Last Sunday, I was prepared to write a column about why kids shouldn’t participate in 4-H. It was a hot day on the first morning of the Phelps County Fair, and things were not going well.

My daughter had already cried about the fashion show the previous week, and my son had lost his 4-H model rocket in a cornfield during a test launch.

I was not looking forward to a week of watching kids lead stinky animals around an arena, and for what reason? I didn’t grow up with 4-H animals (except for a few years of showing my large, untamed dog). I am a 4-H outsider, and I often don’t understand it.

While some moms love spending the day in a pig barn visiting with passersby, that’s the last place I want to be on a hot summer day. There are so many rules and traditions that I don’t yet understand, but here’s what I do know.

By the end of the week, it made more sense. Grandparents and relatives from near and far came to watch the kids show animals and to enjoy the carnival rides, face painting and funnel cakes. It was actually fun!

But, most of all, I realized that the fair brought families together. I saw 4-H moms, dads and kids all working together to clean animal pens, serve snow cones and volunteer for just about everything. Many 4-H volunteers, including my husband, take a week away from work just to volunteer! It’s hard work, but families are working together.


Not sitting in separate rooms playing games on the Ipad, watching “The Middle” in the living room and checking email in the office. To truly appreciate the work, you would have to witness the fair clean-up in the hour after the auction ends. While it’s probably everybody’s least favorite part of the fair, it’s incredible to see hundreds of 4-H kids and parents grab shovels and brooms and clean sheep barns, pig pens, rabbit cages and the cattle building.

And, while some parts of the fair still seem “unfair” and don’t make sense to me, it ended up being a positive overall experience, and the kids learned a few valuable life lessons throughout the week:

  • Enjoy the journey. Yes, my daughter was somewhat disappointed with the blue ribbon she earned on the dress she sewed. But, she did enjoy the 13 hours she spent with grandma this summer making the dress and a matching purse. And, now she has a cute new dress to wear!
  • Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Every time a group of kids enters the show ring with their animal, someone is first in class and someone is last. That’s a lot of firsts and lasts and a lot of chances for kids to learn how to win humbly and lose gracefully.
  • Learn from your mistakes. After my son and I spent many hours working together on his rocket this summer, it got lost in a 12-foot-tall cornfield on its first test launch before the fair. But, compared to all the work and money put into the Challenger space shuttle and the lives lost when it exploded on its launch, the model rocket was nothing. My son was able to build another rocket and complete his project.
  • You grow from being pushed outside your comfort zone. My oldest son earned the opportunity to be in a senior showmanship competition to show pigs, sheep, cattle and goats. He had never shown cattle or goats before and was begging to not be in the competition. But looking back on the fair, he said that was his favorite part. He left with a new sense of confidence.
  • Work hard and then play. Dairy Queen blizzards and Lake Mac! After the hard work is done, the fun begins!

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Kristine Jacobson

Kristine Jacobson is a writer, a mother of three children and farm wife living in South-Central Nebraska. She puts her creative skills to use as editor of Nebraska Family Magazine at and helps non-profits and small businesses share their stories in her public relations business, KRJPR.