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.

What are your thoughts?

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