Chapter 5: Membership and Participation
Membership in the California 4-H Youth Development Program (4-H YDP) engages youth in a range of age appropriate activities that lead to positive youth development and educational outcomes. Youth are involved in positive, meaningful, caring relationships with adult volunteers that help youth to develop the skills needed for successful youth and adult development.
There are different age levels of 4-H YDP participation and involvement. In California 4-H, 4-H Age is the age of an individual as of December 31st of each enrollment year (July 1 - June 30). See 4-H Age FAQ for more information. Youth are eligible to participate in 4-H if they meet the following criteria:
A. Primary 4-H Members
- Primary members must be 5 years old by December 31st of the program year. Youth enrolling who turn nine on or after January 1, must participate as a primary member until June 30th. Primary members cannot enroll in large animal projects. Approved primary member animal projects are dogs, rabbits, rats, cats, poultry, cavies, mice, embryology, bees, entomology, marine science, pygmy, Nigerian dwarf goats and therapeutic animal projects. For a complete list of approved primary member projects, see the
California 4-H Project List
- Primary members who exhibit in shows and fairs, do so based on their age by December 31st of the program year regardless of when the fair or show is conducted during the calendar year. Primary members may not participate in competitive showmanship classes as a 4-H member. This includes competitive classes also identified as "pee wee" showmanship or "junior buckaroo" events. Coverage under the 4-H accident/sickness insurance program and protection under UC’s liability program is not extended to include competitive showmanship classes. See Chapter 7, Experiential Learning in the 4-H Youth Development Program, Primary Member-Fact Sheet , Primary Member Incentives and Recognition - FAQ and Kindergarten - 3rd Grade Programs in 4-H Fact Sheet .
B. Junior, Intermediate and Senior 4-H Members
Must be 9 years old by December 31st of the program year and may continue in the program until December 31st of the calendar year in which they become 19 years of age. (See below for more information on these membership types.)
C. Home Schooled Members
Youth enroll based on their chronological age by December 31st.
D. Special Needs Members
Special needs youth enroll in the program based on their chronological age and follow the 4-H YDP age requirements that they must be 5 years old by December 31st of the program year and may continue in the program until December 31st of the calendar year in which they become 19 years of age.
E. Members as Adult Volunteers
An individual must be 18 years or older to become an adult volunteer. A 4-H member cannot simultaneously be an adult volunteer.
The 4-H YDP is based on the needs and interests of its members. Because adult volunteers are likely to be dealing with young people at different stages of development, they should have an understanding of the characteristics of the various age groups they are guiding, so that they can help members plan and carry out a program that will be of interest and value to them.
B. Primary 4-H Members (4-H Age: 5 - 8 years old)
The following practices should guide the delivery of educational programs and activities for primary members. See Primary Member-Adult Volunteer Guide for more information. Primary members must exhibit in shows and fairs based on their age by December 31st of the 4-H program year regardless of when a fair, show, or event is conducted during the calendar year. See also Primary Member-Fact Sheet , Primary Member Incentives and Recognition - FAQ and Kindergarten - 3rd Grade Programs in 4-H Fact Sheet .
- Adult volunteers should provide open-ended activities that promote skills practice.
- Activities should focus on the process of doing things rather than the finished product.
- Activities should make use of participants' experience and encourage exploration, rather than written or verbal lessons.
- Participation for primary members should be limited to cooperative learning activities with no competition.
- Primary members may be encouraged to complete the iSprout Primary Report or Basic Primary Member Report (see https://4h.ucanr.edu/Resources/Member_Resources/RecordBook/) with assistance from their adult volunteer, parents/guardians or older members.
- Primary members should be recognized for their participation at the unit level, especially at the time of “graduating” to the next age level. Certificates, ribbons, and/or pins may be used as tokens of this achievement.
- Program reports and awards designed for junior, intermediate, and senior members are not appropriate for primary members.
- Primary members may earn achievements directly related to the iSprout Curriculum and by completing the California 4-H Report for Primary Members, iSprout version.
- Fairs are open to primary members for exhibit only. The use of Danish and American systems of judging is not acceptable for use with primary members. Primary members should only receive recognition for their participation.
- Primary members cannot receive premium or prize money.
- Primary members may not participate in large animal projects. See Membership Policy above for animal projects approved for primary members.
- Primary members may not participate in any 4-H YDP shooting sports projects.
- Primary members receive annually a year stripe and pin for participation in a project. Project completion is not required.
C. Junior 4-H Members (4-H Age: 9 - 10 years old)
The following practices should guide the delivery of educational programs and activities for junior members.
- Participation should be limited to cooperative learning activities with limited competition.
- Projects should cover an array of subject matter.
- Junior members should have frequent meetings with work divided into time-limited units.
- Meetings and group activities are important. Project lessons should be short, and individual projects should be closely supervised. Instruction should be carefully planned and given in small increments, with some recreation included at every meeting.
- Junior members should learn about what makes up a community. Learning experiences should involve structured exposure to community work environments.
- Junior members should be given the opportunity to develop leadership skills through assignment of appropriate leadership jobs wherever possible. They should be encouraged to assist younger members and develop teamwork skills. Junior members benefit from adult support and encouragement.
- Junior members may participate in the Achievement Program to earn Spark Achievements.
- Junior members receive annually a year stripe and pin for completion of at least one project.
D. Intermediate 4-H Members (4-H Age: 11- 13 years old)
The following practices should guide the delivery of educational programs and activities for intermediate members.
- Participation should include cooperative learning and individual work with limited competition as an evaluation tool.
- Intermediate members should be encouraged to take an active role in decision-making at the unit level, (e.g., committees, officers and activity planning.)
- Projects should cover an array of subject matter.
- Intermediate members should be encouraged to assist the younger members. They should enroll in the Leadership Development Project to further explore their role in helping others achieve goals. Tasks may be to notify members of meetings and to assist the adult volunteers with setup, clean up, and/or taking attendance and demonstrating skills.
- Advanced projects should be offered to those who are interested. Talks, discussions, tours, conferences and group educational activities are appropriate.
- Projects should focus on or have a component on career exploration.
- Adult volunteers should allow project groups to function with intermediate member leadership, but counsel and guidance should be provided when needed and desired.
- Adult volunteers should provide opportunities for experiences that will give each member a feeling of importance.
- Intermediate members may participate in the Achievement Program to earn Emerald Star I and Emerald Star II Achievements.
- Intermediate members receive annually a year stripe and pin for completion of at least one project.
E. Senior 4-H Members (4-H Age: 14 - 18 years old)
The following practices should guide the delivery of educational programs and activities for senior members.
- Participation should include individual and team work, with limited competition.
- Senior members should be encouraged to take an active role in decision making by providing leadership, such as leading projects and serving as committee chairs or officers.
- They should participate in implementing and evaluating activities.
- Senior members should be encouraged to identify individual goals, acquire the resources and do the research to pursue specific interests.
- Senior members should be encouraged to be role models for younger members and provide leadership at the unit, county and state levels.
- Senior members are encouraged to enroll in the Leadership Development Project to enhance their role in helping others achieve goals. Responsibilities may include teaching, program management, event planning, and/or program promotion.
- Senior member involvement should expand beyond the local unit level to county functions, community service and getting others involved.
- Although senior members may have sufficient knowledge and experience to function in teaching and administrative roles, for liability reasons, they are not allowed to assume the full responsibilities of adult volunteers.
- Senior members can and should be encouraged to participate in the county and state volunteer management organization (e.g., council). Senior members can participate in advanced county and state leadership activities, including Teen Leader, 4-H County Ambassador, California State Ambassador, State 4-H Advisory Committees, and State Leadership Conference.
- Senior members may participate in the Achievement Program to earn Impact Stars.
- Senior members receive annually a year stripe and pin for completion of at least one project.
- The junior and teen leadership experience is designed to provide members with the opportunity to learn about the qualities and competencies needed to be a leader. Leadership is not doing things for the group; rather, it is helping the group decide what needs to be done and how. Junior leaders provide assistance while teen leaders assume more challenging leadership roles. Junior and teen leaders who are working on Star Ranks complete a Leadership Development Report. Junior and Teen Leaders who are in the new Achievement Program (Sparks, Emerald, and Impact Stars), record their leadership work on the Annual Project Report Form II. The major duties of a junior or teen leader are (varies with age, experience and other):
- Work collaboratively with the adult volunteer to set goals, develop lesson plans, teach skills and evaluate the activity.
- Coordinate logistical details such as meeting times, locations, materials and supplies and expenses with the adult leader.
- Communicate with the adult leader and members about group expectations, responsibilities and expected outcomes.
- Junior leaders (intermediate members): To become a junior leader, members must be at least 4-H Age 11 and no more than 4-H Age 13 by December 31 of the program year.
- Teen leaders (senior members): To become a teen leader, members must be at least 4-H Age 14 and no more than 4-H Age 18 years old by December 31 of the program year.
- Liability Coverage for Junior and Teen Leaders
- Junior and teen leaders are not covered by UC’s liability insurance, which applies only to adult volunteers. UC’s liability insurance does not cover 4-H members at any time. As junior and teen leaders, members have sufficient knowledge and experience to function in teaching and administrative roles, but they are unable to assume the responsibilities of adult volunteers. See General Liability and Automobile Insurance FAQ .
- Members under the age of 18 may not drive other members on 4-H business at any time.
- Youth members, under the guidance of adult volunteers, plan and carry out the work of the 4-H club or unit and are responsible for its educational goals, membership and adherence to 4-H Vision and Mission, Member Code of Conduct - English , policies and procedures. See also 4-H Club Program Planning Guide .
- Their work is guided by the unit’s Bylaws-4-H Unit Template and Constitution-4-H Unit Template .
- Annually, officers and members prepare, present and implement an annual program of work. See 4-H Club Program Planning Guide . The planning guide assists the 4-H unit in setting goals, implementing and evaluating their work. The guide is also used for attainment of the annual 4-H Charter Seal Award.
- Generally, 4-H clubs have the following member officers. However, 4-H units may have additional officers according to their Constitution and Bylaws.
- Vice President
- Sergeant of Arms
See the 4-H Officer's Manual (2013) for more information.
B. Decision Making
- 4-H officers and members are called upon to make many decisions. The decision making process should follow all UC and 4-H YDP policies and further the educational goals and objectives of the 4-H YDP.
- 4-H units often use parliamentary procedure for conducting their business meetings. Parliamentary procedure generally uses Robert’s Rules of Order for determining rules and procedures for business meeting decision making. These provide courtesy and respect for each member and bring order to the meeting.
- 4-H units often use consensus decision making in conducting their 4-H unit activities. This is usually done through committees. These committees offer an opportunity for greater participation for members in shaping the unit's activities and events. See the 4-H Officer's Manual (2013) for more information.
C. Youth-Adult Partnerships
Youth officers and committee members carry out their duties in partnership with adult volunteers who offer guidance, direction and mentoring.
A. Standards of Behavior
Behavior guidelines and expectations have been designed to make everyone’s experience at 4-H events satisfying to all attending. This means that all participants, members, adult volunteers and 4-H YDP staff, shall adhere to the core values of the University of California 4-H YDP and respect the individual rights, safety and property of others. See Member Code of Conduct - English .
B. Dress Code Guidelines
4-H encourages youth and adults to express their individuality within the parameters of the California 4-H Dress Guidelines . All clothing shall be neat, clean, acceptable in repair and appearance, and should be worn as appropriate for 4-H events and activities. Articles of clothing that display profanity, products or slogans that promote tobacco, alcohol, drugs and sex are prohibited. Items of clothing that expose bare midriffs, cleavage (front or back), undergarments or that are transparent (see-through) are prohibited. Clothing and footwear should be worn that is appropriate for the activity performed and the terrain the activity is performed in. Additional clothing considerations/restrictions may apply for safety reasons (see 4-H Safety Manual and/or the adult in charge of the event or activity).
Infractions of the 4-H Code of Conduct must be reported promptly by anyone observing them to the adult volunteer or staff in charge of the delegation/project and to the person in charge of the event who will bear final responsibility for disciplinary action. The parent/guardian and the county 4-H YDP office must be notified of action taken. Penalties may include any or all of the following:
- Sending the participant home.
- Having the member meet with 4-H adults, talk about how the member can learn from what they have done and decide what the member should do to make up for any harm done.
- Charging the member (or their parent(s)/guardians) for the cost of repairs to property that the member damaged.
- Give a warning, limiting or barring the participant from future 4-H YDP events.
- Releasing the participant to the nearest law enforcement agency and/or the proper authorities.
- Suspension or termination of 4-H YDP membership.
D. Reporting Infractions
Infractions to the Member Code of Conduct - English are to be reported to the adult volunteer in charge of the activity at which the behavior took place. The adult volunteer will investigate the incident and notify the 4-H YDP staff.
A. Decision Making
The 4-H YDP emphasizes the governance of youth activities and decisions by the youth themselves. Youth should be active participants in designing and developing 4-H educational activities at the club, county and state levels.
B. Participation in County Volunteer Management Organizations (VMOs)
Senior members (4-H Age 14 - 18 years old), have decision-making powers and voting rights in county VMOs (e.g., councils) and in program advisory committees at the county and state levels. Additionally, senior members may hold offices in the county VMOs, except for those of president or treasurer.
C. Participation Limitations
Senior members participating in county VMOs shall not serve as adult volunteers or agents of the University of California.
To be considered a member in good standing, 4-H members must complete the enrollment process, be enrolled in at least one project and comply with the Member Code of Conduct - English . See Steps to Success in 4-H , Steps to Success (Spanish) and Steps to Success in 4-H FAQ .
A. Participation in Club and County Activities
Attendance at local 4-H meetings and programs is designed to be a valuable learning experience for youth. Participation cannot be required for membership in the 4-HYDP.
- Participation in any single 4-H activity should not be tied to participation in another. For example, attendance at club meetings cannot be a requirement to attend overnight camp or participate in conferences and attendance at project meetings cannot be a requirement to attend overnight camp or participate in conferences.
- Attendance may be required when it is directly related to being able to meet responsibilities of a position or role or to participate safely in a related experience. For example, attendance at camp counselor training meetings may be required of all camp counselors, attendance at club meetings may be required of all officers and attendance in the horse project may be required to participate safely in the horse show.
- County 4-H staff and adult volunteers should work together to develop appropriate incentives and recognition opportunities to motivate youth to participate in meetings, activities and events.
B. Participation in State, National, or International Activities
Attendance at local 4-H meetings is not a requirement for participation in international travel programs or any other state or nationally-sponsored events. The only consideration is whether the 4-H member is in good standing and meets the age requirements and application deadline.
To exhibit at state fair or county fairs, 4-H members must be a member in good standing, complete a minimum of six (6) hours of project instruction or more as required by the project leader, the Annual Project Report (APR) and additional requirements as determined by the county 4-H YDP. Notification of county 4-H YDP requirements must be given to the member at the time of enrollment. See resources: 4-H Annual Project Plan template and Sample 4-H Annual Project Plan . Exhibiting at the state fair, county fairs or other exhibition events may have certain entrance requirements separate from the 4-H YDP. See Steps to Success in 4-H and Steps to Success in 4-H FAQ .
A. Project Completion
Must be a member in good standing, complete a minimum of six (6) hours of project instruction or more as required by the project leader and complete the Annual Project Report (APR). Members receive a year stripe and pin for project completion. Primary members do not complete the APR, and receive a year stripe and pin for participation in a project. If used, proficiency or other tests must be reviewed, evaluated and approved by the 4-H YDP staff prior to implementation. See Steps to Success in 4-H and Steps to Success in 4-H FAQ .
B. Club Participation
There is no uniform requirement in the 4-H YDP and a uniform cannot be required for participation in any 4-H YDP sponsored activity, event, meeting or occasion. 4-H YDP staff will inform other sponsoring organizations that the 4-H YDP does not require uniforms. See California 4-H Uniform Guidelines . See California 4-H Uniform FAQ .
The California 4-H YDP is open to all residents of California irrespective of the participants' race, color, national origin, religion, sex, gender, gender expression, gender identity, pregnancy (which includes pregnancy, childbirth and medical conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth), physical or mental disability, medical condition (cancer-related or genetic characteristics), genetic information (including family medical history), ancestry, marital status, age, sexual orientation, citizenship, or service in the uniformed services (as defined by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA), as well as state military and naval service. Agriculture and Natural Resources is committed to increasing diversity in employment of staff and the development of programs. Specifically, the 4-H YDP is committed to understanding, valuing and increasing diversity among adult volunteers and youth participants. See ANR Administrative Handbook Section 603 for more information.
Word, PDF, and Other Documents
- 4-H Club Program Planning Guide
- 4-H Officer's Manual (2013)
- Bylaws-4-H Unit Template
- California 4-H Dress Guidelines
- California 4-H Uniform FAQ
- California 4-H Uniform Guidelines
- Constitution-4-H Unit Template
- Kindergarten - 3rd Grade Programs in 4-H Fact Sheet
- Member Code of Conduct - English
- Primary Member - Personal Development Report (basic)
- Primary Member Incentives and Recognition - FAQ
- Primary Member-Adult Volunteer Guide
- Primary Member-Fact Sheet
- Program Planning Guide FAQ
- Sample 4-H Annual Project Plan
- Steps to Success (Spanish)
- Steps to Success in 4-H
- Steps to Success in 4-H FAQ