For the Walker family of Greer, South Carolina, home schooling and participating in history fairs has been a great educational combination. Veteran home school mom Sandy and her daughter Laura, a high school junior, have been participating in local, state, and national history fairs for the past five years. In a recent discussion, they shared helpful information about their history fair experiences.
A history fair is a competition in which school-age children present their history projects to judges. The judges rate the students on the overall quality of their projects and on the students’ ability to communicate on both how they performed their research and why their topic is appropriate and historically significant.
Our involvement with history projects sprang from several years of participation in the BJ Home Educators’ Science Fair. When BJ Home Education Services added a history fair to their science fair, we allowed our children to choose a history project if they preferred that to a science project. (We have required them to choose one or the other each year, but we have allowed them to do both as long as we’re convinced they have the time and determination to complete both projects.)
I had done science fairs for several years before Bob Jones started the history fair. I thought it would be neat to do a history fair. My first year of doing a history project was very enjoyable. A history project is a little easier than a science project because there are so many topics out there for anyone, at any age, to do.
We start by going to the Internet to see what the National History Day theme is for the year.* Usually I print a list of the sample topics provided on the website. This gives us something to mull over. Then the children and I discuss possible topics that they think would be interesting, researchable, and appropriate, given that year’s theme. Next, the children begin researching. Sources we’ve used include books, magazines, newspapers, interviews, visits to historical sites, Internet searches, and mission trips. The children take notes and make bibliography entries as they go. Finally, the children pull everything together to write a short process paper and to complete the exhibit, presentation, or documentary for the judges to score.
Ultimately, I think that the choice of topic is the most critical element to a winning project. I think a great topic has three main characteristics. It’s interesting to your student, it’s able to be widely researched for both primary and secondary sources, and it fits snugly into the National History Day theme. If your child has a great topic, he’s made a big step toward a wonderful project.
I did a project two years ago about the orphan trains, using Mrs. Dorothy Urch, a Greenville resident, as my primary source. Mrs. Urch is a sweet Christian lady in her nineties who rode on the orphan trains to Iowa. I made a documentary for that project, which was very enjoyable. Meeting Mrs. Urch and getting to know her story was the most memorable experience for me, but competing in the State History Fair and doing a project on bananas my second-grade year were just as memorable. I don’t know why I remember my banana project so well, but for some reason, that one has stuck with me for a long time.
I have really enjoyed the opportunities the history fairs have given me. I have learned a lot, not only about the subject of my project, but also about more basic things like writing a research paper, making a display board, knowing how to research a project, and even down to the very basic skill of learning how to type quickly and efficiently. Even though it can get very tedious constantly researching and thinking about your project, I would not miss the opportunities these fairs have given me to meet people, to go places, and to learn facts about a variety of things.
We believe that participation in history fairs benefits our children academically, socially, and spiritually. The academic benefits include the researching, writing, organizing, and attention to detail that a well-done project requires. We’ve watched our children grow socially as they learn to communicate their ideas and findings, first to parents and friends, and then to judges. Attending fairs also allows them to polish basic social skills with children from varying backgrounds and beliefs. Our children accrue spiritual benefits by seeing personally the necessity of self-disciplined effort. They also reflect upon God’s providence as He accomplishes His will by turning hearts of kings, exalting certain people, and overthrowing others. History becomes “His-story” as the children research and learn.
We’ve learned that the key is to start early. We try to select topics early in the school year and then complete portions of the project in “little bits.” We also try to work ahead in our regular history curriculum so that we can devote several class sessions to the project as we get close to the history fair date. Since all of our children do either a history or science project, we devote the week prior to the fair almost exclusively to projects. Throughout the school year I substitute portions of the projects for certain assignments involving researching, outlining, and organizing facts. For example, I skip English lessons that highlight a particular aspect of library research since I know the children have already covered this. The research paper required for a high-school history project becomes a high-schooler’s research project for the school year, and I grade his process paper as a writing assignment. This helps prevent upheaval in my lesson plan schedule.
Obviously, participating in an event such as this can greatly enhance a home school student’s learning and give him an opportunity to make wonderful memories that could impact his life forever. How about that for a great combination!