4-H gave me a passion for learning and growing. Here’s how I’m paying it forward

By Megan Pollock

One of the things that initially drew me to apply at Zeitspace was their passion for learning and growing.

This is not surprising as I have spent the last 19 years involved in another program with the same values, 4-H. I got so much out of my 10 years as a 4-H member that when I eventually graduated from the program, I immediately began leading my own clubs. This past fall I had the opportunity to bring 4-H to Zeitspace by leading a 4-H Computer Club with two other people, Todd Radigan and Tayler Black, at the Zeitspace office.

So, what is 4-H anyway? For over a century, the 4-H program has been empowering youth in Waterloo Region to learn new skills and become leaders in their community. Offering clubs such as Dairy and Beef, where youth learn to take care of cattle, and Field Crops, introducing youth to the science and skills required to develop profitable crops, 4-H has typically been associated with agriculture and rural living.

But more recently, Waterloo 4-H has been expanding their clubs to include skills and activities that are of broader interest, such as pizza-making, and ultimate sports. With three large cities in the centre of their region, Waterloo 4-H is especially driven to include youth from the cities in their programs and provide more programming in the downtown areas, while maintaining the programs agriculture roots.

The Waterloo 4-H Computer Club was able to do exactly that, with over half of their members living in non-rural areas, and hosting the meetings right in uptown Waterloo at the Zeitspace office. One of the benefits of having the meetings at Zeitspace was that none of the parents had to travel very far. The meetings were central and easy to access for youth living in Kitchener, Waterloo, and Cambridge.

The first three meetings of Computer Club introduced HTML, CSS, Javascript, and general programming logic through teaching and activities.

“I’ve always wanted to learn programming so this was a great opportunity to do that,” says Rebecca, one of the Computer Club members.

One of the more unique things about the 4-H program is that any given club is open to youth aged nine to 21. This allows the younger members to benefit from the mentoring and leadership of the older members, while the older members benefit from the fun and creativity of the younger members.

“I learned a tonne and I feel like I understand programming more,” says Michaela, one of the club’s senior members.

Meetings followed the 4-H motto of “learn to do by doing.” The fourth, fifth, and sixth meetings gave members a chance to apply what they learned on a project, which they then presented at their achievement meeting at the end of the session.

“It was fun to learn more informally — lots of opportunities to ask questions and try things out and see what works and what doesn’t,” says Rebecca.

Some members preferred learning general programming logic over a specific language and opted to do their projects in Scratch, an online tool developed by MIT.

“I learned a lot in Scratch so now I can teach my brothers and sisters,” says Jaxion, another member of the club.

The club was such a hit, members want more technology-based clubs in Waterloo Region.

The parents agreed that the club was a success and one parent specifically described the benefit of the office: “It’s great to use a technology office because it has plugs, a screen, and wi-fi.”

The great thing about leading STEM 4-H clubs in Waterloo Region is that I am able to bring the things I’ve learned throughout my career to help 4-H members learn new and exciting skills.

Zeitspace is passionate about sharing their knowledge, and educating all ages, so introducing them to the 4-H program has been a great match. This will likely not be the last 4-H club that the Zeitspace office will see.

This post originally appeared on the Zeitspace Blog: 


16-year-old shares enthusiasm for hobby through 4-H


Reprinted with permission from Toy Farmer magazine.

By Luaan Dart

Members of the Chatham-Kent 4-H Association Farm Toy Club in Southwestern Ontario, Canada, are “learning by doing,” by creating farm toy dioramas that realistically depict everything from a family farm to a tree farm.

“In 4-H, our motto is ‘Learn to do by doing,’ and I think our club, being such a hands-on club, is a very good example of that,” says 16-year-old Matthew Sterling, the youth leader for the Chatham-Kent 4-H Farm Toy Club. “Our immediate goal in the club is to create the dioramas, but our long-term goal is to share knowledge and enthusiasm for the farm toy hobby.”

The 4-H club was launched in 2005 by Matthew’s parents, Carl and Julie Sterling of Pain Court, Ontario, Canada, and Matthew’s two older brothers, Robert and Brian, who were teenagers at the time.

“In the beginning, it was focused on restoring and customizing 1/16 scale farm toys,” Matthew describes. Three years ago, the club members switched their focus to creating scale dioramas with 1/64 scale farm toys.

Matthew Sterling with the 1/16 scale models in his farm toy collection.

Carl and Julie, along with Rob and his wife, Katrina, serve as adult leaders, with Matthew serving as the youth leader. They are all longtime farm toy collectors, as Carl and Julie started to collect farm toys shortly after they were married in 1984, with a special interest in replicas of tractors used on their farm, according to a Toy Farmer feature story in October 2007. Today, they continue to share their knowledge and interest in the hobby with area youth.

“There’s just a passion for it,” Matthew shares.

Each year, the members of the 4-H club, who, this year, range in age from 10 to 16 years old, create a diorama on a 3- by 3-foot board.

“Most of the work gets done during club meetings, but they do have to do some of the work as well on their own,” Matthew says. “Basically, we’re trying to share the knowledge that we have with others. That way, they can learn at the club and if they want to go home and apply it and make even larger, scale dioramas, they can do that.”

Once the dioramas are completed, club members display their work as part of the achievement program at the Chatham-Kent Toy Show and Sale, held in January. This year, eight members were involved in creating and exhibiting dioramas.

“This past year, we displayed over 50 feet of displays, enjoyed by those attending the toy show,” Matthew says. Each 3×3 diorama includes a similar roadway in the same location, so when each individual board is connected, the road lines up across all the dioramas. The individual sections then become one continuous display, he explains.

The dioramas display a wide range of scenes, based on each of the youth’s perspective. Some of the displays have included replicas of family farms, a tree farm, a gravel yard, tiling in fields and farm equipment dealerships.

“A lot of people like to focus on the family farm where they have lived or do live, and they build a scale replica of that. I have done that in the past,” Matthew says. “It’s whatever the kids want to create. This gives them a chance to do it and learn how to do it.”

Matthew Sterling, 16, recreated a John Deere dealership as a display for the Chatham-Kent Toy Show and Sale.

Carl Sterling started the Chatham-Kent Toy Show and Sale in 2002, the same year Matthew was born. The toy show is a family affair, with Carl, Julie and Rob organizing the show, with assistance from Katrina, Brian, his wife, Annemarie, and Matthew. This is the third year the 4-H club members have displayed dioramas at the show.

“It’s going to get bigger every year. The kids will bring back the boards they have done in the past and show them again,” Matthew says.

“The toy show has also gotten bigger every year, and it sparks more interest as we go,” he adds. The next show will be held Jan. 19, 2020, in Chatham, Ontario, Canada.

Some vendors have been at the Chatham-Kent Toy Show and Sale every year since 2002, and it is one of the largest farm toy shows in Southwestern Ontario, Canada. This year, the show included 180 tables of toys for sale and display, with 50 vendors and 30 other different displays, as well as the 4-H club’s displays.

“The toy show keeps getting bigger every year. That’s exciting for me. I just hope the enthusiasm keeps growing across the community for the hobby,” Matthew says.

The 4-H club’s 50-foot diorama is an important piece of the show’s popularity, too.

“It is kind of funny when some people come up and see it. It’s almost like their eyes pop out. They’re just amazed with what even some of the younger kids can come up with in the club to make it look so real. I personally enjoy the interaction with some of the elders in the community, to see that interest in what we do,” Matthew says.

The 4-H club has another role in the toy show, by assisting with the show and helping to raise money for the nonprofit event.

“All members also help with the toy show, which raises money for the club, the local Junior Farmers Club, whose members also help with the show, and mainly our local food bank, Outreach for Hunger,” Matthew says. Proceeds from the show are donated to the food bank and to the Chatham-Kent 4-H Association Farm Toy Club to help purchase supplies to create more dioramas and to continue to “Learn to do by doing.”

One of the leaders of the Chatham-Kent 4-H Farm Toy Club, Rob Sterling, replicated a natural gas station located at the construction site of a greenhouse.

One of the world’s largest youth organizations, 4-H can be found in more than 70 countries across the globe. The 4-H organization in Canada has more than 24,000 members and 7,600 volunteers. The four H’s represent the organization’s core values:

• Head: managing, thinking

• Heart: relating, caring

• Hands: giving, working

• Health: being, living

 A family of collectors

As part of a family with a passion for farm toys, Matthew’s interest in the hobby began when he was young, as he basically started attending the Chatham-Kent Toy Show and Sale as a baby.

“It all started when I was really little. I was always playing with the farm toys. It kind of grew as an interest for me. Every time we were at a dealership, I was saying, ‘Hey, can I get a toy?’” he says. “I’ve grown up around it. I’ve kind of expanded a little bit more and I have my own collection now.”

Matthew’s collection of 1/64 and 1/16 farm toys has grown over the years to the point where he is unsure of how many models he now owns.

“I’m a John Deere fan, but I do have some of the other colours, too,” he says. He also has model train dioramas and collects miniature steam engines.

“I have a lot of different toys that I enjoy, but my biggest collection is in the farm toys for sure,” he says. “I have a very large collection.”

The family’s combined collections fill the farm home, Matthew says. “I think it’s sunk a few feet into the ground,” he says with a laugh about the family home brimming with farm toys.

As his older brothers completed dioramas for the farm toy show, Matthew’s own interest in creating displays began.

“At one of the toy shows when I was old enough, I said I want to try setting up on one of those boards,” he says, so he completed a simple display with his own toys when he was about 9 years old.

“Eventually, I set up all their boards and I wanted to expand a little more. That was more of a driver for that to happen,” he says.

Matthew has a particular fascination with creating as many realistic details in a display as possible.

“I enjoy seeing the final product. You put a lot of work into something like that, but it’s fun when you actually see it all put together. I made a diorama that replicates the family farm and I had parked vehicles that looked similar to ours around the buildings. When I took some pictures of it, it just looked so real,” he says.

This past year, Matthew replicated a farm equipment dealership, also with realistic details.

“That’s part of where the club comes into play. We’re trying to teach the kids how to make trees, buildings, hydro poles, grass, fields, all the parts of it the way we have tried to do it in the past. Then the kids expand on it and say, Why don’t we try this?’ and then it looks really good in the end,” he shares.

The club members often brainstorm ideas for better ways of creating a scene, he says, often using trial-and-error.

“The hardest one was probably trying to figure out snow, realistic snow,” he says. “You have to make a little board separately and try all your different techniques on it and see which one you like the best.”

Matthew enjoys the interaction with the club members, and sharing his own knowledge.

“I’ve always been one to try and help people. That’s just something I enjoy, so it gives me a chance to help someone with the knowledge that I have and try to give them some of the tools that I have under my belt,” he says.

Matthew also caught inspiration to customize farm toy models from his family and interaction with members of the 4-H club.

Matthew Sterling’s customized John Deere 4430, which includes: realistic lights all the way around, wheel weights, steps, hydraulic outlets, painted engine parts, fuel cap, anti-freeze cap, center chrome arrow, and steel painted intake and exhaust pipes. The tractor was painted with genuine John Deere tractor paint.

His favourite customization project was putting more realistic details on a John Deere 4430 tractor, adding more realistic lights and other details, and repainting it.

“It has a lot of things on it that it did not have on it when it came from the toy factory to make it look a lot more realistic,” he says. “To really make it stand out in a group of toys to make it a unique item, we actually used the actual tractor paint. All of the paints that they would use on real tractors, we put on the toys to make them look more realistic.”

The 4-H Farm Toy Club has definitely led Matthew to “Learn to do by doing.”

“With parents being leaders, I was always at the meetings. You know how things kind of grow on you and all of sudden, you’re really excited to do that,” he says. “And it very much grew on me.”

“It’s more of an addiction now more than a hobby,” he says with a laugh.

The 4-H Farm Toy Club attends the 2019 Chatham-Kent Toy Show and Sale. Members are, from left to right in the back row, Everett Pickering, Rebekah Ball, Adam Smith, Kyle Ross, Matthew Sterling, Cole Peckford, from left to right sitting in the front row, Wyatt Ball, Carson Sayers and Ian Masterson-Foster.