With two boys who’ve finished elementary school, and a third who appears to be on his way, I’ve attended my fair share of Science Fairs. If you’re at the front end of this grand adventure, allow me to offer a few tips:
1. Add some levity. When your precious pumpkin is designing his first science project, likely some sort of clay-and-Lego creation let him design away. Resist the urge to cut, paste, and suggest. Mmm, hmmm. I am proposing that you keep your mouth shut and stay out of it. Yes, the project will look like he made it out of clay and Legos. And, yes, he will be competing against the kids whose parents spent 3 weeks crafting something to demonstrate the Laws of Thermodynamics. No one likes these parents, especially the teachers. So go ahead and add a little levity—and reality—to the event by letting your child’s design look like what it’s meant to be: a child’s design. Trust me on this one. Your child will be much better off in the long run, and so very proud of himself, for doing this on his own.
2. Independent means independent already! A few years ago one of our boys entered a fancy Statistics Poster contests. There are all sorts of requirements and rules the kids have to follow to ensure that the thing is statistically accurate. Our son wanted to test whether a football would go farther when he threw it and punted it depending on its weight. “Too many variables,” we said. “You can’t make sure you kick it with the same strength every time. It’s not statistically accurate,” we moaned. The persistent bugger insisted, however, and away he went. He recorded the regular weight throw & kick distance. He let some air out and recorded the lighter weight throw & kick distance. Then, using an obviously kid-devised method, he duct taped a bag of rice to the football to see how adding weight would affect the kick and throw distance. (He also covered our entire cul-de-sac with rice, thanks to the broken bags, but hey, he got his data.) “Good luck,” we said, knowing how this would end. But we were wrong. Instead of getting tossed out for bad data, he was one of three winners of cold, hard cash. As for us, his statistically savvy parents? We learned an incredibly valuable lesson that day. It seems those professors know just what kids are capable of, and my guess is that they were thrilled to see duct tape put to such a fine, scientific use.
3. Let them have fun. Face it, moms. Science can be interesting and engaging, but how often do kids see it that way? For that matter, how often do we see it that way? To encourage your blossoming scientist, let her choose a project that has an element of fun and messiness. Miscible liquids and exploding volcanoes are two perennial favorites, volcanoes leading the pack by a mile. As you clean up the trial run, keep in mind that there are at least two goals with a Science Fair. One, of course, is for the kids to learn something about science. But the more important piece, at least for younger kids, is for them to enjoy the process. So let them get down and dirty, and foster the thought, if ever so brief, that science can be fun.