Several years ago, a fellow homeschooler posted online that she and her son were practicing making cookies to enter in the country fair.  She shared how there are many ways to compete in the county fair and suggested we all look into it.  My curiosity was peaked!

There so many options!

There is a long list of ways that adults and children can compete. Some competitions appear to be reserved for farmers. But there are categories for art, crafts, and photography.  I was thrilled.  Here was a way to help my kids stretch themselves a little and this lesson had just fallen into my lap.  They could practice winning and losing and we could even count it as art!

Because I only had a few days to prep for the fair, I read the descriptions for entries into the photography competition and convinced my kids to take some pictures. It seemed like the fastest form of art to create in little time we had.  I entered a shawl I had already crocheted.  I wanted to be sure I was setting an example of what I wanted to teach my kids.

Fair Competitions Were New to Me

Despite growing up in a small rural town, I had never entered anything in a county fair, 4-H competition or almost any form of competition.  So, I made a point of telling my kids how I was going to try something new here, too.  That first year, my shawl did not place.  My youngest child got a participation ribbon.  However, my middle child who generally hates making art got a red second place ribbon!  The ability to win something that wasn’t being judged by a parent or friend was a boost to his self-confidence.  He started to see at least one form of art as something he could do. And he wanted to try again to do even better.

So we tried again The Next Year

The following year, my son and I entered the fair competitions.  I wanted to display the trait I was trying to teach, by learning from the first time and trying again.  This time, I choose to make a chicken-shaped pot holder.

I showed my children how the previous year I had gotten a note about how my stitches were uneven. And I had realized the shawl competition was fierce and full of lacework that I wasn’t going to be able to compete with.  So instead of giving up, I did something whimsical, and fun to me, that was small enough I could make sure my work was neat and even.   I wanted my children to see me accept the constructive criticism, learn from it and make a plan to improve my skills.

My chicken won a blue ribbon at the county fair that year!  My son won a blue ribbon in photography! This second year he entered several pictures, increasing his odds of winning in one division or another. He also started to really think about camera angle, focus and getting up close when taking pictures of something. His pictures really did improve, and the blue ribbon was proof.  While I could have praised his work all day, having this external source of encouragement really mattered to him.

Continuing to Grow

For the last few years, we have continued to compete at our county fair. We have enjoyed this odd, old-fashioned competition.

This year, my youngest child had several entries and finally won a blue ribbon for herself! She is quite excited about it.  My son won another blue ribbon this year, too.

I have heard that the county fair where we live is coming to a close.  It won’t be back next year, so I will be looking for other ways to stretch myself and my kids with something new.   I want to raise kids who try.  I want them to try new things, put themselves out there, and know that if they fail, they are still okay. Too many people fear failure and don’t realize that the first step towards success is just showing up and giving it a try. I want my kids to try a lot of things in their lives and know that it is okay to fail.  Our participation in the county fair has been part of that lesson.   Hopefully, they will also learn how to keep trying.

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About the Author

Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.

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