Dear Elementary School Administrators,
In my house, February is usually a month full of joy. Both of my sons were born in February, as were several other family members, so there is typically a lot of celebrating going on. But lately, February has become a month that fills me with dread. Anticipation of February is enough to give me the cold sweats. February, in our school district, is Science Fair month.
The process starts out all right. We brainstorm ideas (“No. Which brand of soda shoots the farthest when you drop a Mentos into it really doesn’t have many real world applications.”). We settle upon a question and form a hypothesis. The testing piece isn’t usually even all that bad. But then… then, comes the research, data collection, and interpretation. Don’t even talk to me about creating charts and tables. I have nightmares about the kids typing their segments for the poster board. And, please, put me out of my misery if I have to help cut one more piece of construction paper.
I don’t remember science fair projects being such an ordeal when I was a kid. But then again, I was in middle school and these are elementary school kids we are talking about. The attention span of a nine year old is quite a different thing than that of a 13 or 14 year old. Maybe I’m looking back on it with rose colored glasses. After all, I was the kid in that scenario, not the parent. Now, as a parent, I am convinced that there is a place in one of Dante’s circles of Hell reserved for science fair projects. They were most definitely designed to unravel the fabric of family life. We parents have to hear whining and complaining. We have to endure tears and accusations of “Why do you always make me do stuff I don’t like?” We have to sit by and painstakingly watch our child type up their research and results sections – one hunted and pecked-out letter at a time. Shoot me now!
We’ve all been at science fairs where you see a project, perfectly appointed with professional quality graphs and photos, and say to yourself “That kid’s parents totally did that project for them.” In the past, I would have secretly judged that parent, thinking they were just in it to win accolades and live vicariously through their child. But now, I totally get it. That poor parent was probably just at the end of their rope and, in a fit of anger and frustration, said to little Johnny, “Move over. Just let me do it!”
Dear educators. I implore you. For the love of all that is good, please take pity on us parents. I love science. I majored in Biology. I became a doctor. I want my kids to have an appreciation for science and investigation. But can’t we wait until middle school, when kids are a little more responsible and independent, to require them to do science fair projects? Or at least, let’s call a spade a spade and label the projects honestly.
“Which Brand of Paper Towel is the Most Absorbent?” by Johnny Jones (4th grade) and his mom.
Worn out in Washington