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Are Out-of-School Projects Really Just Parents' Work?

Why do parents have to pass elementary school a second time with their children?

Since school started, I knew it wouldn’t be long before Maggie uttered the dreaded “P Word.”

No, this is not a throwback to a previous column on profanity. She said the dreaded P Word on the car ride home from school: projects. You know, out-of-class projects: book reports, dioramas, three-dimensional rain forest animals, and whatever else might be in store for the fourth grade. As in, “MOM!!! We are doing a project for school.”

Note the word “we.” Maggie meant she and her classmates were
starting individual projects.

 But I know the truth.

The “we” actually refers to Maggie and me, who will be up to our necks in the flavor-of-the-month project until the due date. The latest is an Ohio salt-dough map—landform, city or river. Apparently, we need supplies for colored salt dough as well as “crafty” items to help identify places on the
map. When I asked Maggie why they didn’t complete the project at school, she mentioned it was too messy. In other years kids destroyed over a square yard of carpet in the classroom.

Carpet destroyed? Words that make a parent say, “Hmmmmm.”

The projects almost always entail a trip to Pat Catan’s, , Hobby Lobby and/or . And they always involve spending too much money on a child’s school activity.

The problem is, I am not crafty and don’t have Rubbermaid totes chock-full of amazing craft materials. I don’t own acrylic paints, Styrofoam in unusual shapes, plastic animal figurines, ribbon, Aleene’s Original Tacky glue, or fabric in rainbow colors.

I make it a point to not own such things.

Some people are crafty and that’s wonderful. I am not one of those people. I leave the crafting to those who enjoy creating scrapbooks, hand-painted glassware and original beaded jewelry. More power to them.

The only exception to my non-crafting rule was the Halloween Maggie suckered me into making her a scarecrow costume. It took three weeks and
was darling-- but a competent crafter could have whipped it out in an hour. Lesson learned, goal achieved -- won’t be repeating the experience. So, you can imagine how I feel about the crafty school projects when the instructions are sent home.

Other than the supply issue, I am always dismayed when I hear the words, “Mom, I have a project for school,” because of the time and effort I know it will take me as a parent. Helping Maggie out when she is stuck is one thing. However -- too often than not -- the projects don’t seem age-appropriate. The projects feel like parent projects. I am the one working for the grade, not my child. I was already in elementary school once, and did quite well. I don’t need a second round.

Last year, creating a large 3-D replica of a scarce swallowtail butterfly wasn’t exactly a 9-year-old task, in my opinion. I wished it was, though, when I spent a long evening bending wire into four wing shapes, stretching nylon tights over the framing and helping paint stripes on the wings. Maggie planned and created her butterfly as best any third grader could, but it really was my project. I was strangely thrilled when our butterfly earned an A+. Even more strange—I wasn’t the only one. Several of my parent friends were also excited after doing time on their child’s insect project. The running joke among us parents became, “I hope we pass third grade.”

The same year, we also had the Native American sign language play project, completed in small groups. Sounds complicated, doesn’t it? It was. Turns out the Plains Indians of North America had their own sign language, bridging the language differences between tribes. I hadn’t known this factoid until I spent time helping Maggie research her project. She and two friends were supposed to learn Native American signs and put on a realistic play for their third grade classmates. 

Even more taxing were the costumes, which, again, were supposed to be somewhat authentic looking. Most families don’t have Native American attire around the house, so one of the parents spent his valuable time designing robes and moccasins out of heavy-duty felt, sewing the edges in a white overcast stitch. They looked great and I was thankful for his help. I was a little disturbed, however, when looking at the white stitching and seeing what I thought was a chocolate stain. Turns out, it was blood.

Should it take two people to get one 9-year-old through fourth grade? I sure don’t remember my parents helping me with my homework on a regular basis, taking me to craft stores for supplies or being involved in my projects. It was my thing, and I either sank or swam.

All I know is I hope we do well on our projects this year, so I can pass fourth grade. Again.

Jan Hightower-Woods October 28, 2011 at 05:15 PM
Wow Bob, a might bit harsh! You need to RELAX! I for one was not for one minute complaining about being a parent...the BEST job in the world! And a "dolt", really!?
Bob October 28, 2011 at 06:36 PM
Harsh? Reread what you posted. And yes dolt, again reread what you posted!
Jan Hightower-Woods October 28, 2011 at 07:48 PM
Bob it as all "tongue in check", notice the hahaha's in my post. I really don't appreciate being called stupid either. Amanda, aren't posters supposed to have last names? Seems Bob might be a "dolt" for not following the rules...
Bob October 28, 2011 at 11:58 PM
You should probably think before you speak.
Ward Benson October 29, 2011 at 01:12 AM
Don't get mad at Bob for not having a last name. I really liked him in that movie he was in called Monsters & Aliens. He was my favorite charcter and never had a last name. The best part was when he was trying to make the guy jealous because Bob was showing off his new friend, the jello on the plate. Funny movie.

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