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A New Perspective on School Projects

It’s School Project Season! What? You don’t like school projects? As a teacher, I loved them, but I know parents often don’t. Momma, that’s because you are probably working WAY TOO HARD, and it’s time to view projects in a new light. Stop looking at the bottom line (a stunning A graded project), and start looking at it as an opportunity.

Projects are a way to teach kids important life skills about time management, meeting deadlines, and fulfilling expectations. These are the skills that are needed in the “real world”, and the ones our kids require to become successful students, and later, adults. So, as a mom, I encourage you to begin viewing projects through this new lens, with a focus on the journey, not the destination. Focus on the process and the learning, not the final outcome (the grade).

To achieve this, next time a project assignment comes home, instead of getting frustrated, show your child that you think she is smart, capable, and (with some planning and effort) able to do whatever she sets her mind to.

Try viewing your role this way:

Scheduling Assistant/ Time Keeper

Kids don’t have any sense of time. An hour, a week, it’s all the same to them. Time management must be taught, and projects are the ideal time for this. Sit down with the project directions and a calendar. Guide your child in breaking the project into manageable pieces by asking questions. (How much time do you have? How long will that part take? How much time can you devote to this each night? Can you put in extra time on weekend days? How will you balance this with your soccer schedule?) Help your child in writing a schedule, then (without nagging), help him stick to it by reminding him that these are his timeframes, and he needs to stick to them so they finish in time. And, when “life happens”, and the schedule gets blown to pieces, help to reset the schedule, because if that’s not a life lesson, I don’t know what is.

Chauffeur and Banker

Usually kids need resources to complete a project. In the beginning, as they formulate their ideas, have them make a list of the materials they will need. In the schedule that is created, schedule a time to go get those items (if you don’t already have them in your craft supplies). You will need to drive them to the store and pay for those items so they can implement their vision. Want to make this an even better life lesson? Give them a budget and use the opportunity to talk about what things cost and how to stick to your budget.

Assistant

Wait! I said you were taking a step back here. Yep, this is their project, so hands off. However, one can’t ignore the fact that hot glue, a paper cutter, or some other less than kid friendly work may be required. With direction from your child, please perform these tasks for safety’s sake. But remember, glue it where they tell you, how they tell you, even if you don’t agree. This is their project, and their vision, let them own it!

Reviewer

This is the one place where you may want to step in (just a little) to provide some feedback. If the teacher provided a checklist or rubric, pull it out as the project is in process and nears completion. Go through the rubric or checklist with your child and have her grade herself. You should grade her also (be kind, but be honest). Then, talk about where the project stands in comparison to the criteria. Does the project meet the requirements and objectives? If not, resist telling her what to do differently. Instead, ask, “What improvements could you make to fix that?” or “Do you want to make any changes based on what these ratings tell us?” Let your child lead a conversation about final changes that could be made to meet that criteria and/or improve the final grade. Your child doesn’t want to make any changes? Let it go. A less than perfect, or even failing, grade is sometimes a good life lesson. (True story: I once had a parent thank me for giving her child a failing grade on a project. She had tried to encourage him to make improvements, and he didn’t take her feedback. His projects for the rest of the year were incredible, and he’s now a THRIVING high school student. It was a good lesson for him.)

So, here’s the deal. When that next project comes home, let your child own it. Hand her a snack and tell her to start thinking about what she will do. Sit him down at a table and tell him to draw a picture of what his final product will look like. Then, fill the basic roles above, and walk away. When the creative, student created, hot mess comes to the classroom, and your child’s eyes light up as she tells his teacher about everything she did, the teacher will smile because she will know your child did it herself, and she will know she learned. I promise, even though it’s not perfect, it just might be her favorite, because that student accomplished something very important.

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