Lessons for Mom at the Science Fair

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There are little jars and bottles all over my house, half-filled with Momoammonium Phosphate (MAP).   We have MAP in liquid form, sitting in jars of saturated solution.  We have MAP in solid form, growing in jars of crystals.  

Yes, it's that time of year.  The Science Fair.  

Last year, Katie did a project that tested the drying times of different paints.  She painted three pictures of sea animals on canvas: one in watercolors, one in acrylics, and one in oils.  

The watercolor painting dried first, narrowly drying before the acrylic painting.  Katie, the daughter of an oil-painting mom, had correctly hypothesized that the oil paints would dry the slowest.  

At the time of the science fair, the oil painting was still wet, to the delight of every child who poked a finger on it and came away with a brightly smeared fingertip.

It was great.  

This year, Katie wanted to grow crystals for the Science Fair.  We turned the kitchen into a lab, and boiled and measured and stirred and sorted.  We added food coloring to some of the jars and left others clear.  

Katie has a beautiful collection of crystals, which we have glued to her poster board.  And we brought a smattering of baby food jars in various stages of crystal growth to display on the table.

When Katie first told me she wanted to grow crystals for this year's fair, I thought it sounded unoriginal, boring even.  Grow crystals?  Hasn't every third child on the planet chosen to grow crystals for a science project? 

Couldn't she decide to build a light saber or something more unique?  I wanted to persuade her to change her choice.

But then I stopped and looked at her.  She was excited, practically bouncing with enthusiasm.  She wanted to learn how to grow crystals.  She wanted to do this particular science project, and I got over myself and remembered that this is what it's all about. 

Here was my first grader, picking a very age appropriate project, and she felt great about it.  Suddenly, so did I.

We had a grand time.  Growing the crystals was an elegant way to demonstrate the difference between liquids, solids and gasses, a concept that Katie's class is currently discussing.  

We boiled water and added MAP until it formed a saturated solution, which Katie identified as a liquid.  As the days went by, the water in the solution slowly evaporated, and the excess MAP in the solution crystallized.  Katie identified the crystals as a solid.  

Each morning, Katie and I would race downstairs to see what had developed overnight.  To my surprise, I felt just as excited (if not more so) than Katie as the crystals grew.  It was not boring at all.  

It was fascinating and beautiful and amazing.  How wondrous that something can change so much, requiring nothing but the tincture of time.  

Today, as Katie and I loaded her project into the car, I had a fleeting thought of her as a baby, unable to articulate her own unique desires and interests.  

How wondrous that someone can change so much.   Unlike the crystals, Katie requires love and food and patience and guidance and so much more.  But when she receives all these things, combined with the tincture of time, the result is fascinating and beautiful and amazing.



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  • I am unable to pull up the post from Feb 3, 2011 - The Great Chicago Blizzard. I didn't know if it was something that you could fix or if you need to contact Chicago Now for them to fix it. I would love to be able to read it.

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