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Project Fair 101 -- our first time with our elementary age kids!
Christine Whiteman, 4/13/2010

Christine Whiteman is a homeschooling mother of two delightful girls. Her piece here reminds me so much of earlier years for our own family, when all of our children also benefited from just this type of homeschool project fair. Having an event like this really us to focus in and create a meaningful and in-depth project-- having an audience and a deadline, as well as a fun culminating event with lots of other kids participating, is a real recipe for success. And these sorts of events really build momentum-- notice that Christine shares that her girls are already thinking ahead to their projects for next year's fair! I hope this inspires you to jump in and take part in any local homeschool project fair in your area-- or to start one!

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           In early March my family and I travelled to Grove City, PA to the Grove City Homeschool Project Fair, organized by Gaye Welton.  It was our first project fair experience, so we were a little nervous about what to expect.  We all had a great time and learned so much!  The fair itself is the climax of a journey involving research, writing, organization, presentation and, of course, the opportunity for your kids to immerse themselves in a topic that they want to learn more about.  Since there were over sixty-five entries from kids of all ages, my girls had the opportunity to see a wide variety of topics, presentation styles and displays.  As a mom, I really enjoyed seeing the displays and written papers prepared by other kids. 

                The Grove City Project Fair is structured so that each child is competing only against himself or herself.  The children are judged by two parents attending the fair, and at the end of the competition the children are given a ribbon based on their score of Good, Superior or Excellent.  This system avoids competition against other students and also avoids hurt feelings, but still offers some constructive criticism and praise for excellent work.   Since you , the homeschooling mom, are not the one scoring your own child’s work, the project fair is valuable both to you and your child in that there is a third party looking objectively at your child’s work.

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After the displays are judged and the while the scores are being tabulated, everyone in attendance was treated to excellent entertainment by fellow homeschooled students of all ages.  There were literature interpretations, speeches, pianists, recitations, singers and guitar players.  It was fantastic!  We all loved it.  It was so beneficial for my girls to see what other kids can and are willing to do.  What a great forum for homeschool kids to practice their public speaking, and other performances in front of an audience.  After we were thoroughly entertained, each of the students was called up to receive their award ribbons, the judges’ score sheets and a Hershey bar. 

                As I look back on our whole experience, there are a few things I wish I would have known.  The next time I will focus much more on the process leading up to the fair.  My girls picked their topics early in February.  The girls then went through the house and gathered all of the books, puzzles, games, posters and anything else relating to their topics.  They put everything into two bins in the school room.  My first grade daughter picked the Human Body as her topic, and my third grade daughter chose Outer Space.  After they picked their topics and we sent in our registration forms, I didn’t give much thought about how broad or narrow the topics where.  However, when we actually started to work on the projects it became painfully clear that Outer Space is much too broad.  Because of that it was a struggle for my daughter to decide what to include and what to leave out.  Thinking back, most of our grumpy, whiney times had to do with struggling to decide just what exactly to include.  The topic was just not well defined, and therefore it left open too many possibilities.  Things would have gone much smoother had she chosen a narrower topic, such as The Solar System, Apollo 13, The Hubble Telescope, etc.  Instead, since her topic was so broad she included a little about all of the subjects mentioned, and more. 

                In contrast, the topic of the Human Body went much smoother.  Although this topic could be much narrower, especially for an older student, for a first grader it worked out fine.  It depends on how much depth and detail you expect from your child.  I just let my first grader pick whatever organs or body parts she wanted to study, and that’s what she put on her presentation board and dictated in her paper.

                Once the girls had their topics and gathered their resource materials, we just started to pick books out of their bins and read a few of them each week.  I also had my older daughter look up information on the internet.  This gave us the opportunity to talk about using search engines effectively and to be sure to pay attention to the source of the information.  She pointed out herself that not all sites give the same information about a particular subject, and she discovered that some are out of date and some are just wrong.  Next year as we read through books and look at the internet, I will have the girls write a sentence or two about what they learned.  Taking a few notes each day would be much easier than spending a whole day taking notes. 

Both girls were motivated by the prospect of getting a prize ribbon.  My third grade daughter especially loved the idea of receiving a ribbon, and while we worked on the project she talked often of getting first place, pondered what the judges might ask her and speculated about what the other kids would do.  Both girls were so excited when they were called up front and given their “Excellent” award ribbons.  It didn’t matter to them that they weren’t competing against the other students.  They were just excited to have done their very best and that the judges thought their work was excellent.  After the fair we reviewed the judging sheets, which included many wonderful comments and suggestions. 

I intend to do a few things differently next year.  First, I intend to be much more relaxed about the process.  I will have the girls pick and narrow their topics even earlier.  I will continually tell myself throughout the process that it is all about the kids learning about the topic and enjoying the learning process.  This last point can be a hard thing to remember as you are asking your child to write a research paper.   By the way, I had both of my daughters dictate their papers to me, then they read them out loud and made corrections.  Since neither one of them is a proficient typists yet, it was just too overwhelming for either of them to handwrite a paper of any length at this point. 

                Although I made mistakes along the way, I have to say that our first project fair experience was great for our entire family.  My girls are already talking about the topics they are going to pick for next year and what they are going to do for the entertainment portion of the fair!


Comment by Amy, 4/14/2010:

Sounds like a wonderful experience!  Thank you so much for sharing.  Remember that your "mistakes" aren't really mistakes.  They are just things that could be improved upon next year.  To even participate in a project fair that you've never even been to before to observe nor were you familiar with any other participants takes a lot of courage.  You should be just as proud of yourself as you are of your girls.  After reading your article, we may be joining you next year in your quest for knowledge.  It sounds like a lot of fun.

Amy


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