Caregiver Advice

parent-adviceFinding Time

If this is your first time helping your child enter a science fair, you are in for a treat. Yes, it does take time, but it is so worth it!

It really doesn’t matter what grade your student is in — he or she will need some form of help, guidance and nurturing.

If you help your student start early enough in the year, and do a little each week, it will go by quickly and turn out to be one of the best experiences you will ever share.

Talk about the project while you are doing dishes or in the car. Offer science fair work exchanges such as, “If you are going to be busy working on your project, maybe I could help you clean your room this afternoon.”

You will need to make sure you know the rules and help the student follow them. In most cases, you may be the student’s only mentor. That means working with the student to help with complicated tasks, or sometimes providing assistance in laying out the project plan. It is imperative that the student does the work and the experiment himself or herself, that he or she has done a good job with literature search, and has kept a good notebook.

Showing interest throughout the project and giving advise regarding board layout and color scheme will help the student tremendously. Don’t forget: University level doctoral candidates have advisers help them along the way. Why not help your student as well?

But remember: This should in no way be your project. It must be the student’s project — from idea and hypothesis, or problem statement through to completion. When is too much help being given?

If you are doing most of the talking and your hands are busier than your child’s, then you have crossed the line. Back up for a bit, give your child a bit of space and start back in after explaining to your child that you are only powered by him or her. You can only work if they are right next to you helping or talking. Then be a bit dramatic: If they start to walk away, drop your hands into your lap, or get up suddenly. When your child sees that your time is limited to when they are interested, they will soon “get it.”

What if they don’t? Even the parents of the top winners at national and international competitions will tell you that there comes a time when every young scientist needs to have an “if-then” ultimatum.  Be positive, but explain that “If you can get this part done, then you can go to … ”

Some key things to remember are the important due dates your school may assign or that are offered on the website in the “Week By Week” section — so that your student gets done in time to enter and be recognized for his or her hard work.

Read the material in the student section. Then you can provide your help knowing what is fully expected of your child.

Offer encouragement often! Talk about the research process and exciting results they are finding out, rather than concentrating on whether your child will “win” the contest.

One added reason for finding time to help now: You may save time and stress later, when looking for funding for college!

Parent to Parent Advice

Have you ever wondered what it must have felt like to be Albert Einstein’s mother? Or to be the dad that took young Galileo out stargazing one night? You are that parent right now. Your son or daughter is on the brink of a new discovery, and finding out just what they are capable of in the world of science.

The parents of recent science fair winners were recently interviewed and asked their advice about competing in the science fair. Here’s what they said:

  • “Don’t be afraid to help them. Even the most famous scientists need support somewhere along the way.” (See the section entitled “How Much Help Should I Give?”)
  • “Watch what your child is interested in. Help them wonder about it, and dream about what might be different if they changed one thing. Let children study what fascinates them. If your child lays on the ground watching ants or something in nature, let them study that. If your child likes to spend time in the kitchen as a young chef, let them create a project there. Spend lots of time at this stage, and the rest will be easy later on. Doing a project on something that bores your child will be deadly for both of you!”
  • “Don’t use the ideas from Science Fair Project books or ideas that you did back when you were in school. Try to avoid encouraging the testing out of products like laundry detergent, paper towels, soap and the like. They have all been done a hundred times and the judges have seen it already.” If a student insists, assist them in doing a thorough review of what is needed for the Scientific Method, and apply it.
  • “Make sure the project tests out an idea. The project should not be something that they just build or do. The days of building a model of the solar system or exploding volcanoes are over.”
  • “Allow plenty of time. Start as soon as possible. The best way to do this is to plan out a section to complete each week.”
  • “The project board should be colorful and neat. Parents can help by taking the photos. Use lots of pictures and photos of the steps being completed. Just don’t focus on your child’s face when taking a photo. Get the back of their head so the project stays anonymous for judging.”
  • “Think of yourself as the assistant to the scientist. You can do the shopping for supplies like glue sticks and film and materials, but it is your child that should make the list and go with you.”
  • “When you start referring to the project as yours, and saying “We did … ” instead of “He did … ” it is time to take a step back. The project belongs to your child, not you. Give advice, then step back and allow your child time to decide if they want to take it or not.”
  • “When it stops being fun, it is time to stop. This should be positive experience even WITH the expected challenges. When the attention span seems to wane, then that is a good clue it is time to stop.”
  • “There will be times when your child wants to give up, but that is when parents can do their best teaching about overcoming the adversity. Take a break and then go take a fresh look together.”
  • “Winning isn’t everything. Just doing a project together is its greatest reward. Keep in mind it is all about the learning.”

One Nobel Prize winner recently admitted that although he often entered his local science fair, he never won. But because he entered every year, he learned to love science and testing out his own ideas.

Maybe that is the best advice for parents: Let your child test his or her own ideas. Who knows whose parent you may turn out to be!

Science Fair: The Basics

Although you are welcome and encouraged to visit all of the sections on this site, we know that many parents just want to know: “What are the basics to include on a science fair project and display board?”

Here is a one-page “how to” guide that summarizes everything!

  1. Title: Make this really big! Make it clever and creative! Titles are usually in the form of a short question. This is probably the most important thing, so make it catchy!
  2. Abstract: This is a summary of the whole project (in 250 words or less). It includes the goal or why it is important, the methods, the results, and most importantly the conclusions. You may want to include a sentence at the end about what the student would like to do to continue this project in the future.  *Note to high school students: If you are printing your project on a single sheet format, keep your abstract separate and attach next to your board. At advanced competitions, it must be separately displayed.
  3. Statement of the Problem or Question or Hypothesis: Any of these terms is OK. A short sentence or brief paragraph is good. How did you think of this project? What made you wonder about this? Convince us that you really wanted to know about it. Regarding a Hypothesis, keep it nice and simple. What are you trying to disprove or prove? You can have a few sub-hypotheses (smaller questions that came up) if you want.  Warning: Do not get this out of an idea book, as they are all “old” ideas now and many others are looking at them, too. Also, do not use animals, gross stuff or ask other students to do potentially harmful things (like strenuous exercising, icky taste testing, etc.) unless you get the official permission forms filled out (See SRC under Rules).
  4. Background or Introduction: This should be a short paragraph or two regarding what was learned about the subject of your project from your literature search. The literature research (library and Internet) should be done first when starting a project.
  5. Materials: List everything you needed to do this project (be specific) and put a few words about why you needed them. For example: “A watch: We needed this because we needed to time how long … etc.”
  6. Definitions: Optional, but — especially for Grades 3-5 — nice. How did you define the terms you used? What means one thing to you might mean something different to someone else.
  7. Procedure: Number each step that was taken. You want to be painfully descriptive and detailed here. But make each step be short so they are quickly and easily read. No long paragraphs here.
  8. Results: This is where your charts and graphs go. NO explanations are given here. Your raw data can either be included on this part of the board if it isn’t very much, or is more often found in your notebook/binder and set in front of the display.
  9. Conclusions: This is where you interpret and draw conclusions about your data, charts and graphs. May sentences will start with: “Based on my results, I can conclude that … ” or “Based on my data … ” Judges love that!
  10. Considerations or Limitations: Optional. You can use this section to state why results might be limited to this study only and not generalized. Limitations are variables that you might not have been able to control or could not change – and every research project has limitations! This is also where you can put in the extra stuff that made the project interesting, or things that made your child think further, or wonder more. Ideas for future projects can go here, too!
  11. Hints: Put your child’s name on a 3-by-5 card or slip of paper on the BACK of the poster board. NO student or teacher names can be posted on the FRONT of the board. Be sure that any photos that you take do not focus on kids’ faces. Take them so that the photo shows what they are DOING, not WHO is doing it. If the pictures are of subjects other than the student researcher, parental permission must be obtained before it can be displayed at SARSEF.


Every Child. Thinking Critically. Solving Problems.