Modern Parent
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Modern Parent

This is Why I Encourage My Kids to Enter Competitions

Winning the prize is great, but that is not the only thing to be gained

Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash

I love entering competitions and always have. Although the prize for one that I entered in my twenties was a four month Round the World trip travelling business class with a weekly newspaper column about my trip, I maintain that the most exciting competition I have ever won was a pack of stationery, stickers and transfers from a Disney magazine when I was about eight. I can still picture the prize and feel the delight of winning it and the thrill of using it.

Even now as an adult, I still like entering competitions, and find it hard to resist a prize draw. I am doing all I can to pass this enthusiasm on to my kids too. In part this is because creative competitions — ones where you have to write a story or paint a picture or design something — are a good way to give them something new to do, away from a screen. And in part because there are multiple life lessons you can learn from entering competitions and prize draws.

One of these is persistence. Last year there was a competition in the UK on tubes of Pringles. You entered by inputting the code from the tube into a form on the website, so every time we bought a pack we did this. No one ever wins these things, I told my son, who was absolutely desperate to win. The fourth time we did it a different screen flashed up, telling us we had won. There were clearly two lessons to be had here — persistence, and never believe your mother.

I am also a firm believer in ‘being in it to win it’. This applies as much to real life as to competitions. I was told early on in my career as that nobody gets media jobs that are advertised in The Guardian — a British newspaper. So many people apply, people told me, that I would better off trying to get jobs through contacts and internships and good old fashioned nepotism. I ignored them and applied for things anyone — turns out every job I have ever got came from applying for jobs advertised in The Guardian. Once again, not listening to naysayers is part of the lesson here, but also that if you don’t apply for things you cannot be considered for them. In other words, we create our own luck.

One of the lessons I like to teach my students (I teach journalism at a British university), and also my children, is that you should always read, and stick to, the instructions. That is, if you are asked for 800 words by Tuesday don’t deliver 1000 words by Wednesday. Or in competition terms, if you are asked to make a robot out of cardboard don’t make an alien out of plastic. Competitions are great for teaching kids that if you don’t follow the rules your entry is unlikely to be considered.

However, with the above in mind — deliver what is being asked — competitions also often reward ingenuity. If a judge has to look at multiple entries then they are more likely to be wowed by something that stands out. So if you are asked to draw a picture, use bold colours. If you are asked to take a photo, make it stand out. Deliver what is asked, but remember that judges don’t always know what it is they want, until they see it. This is perfect for the workplace too — you could frame it in office motivational terms as ‘go as far as you are asked, then one step further’.

I am not a huge fan of competitions where the sole prize is for the child’s school. There are lots of these — where a child can write a story for example and win books for their class or an author visit for all the kids. These prizes are great, in addition to a personal prize, but I think there does need to be some individual recognition for the child who won it. Nevertheless, your actions having a benefit for your community is a good lesson to learn — try hard and everyone benefits.

Another way in which entering competitions helps kids is the inevitable failure to win that happens most of the time. Even prolific participants will not win every time. But the more you enter, the more you will win — it’s a bit like the adage that busy people get more done. And more to the point, dealing with failure is a key part of life. Entering prize draws to win yet more toys may not be what Rudyard Kipling meant when he wrote “If you can dream — and not make dreams your master; If you can think — and not make thoughts your aim; If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, And treat those two impostors just the same” but losing is of course just as character building as winning.

But perhaps the best lesson in entering competitions with your kids is the idea of the journey being as important as the destination. My daughter and I found a competition from a local wildlife centre and campsite last year in which you had to make a nature documentary without leaving home (this was during the first UK coronavirus lockdown). We had great fun filming the bluetits nesting in our neighbour’s garden, trying to catch them as they came in and out of the nesting box, and their baby as its beak appeared at the entrance hole. We learnt new skills editing it all together and learnt lots about birds researching facts to include in the narration. We didn’t win the prize but what we gained was far more important.

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Ellie Levenson

Ellie Levenson

I am a writer and lecturer based in the UK, writing for adults as Ellie Levenson and for children as Eleanor Levenson.

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