Are Academic Competitions Good for Kids?

If left unchecked, competitions can create an atmosphere of winners and losers with students using the results to “slot” themselves into their perceived place in the world. And over the past twenty years, that thinking has greatly influenced teaching, as classroom work has become more collaborative and team-based, especially in math and science.

But does self-esteem create better academic performance or does better academic performance create higher self-esteem?

Eliminating many of the measures that show students and parents where they stand academically may make them feel a lot better about themselves, but are students being challenged enough to maximize their potential?

Academic competitions such as spelling bees, math bowls, geography bees, history and writing competitions can provide a nurturing, learning environment that is difficult to create in a single classroom or school. Academic competitions can offer the types of experiences that foster the development of productive attitudes and work habits and provide many life-lessons including:

–How to set goals and develop plans to attain those goals
–How to focus, manage time and organize work
–How to handle stress, dealing with success and failure.

Academic competitions can develop a sense of hard work and commitment that will serve students well later in life. Academic competitions give students opportunities to provide themselves with significant challenges and the self-satisfaction that can come from the competition itself.

And of course, academic competitions can spur the knowledge/skills in a given discipline. Just look at the purpose of the Scripps National Spelling Bee:

“To help students improve spelling, increase their vocabularies, learn concepts and develop correct English usage that will help them all of their lives.”

To be sure, it is important to focus on the process and inherent academic improvement that comes with the significant preparation that accompanies any academic completion. While there is only one winner in most competitions, every competitor’s preparation, sacrifices and knowledge gain needs to be celebrated by the people who matter most – parents, teachers and peers.

It is important that competitors receive abundant meaningful, positive feedback throughout the competitive process. It is important to remember that students constantly engage in self-evaluations and draw conclusions about their abilities. Self-esteem and self-respect are, in part, the result of accomplishments.

You can help your student develop a healthy perspective about themselves and their fellow competitors through ongoing discussions about the competitive process, their goals, successes and failures, learning from their experiences. In this way, they form and affirm their identity

Which competitions should my student pursue? It is important to ensure that the competition nurtures a student’s interest in the given discipline, serving to help motivate competitors to pursue long-term achievement in similar activities or fields.

To summarize, no one can deny that competition is an inevitable and integral part of life in our society. It exists at every level of education and every stage of adult life. While competition can be harmful at times, it is our job to educate our children to prepare for it and practice the inherent skills of competition, maximizing its intrinsic benefits while minimizing its harm.

Below are some of academic competitions you may want to investigate for your student:

Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee
The Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee’s purpose is to help students improve their spelling, increase their vocabularies, learn concepts, and develop correct English usage that will help them all their lives.

National Geographic Bee
The National Geographic Bee is an educational program of the National Geographic Society. It is a nationwide geography competition for U.S. schools with any grades four through eight, designed to encourage the teaching and study of geography.

MathCounts is a national enrichment, club and competition program that promotes middle school mathematics achievement through grassroots involvement in every U.S. state and territory.

Science Olympiad
The Science Olympiad fosters a passion for learning science by supporting elementary and secondary Science Olympiad tournaments at building, district, county, state and national levels with an emphasis on teamwork and a commitment to excellence.

National History Day
National History Day is a national competition for elementary and secondary school students who choose historical topics related to a theme and conduct extensive primary and secondary research through libraries, archives, museums, oral history interviews and historic sites. After analyzing and interpreting their sources and drawing conclusions about their topics’ significance in history, students present their work in original papers, websites, exhibits, performances and documentaries.

The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards
The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers and its Regional Affiliates annually recognize more then 30,000 young artists and writers with Gold Keys, Silver Keys and Honorable Mention Certificates. More than 150,000 works are currently under review by our panels of arts professionals.

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