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Contests for Homeschoolers

By Susan Richman
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #5, 1994.

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Howard and Susan Richman


Molly, my ten-year-old, has just completed a lovely mixed media drawing. It's of a group of children playing tag, and the whole large page is full of life and color and little wonderful details. Hannah, our "baby" who is now 6, just finished a richly detailed pen drawing of two girls exchanging presents -- it shows much more concentration than her usual drawings (she can get into "mass production" quickies sometimes!).

Do my kids always do these types of pictures, fully developed ideas that they've spent days on? No! Oh, they both do love to draw. But their drawings are usually little things, little drawings. So why did they work so hard this time? Because they were entering a contest, the International Children's Art Competition.

I know some of you might be thinking, "Contests?! Ugh! Competition between children is something we wanted to get away from by homeschooling! Forget it, contests aren't for us." I'm sort of that way too -- I don't feel comfortable with the kind of nastiness over rankings that can develop at school when kids compete. Worthwhile contests at home can be a whole different experience -- something that you as parents can fully monitor, discuss, and assess. You can choose just what to encourage your child to participate in, and there is no peer group to taunt losers.

Some contests are designed for individual children, like the International Children's Art Competition or the American Express Geography Competition. For small groups or teams, there are contests such as the Mathematical Olympiad for Elementary Schools, Mathcounts, or the National Geographic Society Geography Bee. My family has taken part in both types of programs. We recommend you check out both possibilities. This article will focus on contests designed for individuals (less organizing required by busy homeschool moms!). Group contests will be discussed in the next issue.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

There are many types of contests. Some will be more suitable for your family and your children than others. I have a broad definition of a contest. Sending a piece of writing or artwork into a children's magazine for possible publication is like a contest in many ways, as is preparing for and passing an Advanced Placement (AP) exam in the late high school years.

Some contests have many winners. An art contest my daughters entered offers about 1,000 awards to the 4,000 U.S. entries. Last year both girls were thrilled to get silver and bronze medals and simple art supplies as prizes. Other contests have only a very few winners, which may be discouraging to some children.

Winners must sometime meet certain criteria, as in the AP program or the Presidential Sports Award program. Everyone who meets the established scale of excellence receives credit; you're not competing against others, you are competing against a clear standard.

Money rewards or trips, like to Washington, D.C. for final award ceremonies, are a part of some contests. Others offer plaques, certificates, or other formal recognition.

The Written and Illustrated by . . . Contest publishes several wonderful books created by children each year. Each winning student also receives scholarship money and full royalties on his or her book. For the history buff, the Concord Review is a professional journal that publishes high school students' history research papers. Often college scholarships are offered, as in the National Merit Scholarship program for high school juniors who take the PSAT exam. Again, the thing to keep in perspective is that the better the prize, the fewer the winners. Prepare your kids accordingly!

Contests are local and national. Locally, our daily paper ran an editorial cartoon competition for high school students. Nationally, NewsCurrents sponsors an annual editorial cartoon contest for kids. It's up to you to decide which type of contest you want to encourage your kids to enter.

Following is a listing of some of the many contests for individual students which we've looked into over the years. There are many more -- just keep your eyes open for possibilities. Write for information on these programs, and see what fits in with your style of homeschooling. You may want to include a business-size SASE to get a quicker response.

  • Advanced Placement Program (high school), The College Board, 45 Columbus Ave., New York, NY 10023-6992. Exams in 28 courses enable students to get advanced standing or college credit -- a jump-start on college while still at home. Homeschoolers are welcome to take exams at local schools, preparing through independent study at home.

  • American Express Geography Competition (6th-12th grades), P.O. Box 672227, Marietta, GA 30067-9077. Original research paper related to one of three broad themes.

  • American Statistical Association (K-12), 1429 Duke St., Alexandria, VA 22314-3403. Create a statistical poster or project entry.

  • BIC Getting on the Right Wavelength Essay Contest, Lifetime Learning Systems, Inc., Box BC, 79 Sanford St., Fairfield, CT 06430. Free materials for exploring writing, and an annual short essay contest, sponsored by the folks who make ball-point pens.

  • Books Change Lives Contest (6th-12th), Read Magazine, 245 Long Hill Road, P.O. Box 2791, Middletown, CT 06457-9291. Book response essays.

  • Center for Talented Youth (7th & 8th graders), Johns Hopkins University, 3400 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218. A testing program (using the high school level SAT test) to identify talented youngsters. Many awards, plus the chance to take part in special programs throughout the year.

  • The Concord Review (9th-12th), P.O. Box 661, Concord, MA 01742. A history magazine that publishes winning student essays on a history topic of the student's choice. Excellent!

  • Fitness at Home (ages 6-17), 1084 Yale Farm Road, Romulus, NY 14541. A year-long fitness program that culminates in fitness testing for several levels of awards.

  • International Children's Art Exhibition (K-9th grades), ICAE, Pentel of America, Ltd., 2805 Columbia St., Torrance, CA 90503. Original 2D artwork, any theme.

  • Jugglebug Juggling Achievement Awards (any age!), Jugglebug, 7506 J Olympic View Dr., Edmonds, WA 98020. Work your way up to some really fancy juggling tricks, earn recognition, and have clear standards to strive for.

  • National History Day Competition (6th-12th), 11201 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, OH 45056. History reports or presentations related to broad yearly theme.

  • National Peace Essay Contest (9th-12th), United States Institute of Peace, 1550 M Street NW, Suite 700, Washington, D.C. 20005. Essay contest focusing on specific issues in world affairs, involving in-depth research. Not a drippy flower-child affair!

  • National Student Zinc Essay Contest (7th-12th), American Zinc Association, 1112 Sixteenth St. NW, Suite 240, Washington, D.C. 20036. Research essay on value of zinc. Last year's first place winner was a homeschooler!

  • National Written and Illustrated by . . . Contest (ages 6 to 19), Landmark Editions, Inc., P.O. Box 4469, 1402 Kansas Ave, Kansas City, MO 64127. Create your own illustrated book and maybe get published!

  • NewsCurrents Editorial Cartoon Contest (elementary through high school), Knowledge Unlimited, Inc., P.O. Box 52, Madison, WI 53701-2303. Create original editorial cartoons on any current events topic.

  • Origami by Children, Friends of the Origami Center of America, 15 West 77th St., New York, NY 10024-5192. Create an origami project and it may be part of a display that tours the country.

  • PSAT/National Merit Program (11th grade), PSAT/NMSQT, P.O. Box 6720, Princeton, NJ 08541-6720. Take the PSAT and try for a National Merit College Scholarship. Very welcoming to homeschool students. Take the exam at your local public school or through a home school organization that offers a testing site.

  • Presidential Sports Awards (ages 6-adult), P.O. Box 68207, Indianapolis, IN 46268. Meet criteria set in any of 67 categories by engaging in fitness or sports activities over 4 months. Great for the whole family.

  • Tessellation Art Contest (K-12th), Dale Seymour Publications, P.O. Box 10888, Palo Alto, CA 94303. Create your own tessellation (a repeating pattern that tiles a surface-math and art together). You might get published in their book of winners.

  • USA Mathematical Talent Search (high school or younger, if they can handle it), Dept. of Mathematics, Box 121, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Terre Haute, IN 47803. Year-long contest solving five sets of very challenging math problems.

Sue Richman is too modest to say so, but her children have won and placed in far more than their share of contests.


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