One of the best ways for children to learn is to actively participate in something they care about. Contests offer just such an opportunity.
Whether it is an art, writing, geography, or science competition, it is a practical learning experience which results in improved skills.
Entering contests can help children uncover lifelong interests, gain a sense of responsibility, and learn to think and ask questions, boosting confidence┼all great learning motivators.
Children develop everyday skills such as how to work with others, fill out applications, follow guidelines, keep records, meet deadlines, and organize their work.
Contesting can be a positive experience even without winning. You can request a participation certificate from the contest sponsor or create one yourself. Not winning also allows children to learn about being a good sport and handling disappointment.
You may want to choose contests with a certain learning goal in mind. For example, you may want to use an essay contest to strengthen writing and reading skills.
Any way you decide to use a contest, remember to also make it a fun, exciting, and exploratory experience.
Integrating Contests into a Curriculum
Here are some ways to effectively use contests:
1. Try the contest yourself.
For a contest to work successfully, you need to know exactly what is needed┼skills, materials, entry fees, etc. Try the contest yourself for a full understanding of what is involved.
2. Read books and magazines or listen to music.
Help your children gain a greater insight into their contest theme or subject. For example, if your children are entering a poetry contest, have them read different poets' works.
3. Talk and listen.
Ask your children what topics they would like to pursue. Discuss winning and losing. Explain that doing your best is most important. The process, rather than the reward, must be paramount.
4. Take field trips.
Use any opportunities available locally which relate to your contest. For example, if your children are participating in an environmental protection program, arrange a trip to a nature preserve.
5. Learn the history or background.
This will not only give children a valuable history lesson, but will also help them understand the bigger picture behind a contest theme or subject.
6. Broaden specific contest activity.
If your children are entering a writing contest, have them create artwork or crafts that relate to their subject; if they enter an art competition, have them write an accompanying essay.
7. Maintain a resource-filled environment.
Have access to dictionaries, atlases, almanacs, and encyclopedia.
8. Keep information packs.
These are a great resource for children during contest time. Each pack (a big envelope can be used) is labeled with a subject. The packs contain clippings, pictures, articles, statistics, notes, etc., on that subject.
9. Have your children maintain portfolios.
Include drafts and final copies of writing, or sketches and photos of artwork. These are great for showing improvement in students' abilities.
10. Furnish a biblical perspective.
Most contests will be secular in nature. You can furnish a spiritual dimension by using a Bible concordance to study what the Bible says about your subject.
CONTESTS FOR LEARNING
A reading incentive program that motivates children in kindergarten through 6th grade to read by rewarding them for their reading accomplishments. Its purpose is to develop in children a lifelong love of reading.
Book It! Box 2999, Wichita KS 67201, (800) 426-6548, (316) 687-8401, www.bookitprogram.com.
Computer Learning Month
Computer Learning Month is celebrated each October with numerous contests to encourage students, educators and others to explore new uses of technology and share their knowledge with others.
Computer Learning Foundation, Box 60007, Palo Alto CA 94306, (408) 720-8898, www.computerlearning.org.
Invent America! is a nonprofit K-8 education program that helps children develop creative thinking and problem solving skills through inventing.
Invent America, Box 26065, Alexandria VA 22313, (703) 684-1836, (410) 489-2802, www.inventamerica.org/contest.cfm.
National Make It Yourself with Wool
Contest encourages personal creativity in sewing, knitting, and crocheting with wool fabrics and yarns. Ages 12-adult.
National Make It Yourselfwith Wool, Box 175, Lavina MT 59046, (406) 636-2731, www.sheepusa.org.
Five monthly contests which provide an incentive for students to intensify their math study. Grades 4-8.
Math Olympiads, 2154 Bellmore Ave., Bellmore NY 11710, (516) 781-2400, www.moems.org.
National Geography Bee
Includes school, state, and national level competitions. Grades 4-8.
National Geography Bee, 1145 17th St. NW, Washington DC 20036, www.nationalgeographic.com/geographybee/basics.html.
National History Day
Helps students develop critical thinking and problem solving skills as well as useful historical knowledge during the series of district, state, and national competitions.
Students may enter individually or in a group of two to five. Group participants do not have to be in the same grade. Grades 6-12.
National History Day, 0119 Cecil Hall, University of Maryland, College Park MD 20742, (301) 314-9739, www.thehistorynet.com/NationalHistoryDay/.
Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee
Helps students improve their spelling, increase their vocabularies, learn concepts, and develop correct English usage. Through grade 8 or age 16.
Home-School Winners! This year the National Spelling Bee was won by a home-school boy who also placed second in the National Geography Bee. Second and third places in the Spelling Bee were also won by home schoolers!
Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee, Box 371541, Pittsburgh PA 15251, www.spellingbee.com.
National Junior Horticultural Assoc.
Promotes educational programs for youth through a variety of projects and activities that foster a better understanding of horticulture.
National Junior Horticultural Association, 15 R.R. Ave., Homer City PA 15748, www.ces.ncsu.edu/hil/4h-index.html.