what they want and need: the opportunity to be involved, make friendships, and gain life skills. 

An Inclusive Organization is one that: 

  • Recognizes that people are the same but also different 
  • Creates chances for others to experience freedom to participate 
  • Values each person and diversity 
  • Supports participation 

4-H members without disabilities are benefited by an inclusive 4-H program because they begin to see that everyone, disabled or not, has strengths and weaknesses, has their own unique abilities, and have more in common than they may have realized.  

Members with disabilities are encouraged to use their unique skills to benefit the rest of the club.  

Your role as a 4-H Leader: 

  • You have the opportunity to gain new skills  
  • It is important for educators and leaders to take the responsibility to approach families of children with disabilities and explain the benefits that 4-H has for all children 
  • The 4-H member is more important than the project. The development of character should be what is focused on first and foremost in a 4-H program.  
  • Project work is one of the best devices for developing young people. To ‘learn by doing’ is fundamental to education and is characteristic of the 4-H program. 
  • Competition should focus on what a member has actually learned or gained from a project and less on how the final product turns out. 
  • Although adults may have the best intentions when they start out, if they complete the work for a 4-H member the member will gain little, except perhaps a feeling that adults will do all of their work for them. 
  • Every 4-H member needs to be noticed, feel important, achieve some degree of success, and be praised.  
  • Educators and leaders should provide opportunities for members to have input into what they want out of 4-H and how to achieve their goals. 

Inclusive 4-H Resources

Inclusive 4-H Webinar - "Welcoming Youth with a Wide Range of Abilities into your 4-H Program"

Indiana 4-H is committed to providing opportunities for all youth who wish to participate in educational programs and activities designed to build life skills that will enable the youth to succeed in their adult lives. Some of our youth participants face developmental challenges that require accommodations. This session was designed to help 4-H Extension professionals and volunteers provide a welcoming, inclusive environment in which children and youth of all ability levels are able to participate to their fullest extent. This session introduced a new set of “Inclusive 4-H” fact sheets and other resources that are included elsewhere on this page. The panelists on the webinar shared recommended practices for engaging youth and their families, including several scenarios.

Link to video recording of webinar (note: video ends before scenarios are discussed; each scenario is discussed by a commmittee member in the video links included below)

PPT Slides from Webinar

PPT Slides from Disability Resource Center shown during Webinar

Inclusive 4-H Committee members recorded some videos discussing common questions related to including youth with a variety of abilities:

(NAME) County 4-H is committed to creating a diverse, equitable, and accessible environment for all members, past, present, and future.