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Annual Contests for Homeschoolers

By Mary Pride
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #73, 2006.

Entering your homeschooler into one of these contests might be the key to unlocking their inner talents.
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Mary Pride

When did you first become aware of homeschooling? For many people, their first exposure to homeschooling was reading or watching the announcement that a homeschooler had won a contest.

Over the years homeschoolers have won many high-profile national contests. Here are just a few:

  • The Scripps National Spelling Bee. First homeschooled winner: Rebecca Sealfon in 1997. Three short years later, homeschoolers swept the Spelling Bee, winning first, second, and third places!
  • The National Geographic National Geography Bee. First homeschooled winner: David Beihl in 2000.
  • The Intel Science Talent Search. In 1999, Rio Bennin became the second homeschooled finalist, earning fifth place overall.
  • The Siemens Westinghouse Competition in Math, Science, and Technology. First homeschooled winner: Michael Viscardi in 2006 (see article in PHS #70).
  • The Toshiba ExploraVision contest. First homeschooled winners: the “Providence Academy” team of 2001.

Wins on a state or even local level also often show up in local newspapers or on the local TV news. What you see in Practical Homeschooling’s “Show & Tell” column is just the tip of the iceberg. We could literally fill each issue with the accomplishments of homeschooled students.

You Don’t Have to Win to Be a Winner

There’s a reason so many homeschoolers have been winning contests: they entered! Savvy homeschool parents know that whether or not your child gets to the finals or wins, contests provide a lot of homeschooling bang for your buck.

Sue Richman of Pennsylvania Homeschoolers lists eight great benefits gained by entering contests:

  • Learning to cooperate with others
  • Ease of organizing a group activity
  • Provides focus for getting a group together
  • Excellent, often free guidelines for developing an area of curriculum that perhaps had been formerly pushed to the background
  • An unusual chance to let our kids measure themselves against kids who are traditionally schooled
  • Shifting the burden of setting project parameters from Mom and Dad to the contest, enabling parents to shift to a “coach” role
  • Team contest accomplishments look great on a high-school transcript
  • Great public relations for homeschooling

In addition, Laurie Bluedorn of Trivium Pursuit points out that contests develop research skills and other study skills. They also develop character qualities such as perseverance and diligence.

Which Contest Is Right for Your Child?

First off, if the contest organizers ask for money, unless it’s a huge, reputable company backing the contest and the entry fee is small and reasonable, skip it. You shouldn’t have to pay much, if anything, to enter an individual contest.

Team contests sometimes have team registration fees, especially those in the areas of invention and engineering. These can be hefty (or outrageous, depending on how you look at it).

The most expensive I’ve seen to date is the FIRST Robotics Competition. They want:

  • $6,000.00 fee for participation in one Regional Event, the Kit of Parts, associated materials and support
  • $4,000.00 for participation in each additional Regional Event
  • $5,000.00 fee to participate in the Championship

Each fee covers the entire team, but it doesn’t include travel costs, which can also be quite substantial.

My theory is that the fee structure was based on the assumption that you are a public-school team and thus businesses will be eager to sponsor you and pay the fees. Businesses love the brownie points they get for supporting local public schools. No such brownie points exist for supporting homeschool teams—and in fact, this kind of sponsorship might seem disloyal to public schools. So unless you are existing homeschool team with a winning record, drumming up business sponsorship for this kind of contest can be difficult.

Don’t let this gold-plated type of competition scare you away. Most cost little or nothing. And starting small and spending little is a good way to go if your student has never entered an academic competition before.

Laurie Bluedorn suggests that your child’s first competition should coincide with your child’s interests. It takes a while to get into the “swing” of planning to meet contest deadlines. An art or essay contest is a good first choice. And of course you are free to watch other children competing in some of the more strenuous contests, such as the spelling bee. This might motivate your child to enter next year!

Laurie then suggests that the second year, your student might want to attempt one of the “project” contests, such as a science fair, invention project, or National History Day.

By the third year you will have become a contest pro. Now you have the option to make contests a major part of your curriculum.

Finding a Contest

Many competitions start at the local level. Your local support group likely sponsors science fairs, art competitions, a math league, and other “first steps” on the competition trail. If you win at this local level, often you can advance to a state or regional level. This is how the National Spelling Bee and National Geography Bee work, for instance.

If your local homeschool group doesn’t sponsor competitions, try contacting your state group. Often they can put you in contact with others who are forming homeschool teams for math competitions, rocketry competitions, robotics competitions, and so forth.

For most individual competitions, you basically just need to find the competition website and download the rules and entry form. These will acquaint you with the deadlines as well.

While we can’t list every single contest for homeschoolers in this short article, we have pointed out a couple of nifty team contests in the sidebars. To find out where you can locate dozens and dozens of additional team and individual contests, keep reading!

Where to Find Contests

You can find an excellent article on our website about essay contests for teens, including a list of contests to enter, at www.home-school.com/Articles/essay-contests-for-teens.php. An equally excellent article about math contests for homeschoolers, again with a list of contests with accompanying descriptions, can be found at www.home-school.com/Articles/phs37-richmans.html. (When typing this in, be sure to include the capital “A” in “Articles”!) Both articles are by Howard and Sue Richman of Pennsylvania Homeschoolers, whose homeschooled children have an amazing track record with contests of all kinds.

A fabulous list of engineering contests for kids is at www.ideafinder.com. There is also an extensive list of contests, with contact information and “insider” descriptions of each contest, in Mary Pride’s Complete Guide to Getting Started in Homeschooling.

Now here is a small sample of contests homeschoolers can enter:

Arbor Day National Poster Contest. www.arborday.org States have different entry deadlines.

Federal Junior Duck Stamp Contest. www.fws.gov/juniorduck

Homeschoolers have done well in this one!

International Songwriting Competition. www.songwritingcompetition.com Amazing publicity, great prizes. Categories include Pop/Top 40, Rock, AAA, Adult Contemporary (AC), Country, Americana, R&B/Hip-Hop, Blues, Dance/Electronica, Folk/Singer-Songwriter, Jazz, World, Latin, Instrumental; Children's Music; Gospel/Christian, Comedy/Novelty

National History Day Contest. www.nationalhistoryday.org/NationalContest.htm District contests usually are in February or March. State contests occur in April or May. For students in grades 6–12.

American Legion Oratorical Contest. www.legion.org/?section=prog_evt. Select “National Oratorical Contest.” For grades 9–12. Contact your local chapter of the American Legion for the first step. The top three national finalists win big scholarships.

National Model Rocketry Competitions. Check www.nar.org for current sanctioned competition dates. Students must join NAR to compete.

ThinkQuest. www.thinkquest.org Ages 12–19. Website-building contest with a team of 2–3 people. Large scholarship prizes; “techie” sites tend not to win. Huge number of entrants.

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