Tackling a 5th Grade Science Project

My 11-year-old daughter came home with a huge packet of science project information a few weeks ago, and the entire family started feeling the stress.  Before the world of computers and fancy tri-fold poster board, science projects were a cinch.

I remember hunkering down at my dining room table with construction paper, some magic markers, and a simple sheet of white poster board; I felt pretty excited to turn in a project about plants that didn’t grow when I kept them in the dark.

But today’s children have a lot more pressure.  They need charts and graphs, digital photographs, and well-written hypotheses.  It’s enough to overwhelm the children and the parents.

Instead of letting the stress get to me, I decided to apply the principles I learned from a book by David Allen called Getting Things Done® and show my daughter that projects don’t have to give us headaches.  It turned out that working together on this project was a wonderful way to bring more love into our relationship–which works perfectly with our February Power of Love at The Power of Moms.  Here’s what we did:

Step 1:

We read through the packet of information and made a list of tasks based on context.  My daughter got out a little sticky-note pad, and she divided her tasks into the following categories:

  • On My Own
  • With Mom @ Home, and
  • Errands

Science Project Task List

Step 2:

Each day we started checking things off the list, depending on our energy level, schedule, etc.  When we were out at the mall one evening, my daughter said, “Since we’re running errands, can we pick up the poster board and notebook I need from the art store?”  Fifteen minutes later, it was done.

When I was helping the other children with their homework after school, my daughter did the typing and research she’d already determined she could do on her own (and even though she was a little timid at first, it turned out great).

On the days we didn’t have anything planned, we looked at the list of things we needed to do together.  Her project was to see what would happen to a loaf of bread when one of four ingredients was left out, so one day, I stayed in my pajamas until noon while we mixed up five different little loaves of bread (including the “control” loaf).  Then we ate the tasty ones for lunch.


science project

The greatest part was that whenever my daughter would say, “Mom, I don’t want to do the Science Fair,” I would say, “Don’t think about the whole project.  Just think about your Next Action.  What is the next, specific thing you need to do?”  Since she’d already taken the time to identify each task, it only took a second for her to figure out the Next Action, and she became much more calm and confident as the project progressed.

Step 3:

We set a date on the calendar for when we would put the entire project together.  Prepping each component of the project wasn’t too difficult, but we knew we needed an entire evening to print and assemble everything onto the poster board.  Our little three-year-old LIVES for projects like this, and we were sure that involving him would spell “catastrophe.”

When my other daughter and husband bought tickets to attend the Daddy-Daughter Dance at school one Friday night, we decided that would be the perfect time to have our own party (science-fair style), so we put it on the calendar and didn’t worry about the details one bit.  We tucked the three-year-old in bed and had such a fun time cutting our print-outs, chatting, gluing, and enjoying our work together.  We even learned to make photo collages together using Picasa, and she was so excited to make the background purple.

Alia's Science Project

Tackling the Science Fair together strengthened our relationship, gave me a chance to teach my daughter about project planning, and even provided a tasty lunch along the way.  The smile on her face when we finished that project was priceless, and now we’re already brainstorming for next year . . . .

QUESTION: What helps you handle your children’s school projects?

CHALLENGE: Next time your child has a big school assignment, sit down together and break the project into small, context-based lists that can be more easily accomplish


  1. Jani says

    Thank you for this article. It has really changed my life. I have 4 children, all in school, and the projects just keep coming at us! I was familiar with David Allen’s work before, but never thought of applying it to my kids’ projects. This is revolutionary for me (and them!). My third grade twins’ most recent project was a last-minute disaster. The same day it was turned in, I read your article and have vowed to never let those bad feelings about schoolwork happen again. Thanks to you, as soon as we got the new book report assignment we made a list of all the action items and I have made a checklist for each girl. They feel so great about themselves as students knowing that they have the project half done and it’s only the beginning of the month! They can now come home from school, check the list, and make one or two small steps toward completing the project. It is such a relief for all of us. I’ve also gotten motivated to go through my stacks of “open loops” and try to get control of things. Thank you!

  2. April Perry says

    Hi Jani,

    Thanks so much for your kind message. I’m so happy that my article helped you out. I completely understand the stress associated with school projects. You’re doing great!


  3. Amy says

    we are just finishing up my 3rd grade son’s project. We had set up a calendar .. which did not work. I am going to remember the Get Things Done approach for future projects! That would have helped him from getting frustrated with the whole picture. Thank you for sharing!

  4. danielle says

    Oh I think this is wonderful…I have felt amazing since my ‘machine’ has been set in place for ‘getting things done.’ But I really like the idea of teaching our kids how to look at the big picture, and then break it up into sizable chunks. I think many many many kids would really benefit from learning these ideas. Sometimes it (big projects like this, or even just something simple like cleaning a bedroom) can be overwhelming. Helping them see it in steps is a great idea, especially on paper like this.

  5. says

    April, I have not thought to teach my kids how to GTD! What a valuable skill, your so inspirational. I have a question for you. I am good at clearing out my inbox and getting things into the right spot but I was wondering, do you block off calendar time, and actually schedule it into your week, to work on your stuff like; @the computer, on the phone, running errands. That is how I have been doing it, but I wasn’t sure if that was the way you did it. You might have a post already about this issue, I would love to read the details if you do. THANKS!!

    • April Perry says

      Thanks Joanne! (Good to see you on here!) I do have to block out time on my calendar so I can accomplish my Next Actions. Typically, I do computer work while my son is at preschool or at night once the kids are in bed. Phone calls are after lunch/whenever Spencer is quiet :) and errands are after school on days we don’t have extra events. Of course, some little errands have to be squeezed in here or there, but this generally works. You’re doing great! Keep it up!

  6. Christine James says

    Thank you for sharing this application. I have a few children that tend to break tasks down naturally and they excel in their projects. I have a few other children who wait till the last minute and are frustrated because they don’t do as well as they could. I believe this is key. I think we will be talking about it during a family meeting this week. Thank you April.

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