Science fairs have a bad reputation, but if you approach them with creativity, patience, and an open mind, you’ll be amazed at what your child can do. Here are eight tips to help you get started, as you guide your child:
1. There's no need to panic. Science doesn’t have to be expensive, dangerous or terribly complicated. With the Internet at your fingertips, there are countless resources waiting to spark ideas in your young scientist.
2. Let your child take the lead. Every kid is inspired by something, whether it’s baking, music, basketball, or slime. Let her choose the project (within reason, of course), make the supply list, design the poster, and everything else. As a parent, your job is to encourage your child, ask her lots of questions, and keep your hands off of her project unless there’s a safety concern.
3. You don't have to start from scratch, unless you want to. It’s may be helpful to start with an existing science experiment and make it your own. Encourage your child to peruse the Internet or a book to find a project he's interested in. Let him try it and ask him what else he could learn using the same method, or what other things he could try. Encourage him to put his own stamp on it.
4. All ideas have merit. Let your child brainstorm and try things out, even if you don’t think something will work, or it’s not the way you’d do things. In science, invention and success are often the result of a series of failures. The entire process of experimental design should be a learning experience. Is there a way to make her project interactive for her audience? The more imaginative she is, the better.
5. Ask your child what he wants to learn, what he thinks will happen, and how he's going to test it. Does your amateur chef want to learn whether it’s possible to keep strawberries from getting moldy by boiling them for a few seconds? How long does he think a strawberry should be boiled to keep it fresh longer? Will five seconds of boiling stop mold growth? (A guess about what will happen based on what is already known is called a hypothesis.) How can he test his hypothesis? How can what he learns benefit society?
6. Take your time. Remember, your child has to come up with an idea, research it, do the experiments, and create a presentation. If you and your child wait until the day before the science fair, you may be able to pull it off, but the experience will be far less rewarding.
7. Think before you draw. Invest in a decent tri-fold cardboard display board. Avoid having your child start writing directly on the board, but encourage her to make a mock-up of what her poster will look like, and then to write, draw, or print images and information on printer paper that can be attached to the display board. Colorful construction paper makes a nice background for plain whiter printer paper and creative design is always a bonus.
8. Practice. Encourage your child to practice his presentation several times until he's comfortable explaining what he did. Be sure that he's pronouncing any unfamiliar words correctly. Have him make a list of questions that he thinks people might ask and practice answering. Most importantly, remind him that it’s okay to say, “I don’t know, but that’s a great question.”
Finally, as your child dives into her project, try to suppress any desire you might have to take control. Remember that his learning is a journey. Messes and mistakes are part of the creative process, and any project that your child completes — and feels great about — is a genuine science fair success.
Feature Photo Credit: © FatCamera/iStockphoto. Other photos © Quarry Books, 2016/Kitchen Science Lab for Kids and Liz Heinecke.