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Eight Steps to a Great Science Fair Project

Getting Started: Steps 1 - 4 For your child, making the decision to enter the science fair is a very exciting thing. Tackling questions and finding solutions through experimentation goes hand in hand with the development of your child's left brain thinking. A science fair project can teach your child to find answers through responsibility, commitment and diligent work. Your willingness as a parent to help this process along will be enjoyable time spent with your child and will bring back fond memories of your own scientific discoveries!

1. Research
Sit with your child and make a list of topics of interest. If you need help coming up with specific ideas, go to your local library or search the Web for books and lists of science fair projects.

For the older child, have her do research on her own. Ask her to present her ideas to you.

2. Turn the idea into a science fair project
Once your child comes up with an idea, determine what question will be answered through the project. In other words, a question needs to be posed and then a hypothesis needs to be made (i.e., a guess as to what the results will be). How your child goes about answering this question becomes the project.

Don't forget to consider the age of your child, the safety (or lack of) involved with the proposed project, how elaborate and time consuming the project will be, what materials will be needed, and so on. By understanding her capabilities, you can help your child choose a project that is right for her. Remember that learning should be fun rather than stressful for both of you.

3. Create a budget
All supplies needed for the project must be purchased or found around the house. This includes everything needed for the actual experiment (e.g., a logbook to record observations, a presentation board for the actual fair, display materials). Remember to ask as many questions before committing to the project: Will your child need to photograph the experiment in process? Make graphs?

4. Prep
Designate a space within your home for the project. Take variables and other factors into consideration: Light, temperature, humidity, and so on. (For some experiments, any or all of these factors will weigh heavily and influence the end results.)

From Project to Fair: Steps 5 - 8
5. Discuss
To begin the project, create a timeline or have a discussion about how much time this project will take to complete (in time to enter the fair!). How much time will be needed in observation? Is a chart needed to record information at specific times? Does water or some chemical need to be administered? Together, create a strategy for success and set up a schedule so that your child can remember all of her responsibilities.

6. Don't forget to document!
This is a key component to the success of the project. Your child must spend ample time observing and recording her findings. The judge will be looking for good note taking with thought provoking observations. Spend time with your child--teach her how to ask questions and speak about her newfound discoveries. Encourage her enthusiasm by showing a genuine interest.

For the older child, have her reference scientific sources and compare her findings with similarly recorded experiments. This will lend her project credibility and impress the judges with her in-depth study of the subject.

7. Create a display
Nothing sells better at the science fair than a good display. Whether you have purchased a pre-made display board or created one with matte board, here's a great opportunity to introduce your child to some basic advertising and marketing skills. Ask you child to think of a favorite commercial or advertisement and ask her what she likes about it. Then, encourage her to apply similar concepts in order to 'sell her product.'

Some things to consider:

  • choose bright colors to draw people to your booth
  • use clear and simple language and place the project results prominently in the center of the board
  • make sure the logbook (or any documentation) is easy to read and follow
  • use computer graphics with bar and pie graphs

8. Get ready for the fair! (Test the scientific method)
The final moment has arrived! Here, your child's commitment and hard work really shines. Does she have a healthy understanding of the subject? Did she ask good questions? Is she prepared to answer questions and talk? Set up a few 'mock' sessions where you become the judge and ask your child to make her presentation. You can ask questions and give constructive criticism on how she can make her presentation the best it can be.

Remember! The most important thing is that your child has fun throughout this process. Try not to put too much pressure on perfection -- instead, support your child's desire to discover and learn in new and thought provoking ways.

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