Science Fair Projects Kids Can Do Themselves. Sort Of. Or Not.

– Posted in: Elfie, Green Living, Homework, Newt, School, Things To Do with Kids, Worst Mom Randomness

The science fair was this week, and I’ve never been so happy to finish “projects that I’m not involved in.” While it’s lovely in theory to allow your child to conduct and then create a presentation of an entire project on his/her own, the practical execution of said theory never shakes out the way you imagine. And somehow, everyone always ends up rushing around like idiots (I mean calm, collected examples of grace under pressure), and flipping out over their last minute science fair projects.

Our kids go to a Montessori school. In theory, this means Newt and Elfie are supposed to be learning to fend for themselves. I know that sounds ridiculous since the point of raising children is to make sure they can be contributing members of society when you kick them out of the house, but apparently we need a whole “educational model” to guide us now-a-days. When I was a kid, my parents just left us alone and sort of hoped we wouldn’t burn the house down.

Anyway, when it comes to the science fair, we do our best to leave them alone. And it ends up looking something like this:

  • Just reminding you that the science fair is a month away. It would be good to work on it a little every day.
  • Okay, I’ve already given you about ten suggestions. What do you like?
  • Here. Here’s an online quiz that asks you about your interests to see if there’s a project you might like to do.
  • I don’t think it helps if you say “no” to everything (Newt)/”yes” to everything (Elfie).
  • Don’t get ticked at me — I told you in December that you needed to get permission from a special board if you wanted to experiment on people or dogs.
  • Light? Well it’s a wave and a particle, and you see stuff because it bounces off in a convex…no wait. Oh crap. Just go ask Dad.
  • Okay, here, watch this Bill Nye the Science Guy video on YouTube.
  • How many times are you going to watch that Bill Nye video?
  • Just reminding you that science fair is two weeks away. It would be good to work on it a little every day.
  • Elfie, yours isn’t even on light. Stop watching Bill Nye and go look up global warming.
  • Global warming? It’s when pollution is released into the atmosphere and gets trapped and eats away at the ozone…no wait. Oh crap. Just go ask Dad.
  • Okay, here, look at this website on global warming.
  • Yes, I have candles. But don’t light anything yet.
  • Yeah, I know, it’s totally fun using the lighter.
  • Okay, I guess that lighter’s dead now.
  • Yes, I suppose it’s a good thing you insisted on keeping those giant Legos instead of giving them away. Your hoarding paid off…
  • No, apparently we have to come back because the store’s actually run out of tri-fold boards.
  • Just reminding you that your science fair project is due in a week. In five days. In two days.
  • Can you not ask me how to spell stuff for just 10 minutes so I can read this?
  • Yes, I can print that out.
  • Yes, I bought glue sticks.
  • You guys do realize that all I wanted to do tonight was relax and watch the Oscars.
  • Just. . . go ask Dad.

The Curse of the Last Minute Science Fair Projects

Every year, the kids decide last minute that they want to “do a great job” on their projects. Every year they get a little ticked off because they aren’t chosen to go on to the “big show” from their classes. And every year, I tell them if they want to win, they need to step it up next year.

This time, I think they actually pulled off some good experiments. But the two of them are so stubborn and difficult (I have no idea where that comes from) that I just gave up when it came to giving them any kind of advice on the unfortunately important details — like cutting the paper you put on your boards in really straight lines. And using contrasting colored sheets of paper to set off your display. And making bold titles.

But I basically said screw it. They were making me so irritated by the end of it all that I threw in the towel. Besides, I’m a Montessori mom.

I’m supposed to let them burn their own houses down.

And just in case you wanted to steal these for your own kids…

Newt’s Project: Can a Wii Work if You Substitute the Sensor Bar with Candles

You know that little bar that you have to stick on the top of your TV when you set up the Wii? It shoots out two beams of infrared light. So if you hide it, the pointer on the remote won’t work. Candles, coincidentally, also give off infrared light (although it’s slightly different — far versus near). If you set up candles in front of the TV, the Wii will work.

The experiment can test whether or not this is a bunch of baloney! And you can also measure the distance from the TV that the remote will work when you use the bar versus a candle, a few candles, etc. Makes for a lovely graph. Science fairs just love graphs.

Using Wii with Candles


Elfie’s Project: Will the Shorelines Flood if the Polar Icecaps Melt (AKA Are We All Doomed)

This turned out to teach both kids a concept that didn’t seem all that difficult at first glance but is apparently pretty tough to understand.

  • Take two containers — she used roasting pans. One will be the North Pole and the other the South Pole.
  • Create something to represent “land” — she used giant legos.
  • Make one more piece of land to represent the South Pole (because the South Pole’s ice is actually on land).
  • Get a container with holes in the bottom of it (like the one strawberries come in) and fill it with ice.
  • Dump the ice in the North Pole pan.
  • Fill the North Pole’s pan with water to the very edge of the shoreline. The North Pole’s ice is not on land, so this represents its ice.
Global Warming Science Project

North Pole

  • Fill the South Pole’s pan with water to the very edge of the shoreline.
  • Refill the strawberry container and set it on top of the South Pole’s land mass.
  • Wait for everything to melt.
Global Warming Science Project

South Pole

The end result is that melting at the South Pole will cause flooding because it adds additional volume to the container. As sucky as melting at the North Pole will be on the ecosystem in ways too numerous to count, it won’t create beachfront property in Nevada.


So there you have it. Last minute science fair projects for the children of all you really responsible, hands-off parents. Now get out there and let your kids get stressed out and fail! It’ll be good for them, I swear.

Last Minute Science Fair Projects

23 Comments… add one

Mary February 28, 2013, 12:20 pm

I remember the Science fair days…staying up until 2 am the night before they are due, making the science boards that were left until the last minute and sending the kids to bed so they would not be cranky and bitchy the next day….
Don’t miss that.

Tammy February 28, 2013, 2:46 pm

Oh, now, see you’re nice…

Which is probably why your kids still speak to you.

Cheryl S. February 28, 2013, 2:09 pm

We have science fair night tonight. Woot. Woot. It is supposed to be house cleaning night. I’m not amused, and I do not want to clean tomorrow. Incidentally, in case you were wondering, pink wine will leave your teeth grey and crystallized, orange juice will turn them into disgusting, mushy, pitted, yucky things and coke will only heavily stain them but not damage the enamel (unless you consider having poo-colored teeth damaging). So there’s that.

Tammy February 28, 2013, 2:47 pm

Okay, I just have to know, how the hell did you prove that? Hopefully not on your own teeth. That would just be above and beyond.

Michelle February 28, 2013, 5:39 pm

Hubby and I told our kids that they needed to do Science Fair projects through 8th grade. I’ve done MANY late nights/early mornings of finishing boards. While we said the kids needed to do their own boards, it became clear that the ones the kids did never won, no matter how good their project was and how well they knew their material. (I personally think the boards should only be judged on the materials/information on the board, not how “pretty it looks”).

This year, life has been hectic and our school schedule changed, so the Science Fair was at the end of January. The kids weren’t motivated to do them and I wasn’t motivated to nag them about it (or to stay up late) so we skipped.

My kids will be in 5th and 8th grade next year and those are both grade levels that require mandatory projects or a decrease in grade. I have said we will work on them over summer vacation but……. 🙂

Tammy March 6, 2013, 3:03 pm

Holy crap. You guys are studs. There’s no way I’d have the discipline to make them do science projects if they weren’t required. I know — that’s terrible. I’m some anti-Tigermom.

And I’m with you — the “pretty” thing bugs me. Because it’s clear who gets help and who doesn’t. And frankly, I’d be fine if they said, “Help your kid make it pretty,” but they don’t.

Andrea March 2, 2013, 12:07 pm

whaaaaaaaaaat? The wii thing freaks me out a little! I am going to sit here quietly though, as I am not sure if the deadline for this year’s science fair paperwork has passed or not. 7 years was a great run as far as I am concerned!

Tammy March 6, 2013, 3:05 pm

Yeah, I’d say 7 years was good enough!

And I know, the wii thing freaked me out too. It was their uncle’s idea.

Wombat Central March 10, 2013, 5:58 am

Loved your kids’ experiments–especially love that the dog was in on the action.

Our fair is in three days. This year we’re doing social studies things instead of science (our fair is both). Has anyone started their projects yet? Of course not. Will we be dragging our bums through Daylight Saving crankiness to complete them? Yes. Yes, we will.

Tammy March 10, 2013, 1:24 pm

The dog is in the middle of everything. And I appreciate that you noticed that — I chose that picture because he was in it.

Don’t you just love procrastination? I’m not sure how I can fault the kids for it when I’m up every Thursday night, cranking out my Friday Fiction piece.

Jeanette Nyberg March 10, 2013, 6:31 am

Besides being a very cool science experiment, you now have a shrine to your TV. That’s doubly good! We’re just struggling through the beginning stages of a project my daughter is doing on Idaho. She got very excited at first about the idea of potatoes, but that’s not being sustained through the actual working stages of the project. Huh.

Tammy March 10, 2013, 1:29 pm

Well, since the only thing the kids seem to worship right now is Kick Buttkowski cartoons, that seems fitting.

And there’s gotta be an Idaho potato joke in there somewhere.

vinma January 9, 2014, 4:42 pm

Great! Since I am resourceful parent, I will certainly save this post for future reference 🙂 Thanks!

elaine schoch January 9, 2014, 7:11 pm

Sounds like very cool experiments. Love the melting ice caps – I think a lot of adults even have a hard time understanding it.
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Cher January 10, 2014, 5:27 am

Awesome! Thankfully, my daughter just finished hers. I just have to buy the board (and hope I don’t forget!).
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Jessica January 10, 2014, 5:49 am

Oh, I remember last minute science fair projects from my youth. I had forgot about their glory until this post. My girls aren’t in school yet, but I’m bookmarking this page for when our time comes! Thanks, Tammy!

Elle January 10, 2014, 6:21 am

Now I feel totally deprived. We didn’t do science fairs, just messed around with bunsen burners and mixing different elements in the class room.
Maybe it was a blessing for mum and dad tho’.
Love your descriptive passages Tammy, so evocative. 🙂
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LindySez January 10, 2014, 10:25 am

So did the candles work? I am so glad that my son is “off” to college and totally responsible for his own work. I remember all those “naggy” reminders…and still, it would be last minute!
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Silvia reynolds January 9, 2015, 2:20 pm

Loved this idea with the Wii remote! So unique ! My daughter is trying it with different infra red sources(candles,xmas lights,flashlight) We are having trouble explaining how this actually works. Do you have any info/websites that your son used that could help? Thanks love your site first time visitor but will be coming back again tons of great reads!

Tammy Soong January 15, 2015, 8:47 am

Nice! Love that!

Try googling Ruth Netting, Electromagnetic Spectrum; Bill Nye Light and Color; Matthew Williams How does a Nintendo Wii Sensor Work (it’s on eHow). And thanks for reading Silvia!
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Rebecca March 8, 2015, 6:24 pm

Science fair is in 2 DAYS!!! This is the first Science Fair for both boys. Expirament are still not completed. Printer ran out of ink. I’m thinking of keeping the kids home from school in order to complete everything.
I remember it happening the same way when I was a kid. My mom always felt so accomplished when we finished under the wire with a sub-par project… But I feel like I have failed my children…

Tammy Soong March 11, 2015, 10:24 pm

My printer runs out of ink every time they do a project. Every. Single. Time. It’s because we’re in the Matrix, I swear…

Not that my opinion really matters, but you haven’t failed your children. The fact that you even care this much makes that pretty clear. And like I always tell people — colleges aren’t going to give a crap if your kid gets lousy grades in elementary school. Let them learn what they can and quit before the crying starts. 🙂
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mirandalee April 23, 2016, 6:23 pm

doing areport about right and lefthanded peole

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