When I first began work on the 4-H Thriving Model I thought about the ways in which the 4-H Program stands alone in its approach to youth development, and how youth are attracted to the program. One way that 4-H stands out is through its emphasis on project-based learning, and providing opportunities that match a young person’s interest in a particular topic. Ah-ha, I thought, this is a really important and unique aspect of 4-H and I began to search the research literature to identify how this practice of building programs around youths’ interests can contribute to their positive development.
it didn’t take me long to come across the concept of youth Sparks, an idea brought to the forefront of youth development by the late Dr. Peter Benson at Search Institute in Minneapolis, MN. (If you have not yet watched his TedX talk on youth sparks, you might want to take 20 minutes to do so)! Facilitating youth sparks is at the very center of the 4-H Thriving Model because it is the place where youth development begins – where we meet youth in their place of interest and build a high quality program around them, with a focus on developmental relationships between adults and the young person.
And thanks to Dr. Angela Duckworth’s work on Grit, we now have some clearer understanding of why beginning with a young person’s spark is so important – developing interest in something is the first step toward growing gritty youth! And, as we have seen, gritty youth match many of the thriving indicators found in the 4-H thriving model. In essence, developing grit is one way we help youth thrive.
So, what do we do to grow grit? The first step is to help youth develop an interest in something. Think about the Cloverbud program in 4-H that is intended for youth K-3. This program focuses on providing youth with a wide pallet of things to learn about, rather than focusing on one topic. This practice is consistent with child development research that allows the natural curiosity of young children to direct their learning, within the context of a positive learning environment where they feel like they belong.
But the discovery of one’s interest is only the beginning. That interest must also be developed over time, and then deepened, often across the life span for many. This is one way in which grit is grown- and it doesn’t happen overnight. Nor does a young person’s passion in high school necessarily determine the ultimate path of that youth’s life. This is really important to understand so that we don’t think of helping a youth discover their spark is the end of the story; it may be just the beginning!
What we do know is that 4-H can play an important role in helping youth discover their interests that have the potential to be supported and fanned into something more; something sustaining and lifegiving for a young person. And regardless of whether this interest remains exactly the same as it is developed and deepened, having help a young person discover it heir spark will help grow grit. And gritty youth are thriving youth.
Have you witnessed an example of a young person’s interest growing grit? How did you know it was happening? What can you do to help the youth with whom you work develop and deepen their interests to help them grow grit?