OUT OF THE BOX: Cats, manure and science projects

By Camille Nesler

It’s that dreaded time of year again and all parents know what I’m
talking about: it’s science fair project time at all the schools. Any
day now my kids will be bringing home a note announcing this dreaded
annual event. They will also inform me that I “have to” to help them.
Great. I think I’d rather stick nails under my fingernails than come
up with one more idea for a science project.
Back when I was in school, we didn’t do projects for science fairs
until we were in the 9th grade. That seems perfectly reasonable to me.
9th grade students are completely capable of coming up with an idea
all on their own and conducting the necessary experiments.
But by the time my son was in school, the students were starting
projects as early as 6th grade. Chris was never very “big” on science,
and he never really wanted to do any projects that required much
effort. He’d always ask me for project ideas that were relatively
easy, so over the years he’s done everything from growing crystals to
playing music for plants.
Once he graduated, I thought my days of coming up with project ideas
were at least over until the girls got in junior high. No such luck.
Apparently, kids are now required to do science fair projects as early
as Kindergarten, and I find that ridiculous. A Kindergarten student
can’t even spell the word hypothesis let alone do an actual project by
themselves! Even making a display board is difficult for a 5-year old,
who can’t read or spell very well yet. So let’s just call it what it
is: A big homework project for the PARENTS.
I don’t think there’s anything “fair” at all about a science fair for
children under the age of 12. It’s one thing to ask me to come up with
an idea, it’s quite another to expect me to do the entire project.
I’ve already been in school and I’ve already competed in science
fairs. I’m DONE.
So this year, I decided to get ahead of the game and I called up my
mother for HER input on the subject.
“Mom, I need two ideas for science fair projects, I need them by
Friday, and they both have to be something relatively easy that
requires little effort on my part,” I rattled off as soon as she
answered the phone.
“How about growing crystals?” she asked.
“Nope. Nicole did that last year,” I said.
”How about building a volcano that erupts?” she suggested next.
“Heck, no! We trashed my whole kitchen when Christopher did that one,”
I told her.
I was starting to get a little desperate when she finally said “ah HA!
I’ve got a great idea! No one else will think of this one! How about
you plant some seeds in different types of manure, so see which one is
the best fertilizer?”
“It’s really simple,” she rushed on, all excited, “You put some dog
manure in one cup, cow manure in another, guinea pig manure in
another, then you…..”
“lemmegetthisstraight,” I interrupted her. “You want me to bring cups
of POOP into my house and let the kids experiment with it?!”
“Well you ASKED for an original idea,” she said, starting to get
irritated. “I would let them do it in MY house!”
“Oh you would, would you?” I asked “This is coming from the same woman
who wouldn’t let me boil a cat in her house?”
“Uh oh, I’d forgotten about the cat,” she admitted.
Well, she may have forgotten, but I sure haven’t. When I was in
school, our biology teacher got a great big shipment of formaldehyde
cats for the class to dissect. Not only did we have to dissect them,
we also had to skin them, take them home, boil them until the meat
fell off the bones and then reassemble the skeleton for our final
grade. You should have seen the look on my mother’s face when I came
home from school with a bag full of dissected cat and asked her for a
big pot.
I guess there really ARE worse things than coming up with a project idea!