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Whether the words "science fair" fill you with excitement or dread, it's an experience most parents will endure at some point during their child's school career.

Yes, the prospect of a science fair project can be daunting. But with smart planning and the right resources, the whole experience can be manageable, enjoyable—even fun!—for parents and students alike. Think of it as a learning opportunity for the entire family, including younger siblings who can watch, absorb, and come up with hypotheses and ideas of their own.

For those phobic about all things scientific, keep an open mind: You'll likely find today's approach to science education much more interesting than when you were a kid. With an emphasis on hands-on investigations, field work, and doing science like a "real scientist," school science is more relevant, creative than ever.

Your child will be learning about the scientific method, and a whole lot more. The science fair experience builds many important skills: self-discipline, time management, project management, and written, verbal and visual communication skills, to name a few. The importance of patience and precision comes into play nearly every step of the way. Whether this plays to your child's strengths or presents challenges, it is immensely valuable.

Advance planning is key for all involved. Get a handle on the scope of the entire process right from the start. That way you'll be able to anticipate the workload and figure out how it will fit within the context of your student's schedule of school work and extracurricular activities. (Not to mention your own schedule!)

The better prepared you are as a parent, the more time your child will have to tinker, investigate, measure, observe, make mistakes, try new things, and get the most out of the process.

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