Geek Parent

School Science Fairs: A Thin Line Between Love and Hate

School science fairs are a BIG thing around my house. Some families have soccer or football season. We have science fair season. From January to April, my house becomes one large workshop and lab. It gets a bit crazy around here.


I love my geeklings’ passions for STEM! I couldn’t be prouder of all that they have accomplished from their science fair participation. My daughter has taken first place every year for the past 6 years. My son has participated for three years and took third place his first year and second place this year. How could I not be proud of them. Though every year, I dread the science fair.

I toe a very thin line between loving and hating the science fair. Why? Because even though my geeklings learn about amazing topics and create fantastic inventions, it is one of the most stressful parts of the entire year. Forget the last month of school; when all they want to be is out of school. Or the week before school starts and they act as if you were preparing to send them to the worst place on the planet. The weeks leading up to the science fair make me want to pull my hair out, run away to another locale, create errands that I could do another time, anything that gets me out of the house away from the three science-minded people in my house – my husband, daughter and son.

When my daughter first started the science fair six years ago, I was a helpful mother. I sat and helped her work through the experimental process. Discussed things with her when she had questions. I was a part of it. Her second year I was hands-on again. At this point, I was a happily involved parent even though I had molding flowers throughout my kitchen. Then comes year three. Year three my engineer husband convinces my daughter to enter an invention instead of doing an experiment. Year three is the year that we had to build a blast shield to protect ourselves from shrapnel, set fire to the driveway, and I lost any clue of what was going on. Everything combined to create a perfect, chaotic storm.

People were amazed by what my child created and congratulated us on how wonderful our child was, and I just took it all in while thinking that I had no idea how we actually made it to the actual fair. These people had no clue how many times there were buckets of tears and breakdowns that I had to manage. How many times I was asked to help when I hadn’t a clue. That the project was pretty much held together on a wing and a prayer. The stress of seeing my child distraught was not soothed by seeing her win. I just wasn’t sure if what she gained was worth all that she went through.

There was also the part of the science fair process that shined a spotlight on what I call my failings as a mentor parent. My child was exploring areas that I had no knowledge of. She was in uncharted waters and I couldn’t be her floatation device. The entire experience produced emotions that I wasn’t sure were healthy for the family no matter what they learned. This is the year I began to toe the line between love and hate.


Now in year six, my son has joined the quest for science fair glory and things have only become crazier. He idolizes his big sister; so if she wins, he needs to win too. It is difficult for him to understand that she is competing at another level and that winning is not guaranteed. Also, he sees what she is creating and feels the need to match her. Again, not grasping that there is a big difference between what a seven year old is capable of doing and what a 13 year is capable of doing. In the end, their ambitious ideas always lead to tears, breakdowns, and me being out of my depth in regards to knowledge of their topics.


This year I tried waving the white flag and encouraging them all to take a year off, but no such luck. I feel like a horrible parent to be encouraging my children not to push themselves and learn more, but I think they need a break from the science fair tightrope. With all the science fair memes out there, I can’t be the only parent out there that has a love/hate relationship with the entire process. Sometimes I wonder if this is what sports parents feel like when their children play at more competitive levels. If this is just the nature of having your child strive for more. That the stress, frustration, and feeling helpless to help are all just part of the process when your children take things to the next level. Someday maybe we will find a balance to science fair season around here, but after six years, I won’t get my hopes too high.

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