Five Ways to Master School Projects
I feel that I cannot be alone in my dislike for my children’s school projects. I never mind helping my kids with their homework, but without fail, I feel that these projects cross a very fine line and become my homework. I finished school longer ago than I like to admit, and the only projects I should have to do these days are the ones for which I’m getting paid. But, alas, time and again, I get roped into helping develop ideas, buying supplies, googling facts and organizing the most dreaded of all school projects…the research presentation.
My children both take, or have taken, part in an enrichment class in elementary school. Ah, why be humble. They’re in the gifted class. (brag brag on my little smarties) Anyway, this class requires a full-on research project each year in grades 3-5. I think it’s a great idea to learn the process early on and I’ve already seen the benefits in my seventh grader’s school papers. However, I hate it like fire. Every year, at zero hour, I get the “your kid is behind schedule” email and we have one week to get this project completed. It would be far easier and faster to just write the damn presentation myself, but I resist temptation and try to be the good mom who actually teaches her kid how to do it. Apparently this is a skill that my children are not capable of learning in a classroom. They seem to need an angry and frustrated mother right in their face before they can learn the concept of research papers.
That said, I feel qualified to offer some advice in this realm for all you other angry and frustrated parents out there. We’ve been through no fewer than eight research papers altogether and we always get bangin’ good grades. Having just completed the latest and greatest, it occurs to me that I might alleviate some of the stress for others by sharing our tips and tricks for research projects.
Step 1: Choosing a topic
You must choose a topic that is relevant and interesting to your child. Is your child interested in technology? Why, then, choose Steve Wozniak, Shigeru Miyamoto or Bill Gates. Or, better yet, choose Thomas Edison and slog your way through vague books about incandescent light bulbs and telegraphs. After all, timely information such as this is fascinating to any ten-year-old. Is outer space more your child’s speed? Then do some research on constellations, planets or flightless birds. Yes, indeed, one can never know enough about the mighty emu. Always remember, there is nothing quite as inspiring to a young child as allowing them to choose their own topic, then immediately shutting them down and assigning them something boring instead.
Step 2: Research
With the whole internet at your disposal, you must never forget the benefits to be had from scrounging twenty year old books from the school library. They are sure to be accurate and all-encompassing. If you do choose to turn to the internet to gather information, keep in mind that Wikipedia is a source of knowledge fed by anyone who chooses to make an entry. You must Wiki-tread lightly.
Step 3: Visual Aids
You may be fortunate enough to live in a town that has a store that regularly stocks the large size presentation backboards. If not, then you’ll need to go to Walmart every day, searching in vain for the office supply shipment that has been promised. The night before the backboard must be taken to school, dig through the spare closet to find last year’s project and carefully disassemble it. Word of warning – wait until the children to go bed lest they witness your wanton destruction of six months of their hard work. The following day, when Wal-Mart gets their shipment, buy five backboards for future use and store them in a secure location that you’re sure to forget in two days.
Step 4: Writing the Presentation
Ideally, your child will have finished a rough draft of the presentation during class and you can use this opportunity to offer constructive criticism and add polish to the final draft. If, however, you birthed a little slacker procrastinator, then this will be your opportunity to guide your child through the entire process in one short evening. Offer eloquent wording, then screech, “put that in your own words!” Be prepared to interrupt any protests about the assignment specifications with “I don’t care! I don’t care! Do it the way I said and that will be good enough!” You’ll want wine, but you’ll need coffee, since you’ve already had a full day, now you’re stuck doing a month’s worth of homework in three hours. You will stress yourself and your kid out but eventually you will produce an informative and interesting presentation that lasts six to eight minutes and you will feel a sense of calm and relief reminiscent of the glorious and heady moments directly following this little darling’s birth.
Step 5: Practice (and wine)
Now it’s time to practice presenting so your little angel has a chance to learn all the fancy words that you threw in the report. During this time, your only obligation is to operate the timer, sip wine and seriously consider pulling your kid out of this class next year. You may also have some unkind and undeserved thoughts about the teacher and/or the assignment, and that’s okay. You’ve been through a lot and this is your time to recover. Relax. It’s over, at least until next year.
As you can see, it’s a straightforward process. With the proper preparation and coaching along the way, your child is still guaranteed to screw you to the wall at the last possible second. In these moments, there’s no shame in doing the math to find out if a zero on this assignment will cause your child to fail the class. Sadly, the answer is usually yes, it will make them fail. And so we persevere, we parents of the school project. No matter how ugly it gets, we can always ensure one thing. Our children may never learn to complete a research project, and they surely will never master the concept of a deadline, but at least they know that we’ve got their backs, even if we’re snarling along the way.