Using Contests as a Learning Tool

October 2, 2009

My kids do a vast number of contests each year, and I encourage that as I have seen all the good things that contests achieve.  It does mean that you, as a parent, will need to be their cheerleader, their scheduler and many more roles. But I believe all the effort I put in each year is worth it. So – what are these results that competitions achieve?

1. Students work harder
I wish my kids always worked as hard as they could at every subject – but they don’t. However, I have noticed that when there is a chance of placing in a contest, especially if there is potential money to be gained, a lot more work goes into the essay, presentation, studying etc. Contests really do motivate my kids to try harder. If they write an essay just for me, there is not much reason to polish and polish it. When it is for a contest, well, that’s another story.

2. It shows students’ strengths and weaknesses
It is easy for us as parents to think better or worse of our children’s abilities than we should. We my think our kids are amazing at geography, but a few rounds of the geography bee could tell something different. Conversely, I’ve seen parents only realize their children’s potential after seeing them excel at a contest. Contests allow your children to compete against students all over their region, perhaps all over the USA. This will give you a good picture of their strengths and weaknesses.

3. Contests teach perseverance
If the contest is an event (eg Geography Bee), preparation is necessary if your kids hope to achieve any success. Other contests, like National History Day require many hours of research and more hours spent working on the project. At first your kids will probably be motivated and enjoy the challenge. But after a while they will tire of studying, researching, writing etc. Having a deadline to work to, and the chance of ‘success’ will keep them going. I have seen this with our Science Olympiad team. Just before Regionals the students are so tired of studying, but they keep going as they don’t want to perform poorly on the day.

I have written an article on some of my favorite Contests for Students. Take a look and see if there are any that would motivate your children.