Homeschool Speech and Debate

We just returned from participating in two back-to-back STOA speech tournaments. As I recover from the exhaustion which wandering around a campus with hundreds of teenagers has induced, I am reflecting on all that we learned from our experience.

We began the year by participating in a speech club with some local families. The boys enjoyed going to club, and the experience helped them to craft an organized essay and respond well to critiques from other parents. As part of the club requirements, we needed to participate in a minimum of two events. Many of the families had signed up for as many as eight tournaments, which in retrospect is a huge commitment of time and money.

We arrived at our first tournament, bright and early on a Monday morning. There might have been some mild hysterics in the car on the way up, but once we got there and they saw all the interesting young people, who were also clad in conservative dress suits, looking like so many mini business people, they started to get excited about competing, or at least about playing ninja and discussing LOTR.

As a parent, I was required to judge, so my two littles and I were given a round of humorous speeches to listen to. Only a couple of the eight speeches were actually funny, but having to tell teenagers that their efforts at inducing laughs were in vain, is not my jam. I gave my best shot at being constructive and kind on the ballots, as the critique forms are called.

On the third day we were required to show up by 7 am to see if any of our children had "broken" as they call making it to finals. Unfortunately, my boys had ranked fifth and below on nearly every ballot, which was quite disappointing. After we spoke with some of the moms, who had been doing it for a few years, but whose children had rarely broken either, we were mildly encouraged that it wasn't just us.

The next tournament, just a week later was not quite as confusing, since our previous experience was so fresh in our mind. We arrived, once again at the ungodly hour of 7am, dropped off our snacks and scripts and worked on finding our rooms. 

Again, I had to bring my two youngest children and when I had finished all my other duties, I was assigned a round to judge. This was a round of eight persuasive speeches and in order to give them my full attention I had left my 6 year old in the care of his older brother. About two speeches in, the older brother dropped him off, saying that he could no longer handle him. Embarrassing, but it would get worse. 

He was pretty quiet through the speeches, merely knocking his swivel chair against the bookshelves a few times in a passive aggressive show of protest, but by the eighth speech he was done. He quietly wandered up behind the speaker, picked up a soft ball, and lobbed it in the direction of the young speaker. I responded by running my hand deftly across my neck, a motion which I hoped would clearly communicate my disapproval. Needless to say, I gave the patient speaker first place, if not for his clever speech, then assuredly for his ability to concentrate amid the distractions. 

The boys finished up the tournament again without placing. I loved their speeches, one boy had written about the benefits of twelve year olds having part time labor and the other had written about finding joy in a world of sorrow, based on a book he wrote by the same name. However, as we watched the young people who swept the trophies, it was clear that their families had put in much more time than ourselves. One highly organized mother had invested in a week of speech camp for her successful teens, and another family had boys who were involved in many online classes, as well as having a father who was both a lawyer and their coach. It was like being at a gathering of the Tiger Mothers (and fathers) of the homeschool world.

Our year of speech was a worthwhile experience. My boys had the opportunity to craft an organized essay, respond well to critique, and get input from other caring mothers. We are very grateful to all the amazing people who contributed to our year, and the tournament. 

Would we do it again? I hope not. Although it was worthwhile, the idea of spending days away from home, hundreds of dollars on tournaments, and neglecting the schooling of the younger ones to be there, does not appeal to me. Although it is a wonderful opportunity for some families, it is not for everyone.

In speaking to adult alumni and their parents, it seems that the results are mixed as well. Some of them got scholarships, while others needed loans. Some had gone to college and others started their own businesses. One mother inferred that her chronic fatigue was a result of her years of debate. Another mother inferred that her children had become much more confident communicators, while another mother felt that her children had also gotten better at arguing with her, as a result of their experience. So, it seems that like many activities we put our time into; sports, lessons, and clubs, the results are mixed.

My prayer is that as homeschool parents, we would use our variety of gifts to encourage our students. Science clubs, art co-ops, choirs, business apprenticeships, 4H, and drama groups are all wonderful ways to encourage our students, and to develop the many different gifts that God has placed in our children.

If your community doesn't have a group that fits your family's learning style, then find some friends and start one. This is the beauty of homeschooling. One size doesn't fit all. It doesn't need to. You just have to discover what your family loves doing, do it well, and then trust the results to God. 

Did your family participate in speech and debate? Do you have a favorite homeschool club or activity? I would love to hear about your experiences!

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  1. Oh my goodness. I had to cover my mouth and keep from laughing/crying with you about your six year old. I GET IT THOUGH. That is totally something that would happen to me. Glad that kids got your vote for first place out of it. Ha ha. You tried something and learned it wasn't for you. That is a huge lesson in of itself for your family. Plus they look so handsome all dressed up!

    1. Yes, the six year old definitely provided some retrospective humor!

  2. I'm sure it will be a worthwhile tool that your children can carry with them for the rest of their lives. One of my favorite classes in college was speech and I am terrified of getting in front of an audience, but I learned so much in that one semester that it helped me a lot as I ended up being an AF officer and leading meetings and public speaking was required. It gave me the confidence I needed and I am glad it was a GE requirement.

    1. I am excited about my children taking speech again in college. It is such a useful skill to have.

  3. Hi Jen,
    I agree that not all good things are good for all people.
    We are one of those families who has chosen to do 11 tournaments and has made the decision to put our time and money into what we find to be a profitable activity. Much sacrifice is made, but I wouldn't have it any other way, that is unless God calls us to change it up. See that's the rub - if God calls then he makes it possible both physically and financially. I know several families who on paper can't afford this activity. But God shows up and proves himself again and again to be faithful to supply all of their needs. Host housing/scholarships/ride shares.
    Parents choose this activity for a variety of reasons. We choose it to raise confident communicators for Christ, to apply economics and government to a real world experience, to further research skills .... I could go on. The fellowship and friendships have been sweet. A scholarship? That would be a bonus. That isn't even on our radar. If it was, then only wins would matter and we would miss the lessons that the losses bring. A win is a gift. My kids work hard and God is control of the result. There lies one of the greater lessons.
    I would like to encourage parents to look further into speech and debate and prayerfully consider what God would have for them and their children. I agree that "one size doesn't fit all". But Speech and Debate does fit some. And you certainly don't have to be a tiger mom.
    ~ Dana/a so-not tiger mom

    1. Thanks so much for your response Dana! So many of my friends really love speech and debate, and you articulated very well some of the reasons why. I am glad that you found a niche that works well for your family, you all have obviously worked very hard for the resulting honors.

  4. Oh Jennifer! I laughed so hard when I read about the persuasive round you judged. I can totally see how that could happen, not with your specific child, but I'm surprised we don't see it more often in rounds. It was a joy to have you and the boys in club this year. I'm sad that you don't plan to return next year. I respect your decision to stick with what's best for your family, but we will really miss you.

  5. I am so glad that it gave you a laugh! As Ethan said, laughter is the best medicine.
    I can certainly see doing it again some day, it is a bit like childbirth, the day after you say, "never again" and then a few months later you are ready to go for it.
    I so appreciated all that you, and the rest of the club did to help my boys this year. I wish there was a club with you all in it, that didn't involve days away from home.

  6. Debate tournaments were my favorite thing in high school. None of my boys have taken up an interest in speech and debate, though.

    I'm glad you found the overall experience worthwhile even if it's something you won't do again, always fun to try something ;) and the skills learned will last forever.