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Family Traditions: The Science Project

With most school semesters ending this week, my heart goes out to all the students facing difficult final tests and all the parents preparing for one of America’s most daunting family traditions: The Science Project.

Ever worked on a school science project with a small child you know and love? If you answered “no,” you either have a small genius in your life or a just a big fat liar. Science projects are assigned every year to virtually every elementary school child in every town across the country (and perhaps the world). Each student is given an outline of the project including topic, scope, process and due date. Sounds simple, right? Then maybe you really haven’t worked on one (yet).

Notice I indicated that the science project assignment is given to the student. This is the first problem. If you’re the parent, step-parent or the other adult responsible for overseeing this project, you know where the outline is. It’s crumpled into a ball at the bottom of your child’s sticky, smelly backpack.

So, when will you hear about this science project? Probably the night before it’s due – unless you have that small genius in your home. In that case, there’s no problem because they’ve been nagging you to buy baking soda (and all the other items needed for their brilliant creation) since the day they received the assignment.

Unfortunately, I am the typical parent of normal children who handed me the crumpled ball of paper twelve hours before it was due. I’d pick them up at school, ask about their day and whether they had a lot of homework; a question that immediately prompted eerie silence.

There are two kinds of quiet with children: The exhausted quiet that comes from a good soccer practice or bicycle ride, and the nervous quiet that accompanies a bad report card or school project due the next morning.

At this point, you also have two kinds of responses: The panicked reaction with a little screaming thrown in or the high road of calm inquiry. Did I mention I’m a typical parent of normal children? I’m afraid I rarely took the latter road and usually launched into a litany of questions asked by moms the world over:

“How long have you known about this project?”  “I thought we talked about the importance of homework due dates?”  “When were you planning on telling me about this?”

Of course, children all over the world have the same answer to these questions: The Shrug.

The real problem is it’s hard to fake a science project. It’s science. There’s no room for winging it. It either works or it doesn’t and most of these assignments require the one thing you don’t have: Time.

Perennial favorites include:

  • The Pinhole Camera
  • The Potato Clock
  • The Solar System Mobile
  • The Mini Volcano
  • The Reaction of Dry Ice
  • The Effects of Drag on Paper Airplanes

All of these are considered common, simple, grammar school science projects. All you need is a helpful adult, a lot of stuff and multiple trials that normally take at least a week.

So, just in case you’re looking down the barrel of 12-hour deadline, here’s my Six-Step Science Project Success Plan:

  1. Breathe deeply
  2. Spread out the crumpled paper in the car and find out what’s needed
  3. Stop at the store and buy all the stuff you need
  4. Go home and order pizza for dinner (make sure it’s everyone’s favorite)
  5. Start the project before 7:00pm
  6. Call work and let them know you’ll be late tomorrow morning because you need to deliver the project (and the kid) to school

More importantly, after you two have completed this project together (and you’ve bonded with a child who already knows they’re in trouble) try doing these three simple things:

  • Explain that sharing the assignment with you is a good thing and the real mistake was not sharing it with you much earlier.
  • Suggest that the next time they have a science project they might want to partner with a classmate. (Translation: Some other child’s parent will be the one to find the crumpled ball of paper in the backpack).
  • Say goodnight to your junior scientist, put your feet up, turn on your favorite music and pour yourself a little tequila.

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Lee Ann Monfredini

Lee Ann Monfredini

Lee Ann Monfredini is the founder of 360Women and a life-long advocate of women’s issues, political activism, social volunteerism, organizational accountability and personal responsibility. A graduate of the University of San Francisco with a degree in Non-Profit Management, she’s not only served on the boards and executive teams of some of the most respected health organizations in the Bay Area, but built a successful second career as one of the most respected realtors in the market. She can be reached at leeann@360women.net.

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