By Heidi Meyer
My son came home with a project on ‘hydroelectricity”. “Being the first child and wanting him to do well, both dad and myself got heavily involved, leading to a lot of tears and tantrums.” How can you prevent such a situation which should be a positive learning experience, to become a nightmare and how much should you actually do?
Whilst teaching many years ago, I found that some parents don’t only assist their children but actually do the school projects. From assessing the project it was clear that poor Johnny didn’t have the fine motor skills to build such a magnificent model nor would the 10 year old have the intellect to come up with such huge words over which he stumbled in his presentation.
Not only then, but currently when I compile children’s school albums I have noticed that siblings have submitted the exact same project and sometimes even made the same mistakes. The proof then comes to the fore when I have to tidy cupboards and ask if I can toss last year’s school books, the answer most of the time is, “ Oh no, we’ll need them for the next in line! I really do not have time to do everything over again!”
Trying to explain that it is really not helping the child, I get countless excuses as to why this practise is being kept up.
So how do you know how much assistance is too much and when not to leave your child to its own devices?
Advantages of project work
Using projects to bring real life topics into the school environment, does not only develop the basic skill of reading, writing and computation but encourages the student to become an independent worker, capable of research, learn time management, plan, think critically, solve problems, to reason, being creative and make decisions. Communication skills for both interpersonal and presentation purposes are honed during the process encouraging students to exchange ideas and find information beyond the school walls.
Do you do the project for your child out of fear that your child won’t manage on his own and get a bad grade or even that you might be labelled as a bad parent, lacking interest?
Helping too much is not helping at all, don’t be a control freak! Resist the urge to choose the colour of the board, the font and the placing of pictures.
Be sensitive to your child’s needs. Each child requires a different level of support. Guide your child to make sure that ongoing progress is made.
Assist with experiments and any part of the project that needs adult supervision. School Projects should be fun time in which you share information, and to be a sounding board. Assist the child in listing his references right from the beginning to ensure that he understands that he shouldn’t plagiarise other peoples work or copy straight from reference books or print off internet pages!
A cautionary word to those parents that do all the work. The teacher knows each child and his ability and if you do the majority of the work you will lose credibility. You will undermine your child’s ability, his opportunity to learn, to create and to gain fulfilment for a job well done. It’s his project not yours!
Familiarise yourself with the project brief. Read through the project brief with your child and make it understand what is expected. Explain that he is the project manager and you are the assistant. If it is a group project, the group will need to choose a team leader. Each person in the team needs to know what his responsibilities are and work as a team each doing his or her part.
Purchase the materials that will be needed for the project or keep them on hand, so that it won’t be a rush in the last minute to get supplies.
Teach your child how and where to look for information. Let the child do his own research and you do yours on his level. Guide him through the important points and let him write his own notes in own words.
Create a plan
One of the biggest mistakes is skipping the planning stage and jumping right into the research. Teach your child time management skills by breaking down the project into smaller chunks and to establish deadlines for each. Guide him to set up a roadmap to achieve his goal.
Guide your child to do a little work every day and not to leave it to the last moment.
Keep communications open by talking about how far he has come, what still needs to be done and whether he needs assistance. If working in a group, they should meet at least once a week to discuss their progress and any problems that may have arisen.
Resources for research are available on the internet, the library, from textbooks, from professional organisations and field study.
The child must compile notes on his analysis regarding findings. Discussions with team members or teachers before finalising are imperative.
The final product
Create a draft of the final product before doing the layout on board, or for a final presentation, remember the opening statement, body and the closing argument / statement.
Now it is time for the final product. Remember the title, a clearly stated objective, information, graphs, graphics, photos and experiments that clarify your statement or argument. At this point you can provide guidance again with the layout and the organisation of the research to cover the project brief.
Remember to create a bibliography from where you got the information.
Review all the points and re-evaluate everything that was done, cross check the brief.
Now create the final product and rehearse the presentation.
As the children deliver their projects it already becomes obvious who has done their own by the confidence they exude when entering the classroom. If the project does well he will know that he has earned it! He will feel proud of having achieved and will make him a more self-assured independent person and you will be able to do less as he gains confidence in doing projects!