Our elementary school’s science fair is tomorrow night. We have been so busy the past two weeks that tonight is the first night we will have to work on it. So much for early preparation. The science fair means a lot to my son, who rarely takes interest in academic work. He is the reigning champion, with 3 1st place trophies. I’m not sure how he’s managed to win 3 years straight, and doing so has skewed his vision so that he thinks he will win every year.
Science experiments can become quite costly, and over the years I’ve learned a few ways to cut corners.
- Select a basic experiment. When you do this, you can alter the experiment to fit your needs. All of our ‘trophy winning’ experiments have come from Crayola or Zoom. Both sites offer some great experiments that require few materials. You can find most of these materials in your own home.
- Alter your experiment. My son’s experiment this year is called ‘Electric Jello’. This experiment uses static electricity to create stalagmite type peaks in different types of powdered gelatin. Instead of purchasing many types of gelatin that will just get thrown away, we will compare unflavored gelatin, flavored gelatin, sugar, salt, cornstarch, baking soda, and other powdered substances we find in the cabinets.
- Reuse a board. Many schools have science fair boards available for students to borrow. The only downside is that you will have to fully cover your board I order to keep it in good condition. If your school does not do this, save your board for the next year. Be sure to remove the elements as soon as the science fair is over, or you’ll run into the problem we have this year. It won’t peel off!
- If reusing a board is not an option, check out Michael’s and Hobby Lobby for boards. They are the same price as Walmart, but come in many different colors. You won’t have to cover them with paper if you’d like something bolder. Also, watch for coupons for those stores. They frequently offer 50% off of any item coupons.
- Remember that the kids will be judged on content, not style. We allow our son to decorate and determine the layout of his board. We do step in if he gets too crazy with it. Judges would rather see a child made project, not an adult art contest.
- Your project does not have to have good results in order to win. The goal of a science fair is to see that each child can follow the Scientific Process. Even if your experiment is a total flop, if you document it properly it is a successful project.
Please remember that you don’t have to purchase expensive materials. Our project last year was called ‘Water Highway’. We used dental floss, fishing line, embroidery thread, thread, yarn, and whatever other strings we could find around the house. We used two plastic cups and determined which type of string could carry the water from cup to cup the quickest.
Remember, the goal of an at home project is to encourage children and parents to work together. It can be a very rewarding experience for both of you!