Elementary School Science Fair Projects

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Winning Project

It can be challenging to come up with a good science project idea.

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It can be a challenge to come up with an elementary school science fair project idea that's fun and challenging. Even at the grade-school level, there will be fierce competition to come up with the winning idea—but winning first prize should not be the focus of your child's project. Learning and making the project fun and encouraging a genuine interest in science should be your top priority.

Elementary School Science Fair Project Basics

Elementary school projects aren't supposed to be rocket science (though of course, they can be). Keep in mind, judges will disqualify projects if they suspect parents did too much or all of the work.

Part of science is making a reproducible procedure. Resist the temptation to let your child make a display or do a demonstration. Instead, gear the project toward answering a question or solving a problem. Start by finding a video an online tutorial for a project that appeals to your child and then let him or her try to reproduce it. Make sure to follow all directions and safety precautions outlined in the experiment to the letter.

Documentation is also essential to the success of your child's project. Keeping careful notes and taking pictures as the project progresses is a great way to document data. These notes should include how well his or her results match those of the original project.

How Much Time Should Be Devoted to the Project?

Time is a factor that has to be considered for all science projects. Even though the actual number of hours spent to complete any given project may be the same, some science fair projects can be done over the space of a weekend, while others that involve recording data over a period of time (say, 10 minutes per day over the course of a few weeks). Finding out if there's going to be a year-end science fair that your child will be expected to participate in will allow you to plan accordingly.

Weekend Projects

The following projects can be accomplished fairly quickly. Make sure your child sets a specific goal to be achieved or question they will be attempting to answer. Gather the specific items needed to complete the project in advance. Have your child document the steps in the experiment as they go along and also record his or her conclusion at the end.

  • Try making colored bubbles. Can you color them with food coloring? If so, what differences do you notice between colored bubbles and regular bubbles?
  • Can you predict what things will glow under a black light?
  • Will chilling an onion before cutting it keep you from crying?
  • What ratio of vinegar to baking soda produces the best chemical volcano eruption?
  • Are night insects attracted to lamps because of heat or light?
  • Can you make Jell-O using fresh pineapples instead of canned pineapples?
  • Do white candles burn at a different rate than colored candles?
  • Compare using saltwater (a saturated solution of sodium chloride) and freshwater to dissolve Epsom salts. Will the saltwater dissolve the Epsom salts? Does the freshwater or saltwater work more quickly or effectively?
  • Does the shape of an ice cube affect how quickly it melts?
  • Do different brands of popcorn leave different amounts of unpopped kernels?
  • How do differences in surfaces affect the adhesion of tape?
  • If you shake up different kinds or brands of soft drinks (e.g., carbonated), will they all spew the same amount?
  • Are all potato chips equally greasy (you can crush them to get uniform samples and look at the diameter of a grease spot on brown paper)? Is greasiness different if different oils are used (e.g., peanut versus soybean)?
  • Can you use a household water filter to remove flavor or color from other liquids?
  • Does the power of a microwave affect how well it makes popcorn?
  • If you use invisible ink, does a message appear equally well on all types of paper? Does it matter what type of invisible ink you use?
  • Do all brands of diapers absorb the same amount of liquid? Does it matter what the liquid is (water as opposed to juice or milk)?
  • Do different brands of batteries (same size, new) last equally long? Does changing the device in which the batteries are used (e.g., running a flashlight as opposed to running a digital camera) change the results?
  • Is the nutritional content of different brands of a vegetable (e.g., canned peas) the same? Compare labels.
  • Are permanent markers really permanent? What solvents (e.g., water, alcohol, vinegar, detergent solution) will remove the ink? Do different brands/types of markers produce the same results?
  • Is laundry detergent as effective if you use less than the recommended amount? More?
  • How does the pH of soil relate to the pH of the water around the soil? You can make your own pH paper, test the pH of the soil, add water, then test the pH of the water. Are the two values the same? If not, is there a relationship between them?
  • Do clear flavored drinks and colored flavored drinks (same flavor) taste the same? Does it matter if you can see the color?
  • What percent of an orange is water? Get an approximate mass percent by weighing an orange, liquefying it in a blender, and measuring the strained liquid. (Note: other liquids, such as oils, will be present in trace amounts.) Alternatively, you could bake the weighed orange until it is dried and weigh it again.
  • Does the temperature of a soda affect how much it sprays?
  • You can refrigerate a soda, warm one in a hot water bath, shake them up, measure how much liquid is sprayed out. How do you explain the results?
  • Do all brands of soda spray the same amount when you shake them up? Does it matter if it's diet or regular soda?
  • Do all brands of paper towels pick up the same amount of liquid? Compare single sheet of different brands. Be sure to use a teaspoon to measure incremental additions of liquid and record the number accurately. Continue to add liquid until the sheet until it is saturated, let any excess liquid drip off, and then squeeze the liquid from the wet paper towel into a measuring cup.

Week-Long Projects

These projects may take more than a few days to complete, as the processes they involve don't always happen overnight. If one of these projects interests your child, make sure he or she will have enough time to see it through to its conclusion, and again, make sure they document the steps they take along the way.

  • What type of plastic wrap best prevents evaporation?
  • What plastic wrap best prevents oxidation?
  • Figure out how much of a week's worth of your family's trash could be recycled. Compare the recyclables against the total amount of trash to determine what percentage is thrown away what could be re-used.
  • Does light affect the rate at which foods spoil?
  • Do the same types of mold grow on all types of bread?
  • How does temperature affect the growth of Borax crystals? Crystals can be grown at room temperature, in the refrigerator, or in an ice bath. Growing crystals takes from two to five days. Since boiling water is required to melt the Borax, make sure to supervise your child.
  • What conditions affect the ripening of fruit? Look at ethylene and enclosing a fruit in a sealed bag, temperature, light, or nearness to other pieces or fruit.

Plant Germination and Growth (Long-Term Projects)

Projects that involve growing plants over a period of time to see how different factors affect growth rate and germination are very popular with kids but they do take time and careful tending. You want your child to be excited by science. If it seems like a chore, they may lose interest. Younger children or those with short attention spans may be better off with a project from which they can see the results more quickly. If your child is good at keeping up with commitments and has the patience to watch things unfold, these projects are excellent examples from which they can learn and draw their scientific conclusions.

  • How do different factors affect seed germination? Factors that you could test include the intensity, duration, or type of light, the temperature, the amount of water, the presence/absence of certain chemicals, or the presence/absence of soil. You can look at the percentage of seeds that germinate or the rate at which seeds germinate.
  • Is a seed affected by its size? Do different size seeds have different germination rates or percentages? Does seed size affect the growth rate or final size of a plant?
  • How does cold storage affect the germination of seeds? Factors you can control include the type of seeds, length of storage, the temperature of storage, light, and humidity.
  • Does the presence of detergent in water affect plant growth?
  • What is the effect of a chemical on a plant? You can look at natural pollutants (e.g., motor oil, runoff from a busy street) or unusual substances (e.g., orange juice, baking soda). Factors that you can measure include rate of plant growth, leaf size, life/death of the plant, the color of ​the plant, and its ability to flower/bear fruit.
  • Does magnetism affect the growth of plants?

Science Fair Projects Beyond Grade School

If your child loves science and is nearing grade school graduation and you want to keep their enthusiasm engaged, you can plan ahead by getting familiar with these science project ideas geared toward more advanced levels of education.