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Junior scientists and age-appropriate competition

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Science fair fun

Woody was in the town science fair over the weekend. He and a friend collaborated on a project about buoyancy. Of course in my totally unbiased opinion, it was an excellent project, obviously deserving of first place in his division.

Science fair funApparently the official judges didn't agree, thus breaking our family streak of three years of bringing home trophies. Oh well.Our town science fair is for the youngest in our schools, kindergarten to grade five, and it is run completely by volunteers. In fact, although they use the gym and cafeteria space at one school, it's not an official school event. It's sponsored, organized and run by regular people who believe in its value to our kids and demonstrates a huge commitment by those members of our community to an event that fosters inquisitiveness, creativity and effort often well beyond the participants' years. First, second and third place awards (trophies) are given in three categories for each grade level, and all children in grade K through 2 receive at least an honorable mention medal.A couple of years ago there was some talk about whether to do away with the trophies and not have awards at all. All kids, at every level, would receive a "certificate of merit." While I could see some of the points in favor of no awards, I did not and do not agree.Our science fair is small enough and carefully organized enough that it has not become a farce of competitive parents doing all the work under their children's names. Because it really is the kids' effort and the environment the organizers create is supportive and often joyous, it's an ideal opportunity to teach our kids about competition and losing and winning gracefully while celebrating their efforts and the efforts of others. If the actual event were different in tone, my opinion might be different, but it isn't. I think it's part of my job as a parent to help my kids learn about healthy competition and all it means. With the science fair, it's not only doing your very best, it's also in the choices you make in what you do your best on.  It's how you present your work in addition to the work you do. It's also showing respect for the work of the other kids. If my kids do well, it's my job to help them learn to be graceful winners. If they don't do as well, it's my job to help them learn about how to be graceful runners-up and, if they want to, talk about how they might approach a project differently next time. I think I'm up for the task.Woody wasn't too upset about his "loss." He had fun with his friend and learned a lot both on his own project (ask him about Boyle's law sometime) and from others. Trophy or not, all the kids who participated were winners. And we'll try again next year.Read more:

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