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On October 14th, more than 200 members of the Lincoln community attended the LPS school board meeting to listen to the comments of others and express their own thoughts, mostly about the gender identity training handouts distributed to teachers at Irving Middle School.  

The day after the school board meeting, LPS administrators sent out an email to the community, explaining that over 40 people spoke at the meeting. The email highlighted comments from 8 speakers, all of whom support the superintendent’s viewpoint on the matter.  The email effectively dismissed the viewpoints of at least half of the people who testified at the meeting who don’t think the gender identity training materials should be used for LPS teacher training.  Ignoring these people, the superintendent summed up the email with, “It’s heartening to hear so many of our trusted, loyal LPS supporters.”

Taking Dr. Joel’s words at face value, LPS board members are communicating a message that is as untrue as it is hurtful, that if community members disagree with their statements, they are disloyal. Let’s take a look at the “disloyal” parents who took time out of their busy lives to prepare and deliver thoughtful, constructive remarks to the school board.  Who are these traitors?

Here’s a brief, incomplete list of volunteer activities by parents who expressed concerns over the gender identity training materials to the school board last week:  4th grade room parent, 5th grade room parent, after-school drama club volunteer, field trip chaperone, after-school LEGO club director, School Improvement Plan committee member, PTA member, classroom volunteer, high school health screening volunteer, 8th grade party chaperone, 7th grade end-of-year celebration volunteer, member of committee to hire elementary school principal, Reading Counts volunteer, School Advisory Board member, and Friday folder volunteer.

The parents who spoke at last week’s school board meeting are parents who are deeply invested in Lincoln Public Schools.  They sacrifice their time and resources to improve their kids’ schools for all students on a regular basis.  This wealth of experience and concern is being shrugged off as mere noise and distraction.  Worse, the LPS superintendent has stated that the school board won’t be “held hostage” by those expressing different viewpoints.

School board members are elected to represent the community to the school district, not to defend the superintendent’s viewpoint. Many of us parents asked specific, thoughtful questions, both at the school board meeting and in communications with school board members and administrators. In return, we have received dismissive emails (“we know what we’re doing”), uncommunicative form letters, and in many cases, silence.

What does it mean to be “loyal LPS supporters”? Surely the voices of caring adults who show up at the local elementary school week in and week out are voices we want to hear from. True leaders don’t ignore and suppress; they listen, consider, and inspire.


 
 
Originally, I planned to use my 5 minutes in front of the school board to explain the issue. But now, since people from Seattle to New York know exactly what I'm talking about, I'm digging a little deeper. This is what I plan on saying tomorrow night.
University Research at Irving Middle School

It’s been a week full of sound bites and media hype, but what we still need to learn is how we got here. How did such controversial material end up at Irving Middle School in Lincoln, Nebraska?

More than a decade ago, long before our current superintendent and Irving principal had taken their current posts, UNL psychology professor Dr. Susan Swearer began a partnership with then-principal of Irving Middle School Hugh McDermott, and in 2007 Dr. Swearer created the Target Bullying Intervention Program at Irving. This program teaches bullies how to correct their behavior instead of just punishing them, and it was successful enough at reducing bullying behavior that the program was expanded to all LPS schools in 2012.

In 2008, Swearer began publishing research almost exclusively about the bullying of one very tiny segment of the population, LGBT students, and, according to a 2011 CBS News story, “McDermott allowed researchers from the University of Nebraska to study Irving Middle School students as part of their bully intervention program - an intensive, one-on-one, three-hour analysis using questionnaires, talk therapy and videos.”

In 2012, Susan Swearer became the chair of the research advisory board for Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation. She travelled on the Born Brave Bus and participated in the interactive three-hour tailgate experiences before each concert and conducted research in the cities the tour visited. Clearly, Swearer is very dedicated to her work. Her research on bullying, and particularly her studies of bullying a very small percentage of the general population, is her life’s work. But the goals of university research may not be helpful to the educational goals of the broader community—especially the K-12 school system. For example, in one of several research papers Swearer wrote for Gaga’s Kinder and Braver World Project, school administrators are advised to “train ALL staff in an ongoing way” and to “allot class time to focus on social emotional learning.” This helps me to understand why so many teacher training meetings, school assemblies, and class periods have been devoted to this one topic, which is increasingly taught in terms of sexuality. It also helps me to understand why teachers are facing invasive sexual and personal questions, as seen in this handout from a 2013 Irving teacher training meeting.

It’s no secret that the U.S. is falling behind educationally. In December, NPR reported that 29 nations and other jurisdictions outperformed the U.S. in math, 22 countries outperformed us in science, and 19 bested us in reading. In an increasingly global economy, our children will be at a serious disadvantage for university spots and jobs in the future if we continue to squander precious classroom time and teacher training on “social emotional learning” at the cost of academic learning.

The head of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation has been performing research at my child’s school for many years. At the foundation’s launch event in 2012, Gaga explains that she wants to ensure safety, skills, and opportunity for everyone, and these are laudable goals. But in the same speech, she also says that she wants the culture to undergo a “psychological autopsy.” This statement implies the death of our culture. Certainly, the redefinition of gender is one more nail in our culture’s coffin. From one of Lady Gaga’s memorandums, she talks about her “mischievous experiment” of “gender manipulation” and begins to wonder with her friend Nick Knight: “how much exactly can we get away with?” 

It’s time to let her know. I am unwilling to subject my children to mischievous experiments of gender manipulation. These ideas are untested; we don’t know what the results of such experimentation will be. I want my children’s schools to be safe, and I want all of the children there to be treated kindly and respectfully, and I don’t think we have to turn our culture upside down to achieve these goals. Certainly, we can create a safe and welcoming school environment for all children without involving politicized advocacy groups.

I may not have the full picture here. No one from LPS has ventured to explain to parents the extent of research being done at Irving Middle School or how deeply this research affects classroom time, teacher training, curricula, or influence from outside personnel.

In light of all this, I would like to respectfully make the following requests: 

1.       Please disclose to parents of LPS students the extent to which university research has affected classroom time, teacher training, and curricula.

2.       Going forward, please obtain written permission from parents for children to be exposed to or participate in university research. As a parent, I want to know the objective of the research, the source of the research project’s funding, and which academic subjects will be displaced by the research before I will consider allowing my child to participate.

3.       Please inform teachers of the sources of training materials and don’t assume that they’re willing participants in the research projects of outsiders. Don’t constrain their academic classroom time with the dictates of researchers whose material is outside the parameters of the teacher’s academic subject.

Thank you for listening to my concerns tonight. I appreciate the work you do on behalf of my children and our community.
 
 
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Last summer I was visiting with my grandmother and a couple of aunts and uncles when I learned something I had never heard before in all my 38 years: my great-great-grandfather had a mail-order bride, and it "didn't work out."

This was unexpected news to me. I knew that his first wife had been tragically gored by a bull while her husband was away from home and her three young children had watched from the house. That part of the story had been passed down. But this new part, this mail-order bride part, had been shut up in the closet with who-knows-what-other skeletons.

My great-great-grandfather and his three little kids lived in Wyoming, which is not the most hospitable place in the world, and he needed help. So apparently, he sent off a letter to a service, and a woman arrived some time later. Nobody seems to have known what happened, but she decided not to say, and g-g-grandpa was apparently so upset about her leaving that he ordered his children to not look at her while she drove away. But they loved her, so they watched her anyway, even though they knew they would get in trouble. 

That's how my grandmother told the story, and I'm sure it's true as far as she knew it. My grandmother was a very truthful person. 

I hadn't thought too much about that story until I listened to the audio-book version of Sarah, Plain and Tall, yesterday. It's a beautiful little story about a usually-not-for-children topic: mail order brides. The father in this story was in a very similar predicament to my g-g-grandfather's. He is a widower with two young children to raise. He gets matched up with a plain and tall woman from Maine, and after writing a few letters back and forth, she arrives.

What I found so beautiful and haunting about Patricia MacLachlan's story were the children's thoughts and feelings and desires. They adore plain and tall Sarah. They fear that she might leave, and because this is children's literature, she stays. Maybe what made it so haunting for me is that I've heard the story about when "it doesn't work out," and the children and lonely man are left on their desolate farm with no one to dry flowers for them so they'll have something beautiful to look at during the winter. 

That's what's so amazing about literature. It takes the heart of humanity and reminds us of who we are. I don't like to define fiction as "made-up" or "untrue" because what could be truer than the longing for a mother?

 
 
Back in April, I wrote about why it takes so long to get ebooks from the library. Essentially, it's because the Big 6 publishers are charging libraries an arm and a leg ($80) for limited copies of ebooks. 

Well, this morning I woke up to an email in my inbox from Smashwords that says they've negotiated a deal with Overdrive (the largest provider of ebooks to libraries) to sell digital copies of Indie-published books to libraries for as little as $4. 

Win win!

Library card holders get access to hundreds of thousands of new titles, libraries satisfy their members and reduce their prices, and Indie authors can reach a vast audience that was previously off-limits to them. When I wrote that post less than six weeks ago, I thought it would be months if not years before a solution was found to the ebook/library problem. I'm sure glad I was wrong--because I'm running out of library ebook selet
 
 
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The author interviews we've collected over at the Book Pound have become a treasure trove of great advice from successful authors. Some of these authors are self-published and some are traditionally published, but they all offer helpful tips for authors who are just starting out.

  • "Write what you like and what you want.  Decide if you like main stream publishing through an agent and publishing company or if you'd prefer to self publish.  There is no shame in either method." -James Buehler
  • "Choose your entertainment wisely. Whether a book was written centuries ago or the ink is still wet, do your best to choose that which will uplift and even educate you where possible." -Lea Carter
  • "Read and read more. Start writing—anything. Set aside a small amount of time each day to write or, even if you don’t write anything down, just to think about your story. Join a writing group and learn to take criticism. Don’t expect to be a good writer without learning the craft of writing." -Gwen Dandridge
  • "Enjoy life. Do what makes your heart sing. And, if you fail once, twice, or a hundred times at what you love to do, then get back up and keep going." -Brandon Ellis 
  • Someone said it takes about a million words to get the craft right, and I know that was true for me. So write whatever you can, whenever you can, be it a blog post, essay, journal entry, or something. -Amber Skye Forbes
  • "Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion and everyone has different tastes, but that doesn’t mean that an author’s writing style or book is no good because someone else doesn’t like it." -Elsha Fornefeld
  • "I have certain tricks to force myself into sitting down for a writing session; like making a regular writing schedule, treating it like an exercise program, and balancing my life." -Stephanie Fowers
  • "If you are self-publishing your story, have someone sit with you as you, he, or she read it and follow along to see if the story actually says what you think it says. Have different people you trust to do the same. I have found that the human brain often plays tricks on you. You may not have written what you think you have." -DR Fuller
  • "I think about my characters and then I just let them tell me their story.  Now, if the story starts to drag, usually towards the second part of the middle chunk, I might very vaguely plot out the rest to both avoid a sagging middle and to make sure that everything pulls together at the end." -Amber Gilchrist
  • "Spend the time necessary to research your topic, but allow your creative mind to fill in the gaps." -Kevin Hansen
  • "Learning to write in many formats—articles, blog posts, reports, product descriptions, essays, and web-site content—will enhance all the writing you do and teach you how to communicate ideas in a way that others can understand." -Teresa Hirst
  • "Just do it! Also, don't write fiction for money. Don't leave your day job and say "I'm going to support my family with this novel." If you make money... great! But if you set out for that purpose you will probably just find frustration and not the satisfaction and fulfillment that writing a book can give you." -Sam Lytle
  • "I'm always looking at social networking sites as a communications tool or marketing tool. What I do enjoy about it is adopting new tools, or trying out the next big thing, before most people do, and figuring out how to make the new "tool" work for marketing." -Erin Ann McBride
  • "Art inspires me and I find myself creating artwork for each of my characters. It inspires entire scenes at times!" -Heather McCorkle
  • "Don’t be too fussy about your first draft. You will edit it many times over. I see students who get stuck like I did when I had to write in school. They feel that their first draft has to be near perfection." -Brian Michaud
  • "Patience is a required virtue of all authors." -Laurisa White Reyes
  • "You are your best marketer for your book. If you don't believe in yourself or your work - no one will." -Lindsey Rietzsch
  • "Just recently my book got into a juvenile jail, and a 15 year old that's never going home again wrote me, and said that my book helped change his life for eternity." -Tommie Scott
  • "However I must admit there were some nights I had to "walk" away from writing for a few nights when memories and emotions got to much to handle." -Gracie Lea Silverwood
  • "Patience and a good work ethic are major tools to building a buzz about your books. Learn everything you can about the business of publishing if that’s your end goal. It will help you avoid the myriad of scams out there." -Sabrina Sumsion
  • "KEEP AT IT. Don’t get discouraged. This is the best time to be an author. I published my first book traditionally, which was a great experience. For the sequel, I decided to give self-publishing a try. It’s been a completely different ball game, but so far I’ve really enjoyed it. If you have a story to tell, tell it with the confidence that your words will be read someday. Writing can be a whirlwind of highs-and-lows, but in the end, it’s worth it." -Holly J. Wood


 
 
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I get why it takes so long to get a hardcover copy of Divergent from the library. There are only so many copies, and everybody gets three weeks to read it. Then they return it to a random city branch, and the library has to transport the physical copy to a different branch where the next person on the waiting list has requested to pick it up. That requester gets several days to pick it up before the next three-week check-out begins. Yeah. Got that.

What I've wondered is: why does it take so long to get ebook holds from the library. They're not physical copies, right? They're just collections of bits and bytes that get uploaded and downloaded between servers and e-readers. Should be a snappy process, but it's not. I've waited months to get email notices that say, "The following digital title is now available to borrow and will be held for you for 7 days (168 hours) from the time this email was sent. If you do not borrow this title within 7 days (168 hours), the hold will expire. Thank you!"

First of all, why are there holds in the first place? If 300 people all want to read Amy Chua's new book on their Kindles at the same time, why can't they?

Here's why:

Libraries purchase licensing agreements to e-books through a distributor. The purchasing agreements stipulate either a time frame or a number of uses. For example, the e-book may be loaned out for a year or for 26 uses. After this time period or number of uses, the digital copy disappears from the library's catalog.

This is something new and different because with paper copies of books, the library only has to buy the copy once, and they can continue lending it out until nobody cares about it anymore or the binding has turned to  dust, whichever comes first. In most cases, this is many, many years of good hard use for about $12.99.

Digital copies of books, on the other hand, cost much, much more, and they're only good for a short amount of time. For a new bestseller today, publishers are charging libraries $84 per copy, and only one person can use it at a time.

How did this happen?

Traditional publishers have been caught off guard by the sudden rise in demand for e-books. A recent survey showed that roughly 50% of adults have e-readers, and sales of e-books continues to rise unabated. To protect their interests, publishers create these stringent and expensive purchase licensing agreements to keep the money flowing their direction. But I think this tactic is going to backfire.

What is preventing smaller publishers and independent publishers from creating much more attractive licensing agreements with libraries? Nothing except convenience for the libraries. And as we've seen with Amazon's innovations in independent publishing, it won't take much for someone (or perhaps the libraries themselves) to develop a simple way for small and independent publishers to make their e-books available on a vast and inexpensive scale to library readers everywhere.

Once this happens, publishers will not be able to charge $84 for a year's worth of single-use checkouts, and readers everywhere will have easy access to books that educate, entertain, and make life interesting.

So who's going to invent it? Is it you?

 
 
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In high school and college, whenever a teacher would announce there was going to be a group project, I inwardly groaned and slid down in my seat. Group projects really weren't my thing. 

There was the research writing project I ended up doing all by myself because my partner suddenly had severe medical problems. There was dissection lab with the girl who was became obsessed with "getting the brain out" of the fetal pig. There was the college poetry group project that was really more like organized flirting.

So as an adult, I've steered clear of anything resembling a group project until several years ago when I was working at a publishing company and my boss asked if I would be interested co-authoring a book about babysitting co-ops. Co-authoring sounded like it could be perilous. Would there be struggles for control? Would there be missed deadlines or guilt if I failed to live up to expectations? On the other hand, people co-authored books every day. How bad could it be?

I agreed, and I began working with Samantha Nielsen on the project. As it turned out, we worked very well together. We didn't have the same strengths, but that turned out to be a great advantage for our team. The result Babysitting Co-op 101: A Win-Win Childcare Solution, _a well-written resource for parents of young children who need babysitting options and don't have much money to spend on childcare. And along the way, I learned all about the advantage of co-authoring.

3 Seriously Awesome Advantages of Co-Authoring

More Ideas

Best friends Taksh Gupta and Akhil Ahuja came upon the idea of co-authoring their novel Love@365 Kmph as they told each other stories. Their combined ideas came together, and they decided they might as well write a novel together since their ideas worked together so well.

Many co-authors send chapters back and forth to each other via email, but Gupta and Ahuja talked through their story and took turns writing it down. Of course, they didn't always agree on the course of the story, but they hashed it out and turned it into a seamless narrative.


More Contacts

Even for traditionally published books, marketing can be a real headache for authors. Most authors just want to start working on their next project when they finish a book, not start peddling their book like a virtual door-to-door salesman.

This is another area where it really helps to have a co-author. When there are two of you, you have twice as many social media contacts, professional contacts, and friends and family members who have their own contacts. This can make a huge difference with marketing, which can get you focused on your next project sooner.

Deadlines!

If procrastination is one of your major weaknesses, co-authoring can be the key to keep you moving. Why? Because you're more likely to keep a promise to someone else than you are to keep a promise to yourself.

With a co-author, you'll be saying things like, "I'll finish up Chapter 12 and get it to you by Friday." Guess what? Chapter 12 will be done by Friday, and your book will steadily march along toward completion. For some people, this is the biggest advantage of co-authoring. Accountability to another professional is a powerful tool on your path to publication.
If you haven't tried co-authoring before, give it a try. You might find that working with another human being on a writing project is just the kick-in-the-pants your writing life has been looking for. And you might just make a great friend and colleague along the way.
 
 
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This week parents of children in Harlem rallied to announce they were opting out of standardized Common Core testing for their children. In one classroom alone 20 out of 23 children will not be taking the state-mandated tests because their parents have signed opt-out letters.

Is this wise?

Let's take a quick look at the history of standardized testing in America.

In 1975, the College Board decried the decline of SAT scores, and in 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education called for higher standards for both teachers and students. This push prompted President Bush to set national goals for "excellence in education" in 1990. 

At that time, Congress tried to mandate standards with the "Goals 2000: Educate America Act" in 1994. In response to the act, states issued grade-level standards followed by "revised standards" and then "improved standards." None of these attempts brought test scores up, and in 2002 the second President Bush signed into law the "No Child Left Behind Act" (NCLB). This act required schools accepting federal funds (virtually all schools in the United States) to provide assessment results. 

Did NCLB improve test scores? No. And in the following decade, the SAT has been re-normed and state standards have been revised again, and now we have a new version of the same failed idea: The Common Core State Standards Initiative.

It's nothing new, so why are parents in Harlem holding up signs that say, "More Teaching, More Art, More Gym, and Less Testing"? Because, according to a report by the American Federation of Teachers, kids and teachers spend a staggering 19 full school days absorbed in test prep and testing each year. That's 19 days--roughly "60 to more than 110 hours per year"--in test prep in high-stakes testing grades. 

It's no wonder that SAT scores have slipped over the years. Kids don't get nearly as much instructional time as they used to have in school. And financial resources have to be re-allocated to testing when they could be used for materials and programs. Common Core isn't going to address the problem of stealing precious instructional time for ever-increasing testing, and it won't reduce the financial burden imposed on school districts, but it will add to the conundrum: data gathering.

States that accept funds via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) are required to "build statewide longitudinal data systems that can follow individual students from early childhood through K-12 and post-secondary ed and into the workforce." What is all this information going to be used for? Well, that depends on who's in charge and what their standards, ideals, and ethics dictate, but to keep things open, the act says that schools should collect 400 data points, and "it is a comprehensive, non-proprietary inventory. . .that can be used by schools, LEAs, states, vendors, and researchers." It's already being used by vendors.

In other words, your kids are spending at least 19 full school days each year providing marketing data for corporations at taxpayer expense. And that's just one of the questionable uses for Common Core's data mining.

I have to tell you what I thought about when I read the phrase, "that can follow individual students from early childhood through K-12 and post-secondary ed and into the workforce." I thought about the summer I was a foreign exchange student in Czechoslovakia. It was 1992, the summer the country voted to split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Velvet Revolution had turned out the Communist government just 2 1/2 years ago, and although the young people were very optimistic about life and relishing their freedom, the older people seemed unreasonably suspicious and discouraged in my opinion.

One day I was on the bus with my host sister when a transit official stepped on board to make sure everyone had a stamped ticket. The older woman next to me pulled out what looked like a worn-out passport and held it on her lap. She kept it in sight until the transit official finished checking tickets, and then she put it away in her bag.

After we got off the bus I asked my host sister what the passport was all about. "It's not a passport," she said. "It's a record of everything she's ever done. We used to have to carry those around with us. It has everything: school grades, test scores, reports from employers, criminal records. If you ever got fired from a job, it's in there."

"But why does she still carry it around if that old communist government is gone?"

My host-sister shrugged. "She's probably scared they'll come back. You could get in big trouble if you didn't keep it with you at all times."

I'm sure there are good intentions behind the "longitudinal data systems." People move a lot, and having school records all gathered in one electronic place would probably save time for office workers. But efficiency isn't everything. Some things, like freedom, trump efficiency. America's world-famous reputation for providing opportunity for upward mobility depends on people being able to change and improve their lives. I'm not going to lie on a job application, but I'm probably not going to announce that I got a D in Physical Science unless they specifically ask about it. With our new longitudinal data system, however, there it is, screaming "Science Numskull!" for everyone who has access: schools, LEAs, states, vendors, researchers.

So what's a parent to do about Common Core? Well, you can follow the lead of Gretchen Murgenthaler and other NYC parents and opt out. Or you can homeschool. Just think of what you could do with those 19 extra days!

 
 
Writing contests can be helpful in many different situations. They can motivate reluctant writers to do their best and meet a deadline. They can help students to pay for college (see the Ayn Rand contest below). They can boost confidence and help a future writer to start a stellar resume. They can give homeschooled students a broader audience for their work.

Whatever the reason, encourage your child to enter one of the following writing contests in 2014. There ought to be a contest for everyone in the following list.

PBS KIDS Writers Contest
Write a story that has a beginning, middle, and end; a central event like a conflict or discover; characters who change or learn a lesson; and illustrations that help tell the tale.
Who Can Enter? Kids in kindergarten, first, second, or third grade
Cost: Free
Deadline: Check with your local PBS affiliate
Can You Enter More Than Once? No
Prizes? Tablet computers and MP3 players

18th Annual Signet Classics Student Scholarship Essay Contest
Write an essay on one of six topics for this year's competition book, Beowulf
Who Can Enter? Students in grades 11 or 12 who live in the USA
Cost: Free
Deadline: April 14, 2014
Can You Enter More Than Once? No
Prizes? (5) $1,000 Scholarships and a Signet Classics Library for the winner's school library or public library

7th Annual Junior Authors Short Story Writing Contest
Write a short story in less than 1,000 words. Cut all empty words that do not add to setting, plot, or characterization.
Who Can Enter? Anyone from any country who is between 9 and 21 years old as of June  30, 2014
Cost: Free if you don't want feedback; $15 for the feedback option, which includes a writing workbook
Deadline: June 30, 2014 at midnight
Can You Enter More Than Once? No
Prizes: Amazon gift cards, publication, signed copies of Polly Wants to Be a Writer 

Poetic Power.com Essay Contest
Poetic Power sponsors three essay contests each year. Topics are wide open, and word counts are short.
Who Can Enter: Students in Canada and the United States in grades 4-12
Cost: Free
Deadlines: February 18, July 15, and October 15, 2014
Can You Enter More Than Once? No
Prizes: $25

Adventure Write Kids Totem Heads Story Contest
Write a story in 1,500 words or less. Your story should be appropriate for kids, and the first sentence should start with, "So there I was."
Who Can Enter: US Residents under 19 years old
Cost: Free
Deadline: December 31, 2014
Can You Enter More Than Once? Yes
Prizes: $50 cash and publication on AdventureWrite.com/kids

Ayn Rand The Fountainhead Essay Contest
Write an essay about the novel The Fountainhead using one of three specified topics. The prizes are huge on this one, and The Fountainhead is one fantastic book.
Who Can Enter? Students worldwide who are in the 11th or 12th grades
Cost: Free
Deadline: July 26, 2014
Can You Enter More Than Once? No
Prizes: $10,000 for first prize, $2,000 for second prize, $1,000 for third prize. More than $40,000 in prizes in all.

Teen Ink Magazine Writing Contests
This magazine runs a host of writing contests throughout the year. Check their website for the latest.

The Betty Award
The Betty Award runs both Spring and Fall contests. Write short stories that are less than 1,000 words.
Who Can Enter? All children worlwide ages 8-12
Cost: $15
Deadline: May 17, 2014
Can You Enter More Than Once? Yes
Prizes: Cash prizes ranging from $100 to $300



 
 
PictureJr. Docents at the Rockport Aquarium in Rockport, TX
Aside from academic and religious reasons, some parents decide they want to homeschool their children to teach them how to live in a more holistic and thoughtful way. One way you can do this is to integrate volunteer work and community service into your children’s school schedules. The benefits of including volunteer work in your kids’ curriculum are many; here are just a few:
  • Regular social interaction with a variety of people in your community
  • A feeling of worth gained through meaningful service
  • A strong focus on others, diminishing preoccupation with self and entertainment
  • Compassion for other members of the community 
The above benefits are rich, and they’re difficult to come by through traditional educational methods, but you can easily make them a part of your children’s day-to-day lives by arranging for your family to become involved in one of the following volunteering efforts.

Visiting Nursing Homes
As the population ages, more and more people are living in nursing homes and assisted living centers, and all too often, these people don’t have regular visitors. Coordinate with a local nursing home to arrive at a set time each week. Residents will look forward to visits from your polite children. If your kids play instruments, provide a weekly or monthly concert, giving your kids ample motivation for practicing during the week. Or you could keep things casual by bringing card games, board games, or coloring pages.

Serving As Museum Docents
Some museums and zoos, such as the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, have volunteer opportunities for kids who want to give tours or man displays and booths. When kids volunteer at museums and zoos, they get real world work experience and they have contact with people who are experts in their fields. They learn their material well as they teach others about the museum’s or zoo’s offerings. Kids also feel very proud when they can educate their peers about a topic they’re interested in.

Working at a Food Bank
Food banks always need volunteers to sort, organize, and shelve donations. This is especially true during the holidays when they’re inundated with donations from canned food drives. Working at a food bank helps your kids to develop an appreciation for what they have and to be more sensitive to those who have less. In addition, they learn about dependability, good work habits, and courtesy.

Tutoring
Common sense says that if your child is good at math, she should be a math tutor, but think beyond the obvious. Maybe your daughter is having trouble with reading comprehension. Why not set up a regular tutoring session where she works with a younger child on reading skills? She’ll realize that she knows a lot more than she thinks she does, and in her zeal to teach her young pupil, she might just rediscover her own enthusiasm for reading. If at all possible, find pupils for your children who are not members of your family. They tend to take their responsibilities more seriously when they’re not tutoring their siblings. If you know another homeschooling family in your neighborhood, set up a tutoring swap.

Organizing Group Service Projects
Volunteering doesn't have to be something that takes up a regular slot on your homeschool calendar. It can be something you do from time-to-time and can involve other homeschoolers in your co-op or neighborhood. For example, LACES, a homeschool service group in Columbia, Tennessee, volunteered as a group at The People's Table, which is sponsored by a local church. Projects like this build unity among homeschoolers and put many hands to work to serve the community.

Children who learn to volunteer during their growing-up years always find ways to serve their communities as adults. After all, it's been a way of life for them. Helping others becomes second nature when time has been set aside for meaningful service. Homeschoolers are in the unique situation of having great flexibility over their schedules, and this opens many doors for volunteering. While everyone else is at school, your homeschool students can be docents at the museum or tutor five-year-olds with their counting and reading. Volunteering is one more way you can cultivate character in your children and introduce them to people who can genuinely use their help. You're raising kids who will change the world.