My 8-year-old son was introduced to the world of competitions at age 6 when he first joined the Oliphant Science Awards. My 5-year-old daughter has watched her brother work on his science projects and go up the stage to receive his awards two years in a row. So, this year, she was so keen to give this a go too.
For those who are not familiar with the Oliphant Awards, this is the annual premier science competition for primary and secondary school kids in the state of South Australia. Every year, hundreds of students from all over the state send entries to this competition in various categories - from models and inventions to posters and multimedia.
In 2010, when my son was in year 1, he entered this competition for the first time. He has loved science from a very young age, as some of you have witnessed his enthusiasm when I shared this video in 2008 (age 4). Yes, that's a small insight in to what our house is like a lot of the time.
With a godfather (one of our good friends) who loves science, the boy had a ready made mentor going in to the Oliphant Awards. Both my husband and our friend (and some input from me, particularly in the multimedia entry), mentored him throughout the process.
The boy ended up winning 1st place in multimedia and 3rd place in models and inventions in 2010. The next year, he ended up winning two 2nd place prizes (multimedia + experiment) and two high commendations (experiment, with a classmate + model).
Each year the boy entered the competition we always give him "The Talk". You know that one about managing expectations? Yes, we talk about that, especially just before we go to the annual open day for the awards, the day when the kids learn if their entries won a prize or not.
This year, we had to have those talks for both kids.
It's not all about winning.
We believe in this firmly. We tell our kids this statement.
We allow, and even encourage, our kids to compete in certain situations because we want to help them to develop a certain kind of tenacity and resiliency. The kind that says, no, you don't get to be rewarded all the time even when you work hard. But, that's okay, hard work in and of itself can be a reward. The kind that says no, not everyone gets a prize even if you all deserve one for simply trying. You've done well for learning. We want them to love that process of learning... And, learn how to deal with losing, failure, and mistakes.
I know that not everyone would agree with my husband and I's thinking on this matter. But, for us, we feel that now is a good time for them to learn this because they have us to help them through whatever disappointment that they face. When they're faced with such disappointments when they're older, which we all do at some point in our lives, things would be a lot different. So, we don't mind them learning some of these lessons at an early age. Mostly because we know that we are able to provide a strong support as a family should they need that support.
The best thing about winning.
This year was a little tricky.
It was tricky for the boy because he doesn't completely know what "not all about winning" really means, as he has had two very successful Oliphant Science Awards where he won two double prizes in two years. He has been extremely lucky with winning in a lot of other things he has tried too. So, telling him that he has to be ready if he didn't win anything was interesting.
It was also tricky because our girl has entered the world of competition at a bit of a younger age at 5 (his brother started at age 6). And, having seen her brother win prize after prize after prize, we didn't quite know how she would react if she didn't win.
So, this morning, on the way to her first Oliphant Science Awards open day, I had a talk with her over a hot chocolate and a bucket of chips, just before we watched her brother's soccer match.
Me: Are you excited about today's Oliphant Awards?
Me: How would you feel if you don't win a prize?
Girl: Uhmmm... Okay. I won't cry. It's okay.
Me: That's good! It's okay to be disappointed, and you're right. No need to cry. But, what if your brother wins a prize and you don't?
Girl: I don't know, maybe I'll ask him to share his prize with me.
Me: Yes, I'm sure he won't mind doing that. Your brother loves you.
Girl: Yes. And, if I win a prize and he doesn't, I will share my prize with him.
Cue my melting heart.
It certainly felt like my job was done. Right there. Right in that moment. With those words.
My son smiled when I told him and the hubby this story.
When kids know how to compete, know that there is a need to lose gracefully, and a willingness to share their wins without being asked... At a young age... I can't be happier.
I am a lucky, lucky mum...
And yes, apparently, with two lucky children too.
The boy won another prize this year... One in multimedia, where he did a video on earthquakes. Particularly covering the NZ earthquakes. So, he's going up the stage to receive an award again, three years in a row. Even if two of his entries didn't win anything this year (he put in 3 entries), he still seemed really excited and pleased. A little disappointed with the loss, but we talked through it and he understood that he can't win everything. And, that in every loss, he just needs to learn a lesson from it.
We told him that it's okay if he doesn't join the competition next year either. Said it's okay if he wanted a break. He was adamant at the moment that, no, he doesn't need a break. He is keen to do it again next year, but with a different approach based on some lessons learned this year.
The girl also won. Her first attempt at a science competition, she is to receive a prize for multimedia, where she did a video on clouds. She also received a high commendation for her model on clouds and lightning. She will be walking up the stage next month to receive her first science prize.
After watching her brother win science prizes for a couple of years now, she seemed pleased to know that she can win too. Though she seemed quite unsure about what to expect of that prize. Maybe it will only sink in when she gets up the stage.
In any case, hubby and I can't be happier. The winning is great, of course. But, the learning and development that the kids are getting from these experiences make it worthwhile. We love that the kids are getting a lot of support and encouragement in exploring their interests. Things like the Oliphant Science Awards help. The school that they go to have been wonderfully supportive of their efforts too, as they help to celebrate their successes.
The kids are also learning to be grateful for all the extra support from likes/comments from friends, family, and extended community online too.