A few weeks ago, I found myself lamenting how little I know about the solar system. Despite my four children, career and lack of any free time whatsoever, I figured I should cram in some time to learn about the planets. Maybe make a diorama while I was at it.
That’s why I was so excited when I opened my children’s backpacks and found an awesome solar system project for two of them to do at home, laid out over several pages of instructions. There was even a handy checklist to make sure they did every single thing correctly.
This has to stop. There, I said it. And before you start to judge me, let’s get a few things straight. I love helping my kids learn. I love reading to them, explaining things to them and even dragging them to museums. And I don’t mind spending time working with them, like the two hours we spent creating a family tree. I kind of liked that one.
But I’m talking about a totally different monster ― the projects that get sent home a month in advance, stapled together with a load of bullet-pointed requirements, that encourage craftiness, require buying a tri-fold board and want kids to do lots and lots of research. These projects are torture for everyone, including the parents who have to “help” and torture for the kids who, for the most part, lose interest after five minutes of doing them. Not only are they ridiculously time consuming, but they offer little educational benefit and are therefore pretty unnecessary. Here’s why:
1. Kids aren’t doing them.
Walk down a school hallway and look at the projects with their multi-layer colored cardboard borders and perfectly lined glitter edges. Ya’ think the 7-year-old who won’t lift the toilet seat did that? Maybe the first grader who can’t tie her shoes spent hours on her sparkly paper-mache magnum opus, or the second grader who types three words an hour spent the day googling relevant information and then wrote everything out. Or maybe it was the parents. Maybe the parents do 99 percent of these *#&* projects. And that’s because…
2. Kids CANT do them.
Sorry, but my kids can’t independently do a whole load of research, analyze it all and create a craft and a poster and a presentation. Perhaps they’re displaying skills in school that give their teachers the impression they’re capable of this level of performance by themselves at home, but it’s not the case in my house.
3. I already put in my time.
Yup, back in 1984. Mrs. Cronin’s classroom at PS 36. I learned all about colonial times and the solar system and cartology back then, and ya know what? I don’t wanna do it again! I’m done. I’ve moved on, and there’s lots of stuff I don’t know that I actually need to know, like what Mr. Trump is up to and what’s brewing in North Korea. Not map making. I don’t care about map making.
4. Kids are in school all day.
And then they come home with enough homework to keep us busy until after school activities start. Can’t the other few hours just be filled with driving, cooking, feeding, sitting on sidelines, showering and bedtime? Do we have to insert projects in there? There’s not a free second of weekend time as it is, and finding time for projects is painful. There’s 35 hours a week of school for them to work on this stuff. Just do it there. I pay enough taxes to cover it.
5. Let’s be honest.
Projects that are due on the 12th get done mostly on the 11th, and it’s nonsense. Lots of yelling, glue everywhere, paper scraps on the floor. No one’s having a good time.
So what’s the solution? I’m not proposing the end of home projects. There are some things only I can teach my child, and it’s sometimes nice to sit down and put together something we’re both proud of. And one-on-one time with your kid is never a bad thing. But here’s what I suggest:
Give kids projects they can actually do, using skills they’ve already learned in doses they can handle. Put time limits on how much parents can help. Make it ok for research to be shorter and lines to be messier and glitter-free, as long as the kid does it HIMSELF. Tell us that right there in the directions!
Give parents permission to let go by telling us exactly what kids must do on their own and take the pressure off us to create a masterpiece. I’m tired of competing with the child whose mom is an artist or whose dad is an engineer. I’m neither. My projects aren’t pretty, and my kids get upset and yell at me “can’t you just help me” after I’ve spent six hours helping them. Make sure kids understand that doing it themselves is the most important part.
And as I look at this last daunting project of the year, laying on the counter for two weeks, waiting to be flipped through, I think to myself that this will be the start. I’ll explain to my child that he is doing this himself, I’ll offer minimal help and simply check in to make sure he’s doing it right. I will not be doing this project for him because it is his project, not mine.
And then I grab my glue gun and get started.