by Kathy McKinnon
When I was a home schooling mom, I never realized how exciting and beneficial participating in a science fair can be for a child. But since I started coordinating the annual BJ Home Educators’ Science and History Fair, I have seen firsthand how students can grow academically, socially, and even spiritually through this experience.
A student whom I have particularly noticed grow in these areas is Jenny Labadorf. Jenny, a fifteen-year-old tenth grader who has been home schooled from the start, has participated in the BJ Home Educators’ Science Fair for eight years and in the History Fair for two years. In addition, she has competed for the last two years at the Regional Intel Science and Engineering Fair. Her topic in the science fair has been "A Field Study of the Reedy River."
Two years ago at the BJ Home Educators’ Science Fair Jenny won the Division II Grand Champion Award; she later competed at the Regional Intel Science and Engineering Fair and won the Overall District Award in the Junior Division. And last year she won first place in the senior division at the BJ Home Educators’ Fair and third place at the Intel Science Fair. As a result, she was sent as an observer to the International Intel Fair in Portland, Oregon. This is quite an impressive accomplishment for such a young high schooler.
Susan (Jenny’s mom and science fair coach) has coordinated school with doing a science fair project by structuring their school year to allow time to work on the project. According to Susan, "A science fair is challenging because you not only learn how to think scientifically but you have to present that information in a written, oral, and graphic format. This requires a lot of higher-level cognitive process. Getting feedback from the science fair judges is another positive aspect. The child and parent learn from another source where they have done well and where they need improvement." Obviously, a science fair project can solidify the learning process and enhance a home-schooled student’s composition, speech, and math skills.
Socially, a fair gives students the opportunity to interact with the judges and their own peers. Answering questions from the judges and giving an oral presentation provide opportunities to improve communication skills—correct speaking ability and confidence. The encouragement received from the judges can go a long way toward motivating students to future academic accomplishments and other worthy goals. Interaction with their peers gives them an opportunity to enjoy the excitement of competition and to develop leadership skills as well. Last year at the Intel Science and Engineering Fair, Jenny enhanced her leadership abilities by giving tours of the fair to middle school students. She also learned not to be intimidated when talking to the media or fair sponsors.
Of course, Christian home educators look for opportunities to help their children grow spiritually. Studying science shows students the Master Creator. It reveals His power and intelligence and His love and provision for His creatures. Jenny says that using curriculum materials written from a biblical worldview has taught her more about the creation/evolution debate. This understanding helped her greatly when the Lord gave her opportunities to talk with evolutionists at the regional fairs. Her integration of biblical truth in her project has been a testimony to secular educators attending these fairs as well.
Christian parents want to guide their students toward righteousness in Christ and to teach them to walk in His ways. Teaching science and helping a child participate in a fair give parents the opportunity to do both. Jenny says that one of the most important lessons gained from participating in science fairs is that "you learn to keep going— even if that part of the project is the most boring thing in the world." Learning to persevere even when we don’t feel like it is a quality all Christians need to develop as we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
—Information provided by Susan Labadorf
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