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 05, 2011 at 12:16 PM
This is sooooooo true so far I have been through elementary school 3 times! I am currently working on my third time in middle school!
Amanda Harnocz October 05, 2011 at 12:36 PM
haha, congratulations! I just sent this to my mom, who went through elementary school twice. I'm nervous that when I have children, I won't remember what I learned in elementary school and they'll have to tutor me through their homework.
Jan Hightower-Woods October 05, 2011 at 12:50 PM
The worst thing about these projects, is the EXPENSE! I have however always gotten "A's" on all of my projects so far...even in a KSU theatre project!
Maureen Adkins October 05, 2011 at 01:07 PM
Haha Jan! You're right, it is like going thru school again!! I'm learning alot this time around though! Projects, along with homework (Math)!! yuck!!!
Kymberli Hagelberg October 05, 2011 at 01:16 PM
My mother made everything -- including Halloween costumes. She loved it so much I never learned to do it myself hahaha. Luckily her plaster of Paris volcano got me through fourth grade science!
lissa bailey October 05, 2011 at 03:31 PM
Hopefully, many teachers are now realizing that not everyone has extra money in their budgets and some children will not be able to come up with the completed expensive projects. Teachers don't always know what their student's parents are going through financially because most of the time if the children do know they know not to tell others about their family's financial problems. A $50 project to some teachers is no big deal, but to some parents it's impossible. This type of lack of understanding certainly shows through when homeowners are asked to raise more property taxes for new levies. I do believe, from what I've been hearing lately, that there are many more educators truly realizing what some homeowners and parents are going through financially. Understanding brings about compassion and I'm seeing more of that in Stow than a few years ago.
carol buchwalter October 05, 2011 at 05:23 PM
I think that if the teachers want to assign a grade to the project it should be done at school and all of the children should have access to the same supplies. Or else it becomes a contest of whose parents spent the most on project supplies.
Dave Wilson October 05, 2011 at 07:24 PM
I made a papier mache volcano for my son's kindergarten project, then my daughter made her own in sixth grade. I was the outline for a life-size cardboard U.S. Grant.
Cindy October 05, 2011 at 08:07 PM
I was raised by teachers. The only help I ever got was when power saws were required to cut wood. That happened twice; in fifth and eighth grades. Everything else, I did (painting, carving, sanding, nailing). I even helped with the power sawing. So when my kids were in school, the same thing happened. I went shopping with them, but the work was theirs. The one exception was when my younger daughter had to construct her booth for the Revere Art Fair as a senior. We "borrowed" her BFF's dad to build that...again...major power tools required. We are pretty good with tools, but that was a real construction project. We did, however, take the thing apart with power drills and screwdrivers, and transport the pieces home on top of my car. I don't know what kids do who don't have construction experts handy for that annual event. Reading about some other kid's primary school projects makes me glad my kids went to elementary school in Long Beach CA! I wonder what the learning objectives are for these projects and also how many kids can afford to do them in tough financial situations.
Frank Rizzo October 05, 2011 at 09:31 PM
lissa, why do you always sling the same old doom & gloom comments. it's always financial problems and how the school district is to blame your troubles.
Ed Kent October 05, 2011 at 11:57 PM
Dear Frank, try some empathy. And, Lissa is correct in her very positive message that our community is really coming together due to having more compassion and realizing not everyone is in the same financial situation. Lissa didn't blame anyone for this financial recession that some have felt more than others. She simply stated that more of us, included myself, are being made more aware of those of our neighbors, friends and co-workers who are at wits end. Empathy grows compassion.
Andrew Dee October 06, 2011 at 06:09 AM
I appreciate that teachers go out of their way to account for both students that can spend 50$ on a project, and those that must use only what the have at home. That is why projects are graded more on the student's understanding of the concept than how pretty it is, that is what we were always told. Parent's that complain they are required to go out and spend 50$ on art supplies remind me of a time I observed at a wealthy school. The instructions were to "collect supplies you had around the house, such as sugar cubes, and bring them in to build" something. The teacher was visibly shocked at the number of students who did not follow directions by not searching around their home, instead sending their parents out to buy sugar cubes.
Ed Kent October 06, 2011 at 12:01 PM
Some of the teachers I had did not recognize the have-nots and couldn't understand when I came back to school with the things I had at home. They got a real learning experience themselves. Like Lissa said, there are more now that have understanding. Communication is the key, and the student sometimes feels like their project isn't going to be as good as their friends because they didn't have the same materials due to lack of finances. But, that is part of the learning experience. It's important for parents to not feel pressured and for them to explain to their child why they can't have such and such, but that what the teacher expects is just to do the best they can with what the family has to work with. Most good teachers will accept that.
Bob October 28, 2011 at 05:02 PM
Wow seems like parenting is a real burden for some of you.. Maybe you should have thought about all this work before you had children. News flash they cost money you dolts. And looky there you learned something about Native Americans. It takes money to run schools they aren't. If you don't like how your community runs their system MOVE.
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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