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As children entered the Gage County 4-H building Tuesday evening, they were treated to an evening of popcorn, nachos, hot dogs and games like Plinko, miniature golf and a beanbag toss.

Some held rabbits and chickens, while others got their faces painted and temporary tattoos. Others watched the University of Nebraska spirit squad as they performed cheers.

The whole event was part of the Gage County 4-H open house.

“It’s just to kick off our year, invite people that might be interested in 4-H to come and talk to the people who are participating in 4-H,” said Jacie Milius, a 4-H youth development extension educator. “Also, we just wanted to highlight some projects that we have available, so that people can kind of get their hands wet and see what 4-H is all about.”

Nebraska has over 140,000 5-18 year olds enrolled in 4-H.

The organization has eight curriculum areas including animal science, communicative and expressive arts, consumer and family science, environmental education and earth sciences, healthy lifestyle education, leadership and citizenship, plant science and science, technology, engineering and math, also known as STEM.

“I think a lot of the perception around 4-H is that we’re all about cows and cooking, and 4-H has so much more to offer than that,” Milius said. “We have a vast variety of different projects. We also have the livestock, but we do offer other projects within the livestock that even people that live in town can participate in.”

A corner of the building was dedicated to the Gage County 4-H robotics team. Children crowded around a large table where a remote-controlled Lego robot rolled around and tried to accomplish small tasks.

Eric Klaus, one of the team’s leaders, said the set was part of FIRST Lego League, which is a worldwide robotics competition.

“They come out with a challenge set like this, and every team is competing using the same set,” Klaus said. “So you build the models by the rules, and then the table is full of challenges for them to accomplish as many as they can, and at the competition they have two and a half minutes for their robot to score as many points as possible.”

Klaus said the kids also had to develop a project that follows a yearly theme, this year being space travel. The team researched a way to reduce the space required to store waste on a long-term space mission.

“They also get judged on their teamwork, their ability to solve problems and work together,” Klaus said. “So the judges were given two and a half minutes in a small room, and they’ll say ‘here is a note-card, turn that into something that you can put your body through.’ Something totally unrelated to Legos.”

Klaus said that the judges focus more on the team’s ability to work together to solve problems than them accomplishing the task.

The team qualified for state in spring, but did not advance to nationals. They are currently in their off season, and are working on their STEM skills for next season.

Enrollment for 4-H is open through May 1, and is available online at ne.4honline.com

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