Science Fairs for Elementary School Kids

Marco has become a cash crop farmer at home, maintaining our garden and charging me for harvested crops. At school, instead of participating in his school science project, he plays at recess. Is he a slacker?

Marco has become a cash crop farmer at home, maintaining our garden and charging me for harvested crops. At school, instead of participating in his school science project, he plays at recess. Is he a slacker?

Am I blowing it? I let my second grader, Marco, decide on his own whether he would participate in his school’s science fair.

“I don’t want to give up any recess,” he told me. That means “no.” Participating in the science fair requires meetings during recess.

Sometimes I think I’m blowing it. A friend of mine with kids at the same school has a very different point of view. “They’re participating,” he told me. “They don’t have a choice.”

My friend’s choice certainly seems to be the safer one. What can it hurt for a kid to participate in a science project? The cost of not participating, his line of thinking goes, is that Marco won’t get a great learning experience that he can build on in later years.

While I buy the argument that great learning experiences in early years are building blocks for more sophisticated ones in later years, I’m not sold on the idea that I’m depriving Marco of a great learning experience now. I might, but my guess is that this is not so.

The most likely great experience that a 2nd grader like Marco could get from a science fair is working on a project with his parents. Yes, of course, parents are the real worker bees of most elementary school science projects. Most elementary school kids, especially 2nd graders, just aren’t developmentally capable of putting together one of those projects on their own.

Rather than working with Marco on school projects at home, my wife and I try to work with him on projects that we all choose together. For instance, in our garage, he’s about to start building a wooden go-kart with my assistance. Also, he helps me create wood-carved signs. He’s becoming a pretty good sign painter.

Outside, in our yard, he and my wife are about to plant vegetable seeds in our garden in a few weeks. He’ll then take over the garden maintenance, and, most importantly, harvest the vegetables so he can collect money from me. I’ve purchased a scale for him so he can weight his harvest. He charges me the going rate at the local farmer’s market, and I happily pay.

Could we do better projects with Marco at home? Absolutely. I’m always looking for better ideas to engage him and help him learn. Teachers are more experienced at constructing learning experiences than I am. I fully support their efforts to engage Marco at school.

However, I’m not interested at working for his teacher at home. If she wants him to do a project, she should figure out a way to get it done in the classroom.

The projects we choose to do at home are best for creating parent-child learning experiences. We’re not “creating solutions for global warming” or “finding new ways to feed the planet,” but frankly, I don’t think those kids & parents working on elementary school science fairs are, either.

What we all have in common is that we’re all working on projects between parents and kids, and we’re learning together. That’s all good.

I just wish there was a way Marco and kids like him could avoid feeling like slackers because they’d rather play at recess than do their school science projects.

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