I panicked when I saw the email from my daughter’s teaching stating that there would be one last assignment before the end of year grade reports came home. The children were asked to pick a topic and do a report on it. Additionally, the teacher required three visual aids. My third grader was excited, but unsure of how to progress with this task, as it was her first project of this kind. This poses a problem. My child does not know how to do this task, and I do. However, I did not want to become the kind of parent that, as a teacher, I can’t stand, namely the one who does all the work for the child and then tries to get the child to pass it off as his or her own. So what is the answer and where do we draw the line?
We sat down and came up with some guideline that allowed me to guide her on this task, but still allowed autonomy, which was as important as learning about the Titanic, her chosen topic. In order to strike a balance between helping her and doing it for her, I let her guide me with her vision for the project.
1. Make a checklist of what she wants to accomplish. You can ask guiding questions, but let the child tell you what she envisions.
2. Help gather resources, if necessary, but do not do any writing for the child. The teacher does not want to see how impressive the parent is. He or she wants to assess the student. To do anything else will not benefit the student.
3. Buy the supplies for the visual aids, but do not put it together for the student. It is so important that he or she get the feeling of accomplishment from completing the task. Success on one project will lead to a “can-do” feeling when other projects arise.
4. Praise the student for the work done – even if you know it would have been better with more help. Remember, you are there to lead, guide, and be supportive. The student needs to feel that you are proud of what they were able to do, even if it isn’t what you imagined it would be.
There is no “cookie cutter” or correct way to help a child with a project. Every child learns differently and at his or her own level. The important thing to remember is not to frustrate the child with your expectations, but to let them learn and make home as safe place to take risks when it comes to projects. So the model of the Titanic sank when we put it in water – so what? We had a good laugh and my daughter learned a valuable lesson about what materials are water soluble. Turning a project into a fun learning experience and giving the child the opportunity to succeed on his or her own level is what is important.