That Haunting School PROJECT

It’s a word that triggers a sinking feeling for most elementary school parents:

“..students will have two weeks to complete this PROJECT. Some work will be done in class, however, most of the work will be completed at home…”

Ugh – another project. When is it due? What supplies does he need? Why do schools do this to me? Where will he physically do this?  Don’t they know we’re busy and have zero time to deal with this kind of thing?

There is a way to get kids to take ownership – so you don’t have to. An elementary teacher taught me this approach and it works with my kids every time the word “project” comes through our door.

Resist the temptation to…“deal with this next week.” That will only get you and your child into trouble. Look at this as a teachable moment – OK, a two week teachable moment – where any student from grade 2 through 5 can learn how to manage this project and others in the future, so you don’t have to. Praise your child for telling you about the project; you’re lucky – some parents don’t hear about it till the night before.

The most important step to turning this PROJECT into a reality is to set up time with your child – in the next 24 hours – to sit down and map out a schedule, together. Take out a calendar – or a copy of a calendar – where your child can mark up each day. Ask your child what he has in mind for this project. It most cases, the teacher has discussed this assignment in class and kids’ imaginations are already running.

Begin at the end. Ask you child what he sees himself doing on the day it’s due. Hopefully, he’ll respond with “Duh…bring it to school.” Have him write that down on the due date. Next, ask your child to name 3 things that he’ll needs to do to create this project. Many teachers will have steps or what elements students are graded on written out, sometimes called a “rubric.” Steer him in the direction of understanding what to buy, how to make it, and how to label it (most projects include labeling as part of their grade).

Working backwards from the “bring it to school” date, help your child map out what step will happen each day, based on what’s needed for the project. For example, the day before it’s due might be “check over final labels and put in box to carry.” Labeling will be the last couple days. First in pencil, then marker. Build project will take the bulk of the time and needs to cover a number of days, breaking down each part by day. Don’t forget to include time to go to a supply store and get what you need. The day before that day is  “make the list for what you need to buy at the supply store” day. The day before that, (maybe today?)figure out what supplies you have at home that you can use.

As each day passes, have your child X off the day marking the progress that has been made. He may not complete each day exactly as mapped out but it’s a guide and a place to steer your child each day till the PROJECT is due. “Let’s check your calendar today to see what needs to be done on your project.” Your job as parent is to guide and steer the timing, rather than do, the project for your child. Teachers know instantly when a parent has taken over a project. Your child has lost a chance to learn some good lessons and the grade will show.

If you take the time to map out the schedule with your child and keep the focus on the next step on the calendar rather than the PROJECT, you’ve taught your child how to manage a project.  Next time, it will be much easier on both of you. And who knows, you might even start to enjoy them.

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