“But Mom! It’s FOR SCIENCE!” [or the Inaugural KES PTO Science Fair!]


“I’m totally doing this! I’m going to the meeting tomorrow! I need $5 to buy a board! What’s a board?”

My eldest daughter loves science. She has always been the child who came home with a bucket of bugs, and an ecosystem under her fingernails. On wooden rollercoasters, she insists on sitting in the first car so we can be the force of resistance. In her bathroom, she mixes together all the lotions and washes, and lets them sit for weeks on end, hidden in the cabinets, to see what mass of disgusting will form. Yes, word of the Inaugural KES PTO Science Fair was well received in our home.

“Tornadoes!” she proclaimed. “Tornadoes! I need a bottle with this top thing and you can make a tornado in a bottle! I don’t know how exactly but it’s going to be amazing!”

Her first draft:  HOW TORNATOS WORK

“Um. That’s not how you spell ‘tornado’.”

“It’s my project!” she replied, indignantly.

“True. But that’s not how you spell ‘tornado’. And if your project is all about tornadoes you should, at the very least, spell the word correctly.”

“It’s my project!” she repeated.

Once in a while, she’d emerge from her room with demands:

“Printer is out of colored ink!”

“Where’s the good quality construction paper?”

“Dad! You have to drink the 2 liter of Pepsi! For science!”

“Mom, I need clear dish soap and glitter!”

“Does Tornadoes have an E in it or is it just tornados?”

“I’m going to make a tornado trivia game! Get ready to play!”

“Mom! Stop cleaning up! It’s for science!”

As she spun through our home, upsetting the contents of every cabinet and drawer, her siblings were sucked into the action because her excitement was contagious. They asked about tornadoes, answered trivia questions about tornadoes, gave encouragement regarding the now rainbow colored background on her tri-board. How much dish soap was too much? What did the dish soap do anyway? Glitter! When did we get glitter in the house? Didn’t Mom ban glitter?

My husband sucked down 2 liters of Pepsi in the name of science and then looked at the directions for the Tornado in a Bottle. I don’t know what happened but when I came back into the kitchen, he had his power tools all over the kitchen table. Seriously.

“This is my project!” she objected.

“I know. I’m just trying to get the bottle to spin really, really fast.” Suffice it to say, two plastic bottles, one pickle jar, 3 bottle tops, and a whole bunch of packing tape were sacrificed in the name of science. The upswing was he actually used that deluxe set of drill bits I bought him for Christmas five years ago.

Eventually, I hid in another room and quietly asked Google the easiest way to make a tornado in a bottle. The YouTube video showed a five year old making said tornado. Without power tools. A five year old.

“I told you Dad!” she yelled in victory. “Can I have the bottle back now? The one without the holes in it?”

It took restraint but he did it. He stood on the other side of the kitchen and let her shake the 2 liter Pepsi bottle until she figured out the right amount of force, swirling, soap and glitter to make a tornado. A real life tornado in a bottle!

“Can you do it over and over again? On Monday night?” her little sister asked anxiously.

“Yes. I think I can. I have all my trivia cards. Does my board look ok? Can I tell you about Tornado Alley? Did you know the US gets over a thousand tornadoes a year?!”

On our way into the gymnasium for the Inaugural KES PTO Science Fair, I wondered if the other kids would be as excited as my human Tornato. I’m happy to report the kitchen scientists of KES emitted a palpable excitement. The projects shot through time from the Big Bang to the exploration of Mars, from the core of the Earth to the clouds in the sky, from the tenacity of life to the extinction of the dinosaurs, the “Why”, “How”, “What” and “Can I” were investigated by kids who had questions that demanded answers. Answers to such questions as, “Why Do Birds Have Feathers?”, “How to Make a Flashlight”, and (winner of the most adorable tri-board of the evening) “I Wdr Wut Soogr Ds to Your TFF, Blud, and Blle” (I wonder what sugar does to your teeth, blood, and belly).

The gymnasium was packed not only with the participants and their families but with students and parents who didn’t have to be there but who came down to the school anyway (on a Monday night) to encourage the Student Scientists, and, hopefully, learn something new. Like, a kid can make a battery out of the stuff in the kitchen drawer. Food dye can make daisy petals purple. Sugar rots away egg shell. And what you should do if the sky turns sickly green and grey.

Adults in White Lab Coats (parents and community members who practice science based professions) walked from project to project asking each child about his or her project with interest and kindness. As Dr. Allison Nied (Parent/Pediatrician) said, “We want to get them excited about science. Not intimidate them.” When a White Lab Coat approached, my daughter got serious. She focused on the questions and shared what she learned. As the night went on, she no longer viewed a White Lab Coat as some sort of test. She relaxed, her presentation became more confident, and she became eager to speak with other inquisitive minds. She collected stickers from the White Lab Coats and proudly displayed them on the back of her laminated STUDENT SCIENTIST credentials.

It became clear that the White Lab Coat people and the Student Scientists are a rarified bunch who know that the irrepressible desire to figure out answers cannot be stopped even if it messes up the kitchen, your dad has to drink 2 liters of Pepsi in 15 minutes, or your mom has to make 4 emergency trips to the craft store. It’s For Science!

What did I learn at the Inaugural KES PTO Science Fair? All those little nagging curiosities you’ve always had but were never encouraged to answer? Get to it! Figure it out! Make your mess! It’s for a good cause. It’s For Science!

-Anne Foray