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Tips for Low-cost Science Fair Projects

U.S. President Obama hosted the White House's first science fair in October 2010. Check out that cool SMART wheel in the background.

Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images

Glancing at your child's competition at the science fair, you cringe at how expensive other students' projects seem. One built a solar-powered robot from scratch. Another is coolly standing in front of a poster illuminated by strings of lights with an iPod playing background music.

Don't despair. Your kid can still do good science and win over the judges without emptying your wallet. In fact, the glamour of pricey projects won't substitute for experimental design and creativity. Although presentation matters, the quality of the project and your child's enthusiasm matter more. Whether a competition encourages fledgling scientists to describe nature or requires them to develop solutions to real-world problems, approaching a project with an organized, scientific mind-set will guide your kid through a process that's both enriching and fun.

Helping your child choose a topic that interests him will not only cut costs (because he'll approach the activity with more creativity), it also will ensure he sticks with it during the days and weeks to follow. Remember, low-cost science fair projects can even examine everyday questions your child may encounter. For example, do brand-name cereals really taste better than their generic counterparts? While scavenging the garage, he may question why new tennis balls seem to bounce higher than older ones [source: Bleeker].

Let's look at tips that spur creativity and keep costs down.

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