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Competitive Outlets for Roadschooling Kids

One of the biggest differences between the Full Time RVing family lifestyle and the traditional American suburban lifestyle is what the kids do “for fun” and “for socialization with their peers.” (Don't worry, we won't get too much into what that actually means. Or if it's even a thing we as homeschoolers / roadschoolers should even be worrying about. Or arguing with family members / friends about.)

The adults in the RV are usually happy with the simple experience of full time RVing: living with the outdoors, with scenery, or with meditating while watching a sunset. Then there's also whatever work that is funding your RV lifestyle.

Kids have more needs for stimulation, less pressing concerns for work, and fewer paperwork worries.

That's a good thing. We as parents have a responsibility to let kids be kids. To let the children experience their childhood. To find an outlet for their creative and competitive juices, so they can develop into creative and motivated adults eventually.

“Stationary” school kids have 4-H, dance, Matchwits, etc… which are hard as a roadschooler!

In our “stationary” days, Travis was the resident ringer in 4-H “demonstration” competitions and Elementary Matchwits.

In our “stationary” days, Travis was the resident ringer in 4-H “demonstration” competitions and Elementary Matchwits.

Indeed, a full time RVing family kid will do, experience, and learn SO much more than any suburban kid. But there's still a hole that develops for kids compared to their same-age, but stationary peers -- the hole that is filled with soccer teams for suburban kids, with 4-H for country kids, or with dance teams for the urban kids.

Ainsley, for example, has really taken to photography. Hiking on an amazing trail and finding interesting new bugs / birds / plants to look at and photograph in iNaturalist is great, but incomplete. There's a benefit to competition. It encourages them to stretch their skills. It instills a drive to get better, to not accept “good enough” out of themselves.

Travis and Ainsley grew a lot as people by competing at El Paso County 4-H competitions. Travis's success as Grand Champion at the Colorado State Fair in film-making and top 3 finishes at state demonstrations turned into the Travis Finds Out series. His love for reading non-fiction books led to – and was positively reinforced by – his incredible showings in Matchwits. Crafts and art as a 4-H “Cloverbud” for Ainsley turned into Ainstagraph. Her dancing allowed her to get out of her shell and overcome a nearly debilitating shyness as a toddler.

But when you're moving frequently from place to place, you don't have a dance studio to attend a season at a time. You can't join a 4-H club and compete for the team at a county, then possibly state, fair. You don't have a local school district in which your kid can join youth sports or Matchwits / Academic Decathlon / etc.

How do roadschool and unschool kids fill their academic competitive need?

There are many things stationary homeschoolers can do. Most states require school districts to allow homeschoolers living within the geographic boundaries of the district to compete in school sports and extracurricular activities. (Your mileage may vary with convincing the school administrators and club advisors to actually welcome you, of course.)

4-H clubs in our old stomping grounds in Colorado were a solid mix of public school kids who came to the clubs through their teachers and peers, and the homeschoolers who recognize that the project curriculum would be a great addition to their homeschool curriculum.

But a roadschooling full time RV family won't have that option. Even our “six month season at a time” National Park Ranger theory of full timing is too short a time to be an area to qualify for full 4-H membership. If you're a constantly moving fulltime family, like those we see on Instagram who are putting in thousands of miles a month, the challenge is even more interesting.

So what's the answer? This is something we’ve been working on as a family, and have some ideas. But depending on the county you're traveling to / through during the summer... one part of the answer is County Fair “Open Class” competitions.

What are Open Class competitions at county fairs?

If you've wandered through your local county fair back in your stationary days, you will have seen the large rooms full of photos, baked goods, wonderfully decorated cakes, paintings, woodwork, quilts, etc.

The 4-H and FFA kids were responsible for some number of those. And many are going to be by the adults of the county. Grandma Mary down the road with the epic cookies will submit her best summer orange sugar cookies. Local shutterbugs will put their photos up. Bob the farmsteader will proudly display his zucchinis in the horticulture class.

What many people may not immediately realize is these open competitions are, well, open. Not just to adults in the county, but youth and young children too. Each category will usually have their own age classes. In fact, 4-H and FFA members can compete in both their competitions and the open classes if they wanted to.

Tera Lynn looked up the county fair for the area of North Dakota we're in this season (Mercer County) and printed out a list of open class competitions in which the kids could compete. Ainsley, of course, was immediately drawn to photography. She and Jason have been going on little photo safaris around the campground and the lake looking for shots they both could use for the several categories available in the competition. It's not just “portrait” and “landscape,” either. Check out the list of categories just in “Photography” at Mercer County:

  • Action

  • Animal

  • Automation

  • Centennial or Heritage

  • Computer Enhanced

  • Energy Impact

  • Floral

  • Humor

  • Miscellaneous

  • People

  • Scenery

  • Still Life

  • Sunrise, Sunsets

Wise as she is, Tera Lynn capped Jason and Ainsley at two entries each. We dropped by a Michael’s in Bismarck to buy photo mat paper frames, at about $4 each. We'll be printing the pictures out at the Kodak kiosk in Hazen, about 15 minutes west of our campground. Then bringing them this week to the Mercer County Fair in Beulah, about 30 minutes west.

Even if we were full time traveling, this would be an option. This county does not ask for an address, much less require in the rules that the participant be a permanent resident of the county. As long as you're going to be in the general area at least a week, you can drop off your entries, enjoy the fair for a day, and then pick up your entries (and perhaps ribbons) at the end of the fair week. (Rural and smaller County Fairs tend to be one weekend or shortened week, while State Fairs and the biggies like Los Angeles tend to be longer.)

Can temporary residents compete in county / state fairs?

Ainsley’s Grand Champion-winning Open Children’s Class Photo

Ainsley’s Grand Champion-winning Open Children’s Class Photo

Each county is going to have their own rules, of course. While Googling around for examples, we found one that actually did specify that competitors had to be “permanent residents of the county.” However, 10 others I looked up to get a decent sample size did not. Even big counties in heavy travel areas like Ventura County and Los Angeles County in Southern California did not specify a residency requirement. If they ask for an address? Give them the campground address you're at, with the space number as the “suite.” They're not likely going to be mailing you anything afterwards that you care about.

I imagine the residency rule is because counties don't want people being “ringers,” going from county to county, entering their pro-level items over and over, sweeping the awards. So, live up to the spirit of the rule. Plan on only entering one county fair per summer trip.

Action steps:

  1. Google the communities and campgrounds you will be traveling through during “county fair season,” which is usually mid July to early August. Find out what counties those are in, and Google “<county, state> County Fair” to see which counties you'll be in have their fairs during the times you'll be visiting.

  2. Search the website for the “exhibitor book,” “competition entry guide,” or similar. Look for such categories as “Photography arts,” “Home Arts,” or “Culinary.”

  3. Pay careful attention to the dates, whether the fair wants you to fill out forms online or on paper, and entry costs.

  4. Plan with your kids (or yourselves!) to make their favorite baked goods or print off their best nature photos from your travels. Pay SPECIAL attention to the display rules. Make sure you follow framing or plating rules to the letter.

  5. Drop off your prized crafts, pics or goodies, enjoy the fair, and check back after judging!

  6. Proudly hang your participant ribbon – or even the Grand Champion giant purple frilly ribbon! – in your rig for the rest of your visit to the community! And always make sure you give a nice Google, Yelp or Facebook review for the fair. County fairs in some areas of the country are declining, and need the social media sauce to build attendance!

Grand Champion AND reserve champion photos for Ainsley!

Grand Champion AND reserve champion photos for Ainsley!