~Written by Sandra Coughlin
We’ve all heard of formal homeschool, relaxed homeschool, even unschool. Well we homeschool by competition. Why on earth would I do that? Public education values creating workers. Students are to read, recite, and do. It’s basically memorize and regurgitate. Through competition my children learn multiple things but most importantly it’s too stand out from the crowd, go over and above for success and learn to think. In schools the students who are competitors will be found in the Honors program, above average IQ’s and these projects are in addition to the other classes they must keep up. Homeschooling, however, allows competition to be the center and not for busy work. So how does that work?
First let’s look at the competitions available to homeschoolers. The obvious local competitions may be spelling bees, geography bees, science fairs and history fairs. All these can be put on by a local homeschool group or cooperation of a few parents. They require some prework, are on a set deadline and cover an academic field (or several). Community organizations may also assist with competition offerings, like 4-H, Scouts, Essay competitions, art competitions, etc. Then there are higher level competitions like NCFCA or Stoa speech and debate programs, National Science Olympiad, Lego League, Odyssey of the Mind, Math League, and the list goes on. Some of these events can be done solo but many require a team and some a combination of both.
But let’s take the typical Science Fair and make it into a school month. There’s of course the basic science processing skills of the experiment but also the science behind whatever topic their project covers. There may be some historical background as to the previous findings, need for the research etc. Once the project itself has been done we incorporate the other subjects. We will need a full research report (grammar), charts and graphs (math) and the artistic display. While the science fair completion counts for the obvious – Science score – it also racks up grades in all the other subjects as well. No boring workbook, hands on application.
Now let’s look at 4H. My son has done 4H since he was 9 years old. There are speech competitions, judging competitions, opportunities for leadership, etc. Last week we did Forestry Judging. They learn to identify trees by their leaves and bark as well as tree diseases. They also use compass skills, measurement and have to calculate lumber production from the tree size. So we have math and science obviously but the extensive ppt/game etc that we put together to study the trees can be computer science or art. Diseases cross over into environmental science. Next week he will start on the consumer judging practice. This competition will give them 4 products to study up on to make wise consumer choices based on information and scenarios. So right away we have Home Ec and Finance (since this year they will be covering checking accts and shopping cards). The 4th catergory they will have to give oral reasons for their choices so we have persuasion/rhetoric. The competition is sponsored by the cotton council so they also must make a short presentation on cotton (Speech/history maybe). In the spring he’ll do DPA which a speech presentation, some areas requiring posters (art) on any subject they have an interest in (unlimited academic opportunities). There is also a robotics program. Leadership opportunities are endless from teaching a class on science to art to cooking, money management, cultural awareness and more.
Our group and my family are extremely active in competitive speech and debate. This year’s debate topic is “National Security ought to be valued over Freedom of Press.” They must debate both sides and thoroughly understand all elements of the concepts. So of course current events are covered, cultural issues are explored and journalism is researched. Skills in speech, logic and rhetoric are learned and practiced. In addition there are limited preparation speech events in Apologetics (Bible, Worldview Studies), Extemporaneous (Economics, Government both US and Comparative, Geography, Journalism, sometime science and technology, of course any current events) and last but not least Impromptu. Impromptu (any limited prep speaking) is vital to our next generation. To get a job, to influence peers or coworkers, to teach, to parent, to even be able to hold meaningful conversation we must all be able to speak on the spot. Not just ramble words but create organized, meaningful speeches, answers, debates on issues. As part of training for our impromptu speaking I encourage my students to keep a journal. Journal writings can be an endless English assignment. Reviews of books, sermon notes, fictional or nonfictional journal writings so that those memories that you’d like to be able to access again someday are there at your fingertips to go over and maybe even use in competition if the right word or phrase presents itself.
So as you see the competitions lend themselves to cross curricular learning and best of all you don’t have to have the top test scores in the school to participate. I have seen great success with special needs students in competitive environments. Our early Science Olympiad teams were primarily special needs kids. They get to go in so much detail and depth, hands on learning and application in one focused area that they really get the information, far better than little bits in a boring curriculum. To see kids with speech impediments overcome them to compete in Speech and Debate is inspirational. The fact these kids take that challenge to go above and beyond in their early years will stay with them and as they become adults they will continue to pursue the challenging. Homeschool by competition makes them ultimate winners in life, regardless of where they actually place in the competition today. It’s about the challenge, stepping out of the box and seeing the connections in life.