I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite things to hear from the kids after school is that they have a project to do for school. Brings joy to my heart, especially the projects that involve construction paper, scissors, glue, a shoe box and Contact Paper.
Really, a shoe box? What if I don’t happen to have one lying around the house? Are you giving me a hint that my kid needs a new pair of shoes?! I have no idea what Contact Paper is or where to buy it! (Yep, that was me years ago for my child’s first school ‘project’.)
Elementary school projects completed at home are ripe for corruption by parents and older siblings. It can bring out the worst in competitive people, even for what are essentially kindergarten hallway decorations. Often the projects are so incredibly simple that it is hard for a parent to sit back and watch their young child struggling to figure it out or having trouble with the fine motor skills necessary to make it look halfway decent, so they step in and ‘help.’ It’s a natural thing for a parent to want to help, but sometimes parents go too far.
Or feel compelled to show up the other parents.
I understand why parents might be tempted to step in a complete a project for a child. A fair number of these early elementary school projects seem to be of limited educational value and tend more towards the arts and crafts. They require reading and planning skills on the part of the child that are beyond their ability to accomplish independently, so a parent HAS to help.
Personally, between homework (blog topic for another day) and afterschool activities we don’t have much time to work on projects and that’s coming from a stay-at-home parent. I can only imagine the added stress projects add to the already hectic schedule of dual-working parents or single-parent households.
Here are some ways families get the projects done-
Shockingly, I do not have a Pinterest account, but from what I hear there are LOTS of great ideas for your latest school project available to help your child on the site. Just look for pins that show you examples of projects your child could NEVER complete on their own. Have fun and good luck!
Mom, Dad or Tutor
Parents have always been known to ‘help’ their kids get projects done, but one of the things I learned when I was a teacher was some parents with limited time have their children complete their school projects with their tutors. I was taken aback the first time I got questions requesting clarification on a project from a student’s tutor and not the parent. Whatever it takes!
Tutors for school projects? Sorry, I didn’t mean for that poster on a frog’s life cycle to cost you $45.
Green team projects
Most teachers and schools assign the same projects year in, year out and in an effort to reduce their carbon footprint, some families have decided that they will recycle projects among family members. I’ve also heard of neighbors taking it one step further and recycling projects among friends. People are encouraged to hand down clothes and Halloween Costumes, why not school projects? This method saves time, money AND the environment. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!
How I Handled Projects as a Teacher
About eleven years ago, I taught sixth grade science for a year and it was fun. The sixth grade science curriculum used to do a quarter on Astronomy that culminated with a project. It was an annual ritual for the students to do their ‘Solar System’ project at home on the computer using Internet research and pictures. They would type it all up in MS Word, insert pictures of the planets and print them out in color. They looked great all bound with clear covers. In addition to all the outside time it would take, I was skeptical that they learned much except how to copy and paste into Word, so I decided to switch things up and made them do their whole project in class.
What a nice guy?! Teacher of the Year over here!
I had the librarian pull all the astronomy books and reserved the library for a couple days for research. I gave the students clear instructions that they were only allowed to work on the project in class. I gave them each a stack of notecards and a Ziploc bag to store them in. I had colored pencils and crayons available for pictures. I collected their work every day and reviewed it to make sure they could finish in time. It made some students nervous. I even received a few calls from parents concerned I would penalize their child for being a poor artist (no, just label your drawings) or speller (yes, spelling counts).
I know Johnny is used to using spell check in MS Word for all his reports, but the library does have a dictionary he can use if he needs help.
I caught a few kids trying to smuggle in Internet research a parent had printed for them and confiscated it. They were not happy. I was amused. I was trying to make sure they could do some old fashioned book research. Not all of them could at first. As for using the dictionary, I learned most students needed a refresher on how to use one. Recurring question-“How can I use a dictionary to learn how to spell a word if I don’t know to spell it?” My standard response-“Try sounding it out and keep looking.”
At the end of the week, I had a pretty good idea of what a reasonable project looked like and I adjusted my grading rubric to match. Everyone was happy in the end.
Based on my experience as both a teacher and a parent, here is my list of suggestions to teachers for improving school projects:
- If it is of serious educational value, then take the time to do it in class. If not all of it, then most of it.
- If you are going to have the students do it at home, suggest a time limit for the project. This will give parents a better idea of how big the project is and how polished the final product should be.
- Have students and parents track how long the project ACTUALLY takes to complete. I think teachers may be surprised at how long some children spend doing their projects.
- Have the parents sign the project sheet stating what help, if any, they provided the child.
All right Smarties, what is the most ridiculous school project you have had to help your kid with? And more importantly, did you learn something?
I think what you did as a teacher was great! I wish more of the projects were handled this way. I have been happy at least that my 5th grader’s at-home projects have been fairly graded when it is obvious no adult help has been given (mainly b/c he remembers it way too late for me to offer much and doesn’t have the instructions or rubric to clearly explain what is even required!!). It is a little embarrassing seeing the projects hanging on the wall and seeing the differences, i.e., notebook paper and crude diagrams vs. trifold board with laminated color images…..
Our best project was the heritage project for our 2 nd grader. I “helped” him on it, ( it was officially a family project) but forgot to include the actual countries. When the teacher asked him what his heritage was he had no idea.