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The Value of Skillathons

Monday, June 24, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Lydia Ulry and Jane Wright, Ohio 4-H Youth Dev
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Raising a livestock animal or caring for a companion animal is a rich learning experience. That first-hand knowledge can lead to significant competency and expertise, especially when youth have opportunities to reflect on and apply new knowledge.

What is a skillathon?

A skillathon is an event that uses the experiential learning model of doing, reflecting, and applying to test one’s knowledge. The word “skillathon” is derived from the suffix -athon, which means an event, and the prefix skill, or what is being tested at the event.

In Ohio, skillathons typically include five stations, each taking about five minutes to complete, although stations can be changed to fit the time available. Some skillathons offer different age- or skill-appropriate stations for juniors, intermediates, and seniors. Youth move from station to station attempting to perform tasks such as matching breeds with descriptions, labeling animal body parts, identifying meat cuts, designing appropriate housing, etc.

Skillathons are often conducted in connection with fairs. In 2018, over 1,400 Ohio youth participated in nine animal-related skillathons during the Ohio State Fair. Species included beef, dairy, dog, goat, horse, poultry, rabbit, sheep, and swine. 

A 4-H member identifying body parts of a rooster as part of the poultry skillathon.

How do skillathons fit into the experiential learning model?

Here is how experiential learning theory is practiced through a skillathon:

Do. Youth select an animal to raise or care for and are guided by adults, books, and other resources on how best to provide daily care. The youth directly experiences all aspects of caring for an animal.

Reflect. Youth reflect on what they are learning about the animal by keeping records and answering questions about the experiences, sometimes with a project book. Questions include, “Why might this be happening?” or “What could you do better next time?”

Apply. Youth apply what they have learned in many ways—by exhibiting the animal at a fair or exhibition, teaching others, and by participating in a skillathon!

Skillathon stations themselves are mini-versions of the experiential learning model, in which youth DO the task, REFLECT on their results, and APPLY what they have learned to make changes.


A visual model of experiential learning theory: Do → Reflect → Apply

How to Make a Station

Any reliable source of information can serve as the basis for a skillathon station. In Ohio, station materials often come from a Learning Lab Kit of durable, hands-on materials and activity suggestions. Each animal-related kit contains materials for many stations. A few additional kits cover non-animal topics, like plant identification.

Learning Lab Kits are used for more than skillathons too. By organizing fun contests and demonstrations, club leaders support learning games, teamwork, and competition. Outside of classrooms and clubs, the materials can be used at public events as educational pieces, at agricultural association meetings, and wherever there is an interest in anmal sciences.

Learn more about Learning Lab Kits HERE.

National Association of Extension 4-H Youth Development Professionals


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