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Author Amanda Radke reads to young people at the 4-H Babysitting Camp held in Wessington Springs, S.D. in early June. Photo courtesy of Natasha Waters

4-H is the school of common sense

To kick off the summer season, I've been traveling to local libraries and 4-H events to read my children's books, "Levi's Lost Calf" and "Can-Do Cowkids."

If you've been following this column for awhile now, you already know that promoting agricultural literacy to young people is a passion project of mine, so having the opportunity to share my beef production story with a wide audience is always a treat for me.

Last week I had the chance to present my stories at a 4-H babysitting training camp. The audience included young toddlers who walked from across the street to join us in the ag building, as well as older elementary and younger middle school students who were taking the babysitting course.

It seemed fitting then for the older students to watch me interact and engage with the daycare kids because they, too, would soon be caring for and engaging with little kids, once they pass the course and receive their babysitting certificates.

Although I'm passionate about agricultural advocacy and feel that connecting with students is always a positive and beneficial experience, it was what I learned from the kids that day that really left a lasting impact.

You see, here was a group of 30-40 kids who were spending their summer break in a classroom. They could have been swimming at the pool, playing video games on the couch, sleeping in, hanging out with their friends or doing a myriad of other things that often occupy a young person's time during the slow summer months.

Instead, these kids were spending the day learning the basics of childcare and beyond. These kids learned about CPR, how to avoid drowning accidents, how to treat a cut, how to watch out for poisonous plants, what to do if you're bit by an animal and so much more.

The kids discovered how yoga can be used to keep little ones engaged and physically active, how books can be used to bring a group of small children together, how to incorporate activities throughout the day to entertain kids of different ages and how to communicate with parents on everything from care expectations to compensation.

No not every kid is going to be a babysitter to earn money; however, what I realized is that any kid can gain something from being involved in 4-H.

It's not just livestock shows and baking pies. It's so much more.

It's learning how to give a speech and answer questions about a topic you've researched. It's budgeting to buy groceries or purchase an outfit. It's reading a nutritional label. It's buying feed, vaccinations and supplies to nurture an animal. It's sewing an outfit, baking bread, wiring a lamp, building a rocket, creating something new, taking photographs and painting a picture.

And it's through these activities where kids explore careers, develop skill sets, gain confidence, try new things, make mistakes, fail and fail again, win and lose gracefully, earn trips, make friends, build a resume and ultimately have the life experiences to be happy, successful, productive, stable adults.

I never fully realized it until I became a mom, but 4-H has helped shape me into the person I am today, and it all started when I was eight-years old and signed up for my first prepared speaking contest.

Next year, our oldest daughter, Scarlett, will be Clover Bud eligible, and I'm anxious for her to have the same experiences I did growing up in 4-H. And with any luck, she'll be the same kind, respectful, engaged, ambitious and responsible 4-H members that I got to meet at the babysitting workshop last week.

Thank you to all of the 4-H educators and volunteers who make this program possible. You are appreciated and are doing amazing things for our nation's youth. Thank you!