County Fair teaches kids many lessons Squawking chickens, squealing children and oversized poster boards and binders compete for space in the cab of my husband’s Ford F250 in the early days of August. Fair week has arrived once again at The Ranch in Loveland.

For the next few days, 4H kids from all over northern Colorado enjoy a well-deserved break in the form of a Ferris wheel, funnel cakes and freedom. Another year of hard work behind them makes the fair all the sweeter.

Then, before they know it, the moment of truth arrives. At 4pm sharp the doors to the McKee building, which houses the newly judged consumer and general projects, opens. A waiting crowd of 4Hers and their families make a bee-line for the tables at the far end of the room, anxious to see how their projects fared.

The judges arrive at the livestock barn soon after, signaling the showmanship competitions are mere moments away. In the poultry barn, where our chickens are housed for the week, showmanship works slightly differently. Rather than performing in the arena in front of a crowd, poultry members compete in a small, enclosed room, one-on-one, with the judge.

Those 30 seconds spent walking across the McKee building, or five minutes in the showmanship arena, or three minutes in a room with the poultry judge feel like eternity to those kids.

As parents, we feel every emotion along with our children. Their heartbreak over losing is our own, just as their excitement over winning is our own.

At some point though, we ultimately remember that we are the adults, and we have a job to do. Fair season is one of the best teaching opportunities we as parents will ever stumble upon.

This is why, on the last day of fair, we don’t congratulate our children on the colors of their ribbons. We don’t high-five them when they pick up their cash premiums for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place wins. We don’t reassure them that next year they’ll take the title of  grand champion.

Instead, we remind them to congratulate each other and their peers on a job well done, including and especially the ones who beat them. We make sure they stick around and pitch in until every last crate is packed up and the barn is sparkling clean. And when we get home the first thing we do is encourage them to write letters to the superintendents of their projects, thanking them for the many volunteer hours they invest in these kids.

During the poultry award ceremony each year, the superintendents present two awards to 4H kids who consistently help out around the barn, take younger kids under their wings, and make themselves available to the public to answer questions. Each year I tell my kids that winning one of those awards someday should mean more to them than 100 blue ribbons for their chickens.

I’d like to think that each year they work a little harder toward that goal. They are young, and have many 4H years ahead of them. They have many victories and probably plenty of disappointment in their futures. I hope that each year they’ll learn a little more from those experiences, about how to better care for their chickens, how to create more impressive poster projects, but mostly, about how to be good sports. In the end, that’s the true measure of fair season success.