Nesting: Fair Lessons

Many of you know, I “bleed green” – which means that I am from a 4-H family; participated in 4-H as a kid; and have volunteered for 4-H as an adult all over Idaho. A big part of the 4-H year includes learning and an “end-point” of exhibiting projects or showing animals at the annual county fair.  Many of the projects and activities I pursue as a part of nesting come from annual 4-H projects: baking, photography, crocheting, creative writing, African Violet propagation, cooking and more!

Fair lessons abound for those of us who participated 4-H and FHA/FFA. Here are some of our pass-along fair lessons.

Deadlines. Be ready to show at The Fair or miss your opportunity until the next year’s fair. Early in my career, I was shocked by the number of workplaces that would simply renegotiate project deadlines rather than completing projects in the originally committed to timeframe. Fair lessons taught us to get it done on time or miss out this year and plan your time better next year.

Standards and Rules. Standards are teaching points. Standards create safety, consistency, and uniformity while still allowing creativity to shine. Follow the rules or be disqualified. Rules create structure that ensures safety, learning, and achievement. Without rules, a free-for-all would exist making projects more challenging to judge. Without standards and rules in our homes: safety would be at stake; teamwork among family members wouldn’t be strong; and other challenges would occur.

Participation. Participation counts. If you don’t show up, you can’t earn a ribbon or any prizes. If you don’t show up, you don’t learn lessons at the fair. Many fairs now give younger age groups participation ribbons to help them gain skills and to ease them into competitive judging. Some fairs only offer participation ribbons in certain project classes. Showing up for our families is an important way to demonstrate our care and love.

Competition. Competition is a part of every fair process too. Competing against other youth and their projects or animals. Competing to earn prize money and ribbons. Competing to earn a top price for selling an animal at auction. Competing to earn a spot in State Fairs and National events. Competition exists in the “real world” too. What a great opportunity to learn the lessons of competition at a young age so that deadlines, standards, and rules can be understood, met, and applied with increasing success. And learning about winning and losing with the support and safety of our family and loved ones.

Interviewing skills. Most fairs have a judging process that includes interviews of 4-H and FFA youth members. These interviews are similar to workplace job interviews and focus on the youth and the project at hand. Learning to speak to an adult interviewer is a life skill and important fair lesson for all youth participants. When we hire sitters, painters, or any household helpers/contractors, we use interviewing skills to make our nests better!

Record Keeping: Planning, recording, and reviewing. Most fairs require record books to be submitted along with projects and animal entries. These record books teach the value of planning and budgeting. The records include lessons learned and questions about whether you’d pursue the project again. The year-long documentation prompts ongoing learning, reflection and review. The record book process provided me with the writing structure I’ve relied upon to write seven books (available in a total of seven languages). For our nesting experiences, record keeping skills support our budgeting process, our reflections on what might work better for us, and our considerations of what we can do differently in the future.

How well would your Nest show in the county fair? What would you like to improve in your nest to make it a blue and purple (best of show) experience for yourself? And for others?

Note: A related work-focused blog about Fair Lessons first appeared at

Nesting is about the objects and experiences that create a sense of home. Without home, it is difficult to maintain health, find joy, or to be productive during our workdays. Enjoy the Nesting series of blogs on your search for a deep sense of home. –Jana

Jana Kemp

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