Creative Writing Contests for Homeschoolers

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Speaking of improved writing-this mom's figured out exactly how to run a story contest that makes children of all ages want to write!

When I finally joined a home school group (after home schooling "by myself" for eight years), I wondered why there didn't seem to be any activities to encourage children in their creative writing endeavors. After a couple of years the answer dawned on me: there wasn't any outlet for creative writing because I had not established one.

Once I got over the hump of waiting for someone else to come up with an idea, I was off and running. I announced our first annual Story Contest. To put everyone on an equal footing, I gave them the first sentence of the story, and divided the entries into three age groups, from fourth grade through high school.

This first contest was such a success that the next year I added a poem contest as well.

One of the things I've learned during the last four years is that running a story and poem contest (and publishing the resulting book) is a lot of work-but it's very rewarding work. If you are interested in organizing a story and poem contest for your group, maybe my experiences will be of interest to you.

One of the first things I realized was that I would not be able to do the judging myself, as I had originally planned. After all, I wanted my own children to enter-in fact I required them to enter-so I could hardly be an impartial judge! Fortunately, I have a dear friend who is a published writer with a degree in journalism. She also happens to love children, so that problem was solved quite easily. (She is not a homeschooler and is not associated with our group in any way.) She happily sits down for several hours each year, reading and rereading stories as she makes her decisions. (Note: the first year I tried having two judges, but regretted it because they disagreed on virtually everything!)

The next challenge was devising rules to keep everyone on an equal footing and to ensure anonymity till after the judging was complete. My rules are very specific and have become more so as I have gained experience. From the beginning each age group has had a lower and upper word limit. We all know there are some boys who would turn in a 50-word story if allowed, and some girls who would turn in a full-length novel! Elementary stories (grades 4-6) must be at least 500 words but no more than 1, 000. Junior high stories (grades 7-9) must be at least 800 words but no more than 1, 800. Senior high stories (grades 10-12) must be at least 1, 000 words but may not be longer than 2, 500.

Flynn reads his prize-winning story about his alter ego, Arthur Dangerfield. For four straight years he managed to write about Arthur, no matter what the story starter was!

There must be at least three entries in each age group in order for that group to be judged, so there have been times when I have had to re-engineer the age groupings. I always have plenty of elementary entries, but not very many high school entries, so I may bump ninth grade up into the senior high category if I don't have enough stories from students in grades 10-12. (No one may enter more than one story and one poem.)

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