Amidst the glisteningly frosty white snow and the turn of a new year, most people have left their planting and other green leafy ideas in the back of their minds, hibernating till spring.
Well, I dare everyone to unleash those ideas before spring hits. There are so many opportunities, including contests, open to youth who enjoy gardening and other science projects!
National Junior Horticultural Association
One program I have been actively involved with since I was eleven is the National Junior Horticultural Association (NJHA). I am a two-time Grand National Award winner as well as a National Award winner. This organization has a variety of categories for plant science projects, like experimental horticulture, gardening, essay, and photography contests. There's even a poster contest.
All of these projects give youth a great ability to learn new things, incorporating them in their curriculum. With the many different age groups, everything is kept at a fair, but competitive, level.
Contest deadlines are usually in the fall, so keep this in mind when planning your year. Obviously the outside gardening must be done in warm weather, but there are other projects (like sprouting seeds and the activities that I've mentioned above) that can be done now.
The photography contest asks you to tell a story without words. You can enter a single picture, a related collection of six, or a sequence of four that tells a clear story, and your pictures can be black and white or in color. I've always enjoyed this because you can really be creative taking pictures all over town, or even your state. This is a project that can really let kids explore and learn at the same time!
One of my first projects was designing and caring for a wild flower garden of my own. I made it especially for my parents' anniversary. I transplanted wild flowers from the forest and grew others from seeds, comparing their differences. Keeping a detailed log throughout the summer of all of the garden's happenings helped me to better write my report later. Diagrams and graphs were also very helpful in illustrating my project's purpose as well as the outcome. Here's a tip: pictures are very helpful in describing the project and the judges love them. For all of the major components of the project I took pictures to visually describe what I had done. You should also try to include a photo of yourself enjoying what you have grown.
After everything is written up according to the particular contest rules, you just send it to your state leader, who is listed on the web site. From there your entry can, hopefully, go on to the national level and win a Grand National Award. National and Grand National Award winners receive very nice plaques, so setting this as a goal can be a great incentive.
NJHA also has a national convention every year, where you can compete in more horticultural contests or just go to learn. Bottom line; check out their web site (www.njha.org). Find something that fits into your school year, and run with it. Be as creative as possible. Originality counts, but to win it also helps to pick something a bit difficult!
State Science Fairs
Of course everyone has heard of State Science Fairs, but did you ever realize they usually happen in the very, very, early spring? This is a good thing to know, so you can plan your projects ahead of time.
Remember the main reason behind science fairs is to ask questions with your project, so try to prove or disprove something and be original if at all possible.
I entered the Alaska State Science and Engineering Fair when I was in the eighth grade and won first place for my display and first place for my abstract. At that time I was working with my parents, who had come across a product called "Plant Power." Now I won't get into too much detail, but it is an enzyme-based product designed to help plants grow. I checked with every extension office, university, and any other place I could think of; no one could tell me much about it. So, I did experiments myself and ended up winning first place in the Botany category for my state. I then went on to the Discovery Young Scientists Challenge, which is the National Science Fair. I wrote other essays on science and on my previous project. Well, I ended up being one of only two selected from Alaska (the only girl) as a national semi-finalist.
When entering a science fair, you can choose either to do a team project or an individual project. In both of those choices you will compete in one of the many categories: Botany, Engineering, etc. Just use the name of your homeschool when filling out the "school" space on your entry form.
For most science fairs you are asked to write an abstract, or summary, of your experiment. This includes your hypothesis, what your goals are, the final outcome, and how it might have differed from your hypothesis.
The other part of the science fair is putting together, on a display board, what best describes your project. Take pictures of the important aspects of your project. This will allow you to have a creative and well-put-together display. Also, try to make sure your display contains charts, graphs, and anything else you can think of to add to the overall visual effect in a professional manner.
At the actual judging of the science fair you will stand by your display and wait for the judges to ask you questions from the abstracts that are usually judged prior to this. During the judging just be yourself. Remember this project is important to you. Let the judges know that you enjoyed doing it, and stress what you learned.
Dress professionally, just as if you were going to a job interview. I recommend a nice suit for both girls and boys. My best piece of advice here is just to be professional. In appearance, speech, and presentation, professionalism wins!
A good web site to find your particular state or country science fair information is physics.usc.edu/~gould/ScienceFairs/. Another fun science web site to visit is www.school.discovery.com. Or just visit a local public school and ask for some information.
Besides science fairs there are other local opportunities to look into. For those of us who love planting flowers, landscaping, and so on, cities have many types of beautification programs.
In my city, Anchorage, Alaska, we have the Anchorage City of Flowers. Every year our city is transformed from a snowy wonderland to a flowery paradise. City of Flowers gives away different awards each year, like the use of a new car for a year or a $5,000 landscaping gift certificate. There are categories for homeowners; for groups of kids, such as Boy Scouts; and for professionals.
By following the theme you have a great chance of an award. This year the City of Flowers theme was "The Year of the Rose." Through my parents' business, I plant over 13,000 flowers all around town. Over the years I have gradually begun designing more and more of the flowerbeds myself. This year I recently was honored as the youngest ever to win first place in a Professional Design category.
I really encourage everyone to check with his or her City Hall to see what programs are available. Not only will your city look phenomenally better because of your effort, but also you will be amazed at how much you will have learned in the process. This will also give you a chance to do some volunteer work, a nice addition to any college application.
I think the best way to halt those winter blues (admit it we all have them from time to time) is to think about planting, spring, and reward your early organization with an award. Remember science has many unanswered questions... so get out there and start answering them!