Our town recently held a spelling bee for all 4th and 5th graders across all the elementary schools. Having three kids who fell right into that range, my 5th grader, who we’ll call S, signed up, so immediately our 4th-grade twins P and A had to get in on it too. Sure! More spelling!
I figured we’d go, cheer everyone on, and have a good time. What I didn’t expect was to learn something about pride, sportsmanship, and bravery; all things that can come into play on a daily basis no matter what kind of team you’re working with.
Play to Your Strengths
Our 5th grader S is a voracious reader and loves words, so we figured a spelling bee was a natural thing for her. Although she is a bit on the quiet side, said she wanted to try. I thought she would get up, spell a few words, do her best (which is all you can ask of anyone), and see what happens.
What happened was that my quiet kid, who normally won’t open her mouth much in public, including school, was on FIRE. She was so excited to get up and spell, that at one point she ran on stage early and had to get called back. Round after round went by. Soon she was in the top 20 before being called out, but, after several others were too, she was invited back for a special spell-off to determine the finalists. Sure enough, S made the finals, ready to return in two nights for the next round. Her beaming face pretty much made my entire month.
Lesson Learned: Don't think that just because you make a mistake once, that that’s the end of it. Stick around and keep trying—your next chance may come sooner than you think!
Be a Good Sport
The next night was the 4th grade competition. My twins, son P and daughter A, were set to go, showed up early, got their numbers, and sat in the front row, swinging their legs a few inches off the floor. P walked confidently to the microphone to spell his first word—and got it wrong.
He got his certificate, sat down, and said, “Mom, I KNOW that word. But what I saw in my head was not what came out of my mouth.” I hugged him and told him that getting up on a stage to talk to people is hard, and then having to spell random words in front of them is even harder. I reminded him that his sister and several other friends still had to go and that we needed to stay until they were done.
That kid took a moment for himself, then moved to an aisle seat. He cheered like crazy when his sister or anyone from our school went up, and leaned out in the aisle to give high-fives to the kids coming past. I could not have been prouder of him.
Lesson Learned: When things don’t go your way, don’t be a sore loser. Remember the impact that you have on others, especially when you are part of a team. People will respect you for your graciousness and goodwill.
Do the Stuff That Scares You
P’s twin sister A has stage fright. Spelling does not come naturally to her. To my surprise, when the time came to sign up, she insisted on it. “I have to do it, Mom, because it scares me.”
In addition to my three, we also brought along S, a friend from their class who confidently spelled everything she saw out the car window on the way to that night’s competition. I prayed that each of them would make it through at least one round so they’d have a good experience, and we could go home whenever they were ready.
A spelled her word fine. Then her brother got out. And then their friend got out. A just kept on spelling! After about three or four rounds, she misspelled a word, received her certificate, and sat down next to me. We cheered like crazy and I gave her a huge hug. “I’m so proud of you!” She leaned in and said, “I am NEVER doing that again.”
I was pretty surprised, since she’d done quite well for herself that night, and doubly so for a kid with stage fright and spelling issues. She said, “Mom, S did it, and P did it, and loads of kids from our school did it. I didn’t want to miss out on anything, and if I didn’t try, I would always wonder. But now I know!”
Lesson Learned: Try the scary stuff, at least once. Challenge yourself and you never know how far you’ll be able to go. And you just might even enjoy it!