What is 4-H?


In 4‑H, we believe in the power of young people. We see that every child has valuable strengths and real influence to improve the world around us. We are America’s largest youth development organization—empowering nearly six million young people across the U.S. with the skills to lead for a lifetime.

In 4‑H, kids complete hands-on projects in areas like health, science, agriculture and civic engagement in a positive environment where they receive guidance from adult mentors and are encouraged to take on proactive leadership roles. Kids experience 4‑H in New York through in-school and after-school programs, school and community clubs and 4‑H camps.

4‑H’s reach and depth are unmatched, reaching kids in every corner of America – from urban neighborhoods to suburban schoolyards to rural farming communities. Our network of 500,000 volunteers and 3,500 4‑H professionals provides caring and supportive mentoring to all 6 million 4‑H’ers, helping them grow into true leaders today and in life.

New York State 4-H is a part of Cornell University Cooperative Extension and our state office is housed in the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research on the Cornell University campus, in Ithaca, NY.

4-H Is Positive Youth Development

4-H Youth Development is an American idea that has spread throughout the globe – the world’s largest, dynamic, informal educational program for young people based on democratic principles. The official national definition of 4-H is “the youth development education program of the Cooperative Extension Service.” This includes a wide array of delivery modes, ways of learning, project and topic areas, and local adaptations. It also includes Extension youth development programs facilitated by Nutrition, Agriculture, Natural Resources, Community Development or any other CCE professional. By definition all Extension youth development programs facilitated by an Extension professional or volunteer are 4-H programs. 

Since the beginning of 4-H more than one hundred years ago, Extension has empowered young people to use their head, heart, hands, and health to reach their full potential. The movement has grown from its roots engaging rural youth in hands-on agriculture projects to providing the essential elements of Positive Youth Development (PYD) to all youth. As a research-based organization, 4-H embraces the emerging research behind PYD approaches to youth programming.


PYD programs have three major components

  • Positive and sustained relationships between youth and adults.

  •  Activities that build important life skills.

  • Creating opportunities for youth to apply what they are learning to improve their communities, both as partici-pants and as leaders.

The 5 C's of Positive Youth Development

Positive view of one’s actions in specific areas, including social and academic skills. 

An internal sense of overall positive self-worth and self-efficacy. 

Positive bonds with people and institutions that are reflected in exchanges between the individual and their peers, family, school, and community and in which both parties contribute to the relationship. 

Respect for societal and cultural norms, possession of standards for correct behaviors, a sense of right and wrong (morality), and integrity. 

A sense of sympathy and empathy for others. 

Contributions to self, family, community, and to the institutions of a civil society. 

4-H Is Hands-On Learning

Learning in 4-H is an active, intentional and reflective process where young people develop understanding, skills, and new habits. The nature of the experiences can be vastly different in 4-H but the underlying process and educa-tional philosophy should reflect the same core principles. These principles include: 

 Learning in 4-H is designed to be progressive, with experiences building on each other over time. 

 4-H learning is social and connected to a larger, real-world context that encourages and provides opportunities for youth to use what they have learned to improve their own lives and their communities. 

 4-H recognizes that learning involves the entire person and is inclusive of how the young person feels, how they see themselves, what they are doing, and who they are with. 

 Learning in 4-H is an integrated process where the learner and the educator and the learning space all are changed by each other. 

 Young people and adults learn together in 4-H. Learning in 4-H should be a collaborative partnership where the youth learner and the adult decide on the goals and the path together and adapting as necessary as the pro-cess unfolds. 

 4-H Learning Experiences are carried out in a variety of delivery modes, teaching methods, project and topic areas, and local adaptations. 

4-H Is Based on Research

4-H Youth Development is part of Cornell Cooperative Extension. CCE research shows that New York youth credit their 4-H clubs with making them better citizens, leaders, and communicators.  Research from Tufts University shows that 4-H youth are competent, confident, caring, and connected, and that they exhibit strong character. The Tufts study shows that 4-H’ers contribute more to their families and communities, achieve higher grades in school and are more likely to go to college than youth who are not in 4-H, or even youth who participate in other out-of-school programs. In addition, youth involved in 4-H lead healthier, more productive lives, are less likely to suffer from depression and are less likely to participate in risky behaviors like drinking and smoking.