Having free reign over more than 30 classes with the ability to choose the ones that sound the best appealed to more than 130 local students Thursday.
The Appalachian Fairgrounds in Gray played host to the 4-H Project Celebration, an event that is now in its 12th year and put on by the University of Tennessee extension office. It offered members of local 4-H clubs a chance to pick from classes ranging from rocket building and launching to tea party setup and etiquette, with nearly everything else in between. And that variety shows the goal of the yearly event and the goal of 4-H overall.
“It’s very broad, but the unifying theme is to teach life skills,” said Brent Sharp, one of the instructors and a program assistant from Unicoi County.
He put on the Mad Scientist class and showed the interested students, who ranged from fourth- to eighth-graders, different ways that science affects the energy industry.
“I’m doing a couple of little experiments and demonstrations,” he said.
With jars of cooking oil and water, he and his students dropped items like pennies and buttons into the liquids to show how buoyancy and density worked. Then with a mixture of corn starch and water, he made a polymer with the kids who’d gathered around his lab, sending each home with something.
The ability to take something home was another unifying theme, said 4-H Extension Agent Connie Goff Sharp, who organized the event. Not all, but more than half of the projects have the kids going home with something they made or had their hands in. This hands-on approach to learning and teaching, she said, is important to Project Celebration’s ever-growing popularity, with more pre-registered kids than ever before.
“It goes really well,” she said. “Especially for the kids that have never been on a farm before and came to milk a cow in the morning.”
Much of what’s offered comes about by the donated time of instructors, and the materials are either donated or purchased with the $20 each child paid to participate.
If there’s any kind of profit in the end, as there was in 2013, Sharp said she donates it to the fairgrounds.
Setting up kids with new skills and hobbies comes with the classes, but it’s also somewhat of a way for them to network and find friends with similar interests. Because Project Celebration includes four surrounding counties — Washington, Greene, Sullivan and Unicoi — it gives the kids a chance to find friends outside their immediate local circle.
Judy Pinkevich’s dog training class was another extremely popular place to be. She and her helper, Raisin, showed almost a dozen students what a well-trained dog can do. Pinkevich had Raisin do several commands, from jumping up on a table to fetching and playing dead when shot with a fake gun.
Pinkevich fielded questions from the bleachers, from where children shared their pet’s behaviors.
“Can you teach my dog?” one asked. “She just won’t listen.”
The rise of smartphones with cameras has made photography more popular these days, and teaching children how to show off photographs with matting and card-making techniques were the Lowmans: Doug and his wife, Deborah.
“One of the goals is to teach them how to mat a picture and enter it into the Appalachian Fair,” Doug said.
The Lowmans’ daughter, Rachael, a ninth-grader, had been a part of Project Celebration for several years before, which gave her parents a reason to want to be a part of the instructional side after seeing how much their daughter had learned in the classes offered. This year was no different in terms of the variety that hooked the Lowmans, with classes offered in pizza making, GPS treasure hunting, babysitting, martial arts, creative cupcakes, squirrel feeders, basketry and much more.
Parents and kids interested in joining in don’t have to wait another year to join in on these kinds of activities because they continue throughout the year. For more information, go to http://bit.ly/1krASh6 or like the Washington County Extension Office on Facebook at www.facebook.com/utextensionwashington.
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