February 1995 // Volume 33 // Number 1 // Ideas at Work // 1IAW3

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The Active Learning Center at State Fair

The Active Learning Center at the Iowa State Fair reached a large non-traditional audience. Adult volunteers and older 4H'ers developed communication and leadership skills as they helped daycare children and non-4H'ers learn about swine, sheep, art, nutrition, wildlife, safety, communications, and pets. In the livestock activities, 4-H project members were grouped with youth 10-14 years old who were inexperienced with animals. Younger children learned about art and nutrition through individual hands-on activities. In an evaluation of the program, a majority of the participants strongly agreed that they had learned something new.

Julia Gamon
Associate Professor
Agricultural Education and Studies
Iowa State University
Ames, Iowa
Internet address: jgamon@iastate.edu

Julianne Primmer
Former Graduate Assistant
Agricultural Education and Studies

Mention state fairs and 4-H livestock competition is one of the first things that comes to mind. The excitement of the setting, replete with stimuli for all the senses, provides an entertaining learning environment for both youth and adults. Many families have a tradition of attending the state fair. However, there are large numbers of youth who have never had the chance to experience a state fair.

Beginning in 1990, the Iowa Youth and 4-H program initiated a set of activities that built on the excitement of the state fair setting. These activities allowed urban children and those not involved with 4-H, as well as families without a fair-going tradition, to be a part of the learning process. A paid summer assistant, with the help of volunteers, set up an Active Learning Center, located in the 4-H Exhibits Building, with satellite sites for several of the activities. Both individual and cooperative learning experiences were offered. The topics included swine, sheep, art, food and nutrition, wildlife, safety, communications, and pets. Some of the activities were targeted for 10 to 14 year olds and some for six to nine year olds.

In "Pigs on Parade" and "Sheep and Ewe," 4-H project members were grouped with youth who had little or no experience with animals. One youth from each small group was the resident expert at each station who taught the others. After completing all of the stations, each small group went to the show ring and practiced showing an animal. A judge gave each participant suggestions for showing the animals, as well as some background about the industry.

Individual activities were designed for children to complete in 10-15 minutes. In the art activity, for example, participants were able to choose from activities such as folding origami puppets, weaving friendship sticks, creating leaf rubbings, or making painted leaf prints. Parents of six to nine year olds were invited to stay with their children, or they could walk around and view the exhibits in the 4-H Building.

The individual activities drew people who were just passing through the 4-H Exhibits Building; the group activities were by advance registration. Summer programs and central Iowa day care programs were a source of groups for the learning activities. Because these children were brought by adults other than parents, a flyer explaining the 4-H state fair program was sent home with each child.

Volunteers were an important part of the Active Learning Center. Most of the volunteers were senior 4-H members who were interested in the particular topic. Working at the state fair provided an opportunity for them to develop communication and leadership skills. For example, the volunteers working with the "informasaurus" participants helped them plan, create, and edit a radio broadcast.

Extension reaped benefits from the State Fair Active Learning Center. First, a large, non-traditional audience was reached at a young age. Many of the children had no previous contact with 4-H or other Extension youth programming. In 1991, an evaluation of the program found that 1,330 children had completed activities at the center. Sixty youth and 20 adults volunteered and evaluated the program highly, as did the young participants. In the communications groups of 34 members, 28 strongly agreed they had learned something new about radio communications. Nineteen of the 27 participants in the "Sheep and Ewe" project strongly agreed that they had learned something new.

The State Fair has traditionally emphasized competitive livestock events, and such events have been an interesting way for 4-H youth to learn both content and social skills. The Active Learning Center is a way to reach non-traditional audiences. It emphasizes cooperation rather than competition and capitalizes on the fun and excitement that is part of all fairs.

Author Notes

This is to acknowledge The Iowa Agriculture and Home Economics Experiment Station, Ames, Iowa, Project No. 2895, Journal Paper No. J 15688.