Barnyard animals, carnival rides and greasy food are the cornerstones of the Rock County 4-H Fair experience, but in a building on the corner of the grounds, far from the agricultural sights the fair is best known for, dozens of kids competed Tuesday in less traditional 4-H categories.
For hours, boys and girls lined up and presented to judges different projects related to mechanical science, electricity and computers. And while the categories have been around for some time, the projects children present are constantly evolving, Judge David Keech said.
“The grounds can’t expand, but what kids can do in 4-H, that’s expanded,” he said.
In the mechanical science category, kids showed off model rockets, cars, planes, helicopters and Lego creations. Many were modeled after the popular “Star Wars” and “Pokemon” franchises.
Ellie Larson, 11, impressed a judge with a 4,000-piece, Disney-themed Lego castle she built. The instruction booklet was as thick as a small novel.
The model was intended for 16-year-olds and up, but that didn’t deter Ellie. It took her about 17 hours over three months to build the enormous castle, she and her parents said.
One boy showed off a 91-piece Jeep Wrangler model he assembled. Another showcased his World War II airplane model. A girl, 10-year-old Trinity Watrous, presented a Lego “Star Wars” set.
“’Star Wars’ is one of my favorite movies,” Trinity said.
While judging competitors’ creations, Keech asked the kids why they chose those models to make, what challenges they encountered and what they learned through the process.
The face-to-face judging allows kids to really understand what they did well and what they could improve, said Nancy Hansen-Bennett, 4-H leader.
“It’s good for the kids because they get pointers,” she said.
Keech, who has been judging fairs for years, said competitors grow up and sometimes take what they learned working on 4-H projects into the real world. For instance, he knows some who have moved onto advanced hobbies such as chainsaw art, Keech said.
“I’ve seen some youth do some incredible things,” he said.
Later Tuesday, different judges evaluated electricity and computer projects.
Younger competitors presented simple circuits they assembled as judges gently quizzed them on terminology and how different components worked. Older children proudly displayed lamps and other more advanced electric creations.
In the computer category, kids shared projects they produced using computer programs. Some had even built their own computers from scratch, judges said.
Tiana Roehl, 12, showed a judge two computer games she developed and a T-shirt she designed with a computer.
One of the games was “Banana Pong.” Working with an introductory coding program, Tiana used trial and error to correctly code the game’s physics. She even incorporated her own art into the game.
Tiana’s dad is a computer programmer. He suggested Tiana enter the computer competition, and Tiana said she had a great time doing it.
“It was a lot of fun making games,” she said.
These competitions show the fair isn’t just for farm kids.
“Kids are given many, many opportunities in 4-H,” Hansen-Bennett said.