It all started when Benji said he wanted to collect elements. Into my mind flashed a vision of a pile of random junk all jumbled together, at best contained in some large and battered cardboard box, that Benji refused to throw away. Benji would clutch every precious item to his chest and refuse to relinquish it because it contained, for example, phosphorus or selenium.

This unappealing vision nearly caused me to reflexively toss out a firm “no.” But I gave it a little more thought and came up with, if I may say, a moderately brilliant idea: Collect tiny samples and tape them to the old kindergarten science fair poster board. This, combined with Benji’s willingness to collect samples that contain an element, rather than pure samples, made the project possible.

We found quite a few right off, and then our collection rate slowed down until Benji came home with the school science fair sign-up. We promptly decided to use the element collection as his “project.” After weeks of intermittent collecting, and with my mom’s and my careful sample packaging, we had covered the board with elements. Well, with items that, most likely, contain those elements. For example, I sincerely hope our rice doesn’t have arsenic in it, although some rice can; and I’m not sure the circuit board Mom found actually contains tin. But close enough.


After much resistance, I squeezed some science fair verbiage out of Benji. He really didn’t want to write anything, and it took us days of doing a couple pages at a time after a ridiculous amount of argument.


On Friday, Ian helped Benji bring his very cumbersome board to school. Benji presented it to his class — probably resulting in a classful of confused first graders — and it went on display with the other projects in the evening.

Benji seemed proud of his project, although Mom and I thought of, packaged, and attached all the elements. He did choose the location for each element and labeled them himself, and I think Benji learned something (he did: “Some elamanst are rilly hard to find”). It wasn’t a baking soda volcano. So I’m satisfied.


One of Benji’s friends, Owen, also did a poster. I asked what it was and he gave me some answer about wetlands, sponges, and floods. I’m not sure exactly what experiment he did, but he seemed to be enthusiastic about it.


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