Monday, March 5, 2012

The Project

Science fair exhibit (butterflies), probably t...
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I sit here typing with the telltale signs of my least favorite part of parenting displayed all around me.  The dining room table (and floor) is a mess of books, paper scraps, and colored construction paper.  One large display board sets it all off, mocking me from it's perch in the living room.  Tomorrow is the deadline for my seventh grader's history fair project.  It used to be that we just had to deal with science fair (which I loath even more than history fair).  Now the stress and anxiety come twice a year. 

Tonight is the night.  There is usually some last minute drama, often related to a small logistical detail to which I never paid any attention.  "On the third paragraph of the summary statement, underline all the words that relate back to your hypothesis.  Make sure that all photographs are labeled in italics and placed in the left corner of the display board."  I'm of course being fictitious.  It's not that hard for me to understand the details of their teacher's requests.  My problem is me.

It's very important to me that my kids learn how to be responsible and be able to handle themselves, take care of the stuff that is their business.  I don't hover.  I ask if their homework is done and when I'm able, I answer questions.  That's pretty much what I offer.  When they were in second and third and maybe even fourth grade, I would offer to help type up their essays for school.  Mostly because I wanted to use the computer before the next month had passed and their own typing was so slow it verged on torture.

So, during science and history fair preparation my values butt up against my sanity.  Do I correct all the typos, grammar mistakes, weird phrasing, and undocumented facts or do I encourage them to check their work again and let the quality of their own effort be reflected in their grade?  Do I let them struggle with the typing and the making of charts when it would take me half the time?  I know that other parents are probably going to help out (does a 7 yr old really know how to run those color graphs with the attached video feed?).  Am I really just putting my kids in an unfair situation - being compared to students who have a design team from their parents pr firm offering support?  As is the case with so many of my dilemmas, they are rooted in my real values vs. my own adult fears of judgement.  I don't want them to turn in a project that isn't really theirs but I also hate the idea of their tilted, glue smudged display standing next to the matted, black and white photographed project, all printed on archival quality paperstock.

In the end, I am going to do what I've done the last seven years.  Tonight, I will brace myself.  I will be calm and wipe away any tears of frustration that may come.  I will model deep breathing and patience.  I will affirm and encourage.  And maybe, just maybe, quietly suggest that the summaries should be glued neatly onto the board instead of the "pin the tale on the donkey/willy-nilly" alignment that is my son's preferred method.  He will turn it in, even though I know that I would do it differently.  He will get a grade that provides relief or frustration and that grade will be all his.
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  1. This is always a question for me too, how much to help. I like to tell my son how I would do it and then let him do what he wants. I learned all of my talents, like scrapbooking and knitting, by having someone else show me how they would do it so that's what I try to do with him. His school now expects the correct amount of work and understanding from the kids at their appropriate age, but many other schools around here do not and the parents end up doing most of the work just to make sure their kids don't fail. Also, in his journal of research we write down how my husband and I helped, such as we helped him search in google or taught him how to use a spreadsheet.

  2. And for me,it's letting the natural consequences flow without my interference. There is a natural reaction that you should expect when you turn in sloppy work or only 10 note cards instead of 20. He's off to school today. He ended up deciding to duct tape a picture to the top of the board while I was a work... Maybe his teacher will find that innovative.

  3. I struggle with this too and you are my model when I struggle. Don't think I do this as well as you do but the 'natural consequences' mantra is often on my mind. You are preparing your boys to succeed in life. Don't think you'll be one of the crazy parents who are showing up to job interview with their kids! See NPR story below.