Skill-Based and Educational Contests for Kids & Teens
By: Mindy Scirri
Competition among equally prepared peers can be fun and challenging for children and teens with competitive natures. However, kids only enjoy contests that they have a good chance of winning. Luckily, there are many different contests available, focusing on everything from skill-based talents like art and computers to educational contests like science and math. What do your kids like?
Computers, Coding, & Robotics
Bebras Computing Challenge
“The Bebras® Computing Challenge introduces computational thinking to students. It is organized in over 30 countries and designed to get students all over the world excited about computing. Each participant gets 45 minutes to answer 15 multiple-choice questions that focus on computational and logical thinking. It is completed online in your own school and it shows to school and student how well their skills are developed.” Open to students in grades 1-12.”
“The Botball® Educational Robotics Program engages middle and high school aged students in a team-oriented robotics competition and serves as a perfect way to meet today’s new common core standards…. After a build period of about 7 weeks, students bring their robots to their regional tournament to compete against other students in the current season’s game challenge. Students use science, engineering, technology, math, and writing skills to design, build, program, and document robots in a hands-on project that reinforces their learning.”
USA Computing Olympiad
The USACO supports computing education in the USA and worldwide by identifying, motivating, and training high-school computing students at all levels. We provide: 1) Hundreds of hours of free on-line training resources that students can use to improve their programming and computational problem-solving skills. 2) On-line programming contests (roughly six per year) for students at all levels. 3) An intensive summer training camp, to which the top students in the USA are invited to further improve their skills and learn advanced material. 4) The opportunity for the top four students in the USA to represent their country at the International Olympiad in Informatics (IOI), the most prestigious international algorithmic programming competition at the high-school level.”
All American High School Film Festival
The All American High School Film Festival is the largest student film festival in the world. Our festival offers an unparalleled experience designed specifically to promote and empower the future of film. Each October, thousands of student filmmakers join us in New York City for an action-packed weekend of resources and entertainment, including our Teen Indie Awards Show, where we hand out over $400,000 in prizes and scholarships.”
Boston International Kids Film Festival
“Showing films made for kids, by kids, and about kids…. Filmmakers Collaborative created the BIKFF in 2013 with a goal of showing kids that making a film can be a powerful way to tell a story, express your emotions, state a point of view and ( more importantly) to have fun!” Student Film awards are given to filmmakers in middle or high school at the time of production.
Boulder International Film FestivalNamed one of the “25 Coolest Film Festivals” in the world by MovieMaker Magazine, the Boulder International Film Festival brings films and filmmakers from around the world to Boulder for a four-day celebration of the art of cinema.” Check out their Teen Short Film Competition for teens ages 12-18.
Heartland Film Festival
“Launched in 2010, the High School Film Competition encourages tomorrow’s filmmakers to create films that inspire filmmakers and audiences through the transformative power of the art form.”
National Film Festival for Talented Youth
The Talented Youth produces the world’s most influential film festival for emerging filmmakers. We serve as a venue and convergence for the most talented youth filmmakers to showcase their films as well as introduce them to industry professionals and other professional development opportunities.” Film directors must be under the age of 24.
Newport Beach Film Festival
Launched in 2005, the Youth Film Showcase spotlights short narrative, documentary and animated films, music videos and PSA’s created by filmmakers 18 years and younger. The Festival is thrilled to celebrate the artistic works and visions of young people from around the world. Through the exhibition of youth-created media, the Festival seeks to create a forum for young filmmakers and encourage freedom of expression through cinema.”
Seattle International Film Festival
“SIFF presents FutureWave Shorts during Seattle International Film Festival’s ShortsFest Weekend. These inspiring original short films, created by youth aged 18 and under, represent some of the best short filmmaking from around the world. The Wavemaker Award for Excellence in Youth Filmmaking will be presented to a film chosen in recognition of its artistic and technical achievement.”
All-Access A Cappella Tournament
“’The Open’ (#acaopen) is an all-access a cappella tournament, meaning for the first time, we’re throwing out our eligibility rules. We want to bring together singers and singing groups of all ages and stages of life – regardless of experience, origin, student status, or school affiliation – to compete on an international stage.”
Doodle 4 Google
“Artists create Doodles using any materials they want. From crayons to clay to found objects.”
Science Without Borders Challenge
“The Science Without Borders® Challenge is an international art contest that engages students to promote the need to preserve, protect, and restore the world’s oceans and aquatic resources. The Science Without Borders® Challenge was created to get students and teachers interested in ocean conservation through various forms of art. This annual contest inspires students to be creative while learning about important ocean science and conservation issues. The Challenge is open to primary and secondary school students 11-19 years old, with scholarships of up to $500 awarded to the winning entries.”
Young Composers Challenge
The National Young Composers Challenge is open to young musicians ages 13 to 18 who are U.S. residents. The Challenge is simple. First, you write your own composition for small ensemble (2 to 6 instruments) or full orchestra. Then, a panel of judges chooses the top three orchestral and top three ensemble compositions to be performed and recorded by the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra at the NYCC Composium.”
Jack L. Chalker Young Writers’ Contest (Baltimore Science Fiction Society)
Sci-Fi and Fantasy writing contest for teens living in Maryland. Deadline is March 31 every year. “Contestants shall be no younger than 14 and no older than 18 years of age as of May 29 in the contest year and shall reside in, or attend school in, Maryland.”
Scripts Howard National Spelling Bee
Each year the Scripps National Spelling Bee grants a limited number of local spelling bee sponsorships to media outlets, universities or education-supporting business or community organizations.” Each sponsor organizes a spelling bee program in its community. The champion of the sponsor’s final spelling bee advances to the national finals.
Student Book Scholars Contest (National Youth Foundation)
The National Youth Foundation is looking for teams of students to create book projects that address bullying. The judges are players from the NBA and the NFL. The prize is $500 for the students and $250 for the parent/team coordinator. We also publish the book and donate copies to schools and libraries in underserved areas. The contest is open to students in grades K to 8. Best of luck!
Writing Contests for Elementary, Middle, and High School Students (Creative Communication)
“Creative Communication is devoted to the promotion of writing, teaching and appreciation of student writing. The intent of our student writing contests is to motivate student writers. The top entries are published in an anthology that will record the creative insights of today’s student writers.” Writing contests are open to schools and homeschools.
American Mathematics Competitions (Mathematical Association of America)
The MAA’s American Mathematics Competitions (MAA AMC) program leads the nation in strengthening the mathematical capabilities of the next generation of problem-solvers. Through classroom resources and friendly competition, the MAA AMC program helps America’s educators identify talent and foster a love of mathematics. The MAA AMC program positively impacts the analytical skills needed for future careers in an innovative society. The American Mathematics Competitions are a series of examinations and curriculum materials that build problem-solving skills and mathematical knowledge in middle and high school students.”
Association of Computational and Mathematical Modeling Competition
“The AoCMM math modeling competition for high school and college students provides you the perfect opportunity to use your interest and skills in math modeling in a friendly competitive environment. Along with the development of skills in networking, communication, and teamwork, there are plenty of prestigious prizes to be won! Additionally, constructive feedback from our judges is designed to help you continue to extend your skills personally and for potential careers. Furthermore, this competition is ideal for people with any level of math modeling experience!”
International Mathematical Olympiad
The International Mathematical Olympiad (IMO) is the World Championship Mathematics Competition for High School students and is held annually in a different country. The first IMO was held in 1959 in Romania, with 7 countries participating. It has gradually expanded to over 100 countries from 5 continents.”
A national program that provides students in grades 6-8 the opportunity to compete in live, in-person contests against and alongside their peers…. All types of schools—public, private, charter, virtual and home schools—are eligible to register for the Competition Series.”
Math Olympiads for Elementary and Middle Schools
Math Problem solving contests for teams of up to 35 students in grades 4 through 8. It is open only to schools, home schools, and institutes (NOT INDIVIDUALS).” Students in two divisions (4-6 and 6-8) compete in five monthly contests at a location determined by the coordinator.
Online Math League
Offers fun, challenging math contests to schools and individuals in Grades 2-6. Three contests per year based on practice tests. Leaderboard and medals achieved. Registration discounted for individual homeschoolers.
“DI provides unique educational experiences across seven project-based Challenge types–Technical, Scientific, Engineering, Fine Arts, Improvisational, Service Learning, and Early Learning. New, open-ended Team Challenges are developed annually with the help of educators, subject matter experts and qualified volunteers to cover a wide range of student interests and align to current educational standards.” Available for teams from Pre-K to college.
A free, web-based science, math, and technology competition for teams of 3-4 students in grade 6, 7, 8, or 9. The competition encourages and rewards students from a diverse range of proficiency levels, interests, and backgrounds.
I Was Wondering Contest (RedTMedia)
Engage your curious young minds, teach essential critical thinking skills, and enter to win amazing prizes for your classroom or community troop!
National STEM League (NSL)
Web-based leagues allow students “to share work on a secure server and get feedback from remote STEM mentors, earn points, share ideas with other teams and swap assets such as 3-D printer time or CAD files…. There is a place for all students to contribute to the team through race engineering, coding and automation, design and fabrication, graphic design, marketing, community outreach and data-driven design projects that ask students to follow their own interests (as long as they follow good investigation practices = GIP).”
Odyssey of the Mind
“Odyssey of the Mind is an international creative problem-solving program that engages students in their learning by allowing their knowledge and ideas to come to life in an exciting, productive environment. Participants build self-confidence, develop life skills, create new friendships, and are able to recognize and explore their true potential. OotM proves that students can have fun while they learn…. Odyssey problems have challenged students to design mechanical dinosaurs, invent new factory machinery, build working vehicles, write a new chapter to Moby Dick, put a twist on classic artworks, turn Pandora’s Box into a video game, and so much more.”
Teams of 2-4 students select a technology, research how it works, its history, its future, breakthroughs necessary to make the future technology a reality, and its potential negative and positive consequences. Focus is on the design process. K-12 students are eligible and are divided into four categories: Primary Level (K-3), Upper Elementary Level (4-6), Middle Level (7-9), and High School Level (10-12).
First Lego League Challenge
“Friendly competition is at the heart of Challenge, as teams of students ages 9-16* engage in research, problem-solving, coding, and engineering – building and programming a LEGO robot that navigates the missions of a robot game.”
“The International Year of Light is a global initiative that will highlight to the citizens of the world the importance of light and optical technologies in their lives, for their futures, and for the development of society…. We invite submissions (focusing on light from the night sky or the sun) in the following three categories: Observations and related research, Essays (up to 1000 words), Arts (music, sculpture, drawing/painting, etc.) Submissions will be grouped into the following age ranges: Kindergarten – 2nd grade, 3rd grade – 5th grade, 6th grade – 8th grade, and 9th grade – 12th grade. (Or equivalent ages.)”
International Young Eco-Hero Awards (Action for Nature)
The 2020 International Young Eco-Hero Awards are open to youth ages 8 to 16 taking personal action for nature! Winners receive public recognition and international media coverage for their work, a cash prize of up to $500, and a certificate of achievement.”
3M Young Scientist Challenge
“The annual 3M Young Scientist Challenge invites students in grades 5-8 to submit a 1-2 minute video describing a unique solution to an everyday problem for the chance to win $25,000 and an exclusive 3M Mentorship. Ten finalists will be chosen for their passion for science, spirit of innovation and ingenuity, and effective communication skills.”
National Young Astronomer Award
“The Astronomical League sponsors the National Young Astronomer Award (NYAA) to recognize the outstanding astronomical research achievements of high-school-age students throughout the United States.”
The NCF-Envirothon is an annual competition for high school-aged students conducted over five consecutive days every summer during July or August. To expose students to diverse environmental issues, ecosystems, and topography the North American Envirothon is hosted in a different location each year. Teams from participating states and Canadian provinces, who have won their state or provincial event, compete for recognition and scholarships by demonstrating their knowledge of environmental science and natural resource management. The teams, each consisting of five members, work to demonstrate their knowledge of environmental science and natural resource management at five training/testing stations.”
“The Competition, designed to be run by local organizations, is safe, easy and affordable. Everyone benefits. All contestants get a reusable model to build as well as the unforgettable experience of launching a solid-fuel powered rocket hundreds of feet into the sky.” This is a parent and child event, making this a family challenge, and any organization may run a local competition with at least 12 contestants.
Regeneron Science Talent Search (Society for Science & The Public)
“In 1942, Science Service launched the Science Talent Search, the nation’s oldest and most highly regarded science contest for high school seniors, first in partnership with Westinghouse, then with Intel 1998-2016, and now sponsored by Regeneron. Each year, nearly 1,900 students enter the Regeneron STS, submitting original research in critically important scientific fields of study. Unique among high school competitions, the Regeneron STS focuses on identifying, inspiring, and engaging the most promising scientists among the nation’s high school seniors.”
Founded in 1984, Science Olympiad is one of the premier science competitions in the nation, providing rigorous, standards-based challenges to nearly 8,000 teams in all 50 states. We host 450 tournaments annually on college campuses and hold professional development workshops that showcase innovative science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Form a team and join through your State Chapter today!”
Amazing Woman Writing Contest (National Youth Foundation)
Sharpen your pencils for the first national student book contest on gender equity. The National Youth Foundation’s Amazing Woman Contest calls upon students to get to know a woman in their community and to tell us HERstory. The goal is to create a picture book with the text and art done by the students. Open to grades K to 8. Good luck!
Future City Competition
“Future City is a project-based learning program where students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grades imagine, research, design, and build cities of the future.”
Kids Philosophy Slam
The Kids Philosophy Slam is designed to make philosophy accessible and fun for kids of all ages and abilities, to promote a philosophical dialogue between kids and adults, and to promote a greater awareness of philosophy and education in everyday life. Over $2,500 in prizes are available to students & schools. Home school participation as well as international participation is encouraged.”
“Participants focus on five key topic areas: consumer rights and responsibilities, the environment, health and safety, personal finance, and technology. The goal of LifeSmarts is to create consumer savvy young people who will be well equipped for adult life in today’s complex, global marketplace…. Competition includes online and live competitions. Students who participate in the program begin competition online. The highest scoring teams are invited to in-person live state championships. State-wide competitions are locally coordinated by state partnering organizations and agencies. In states without a state coordinator, NCL hosts a virtual state championship. State winners are invited to the National LifeSmarts Championship held in a different city every April.”
Model United Nations
While not strictly a contest, teams of student delegates, after studying their assigned country’s policies, will win and lose in the debates over the various issues.
National Geographic Bee
Developed by the National Geographic Society in 1988 to promote geographic knowledge among young people in the United States, the National Geographic GeoBee is an academic competition open to students in grades four through eight, for public schools, private schools, and homeschools in the United States and its territories, as well as the Department of Defense Dependents Schools (DoDDS). The National Geographic GeoBee includes three levels of competition; school, state, and national.”
National History Day® National Contest
The largest NHD program is the National History Day Contest that encourages more than half a million students around the world to conduct historical research on a topic of their choice. Students enter these projects at the local and affiliate levels, with top students advancing to the National Contest at the University of Maryland at College Park.”
United States Institute of Peace (USIP) Contests for Students
USIP has partnered with other organizations to offer the following contests: 1) Academic WorldQuest, a quiz contest for high schoolers that “tests their knowledge of global issues and foreign policy in 10 categories,” 2) National High School Essay Contest, an essay contest “about peace and conflict, and 3) National History Day National Contest (described above).
Considerations for Participating in Contests for Kids
Before entering kids’ contests online, there are a few things you should consider:
- Since contests require registration, parent permission may be required before entering.
- No child should be forced to enter a contest that doesn’t interest him or her.
- These contests encourage the participation of homeschoolers but may have restrictions because of age or location.
- Awards from these contests can be used when filling out college applications, in the “Academic Awards” section.
- Participation usually requires dedication and preparation and offers a real prize as a reward to winners. Websites not meeting these criteria are considered “games” and listed elsewhere in Explorations 4 Kids.
- Check with your local homeschool support groups to get information about other contests that may interest your child!
Do you know of any other good contests for homeschool students? Add them in the comments below!