BEMIDJI --“Why do we brush our teeth?,” “How do volcanoes work?,” “Do red foxes hibernate?” and “What is a robot?”
These were just a few of the tough questions asked during the first-ever Bemidji Discovery Homeschool Group Science Fair on Monday evening at the Bemidji National Guard Armory.
Kiddos in masks -- even a few in lab coats -- showed off their scientific discoveries throughout the event held on Oct. 26.
Homeschooled children in kindergarten through second grade were assigned to tackle research projects, while third through fifth-graders were tasked with demonstrating a scientific phenomenon. The room was filled to the brim with enthusiasm for learning.
Five-year-old Teddy Robeck was “not nervous” when the time came to present his findings. He stood with his father, Chad, to tell judges about the importance of brushing your teeth. Using eggs as his visual, he had soaked the calcium-rich shells in various liquids as a control and then did so again after the eggs had been brushed with toothpaste.
He noticed that cranberry juice had the most dramatic effect on the shells -- “this one looks like a 100-year-old egg,” he said of the darkened exterior.
Robeck had even experienced the ups and downs that can come along with scientific discovery. Eggs weren’t his first choice, he had wanted to grow mold on bread, but that “was a flop,” he said.
Six-year-old Jude Hicks chose a timely project, one he titled “Gross germs.” Hicks’ mother, Leah, said he gained research skills and understanding through his project.
“It’s relevant to what we’re going through right now with coronavirus, he was researching that only five percent of people wash their hands for long enough,” she said. “It was a lot of research.”
Fourth-grader Josie Flow reported on characteristics of the red fox. She explored both her STEM -- science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- side and her artistic side, with a colorfully decorated display board and a carnival-style game that drew attention from the other children.
Flow pondered her career aspirations and mentioned she’s not sure yet if she wants to be an astrophysicist, a street artist or a photographer someday.
The science fair was organized by Leah Hicks and Valerie Niskanen, who are at the helm of the Bemidji Discovery Homeschool Group. The two have been a part of the group for three years, since their oldest children were preschool-aged.
“It’s nice for them to have opportunities they would get in a school, and the reasons that we would want to send them to public school or private school would be for these kinds of opportunities,” Niskanen said of the science fair. “(We’re) trying to offer homeschoolers some of these things that they may want to add to their education and give them the same opportunities as other kids have.”
Niskanen continued, saying, "It’s healthy for kids who are homeschooled to have to speak in front of other adults and children."
“I think it’s healthy for them to be able to see other people’s projects and not just their own, and to be able to look at another teacher or judge and be able to explain their project to them,” she said. “It kind of puts them on the spot and makes them a little nervous, but it’s kind of healthy too, it helps them to grow.”
Going forward, the two hope the science fair will become an annual event and plan to host even more events in the future as COVID-19 precautions allow. Plans for a spelling bee in the spring are also in the works.
“Next year we can focus on drawing in crowds now that we have all of the details figured out,” Niskanen said.
Demand for homeschool community is on the rise as many parents have opted to take their children’s education into their own hands in the wake of COVID-19.
“There’s a lot more homeschoolers in the area now,” Niskanen said. “Which is part of the reason we decided it was a good time to start putting on more events. A lot of people have shown a lot of interest.”
The first event hosted together since COVID-19 was a meetup at Lake Itasca State Park in August, and Hicks said the group there was nearly 100 people, double the number of usual attendees. Several events followed, including a visit to Pike's Corn Maze in Park Rapids in September and an Organized Sports Day earlier this month. November's field trip will be a Heritage Day event set for 10:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 2, at LaSalle Lake State Park.
More information on the Bemidji Discovery Homeschool Group and future events can be found on their Facebook page.