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We built character through posters

Joy’s Reflections: Children today don’t understand the struggle of making a poster without technology.

Joy McClain

April 30, 2024

2 Min Read
A box of used and broken crayons
OLD TOOLS: Poster-making “tools” used to consist of broken crayons, stained stencils and rusty scissors. Kids now have access to electronics that make their work look professional. Andrei Lavrinov/Getty Images

Back in the day, 4-H kids who signed up for the first-year wildlife project received a book with pictures of local wildlife. We colored the little animals with our Crayola crayons, cut them out and slapped Elmer’s glue on the back of the critters to attach them to poster board.

After we covered our hands in a thick layer of glue, let it dry and then peeled it off — thinking we just invented a new way to make skin — we took a ruler and attempted to draw a straight line across the top of the poster board. By “straight,” I mean, there was a line. That doesn’t mean it didn’t slant or have eraser marks from multiple attempts to get it right.

Marker-stained stencils that our parents had already used for 20 years came out of a drawer. We laid the stencils on top of the attempted line and set out to do the impossible: make a heading with spacing that didn’t look like a blind monkey constructed it. Those were the days. Everyone’s poster looked disastrous. Overall, 4-H posters left me traumatized.

Anything but a poster

When my children were in 4-H, I told them they could do any project that did not involve a poster. Even though they had access to premade adhesive lettering, graphics and printers, the word “poster” was an emotional trigger. 

These days, 4-H’ers have access to not only poster board and a beautiful, slide-on, seamless sleeve to cover it, but also technology that leaves their finished product looking like the work of a professional graphic artist. These kids are soft. They have no idea what it is to “poster-suffer.” I’m not sure they’ve even coated their hands with Elmer’s glue. 

One of our grandsons chose to do three posters this year. Thankfully, he does those at home. I will admire them while on display at the fair. I can say with confidence each will have a blue ribbon dangling off the top corner, because all you see is an ocean of blue ribbons.

That seems slightly disrespectful to those of us who paved the way for the posters of today. The progressive evolution of posters stands on the shoulders of those of us who suffered and cried at the kitchen table with dried-up markers and broken crayons. It’s why we are resilient. We learned how to persevere through the impossible — not to mention all the distracting and fun things you can do with glue.

About the Author(s)

Joy McClain

Joy McClain writes from Greenwood, Ind.

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