Getting Messy with Science Fair Projects
When kids bake holiday cookies, flour flies around the counter, onto the floor and around the room. It's the same with science fair projects, with the additional fact that sometimes safety is at stake. Terrariums, volcanoes and potato-powered clocks make a mess, and parents who want to support their children can prevent annoying struggles by planning ahead for the dirt and strategizing reactions to those nasty impulses.
If clothes are the most significant concern, aprons of all kinds protect a student’s front side while lab coats or the old-fashioned, adult-sized shirt work--as long as the sleeves as folded up. These coverings can be ordered personalized with monograms, names and other phrases. Or take the opportunity to celebrate mess by gathering permanent markers and paints that stay on fabrics and spread out plain aprons, coats or large shirts and decorate them before your child will need them. Have fun with images of science—light bulb, beaker, scale, etc.—and words like, “Doctor Max, Scientist Extraordinaire” and “The Most Brilliant, Jackson”. The good cheer and good will sets a generous and expansive tone for what can be an arduous experience.
If floors, tabletops and other household objects are the focus of parents’ concerns, many kinds of plastic sheeting provide great coverage. Paint and home improvement stores sell inexpensive rolls of thin plastic that spreads widely. For heavier covering, consider the old-fashioned tablecloths for picnics that feature fabric on the flipside. These hang well on flat surfaces and rarely move or shift during activities. Of course, the optimal protection is professional-grade construction plastic available online and at home improvement stores. One caution about the edges of any plastic protectors: for safety and to prevent headaches later on, tape down the edges, especially on the floor. Painter’s tape is easy to apply and remove.
“Clean up, clean up, everybody clean up!” Just as kindergarten teachers make a ritual out of an onerous task, craft an agreement with your child before the project begins about how often the area will be straightened and organized. For example, if mess bothers you a great deal, every evening visit the project’s main location with your child and identify what you need to be tidied up. Alternatively, if the project is out of sight—in the basement, garage, back room, etc.—agree that once a week the two of you will survey the clutter and satisfy your sense of an appropriate order. Regardless of your tolerance or lack thereof for dirt and disorder, discussing your expectations ahead of time is optimal. Review the project, the supplies and procedure with your child to anticipate the waste and jumble. Share your idea of neatness and offer several options for how to negotiate your standards with your child’s process. Leave room for your child to contribute suggestions and formulate a personal stance on the subject.
Perhaps the most important tip about getting messy is simple: let it go. As much as you can, set the limits in a clear manner—safety first, no permanent damage—and allow your child to be a hands-on scientist and get dirty.
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