If you’ve got school-age kids at home, I don’t have to tell you that 2020 has been a challenging year. Balancing work, school, and health concerns has been a big challenge for lots of folks, and along about this time of year, many parents of school-age kids are wondering what to do next to keep their young learners engaged and moving ahead without everyone going crazy in the process.

I may have a suggestion for you there. Consider getting you and your kids involved in the education-oriented Fish Art Contest, presented by Wildlife Forever, a 501(c)3 nonprofit conservation organization, and a number of sponsoring partners.

According to the contest’s website (fishart.org), the Fish Art Contest dates back to 1997 and was inspired by a Minnesota 5th grader’s homework assignment. From that beginning, it has grown into an international competition that’s designed to introduce young people “to the wonders of fish, the joy of fishing and the importance of aquatic conservation.”

The Fish Art Contest combines art, science and creative writing “to foster connections to the outdoors and inspire the next generation of stewards.” That’s a good combination in my book! 

The Fish Art Contest is open to students in grades K-12 (ages 5-18), and entering is easy. First, visit the fishart.org website with your child and choose a fish species from the “Official Fish List.” Then create an original illustration depicting the species you have chosen. The illustration must be horizontal and must measure either 8.5 x 11 or 9 x 12 inches.

Each student must also personally create a one-page write-up focusing on the “habitat conservation needs” of the species featured in the illustration.

For example, an entry focusing on trout might talk about the importance of things such as clean water. The write-up is required for students in grades 4 through 12 but is optional for student in grades 3 and below.

The finished art, the write-up, and a completed entry form must then be submitted­­­ by the contest deadline, March 31, 2021. Entries should be mailed (preferred) or emailed to the address found on fishart.org. Winners are chosen in four categories (grades K-3, 4-6, 7-9, and 10-12). and will be announced in May.

In addition to the overall awards, quite a few special awards are also presented. One of them, and a particular favorite of mine, is the “Smile” award. This award, says the website, is presented to the student “who’s piece makes the judges ‘smile,’ inside and out!”

There’s even a special Go Fish Georgia Award just for young wildlife artists from the state of Georgia. You will definitely want to check this one out. It was created by the Georgia Go Fish! Education center to celebrate fish species native to or introduced to the state. You’ll find details about this Georgia-only award on the fishart.com site.

The Fish Art Contest has become something of a phenomenon. Last year, the contest drew thousands of submissions from students all over the world.

“Our judges had an extremely challenging time selecting our winners with 5,429 entries from 47 states and 32 international countries,” notes Julia Luger, education director at Wildlife Forever. “We can’t wait to see what you create for 2021!”

Are you wondering what last year’s winners look like? Check out the first, second and third place winners. Judging from what I saw when I took a look just now, there are some great young artists out there! And to help kids plan their entries, there are even helpful comments from previous judges.

One neat thing about this whole FishArt program is how engaging it is. On the website, for example, young students will love the virtual library. There, they can click on the cover of a fishing book and then hear the book read aloud. In addition, three different on-line “aquariums” allow students to learn more about specific species of fish. The site also offers a “fishing classroom,” where kids can learn more about fishing, as well as various educational resources for parents or teachers.

So, don’t let our upside-down world drive you (and your kids) crazy. Instead, get out the art supplies and start thinking about some fish art.

And rest comfortable in the knowledge that spring will be here soon.

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