An Invitation to Homeschoolers

In May 2011, home school student Madison Chapman attended her fourth National History Day competition in College Park, Maryland. Because of her dedicated participation in the Florida History Fair since sixth grade and the excellent caliber of her many entries, Madison received Florida's senior-division Outstanding State Award at the national contest. Her 2011 historical paper was titled "Property or Person: The Debate and Diplomacy of the Three-fifths Compromise."

Home school students are welcome to participate in National History Day. Here are Madison's thoughts about her experience.

As any homeschooler knows, being educated outside the walls of a public or private school can sometimes mean different experiences with competitive programs like sports, science fair, or mathletes. However, when it comes to history fair, it's easy to get involved in this versatile and incredibly rewarding competition.

I have been fortunate enough to attend the Florida History Fair (FHF) state contest for the past six years. And in grades 6, 9, 10, and 11, I qualified for Nationals and participated in the excitement of National History Day in Washington, D.C. Florida History Fair has taught me invaluable lessons and helped me hone my skills in researching, interviewing, and writing. And above all, I have delved into the most intriguing topics and learned about some truly fascinating people and eras in history. History Fair is both educational and genuinely fun for all students who participate.

Like any middle or high school student, homeschoolers have the opportunity to choose from exhibit, documentary, web site, performance, and historical paper as their means of telling a story from history. This provides you with a chance to best use your skills, such as art, technology, or writing, and apply them to a project. Homeschoolers should check with their county's historical commission or school district if they are interested in competing at the local level. When moving on to the state competition, county coordinators are always enthusiastic about assisting all students, including homeschoolers. For those who qualify for the national contest, the FHF state coordinator provides a wealth of information and a wonderful dose of optimism to help you prepare for this highest level of the competition.

I have enjoyed every minute of my history fair experience, and I urge all students to get involved. While becoming an expert on your topic and learning research skills, you also will be preparing yourself for real college work. The judging process, which is much like defending a dissertation, teaches you about poise and public speaking. And the entire project will help you develop your creativity, presentation, writing, or technology skills. Overall, the Florida History Fair experience is definitely an impressive addition to any college application.

Best of luck to prospective competitors and, to get you started, here are my top five suggestions for succeeding in your history fair projects.

  1. Balanced Research and Lots of It. Never underestimate the power of your bibliography. Judges always look for extensive, varied research and lots of primary sources. Over the years, I have found that they also will ask about ideological balance in research. If your topic is on a particular group, person, or country, never forget to learn about the opposing sides' views. Your research should be well-rounded to a point where you can discuss perceptions of your topic from every angle possible.
  2. Get the Big Picture. Your bibliography should be balanced, but so should your storytelling. No matter what kind of project you choose, it is imperative that you bring in some historical perspective. Look beyond your topic's immediate affect on history and tie in events prior to and after. Try to explore issues like changing political mood, public perception, and lasting significance. Focusing too much on your topic is never the right answer.
  3. Never Forget the Theme. Always pick a topic that adheres well to the annual theme. When you are working on your project (including its title), be sure to tie in the theme in every way possible; and don't forget to look at the subtitle because it frequently offers even more insight. At the state and national levels, judges most certainly will ask about the relation of your topic to the defined theme, so be prepared to discuss it in great detail.
  4. Perfect Your Thesis. Even if you are not doing a historical research paper, you must have a thesis that is well defined, easy to understand, and clearly connected throughout your entire project. Your thesis should state your main argument pertaining to your topic, and it should always include the theme. In addition, the better your research, the better your thesis. The more you can understand your topic and how it impacted history, the better equipped you will be to make inferences and draw conclusions about it.
  5. Genuinely Love Your Topic. Never pick something that you are not passionate about. Judges obviously will respond to deep understanding of a topic, but they also like to see enthusiasm. You want to pick someone, something, or some time in history that you honestly are excited to learn more about. Be an expert on your topic and be unapologetically proud of it.