My son A.J., who is five and in kindergarten, just completed his first science fair and earned his first Achievement in Science certificate. It’s on display in his room now. On the certificate are drawings of a Bunsen burner, a test tube and a frog--the three icons of scientific inquiry.
I had thought that science fairs were the kind of thing you started doing in, say, fifth grade. But I’m still getting used to this Age of Accelerated Development, where kids get early starts at everything. Around here, kids start playing soccer at 4, t-ball at 5 and by the time they’re in kindergarten, they’re wearing their Pee Wee Football jerseys to school on Fridays, just like the high school jocks. (The little girls wear their cheerleading outfits.)
Something in me wants to be alarmed by this accelerated pace, but still we’ve dived right in along with everybody else. We’ve signed A.J. up for most of the sports, music, and other extracurricular activities that seem to be standard fare among his tyke rat pack. And, the thing is, just about without exception, he has loved them all. He played in a basketball league for five-year-olds this winter, and at season’s start I was convinced that this was a bad idea. I was sure that neither A.J. nor any other five-year-old was ready to play a game of full-court basketball without breaking down into hysterics after two minutes. And that’s to say nothing of the likelihood of anybody being able to dribble, pass or shoot. But as it turned out, by the end of the season, A.J.’s team was looking like, well, a team. They were passing the ball to each other, pulling for each other, bumping fists whenever someone scored. And A.J. had a blast. When he saw the clock and scoreboard at his first game, such an expression of awe came over his face, you would have thought he had just walked onto the floor of Madison Square Garden. It was as if he had finally reached the big time, the stage that he had always longed to play on.
He was pretty excited about the science fair, too. He and his mother worked up an experiment that would test how much our sense of smell affects our taste. Each subject had to wear a blindfold, hold his nose and try to guess what flavor Lifesavers candy he was given. I think the main finding of the project was that smell played a critical part in the ability to taste; but really what we learned was that five-year-olds will willingly submit themselves to experiments again and again as long as they are given handfuls of candy.
The image that stays with me from the science fair is of a grade-school gym packed with little kids wearing lab coats, goggles and junior scientist badges. They all looked a little like Dr. Frink from “The Simpsons.”