May 23, 2007 | By: Aimee Nielson

Home school student participation in the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture’s 4-H programs is on the rise and 4-H is responding to the sometimes unique needs of the families by offering the members a traditional camping experience, with a twist.

In a traditional 4-H summer camp, boys and girls stay in separate cabins and attend without their parents. At the inaugural Home School 4-H Camp, held at the North Central 4-H Camp in Carlisle, campers stayed with their parents in family cabins.

Stephanie Merling home-schools her four children – Colin, 11, twins Scott and Brianna, 8, and Adam, 4. They are active in 4-H in Kenton County and were excited to attend the home school camp. 

“(We wanted to come because) we could do it all as a family and that makes it a lot of fun,” Stephanie Merling said. “Normally with 4-H camp you send your kids, but since we get to do it all as a family that makes it really exciting and we get to meet other home-schoolers and give the kids opportunities to be with other great families.”

Campers learned how to make their own fishing lures and then set out for the camp’s small lake to test out their inventions on the fish. Brianna Merling caught the first fish for her family. The Merlings proved pretty successful in the fishing activity and attributed much of their success to having a pond in their backyard. However, Scott said that he really enjoyed making his own lures.

“For Christmas, I’m sure you already know what I want,” he said with a grin. “…one of those kits with all the stuff to make those (lures).” 

During the three-day event, campers participated in hiking, wildlife observation, fishing and canoeing. They also got to try out a ropes course with high and low elements. A unique aspect of the camp was a time for parents to share home schooling ideas while their children worked on craft projects nearby. 

Campers even learned a little about heritage cooking in an old log cabin on the campgrounds where they made cornbread and apple turnovers in a cast iron skillet over hot coals. And of course, camp wouldn’t be complete without campfire singing and making s’mores. 

Scott County Cooperative Extension Agent for 4-H Youth Development Sharon Flynt said her county has a home school 4-H group and that’s why she wanted to be involved in the inaugural camp. 

“We have our traditional camps, we have environmental camps and we thought maybe we’d like to try home school camp. Of course it’s a little different,” she said. “In our summer camps we have the 4-day or 5-day camps of just the 4-Hers, but with our home school groups, we have all the family members. They stay in cabins as families and move through the different camp activities as family groups. “

Flynt said home school participation is growing and providing experiences for these nontraditional students is another way to reach out to young people in Kentucky. She said participation in the inaugural camp was small, but campers came from across the state. 

“We hope they enjoy it but also that they will give us some pointers … (tell us) what they need, what they would like to see available,” she said. “Through word of mouth, they will be able to pass it on to their home school networks in the state.”

Flynt emphasized that home-schooled children do not have to be a part of a home school club to be involved in their county’s 4-H program. She said they can come to traditional camp in the summer, just like other 4-Hers, and be involved in any of the other large project groups 4-H has to offer in their counties.


Donna Fox, 859-257-5961