Why My Kids Enter Competitions


I don’t think I’ve ever been as nervous as I was this past Saturday, when My Big Helper entered her first district History Day competition.  Even though I competed myself for years, and have had kids, gotten married, and faced all sorts of other major life events, watching my daughter nervously await her interview with the judges after six months’ worth of work was hard.

So why do I make her – and, when the time comes, my son – enter these things?  Because yes, this was her first year, and it was part of her school requirements.

There are lots of reasons.  Here are some of them:

  1.  It’s a wonderful opportunity to learn how to make your work worthy of presentation.  It’s easy these days to do something and move on.  To read a biography and rush the report.  To  study something in class and hurry through the assignment.  I think that polishing our work is becoming something of a lost art; as the curriculum becomes more difficult, there’s less time for review or for real projects, and instead we hurry on to the next thing.  Even though we homeschool, and we aren’t as rushed as those in other educational situations, we have a different problem:  my kids have only family members with whom to display their work.  National History Day competitions, and others like it, provide them the opportunity to understand what it’s like to have others formally judge their work.  To know how to polish and put forth their best efforts.
  2. It’s a chance to win.  This might sound silly, but many outlets have removed all competition from their arena.  I’ve heard of kids’ sports teams not keeping score, of coaches giving trophies to the team with the most losing record, of principals requiring that every student gets an award, and of clubs where every child is an officer.  On the surface, that seems great; however, the reality is that we do sometimes receive a benefit for hard work and performing well.  Everyone wants to win sometimes, and this is the time to put your best work out there and be recognized for it.
  3. It’s a chance to lose.  Sound contradictory?  I don’t mean it to be.  If we have the chance to win sometimes, then we also should have the chance to lose, too.  The important thing to remember is that losing doesn’t make us losers – instead, it helps us to understand how to process disappointment, to look critically at our own work and analyze how to make it better, and how to move on.  I would much rather my kids face disappointment on a project like this, after all their hard work, and learn how to handle it appropriately than be blindsided by not being accepted to the college of their dreams or missing out on their dream job.  If we start processing disappointment in small ways when we’re small, then it stands to reason that we’ll be better equipped to handle life’s bigger disappointments when they come. 
  4. They’ll come to understand the value of hard work.  You can learn this in many avenues, of course, but I think that these types of academic competition can be some of the best for pushing yourself here.  It’s certainly more fun than a test, and test results can be very questionable, anyway.  Going over and over your work, correcting mistakes, finding ways to improve finding new ways to research … it’s hard, but incredibly valuable.
  5. They’ll learn determination and stick-to-it-iveness.  There comes a point in most projects when you want to quit; when you’re tired of the work, when something goes wrong, and you’re ready to throw in the towel.  Most of the time, that’s not the best course of action, and this is a great time to learn that.  You might have teammates cheering you on, teachers encouraging you , or a win waiting for you, but sticking with the project will teach valuable lessons.
  6. It’s a meaningful way to learn.  Seriously, think about it:  how much do you really remember from those textbooks you had to read in seventh grade?  From the teacher who droned on in a monotone in an overly-warm classroom? – but if you had to play the role of history detective and find the information yourself; if you took field trips to college libraries, wrote letters and received packages of information from historians and museum curators; if you took the time to develop theories and then find facts to prove your ideas, wouldn’t you have a vested interest in your project, and thereby the history behind it?  Wouldn’t you know your facts inside out and upside down?
  7. You learn how to communicate your ideas clearly.  At a National History Day competition, your historical work is worth only 60% of the judges’ score.  Clarity of presentation is another 20%.  While the historical work is obviously much higher, both have to be present to win.  I love that NHD provides the opportunity to compete in five different areas – historical paper, exhibit, documentary, website, or performance – so you can compete in the area of your strengths and talents, but no matter which one you choose, you must be able to communicate your ideas clearly.
  8. You learn how to conduct yourself in an interview.  This was the part of NHD I hated the most as a competitor, and it was hard to see just how nervous my students were when they faced their own; and yet it was situations like these that helped to prepare me for job interviews, college interviews, and other professional and business opportunities that came my way.  I’ll never forget my very first one:  although our teachers had discussed professional dress and conduct with us, one of my teammates sat in a chair with one foot behind her head while our judges interviewed us.  I was mortified!  I wouldn’t want my students to make that mistake, and so we role-played this type of scenario.  Nothing is as good as the real thing, however.
  9. You learn how to dress professionally.  What would you wear for a job interview?  This goes right along with #8, I know, but it’s an important part.  Don’t wear your t-shirt for the scholastic interview.  ‘Nuff said.
  10. You have to plan ahead.  How often do kids forget their lunches?  Lose their shoes, library books, etc?  If you forget an important part of your project, you’re out of luck.  Planning ahead is an important skill to have, if only for these big events.

So, there you have it – why my kids enter scholastic competitions.  Do yours?

Want to know exactly how My Big Helper’s first competition went?  Read about it here.

“Smurfs: The Lost Village” Opening Soon! + Giveaway


When I was a kid, I watched the Smurfs every Saturday morning.

I loved the Smurfs.  They were friendly, funny little creatures who loved being together and were always seeing the good in life.  I had all the Smurf gear, too – an alarm clock, bank, and more, and I took it all to Smurf Day at school, where we even ate Smurf cereal for breakfast.

Obviously lots of other kids loved them, but we weren’t the only ones.  Sometimes my dad would watch with me, too, and I loved those times.  Often, after the Smurfs, we’d head out to roller skate or to the farm to spend time with family, but somehow we managed to catch the Smurfs first.

That’s why I was so excited to hear that there’s a new Smurf movie coming out on April 7, called Smurfs:  The Lost Village.  The trailer is funny, and it puts some twists into the Smurf story.  The animation looks beautiful, too.  You can watch the trailer here.

Another thing that has me super excited about this new Smurf adventure, though, is the faith-based discussion guide that you can download here.  It’s set up almost like a devotional, with scripture, a short lesson, and questions for discussion, and I like that a regular, secular movie is being examined this way. 

So, who’s up for seeing Smurfs:  The Lost Village?

Enter to win your own tickets to see Smurfs:  The Lost Village here!

The First Snowfall is Snow Fun!


Disclosure Pic

We got our first snowfall this week!  We’ve had snow much fun playing around in it – and since the forecasters were a bit off in how much we might get, we were happily surprised by the 8 inches to a foot that we actually received.

It’s been bitterly cold, too, which is quite unusual for this town.  Many people here don’t even own an snow shovel (which is quite odd to this Pennsylvania girl) but any snow we get often melts by dinnertime.  It’s been sticking around for several days, though, and isn’t leaving quite yet as the temp hasn’t topped freezing – or even gotten close – since the snow started to fall.

All of that means that our roads are bad.  Yes, I think they’re bad, too – because with nowhere near enough plows or salt, the snow quickly gets packed down and becomes ice, and ice is just horrible to drive on.

My husband’s office even closed today, and so we’re all enjoying this opportunity to sleep in, watch lots of movies together, work on our read-aloud (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire), head outside for adventures, and then come back in to cook dinner together.  I love doing that!

Here’s a glimpse of what we’ve been up to:

Snow Fun

While walking out in the snow, the kids had an impromptu snowball fight.  They started to get really into it …

Snow Fun

and we saw lots of smiles as the snow flew.

Snow Fun

ABC11, one of our local news stations, filmed the kids, and they ended up being on the news – twice!  The kids were excited to make their first TV appearance.

Snow Fun

Surprisingly enough, we’ve never had snowball fights before, but My Little Man thoroughly enjoyed it.

Snow Fun

My Big Helper’s favorite snow activity is finding a big pile of snow that was pushed aside by a plow and making snow caves.

Snow Fun

You just have to go sledding, though.

What’s your favorite snowy activity?

For more snow fun activities, check out these books:

The Meaning of a Legacy

Legacies have come up in conversation a lot lately.  It seems that most people consider a legacy to be money – a sum of money, preferably a sizeable sum – that one bequeaths to another upon death.

The Meaning of a Legacy

That is a type of legacy.  It’s a concrete legacy with a beginning, ending, and with concrete purpose or abilities here on earth.

But that’s where it ends.

That kind of cash legacy can only take you so far.

It might pay off debt, provide for housing, education, or temporary security, but sooner or later it comes to an end.

It can only do so much.

There’s another kind of legacy, however, that lasts indefinitely.

It has a clear beginning but no definite end.  Sometimes it can be traced through time, history, and events, but at others the origins are lost.  The beginning becomes murky with time but the meaning lives on.

That’s the kind of legacy I’m contemplating this month.

I’ve been blessed to have been left several of those legacies, and while the one of which I speak began being handed to me several decades ago, the passing of that baton ended this week.

As I sit here, hours from where the business of death is being handled, I’m remembering many aspects of that legacy.

Where caring and love were shown in many ways, like in the mailing of colorful office supplies to a wanna-be elementary-aged writer.

Where antique mystery books were shipped off to be read, treasured, and discussed.

Where peas were taught to be cooked and dish-washing was praised and books were shared lavishly because such enjoyment can be found within well-written pages.

Where complaining has no purpose but finding the silver lining is a task worth doing.

Where food well-prepared is a service of love, and eating lettuce leaves in the kitchen center under duress is, too, because nobody wants to get rickets.

Where driving all over New England is a smart idea because there’s great stuff to be seen and learned in these places, even at the small Scituate lighthouse because Abby kept the lighthouse burning and you read about it in school in fourth grade.  That the expense of nice hotels, trolley cars around Boston, and extra books are worth it because “I don’t get to see you that much and I like doing these with you.  It’s okay!”

Where a day trip to Plimoth Plantation sparks deep realizations about what it really must have felt like to survive such harsh conditions and changes the kind of teacher you become.  Where no matter how many ways someone tries to ask about bathroom habits in Plimoth Colony, the living historians’ eyes sparkle and they repeat that they don’t understand in deep Elizabethan accents.  When you understand that even older people don’t have all the answers – but that there’s an adventure of learning out there if you’ll only go look for it.

Where soap well made, purchased as a gift, deep pink and fragrant, at Fort Number Four’s gift shop sparks a life-long fascination with saponification.  From all-glycerin to all-natural oils,  no soaps are purchased in this house now – and I remember that pink bar of soap every day and the person who stayed with me while I wandered the shop and smelled every one.

Where you learn at least a modicum of patience because other people have weird likes, too, and drag you through all the fancy herb gardens at all of those great living history places – Fort Number Four, Plimoth Plantation, and Sturbridge Village, and then walk through those gardens, identifying the plants, asking about unknown ones, and telling stories about grandmothers gone before and their herb gardens.  Where thinking that all those acres of smelly plants was rather annoying until you realize just how many cool things can be done with those plants and you begin to plant your own, scattered around the yard, and start researching how to dry and cure and use them.

Where physical exercise is important and good health is something to work for.  Where pedaling for all you’re worth to keep up with the nana and her best friend is a goal worth having because those ‘older’ ladies are cool and super hard to catch on hilly bike rides.  Where all-natural food is something holy and organic milk worth the extra expense “because Dr. Aurand said to buy that organic even if that’s the only organic purchase you make.”

Because education is always a subject of interest and it’s always worth research and involvement.  Because no matter how serious the personal circumstances, the education of young minds is always worth inquiry, and there’s always a great trip nearby where learning can happen and be enjoyed.  Because even from a day’s drive away there are souvenirs, CDs, movies, books, and newspaper clippings that could add to young learning and are worth packaging up and randomly shipping through the mail to include in a given unit.

Because there’s all of this and so much more.

That’s the kind of legacy that’s important to me.  When you realize that your son eats tomatoes like apples and applauds you for making a big salad for dinner and you know that rickets will never be in his future.  When your daughter catches a horribly uncomfortable childhood disease and  never once complains and you realize that she’s just admiring the large, itchy spots that come with the territory – and enjoying the time reading with you.  You know she’ll always find something to be happy about.  When reading lunches on a New Hampshire porch over turkey sandwiches and Ruffles become Southern reading breakfasts and lunches and “Oh, Mommy, can’t I read that book while we eat dinner?  It’s so good!” and you know that reading and learning will always be an important part of their lives.

That’s a legacy worth leaving.  It started long ago but isn’t anywhere near ending.  That legacy is alive and well and continues to grow.

Nana, we love you and will always miss you, but we’ll never forget you.