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Douglas County 4-H'ers use microscopes to explore tiny water creatures

Each spring, the Minnesota 4-H Foundation distributes grants to 4-H clubs who want to make a difference in their community. We will be featuring one grantee every month this year to celebrate all the wonderful ways Minnesota's 4-H'ers are living out the 4-H Pledge. Our October featured grantee explored the "invisible" world of microscopic water creatures. We hope you enjoy their story.

Douglas County Shooting Sports and Wildlife Program is a 4-H club that allows members to explore a variety of recreational shooting disciplines as well as learn about wildlife in Minnesota. With a 2015 Helping Hands Grant, they were able to build a project that allowed youth and adults learn about microscopic pond life as well as other aquatic creatures. They hosted this project at the Douglas County Fair and the Shooting Sports Invitational. I had a chance to speak with Anakin Bosek, the youth leader of the project, about his experience with water creatures and this Douglas County 4-H project.

Madeleine Miller: Anakin, what sparked your interest in water creatures?
Anakin Bosek: I grew up in a family business, Bosek Fisheries and Wholesale Live Bait, that sells game fish, minnows, and other water creatures such as salamanders, turtles, and frogs.

MM: Did you have experience teaching about water creatures prior to this project?
AB: Yes, through my family: we collect pond samples and pond creatures for the Douglas County Kids Groundwater Day each year. Our main part is the hands-on time with pond animals and fish, where we talk about each of the creatures and allow kids to hold and touch them. My family also has a fish hatchery where area students visit and learn about the process of raising fish from eggs to fry (newly hatched fish), as well as learning about turtles, leeches, and other pond animals.

MM: What were the club members’ and visitors’ favorite parts of the project?
AB: Handling the salamanders is always a highlight, and the microscopes were a big hit. Kids and adults spent their time looking at multiple slides and educational posters we had made and shared their reactions to what they had learned. I enjoyed showing people pond creatures they wouldn’t usually see. It’s funny when people say, "Oh no, I can’t touch that," but a few minutes later are holding and examining each creature.

MM: Did you and your club gain anything unexpected from the experience?
AB: I feel what my club and I learned was beyond unbelievable. I never would have imagined that I would gain so much from one project. I learned how to write for a grant, and we were so excited when we received it! [For the display,] I learned about the differences in microscopes and how to purchase them, how to make our own slides, time management, and organization on how to lay out a display area. As a club we gained team-building skills, communication skills, and learned a lot about pond life from this project. Each member participated in shifts to present the posters, help the public use the microscopes, and handled the pond creatures. The project allowed youth to explore their own abilities outside the box while developing life skills, too.

MM: Can you tell me about the Shooting Sports Invitational and your experience there?
AB: Douglas County has hosted the invitational with Pope County for the past few years at the Alexandria Shooting Park. It is there that 4-H youth from statewide who have completed the necessary hours of shooting and wildlife education come together to exhibit their skills, and each county is allowed to present an educational wildlife display. We were able to display our pond life exhibit along with microscopes and a hands-on section with some creatures and fish to over 800 4-H’ers and adults. It was exciting to exhibit at a state level and to watch other youth enjoy our project as well.

MM: What project is your club working on in 2016?
AB: This year we are continuing the microscopic focus in a project called “A Bug’s Life.” Kendra Massman, a Douglas County 4-H youth and shooting sports member, has been chosen as an educational speaker to share her past experience in bug collecting and explaining how to make a bug shadow box. Our group will be building bug-catching nets, collecting bugs, and assembling boxes under Kendra’s guidance. We will also be making educational posters to go with the project.

MM: Lastly, why should youth join 4-H, and adults support 4-H?
AB: 4-H is a wonderful youth organization that supports all youth of all ages. There is a huge variety of different project areas to learn from. Youth develop life skills that aid success when in school, in a future job, and at one’s home life. 4-H allows us to learn communication skills, time and money management, ways to provide community service, and promotes healthful lives that go outside the box.
I feel adults should support 4-H because it promotes youth to stay active in a variety of interests, build self-esteem, and promote the “pay-it-forward” theory. Adults are valuable volunteers who can act as mentors, share their experiences and knowledge, help organize projects, and be the support system needed to run events and camps. Without adult (especially parental) support, 4-H would not be available to aid in our growth and success.
I would like to give a sincere thank you to the Minnesota 4-H Foundation’s Helping Hands Grant Committee;  Jodi Hintzen, Douglas County 4-H Coordinator;  4-H volunteers (local, county, and state), our local community clubs, along with family and friends for supporting the Douglas County Shooting Sports Youth Project. 

Youth interested in STEM will find 4-H opportunities statewide. Helping Hands Grants from the Minnesota 4-H Foundation help to make these programs possible. To find out more, visit

By Madeleine Miller
Minnesota 4-H Foundation
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