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September 14, 2011

Is This My Project or Yours?

Should the school work be done by the parent or the student? Why is it so hard to find the right balance?


From the moment children enter the world, it is a parent’s duty to both assist them in learning and to allow them to “do it themselves.” The never-ending challenge of knowing how much to help, and how much to let go, only gets more difficult.

Help them, yes. They need guidance to know what is right, best or expected of them. Let them try and fail, yes. They must develop the skills to solve problems and think independently and wisely.

And so it begins with this story…

As my son is now in First Grade, he has "real" homework and school projects. His first six-weeks project is an All About Me presentation. He must have a visual aide and the project must include samples of his best handwriting and his best artwork. 

The instruction sheet came home with the First Graders last week. As I happened through the school hallway this week, I overheard:

"We'll be doing a storybook. I've cut and stapled the pages, so now we'll just have to fill in the information."

"I found this darling rainbow art at the school supply store! I dyed the fabric purple, so we can staple photos to it and they'll show up better."

"My husband was working on the poster board race car last night. We couldn't decide whether it should be red or yellow, so we had to wait until Bobby woke up this morning to ask him what he wanted."

Oh my.

I, too, want my child to be a resounding success! I, too wish great things for him.

However, this is a First Grade All About Me project to be done BY THE FIRST GRADERS! Clearly, my husband and I could put together a doozy of an All About Me project for our son. Between the two of us, we have a PowerPoint whiz, a professional public speaker and three college degrees. The final result would be awesome! 

We are not First Graders. 

Our son is a bright, creative interesting person who will find a way to communicate this in his project. HE can decide what he'd like to tell his classmates about himself. HE can decide what kind of visual aide he'd like to use. WE will happily brainstorm with him, shop for what he needs and offer spelling assistance. WE will NOT be completing the project FOR HIM.

I will restrain myself from straightening his glued-on artwork. I will refrain from commenting about how “it might be better if I just helped with….” I will avoid the temptation of volunteering the “better” idea , if it’s not something that HE can do.

Never mind the little voice in my head saying “Yeah, but you want him to impress the teacher, right? You want him to turn in something really great, right?”

Needless to say, I was glad to read the information sheet that came home with the First Graders, yesterday. It included the evaluation sheet that the teachers would be using for the All About Me presentations. In addition to the areas labeled "Clear Ideas" and "Penmanship," there was a wonderful little box labeled "Work Done By Student."

Ah, wisdom. 

I sure hope that the parents who have been at home, gluing and cutting and creating take a minute to think about the situation. Now is their chance to change a habit, or they'll find themselves writing senior research papers, completing college entrance essays and wondering why little Bobby couldn't make it through his first semester at the University. I went to school with kids and parents just like this. I never really imagined that the precedent may have been set, way back in the First Grade.

It's hard to know where to draw the line. How much help is too much? How much hands-off is detrimental? 

Oh, how I wish that I could be a fly on the wall on All About Me Presentation Day!


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