August 1997 // Volume 35 // Number 4 // Feature Articles // 4FEA2

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Programming Parameters for 5-to-8-Year-Old Children in 4-H

Many states today have 4-H programming for 5-to-8-year-olds, often called "Cloverbuds," "Cloverkids," or "4-H Prep." The need to develop clear, research-based information for use with Ohio's "Cloverbud" program led to the development of 10 fundamental parameters based upon preadolescents' needs as well as educational design research. The purpose of these parameters is to help 4-H Extension professionals make decisions regarding programming. They are consistent with the "K-3 Youth in 4-H: Guidelines for Programming" (National 5-8 Curriculum Task Force, 1991) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children's position statement on developmentally appropriate practice in the primary grades, serving 5-through 8-year-olds.

Scott D. Scheer
Assistant Professor
Department of Agricultural Education and
Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development
The Ohio State University
Columbus, Ohio
Internet address:

Many states today have started 4-H programming for five to eight year-olds, often called "Cloverbuds," "Cloverkids," or "4-H Prep." After communicating with other state specialists, it was evident that practical guidelines were needed in Ohio for Extension programming with young children. This need to develop clear, research-based information has led to the development of 10 fundamental parameters based upon preadolescents' needs as well as educational design research. A literature review of empirical research was conducted for developing these parameters.

The purpose of the 10 parameters is to help 4-H Extension professionals make decisions regarding developmentally age- appropriate programming. The parameters are consistent with the K -3 Youth in 4-H: Guidelines for Programming (National 5-8 Curriculum Task Force, 1991) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children's position statement on developmentally appropriate practice in the primary grades, serving 5- through 8-year-olds (1988).

The goal of 5-to-8-year-old programming is to promote healthy development in children by enhancing life skills (social- interaction, self-esteem, physical mastery, making choices, and learning to learn). Therefore, the primary question for Cloverbud program developers to ask themselves is: does the activity meet program objectives to promote healthy development as outlined in the parameters below?

1) Activity based:

Variety of short term experiences.

Cloverbud-aged children have short attention spans, especially if there are distractions around them (Enns & Akhtar, 1989). The time spent in each activity should be kept at 20 minutes or less to hold their attention.

2) Cooperative-learning centered:

Activities and curriculum are done in small groups as opposed to doing projects or activities alone.

More than 600 studies have been conducted during the past 90 years comparing the effectiveness of cooperative, competitive, and individualistic environments with humans of all ages. Especially in children, it has been clearly proven that cooperative learning produces higher achievement, social skills through positive relationships, and healthier psychological adjustment (self-esteem) than competitive or individualistic programs (Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1991).

3) Non-competitive:

Children are engaged in curriculum activities that are noncompetitive without setting-up categories or classes that create inequities.

Non-competitive activities and cooperative learning are directly related to one another. Children have a difficult time psychologically understanding winning and losing. Feeling and fact are often merged and when children lose, they relate negative feelings to their self-worth and identity (Minuchin, 1977). Competition is almost always connected to external awards and approval. Children in competitive settings, whether they win or lose, begin to define themselves extrinsically which is a weak foundation for their developing self-concepts. Children in non- competitive environments are more likely to develop confidence, creativity, and competence than do children in competitive situations (Ames, 1981; Dewey, 1916; Johnson & Johnson, 1989).

4) Fairs are open to participation for Cloverbuds, but for exhibit only:

Children can exhibit work completed in their Cloverbud clubs or groups. It is important to make sure that it is non- competitive and equal recognition is given to all participants. This does not mean that young children cannot be given advice or tips on how to improve their exhibit or work.

5) Activities are developmentally age appropriate:

The activity should be designed at their age level (5-to-8- years-old).

Cloverbud-aged children have limitations in what they can physically do, mentally understand, emotionally comprehend, and how they socially interact. These limitations exist because 5-to- 8-year-olds are still developing physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. Some brief characteristics of 5-to-8- year-olds include deficiencies in: body control, eye-hand coordination, reaction time, endurance, sharing, taking turns, completing tasks, accepting criticisms, making decisions, understanding another person's point of view, attention span, being realistic, and thinking logically (Humphrey & Humphrey, 1989).

6) Activities are safe for children:

Special considerations must be given to ensure the safety of Cloverbud-aged children.

Many 5-to-8-year-olds are not aware of realistic dangers surrounding animals, kitchen appliances, and outdoor activities (bicycle riding, etc.). Children often do not understand adult instruction, nor the consequences associated with not following directions (Shutske, 1995). Therefore, Cloverbud activities must be low risk and safe, even if a child does not participate as directed.

7) Cloverbud activities are distinctly different from 9-to-19- year-old activities:

4-H Cloverbuds4-H 9-to-19-year-old Program
Type of LearningActivity CenteredProject Centered
Type of InstructionLeader DirectedSelf-study, Individual, & Leader Directed
Recognition of StandardsParticipationAchievement
Recognition of GoalsParticipationCompetition, Achievement
Learner ResourcesActivity ManualProject Manuals

8) Curricula are success oriented:

Allow children to gain confidence and promote self-esteem by mastering Cloverbud activities.

Cooperative and non-competitive settings are ideal for children to experience success and be more optimistic about themselves. Self-esteem and optimism are by-products of doing well and being successful (Seligman, 1995).

9) Animals and animal subject matter should contribute to Cloverbud objectives and parameters:

Any animal activity should meet the above parameters and Cloverbud objectives such as promoting self-understanding (self- esteem) and social-interaction skills. Animals can serve as excellent subject material for Cloverbud curricula, although because of safety, liability, and competitive reasons some restrictions maybe necessary to maintain program objectives.

More specific reasons for being cautious with direct animal involvement are as follows: (a) children eight and under often lack the mental and physical skills for controlling and understanding the strength of large animals (Livestock Conservation Institute, 1994). Some children between the ages of 5 and 8 lack these abilities to be successful when involved with animals; (b) working with livestock and animals is the leading cause of injury in Ohio for children on the farm as compared to farm machinery, grain silos, etc. (Bean & Wojtowicz, 1993); and (c) Young children need to have the strength, balance, and attention span to adequately manage and ride animals (American Medical Equestrian Assn., 1993).

10) Activity is fun, positive, and focuses on the five general life skill areas through the experiential learning cycle:

The activity is enjoyable, not tedious. Attention should be given as to how the activity contributes to the life skills of self-understanding, social interaction, learning to learn, physical mastery, and decision making. Life skills are best attained through the five steps of the experiential learning cycle (Dewey, 1938): (a) experience - the group engages in some type of activity or experience; (b) share - the group shares reactions and observations; (c) process - the group discusses how questions are brought out by the exercise; (d) generalize - the group explores common ideas or truths about the experience; and (e) apply - the group talks about applications of the new information.

In exploring whether an activity is appropriate and fits Cloverbud Program philosophies and objectives, ask yourself the following yes-no questions:

  1. Is it activity based and short termed?
  2. Does it involve cooperative learning in which children work with and not against each other?
  3. Is it non-competitive and are children equally recognized?
  4. If Cloverbud children are involved in a fair, is it for exhibit only and are they not competitively judged?
  5. Is the activity safe?
  6. Is the activity developmentally age appropriate keeping in mind their physical, social, mental, and emotional characteristics?
  7. Is the activity intended for Cloverbud children as opposed to members in the 9-to-19-year-old program?
  8. Are the curricula success oriented? Can the children do the activities successfully?
  9. Does the animal material contribute to Cloverbud objectives and parameters?
  10. Is the activity fun, positive, and focuses on the five life skill areas through the experiential learning cycle?

If you answered yes to all of the questions then you probably have an excellent activity to use with the 4-H Cloverbud Program. If not, explore modifications and discuss them with other Extension professionals specializing in preadolescent education or youth development.


American Medical Equestrian Association. (1993). When can my child ride a horse? (Brochure). Waynesville, NC: Author

Ames, C. (1981). Competitive versus cooperative reward structures: The influence of individual and group performance factors on achievement attributions and affect. American Educational Research Journal, 18, 273-87.

Bean, T. L., & Wojtowicz, J. (1993). Farm safety for children: What parents and grandparents should know. Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University Extension.

Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education. New York: Macmillan.

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Macmillan

Enns, J. T., & Akhtar (1989). A developmental study of filtering in visual attention. Child Development 60, 1188-1199.

Humphrey, J. N., & Humphrey, J. H. (1989). Child development during the elementary school years. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.

Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (1989). Cooperation and competition: Theory and research. Edina, MN: Interaction Book Co.

Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., & Smith, K. A. (1991). Cooperative learning: Increasing college faculty instructional productivity. (ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 4). Washington, DC: The George Washington University School of Education and Human Development.

Livestock Conservation Institute. (1994). Youth & dairy cattle: A safe partnership. (Video). Bowling Green, KY: Author

Minuchin, P. (1977). The middle years of childhood. Monterey, CA: Brooks.

National Association for the Education of Young Children. (1988). NAEYC position statement on developmentally appropriate practice in the primary grades, serving 5- through 8-year-olds. Young Children. 64-84.

National 5-8 Curriculum Task Force. (1991). K-3 youth in 4- H: Guidelines for programming. Families, 4-H and Nutrition, Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service. Washington, DC: US Department of Agriculture.

Seligman, M. E. (1995). The optimistic child. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Shutske, J. (1995). Is your child protected from injury on the farm? St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Extension Service.