Settling on a kid-friendly, doable experiment for the school science fair can be tough if your memories date back to high-school bio. To find the perfect project for your child, follow these tips from Linda Froschauer, former president of the National Science Teachers Association:
Don't be afraid to borrow.
Stressed about coming up with an original idea on your own? Don't be. It’s okay to take ideas from a site or an app — your budding scientists still has to find a solution and write up her findings on her own
Instead of Googling aimlessly, go to Sciencebuddies.org and hit the Project Ideas tab. Plug your kid’s grade and project due date into the Selection Wizard and together answer such questions as “Do you like animals more than computers?” to pinpoint your child’s interests. The site will suggest hundreds of grade-friendly topics, from constructing your own solar collector to testing the grease in potato chips. It also clues you in to approximate costs and how many days you need to finish the experiment.
Narrow the focus.
Make sure the project includes a question that can be answered with hands-on investigation: “Do dogs breathe harder after they play?” or “How do dandelions spread their seeds?” Skip any idea your grade-schooler can’t test herself, like “Why is the sky blue?”
Get the teacher’s input.
Look over the guidelines for specific judging or grading criteria to ensure the proposed experiment fits the bill. Not sure? Ask for an after-school consultation with the teacher—and bring your child along. He’ll get personal pointers.
Let your kid take over.
Of course, you’ll need to pitch in for a younger grade-schooler (say, by pouring boiling water), but by fourth grade, most students can handle the work with minimal help. Plus, they’ll gain valuable lessons such as managing their time and figuring out how to discuss their experiment in front of others.
Illustration Credit: Arnaud Boutin