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Kermit Alexander of Jones led the programming of this tote-stacking robot for his 4-H robotics team. Kermit is one of thousands of young Oklahomans participating in 4-H programs. Monday afternoon often finds him working in a robotics lab near Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City.
Photo by MELISSA LUKENBAUGH
By nurturing and developing skills both traditional and innovative, 4-H is creating an army of young leaders in Oklahoma.
By Sara Cowan
Published September/October 2015
As Karen Goodchild squats down to talk to her son Paul about farm safety, a hungry baby goat runs up her back as if scaling a mountain. She doesn’t flinch when it perches on her shoulder.
“You can always tell a bottle-fed baby,” she says, laughing.
Half listening and wearing cowboy boots and plaid shorts, Paul, a gregarious seven-year-old, buries an upended stick in a dusty patch of clay.
“I’m an excellent builder,” he says.
It’s hard to imagine that Paul, who is on the autism spectrum and has a tactile disorder, once was unable to touch dirt. For the past three years, he has been raising goats, a hobby that has stretched his limits and helped him become something of an expert.
In the Goodchild family and thousands of others in Oklahoma, 4-H activities are meeting the needs of nine- to nineteen-year-olds in unique ways.
Paul was born about three months premature. After the Goodchilds completed his adoption when he was eighteen months old, they knew challenges were in store and were prepared for the possibility that he would never walk or talk. Due to Paul’s tacticle disorder, he didn’t feed himself like typical babies learn to do, or touch the floor, meaning he was slow to crawl.
Then goats changed things.
Paul Goodchild, seven, has won more than 77 ribbons since he started showing goats about three years ago. Paul participates in the Cleveland County 4-H Dairy Club, which is run by his mother, Karen, herself a 4-H alumna.
Photo by MELISSA LUKENBAUGH
As a toddler, Paul became obsessed with the small domesticated animals when his parents bought a pair. His mother, Karen, herself a 4-H alumna, and his father Peter saw the potential to harness this enthusiasm to motivate their son to move past some of his struggles. Currently, the Goodchilds share their east Norman land with thirteen Nigerian dwarf goats, and Karen leads the Cleveland County 4-H Dairy Club.
To participate in 4-H events, children must be at least nine years old, which places Paul in the Cloverbud category, a kind of junior 4-H program without competition. In addition to showing in the open class at 4-H events, Paul also travels to regional competitions, where he has accumulated an impressive collection of awards for his goats.
4-H programs, administered through county extension offices nationwide, connect an estimated 120,000 young Oklahomans a year with educators, clubs, and volunteers. These adults help them develop leadership skills and personal interests while encouraging them to share their newfound knowledge with others in the community. Participants earn recognition for teaching their peers about their specialty subjects. Paul Goodchild’s is goats and their anatomy. For his last birthday party, he requested an unconventional theme: digestive systems.
“Paul probably knows more about goat body parts and systems than most adults,” Karen says. “He’s fascinated by the reproductive system right now. He wanted to take goat sperm to show-and-tell to share this really cool thing he learned. It’s hard to explain to a farm kid the difference between things we talk about at home and things that are appropriate at school.”
Paul sometimes has difficulty relating to his peers. The 4-H Dairy Club meetings in Norman are a place where his enthusiasm is welcome.
“It’s nice to go to a place where there are other children who share his interests,” Karen says.
Goat shows have motivated Paul to develop new skills. It’s important for participants to listen to judges, follow instructions, and make eye contact. Paul now enjoys spending time outside, getting dirty, using his hands, and having friendly conversations. It’s clear that for him, the benefits of 4-H are greater than caring for animals and winning ribbons.
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Get There: For more information, visit 4h.okstate.edu or contact your county extension office. Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, oces.okstate.edu. The Oklahoma State Fair and Tulsa State Fair display 4-H projects throughout their runs. The Oklahoma State Fair is September 17 through 27; the Tulsa State Fair is October 1 through 11. okstatefair.com and tulsastatefair.com. Paul Goodchild will participate in the Dairy Goat Show in the Super Barn at the Oklahoma State Fair September 22 and 23. Kermit Alexander’s Ninja Munkees will demonstrate their robots in the Hobbies, Arts, and Crafts Building at the Oklahoma State Fair on September 26.