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4H fair time

This past week has been all about 4H for us. Not that we raise sheep in our sub-division backyard, or visit a riding stable on a regular basis (or really any basis at all, for that matter). In fact, we don't even have a suburban chicken coop under our deck. But it turns out that, while 4H is definitely about raising animals and riding horses and sheering sheep, it's also about a lot of other things. Their real tenets aren't about the animals, but the learning and teaching, the making of friends, and the growing up in a healthy, loving environment.

Our homeschooling group is actually a 4H club, which means that Calvin is a card carrying 4H member, so when this year's annual 4H fair rolled around, he opted to participate in their still projects category. That means that he didn't ride anything, raise anything, sheer anything, or show anything, but he did put a lot of work into five different projects in three different subject categories: natural resources, photography, and computer science and video. For natural resources, hours and hours of work produced three project notebooks with photos (taken mostly by him) and species information on 15 different native trees, 8 different native wild animals, and 8 different wildflowers found in the state. For photography he created a display of five pictures on one subject (his pear tree in our back yard). And for computer science he, with his dad's help, created a video game that teaches the finer points of backpack camping in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. All research, writing, and illustrating were entirely his own.

On Monday, he collected his projects and, on his own, presented them individually to the category judges at the fair. The 4H still projects judging process is a unique one. Each kid presents his project to the judge, who then chats a little with them about it, asking things like why they chose that topic, yadda yadda, and also offering tips and advice for future endeavors. In Calvin's age group, the Cloverbuds, parental assistance is allowed and encouraged, and only participation ribbons are awarded, but for ages 9 and up, non-competitive grades are assigned to each finished project, and a few projects are given the competitive disignations of "honors" or "best in show".

Of course the fair went way beyond the still projects. On Sunday we helped our club set up our "club table" and took our turn working in the kitchen, and throughout the week we stopped by to see friends compete in such live events as chicken showing, archery, and horsing around (really one of the many horse events, I just don't know which one). We also spent a lot of time learning about animals and animal care from very interested, and interesting, kids, and we touched a lot—a lot—of good natured farm animals.

We were there on several of the fair's six full days, and will be there again tomorrow for clean-up duty, and Calvin is not tired of it yet. All week long, as he slipped off with his friends to do this that or the other thing, I was repeatedly reminded of the fair in Charlotte's Web, when Fern disappears with her friends and becomes enamored with everything there is to see and do. And it wasn't just the obvious parallels, but also a sense of harking back to another time. There we were, surrounded by livestock, friends, and polite, knowledgable kids everywhere. It may not be time to move to the country and raise goats, but I can really see us enjoying 4H through the years as a family.

Walking the computer science judge through his video game.

Sharing his game with homeschooling friends.

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