By Colleen McTiernan
Science fair. Just the thought of these projects can send shivers down some parents’ spines. Although they might seem intimidating for kids and parents alike, the science fair is actually a great time for your kiddo to explore what interests her.
How does the science fair benefit your kiddos?
Aside from teaching the scientific method, science fair projects really force your children to exercise their brains. “The only thing that I think is bad is when you have parents who do the project for the kid,” Patty Lipka, director of experiential education at the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention, said. Of course, that does not mean that you should not help your little one with her project at all! Parents can certainly help guide their child as she works through her project. Lipka recommends that parents keep their child on track with the goals of the project as per the rubric given by her teacher, but to otherwise try to stand back. “Keep assuring [your] student that I’m going to check your work, but if you’re getting stuck you need to say something,” said Lipka. Of course, make sure that your kiddo does not wait until the night before the project is due to tell you that she is stuck!
How can you help your child come up with a science fair project idea that she is really interested in?
Talk to your child about what she is interested in to help her find a topic that sparks her interest. “If a kid loves to skateboard, have them do it on force and motion, propulsion,” said Lipka. “Your kid likes to cook? Figure out something scientific with cooking, temperatures.” If your child is interested in Legos, you can have your child build a car, she said. Then take it a step further and figure out how you can make it move. “You gotta give them a little nudge,” she said. “Very few parents actually have the kid who says ‘This is what I want to do,’ and are very disciplined, so that’s where the parent comes in a little bit.”
If your child is still struggling to come up with a topic, consider taking her to a museum, like the Cade or the Florida Museum of Natural History, to see if an exhibit sparks her interest. You may also try watching a scientific documentary or series, like “NOVA,” or taking a trip over to the Kika Silva Planetarium if space excites her. If it is building and robotics that your child seems to like, take her to a MAKERspace or LEGOspace meeting at the Alachua County Library.
While science fair projects can seem overwhelming, often even more so for parents than children, remember that it is a time to really let your kids explore. “Parents, just take a deep breath, have a real strong cup of coffee, reward yourself with a Hershey bar later if you need chocolate, but just remember … that this too shall pass,” said Lipka.
Try piquing your little one’s interest in science before the science fair comes around with these fun projects you can do together at home!
Experiment 1: Mini Fire Extinguisher The Cade Way
Courtesy of the Cade Museum
2 tablespoons baking soda
2 tablespoons citric acid
½ cup tap water at room temperature
Use your modeling clay to secure the birthday candles upright to your table.
Combine baking soda and citric acid in jar. Use your digital thermometer to take the temperature of your dry ingredients. Record the temperature.
Take the temperature of your water. Record the temperature.
Place the thermometer in your jar with the dry ingredients, then pour your water in the jar. Note how the temperature decreases as CO2 forms, creating an endothermic reaction.
Light your candles and bring the jar close to the candles, allowing the CO2 to pour over the candles. Due to the absence of oxygen, the candles will snuff out, creating your own homemade fire extinguisher!
Experiment 2: Does Light Color Affect How Plants Grow?
Four lamps with full spectrum light bulbs
Clear, blue, green and red cellophane
4 cardboard boxes
Cut a 4-inch hole in the center of one side of each cardboard box using the box cutter.
Cut out a slightly larger circle from each of the cellophane colors. Tape the cellophane over the hole.
Place one plant in each of the four boxes and then place each box under a lamp. Leave the lamps on during the day, but be sure to turn them off when you leave the house or go to sleep! Measure the plant’s growth each day (be sure to water them as directed) for seven days. On the seventh day, check to see if any one plant grew more or less than the others.