Spotlight ON Science: Comprehensive Guide to Science Fairs

February 26, 2018
Written by:
Tasha Swearingen

Participating in a science fair is a rite of passage for some kids. Kids who enjoy science love having the chance to share their expertise with others and they often welcome a dose of healthy competition – especially when there are prizes involved! With science fair season right around the corner, you may be wondering how to go about participating as a homeschooler. We did the research for you and have put together a thorough guide covering all the bases.

Can Homeschoolers Join Science Fairs?

In a nutshell: absolutely! Now, how you participate is up to you, but we wanted to lay out all the possibilities so you know your options:

  • In a private school setting – Generally, private schools are open to the idea of having homeschoolers join them in their activities. This is especially true if you live in a homeschooling-friendly area or state. If you’re not sure if your local private schools are having a science fair or don’t know if they’d allow your homeschooler to participate, just give them a call!  
  • In a homeschool support group or co-op – If you’re part of a homeschooling support group or co-op that doesn’t already have an annual science fair, consider being the person who steps forward and offers to get it up and running for the group.
  • In your own family – There’s nothing saying a “proper” science fair must be done amongst a group larger than your own family, especially if you happen to have a large family. You can order supplies, reward charts, trophies, prizes, and more online.
  • Start your own – All of the above suggestions are things you can implement if they don’t already exist. Most schools have a science fair already but if your local private school doesn’t, why not offer to start one for them?

If you’ve considered all your options and have decided you’d much rather participate in a science fair that’s already established, there are resources out there to help you do just that. You can use a science fair directory to help you pare down your choices to statewide or national science fairs. Just search for your state and/or region and click the link to learn more. If you’re on the hunt for a science fair that offers monetary prizes and scholarships, check out the directory of science fairs at Science Buddies.  

How Can We Find Science Fair Experiments?

Homeschoolers can participate in science fairs!

As you may have guessed, the internet is full of ideas for science experiments. However, not all ideas for science experiments make for a good science fair project. What’s the difference? According to Steve Spangler Science, the difference has to do with what he terms a science “demonstration” versus a “project.” A demonstration is just that – a visual component often used to explain a science concept. Spangler uses the example of the well-known baking soda volcano or the Mentos and Diet Coke explosion as mere demonstrations. To turn such a demonstration into a science fair experiment or project, he says you must incorporate the 3 Cs: Change, Create, and Compare.  

For example, with the Mentos and Diet Coke experiment you would typically drop some Mentos into a two-liter of Diet Coke, screw on the lid, shake it up, and reopen the lid to observe the explosion. This demonstration shows what happens when the carbon dioxide in the soda is attracted to the Mentos, squeezing the pressure out of the bottle in a process known as nucleation.

But, what if you used club soda (Change) instead of Diet Coke? Suppose you used mint-flavored Mentos instead of the fruit-flavored variety (Change)? Would the results be the same? These questions are what would lead you to the second “C” (Create) as you developed a new process. The third “C” (Compare) is what you would do after you observe your results from all scenarios you’ve tested. At this point, you would have developed an actual science fair project.   

How Should We Present the Science Fair Experiment?

The last thing you’d want to do is spend a great deal of time researching science fairs and deciding on an experiment, only to flop when it comes time to present your science fair experiment! When you’re ready to present it, stay professional yet calm, and be ready to address any questions that come your way. You’ll want to dress your very best and stand off to the side a bit so the judges can see your whole presentation. Make sure any accompanying materials (notebooks, charts, etc.) are easily accessible. If you refer to something that’s on your board, be sure to point it out when you come to it in your speech. Practice your presentation at home in front of family members first so you become familiar with what you want to say and how you want to present yourself. This will also give you a good idea of how long it’s going to take you to share your information, which is especially helpful if you’ll be timed at the science fair.  

When sharing your information, be prepared to discuss anything on your board. If the science fair judges ask you a question you don’t know the answer to, don’t be afraid to say something like, “I don’t know for sure but I think the answer is ____.” The judge asking you the question may already know the answer but just might want to hear it from you or see if you came to the same conclusion. In such cases, it would be better to admit that you’re unsure. For more great ideas on getting through the judging process, be sure to visit Science Buddies’ page dedicated to this very topic. Additionally, has a very inspirational list of science fair books you’ll want to check out!

Homeschoolers have many options as to how they’ll participate or how many science fairs they’ll participate in. Students learn a lot from science fair participation, and winners of a science fair can even earn monetary prizes and scholarships. Participating in a science fair can be a rewarding experience for homeschooled kids and teens.

Tasha Swearingen

Tasha is a homeschooling mom to 5 and has been homeschooling for 14 years. Currently, her children's ages span from toddler to young adult. Tasha has a Bachelor's of Science degree in Social Sciences from Florida State University and is working on her MBA through SNHU/Berklee School of Music.