This week my eight-year-old brought home a fairly large project assignment, and it got me thinking about how parents can support school projects. Having approached school projects as a student, a teacher, and now a parent, I thought I would share the things that help my children do well on a school project without my taking over.
How Parents Can Support School Projects
Teachers assign take home school projects as a way of encouraging students to dig deeper on a topic and as a way for students to creatively demonstrate that they understand the topic they were assigned. Teachers also use school projects to help parents see what their children are learning in school, and to strengthen the home-school link. Here are some things parents can do that will help their child create a successful school project while ensuring that the child maintains ownership of the project.
Always remember that the child is in charge.
This is the most important part of supporting a school project. As tempting as it may be, do NOT take over your child’s project. They may hand in something that is messier than you would like, or less organized than you think is appropriate. They may not hand in a project at all. Your expectations may be much higher than is fair to your child, but even if you are spot on in terms of what is expected, school is a safe period of time for your child to experience failure. If you respect your child’s ownership of the project, then they will benefit from whatever learning opportunities may come their way while your relationship with your child remains intact. Occasionally, you AND your child may be pleased with a school project only to find that it is not what the teacher wanted. This is another important life lesson! Things like this often happen in the real-world workplace, and an experience like this in school can help your child learn how to recover and move on gracefully.
There are, of course, ways you can help your child successfully complete a project without removing their ownership of the project. Here are the three ways I find most helpful in terms of providing parental support for a project:
Be a sounding board for brainstorming.
Your child’s teacher wants them to talk to you about school, and a school project is a wonderful opportunity to chat! Parents can be valuable sounding boards as children brainstorm how they will complete projects. Feel free to tell your child stories about similar assignments you had as a child – how you approached them, what worked, and what didn’t – and why.
Break the project into smaller tasks.
Projects consume a lot of time, and sometimes children are at a loss as to where to begin. As part of the brainstorming process, you can help them break the project into several smaller tasks that are less daunting to complete.
Create a timeline.
Once the project has been broken into smaller tasks, you can help your child create a timeline that will allow them to complete the project on time without the project taking over their life. Make this timeline as specific as possible, with several due dates for portions of the project set along the way. Be sure to allow a grace period so that there is no need to panic if things do not go as expected.
If needed, help your child contact their teacher for support.
Notice that I said to help your child contact their teacher, not to contact the teacher yourself. The teacher assigned this project to your child, not to you, and they are the ones who should be communicating concerns to the teacher. You can help them think of how to ask their questions, and you can also help them word a written note or email if needed, but ultimately the communication should come from them.
Remember that this is their project.
Your child may take the project in a direction that seems strange to you, or they may choose to leave the project less polished than you would like. Remember, this is their project, not yours! Any consequences that come of their difference in vision – positive or negative – are there for your child (and sometimes you as a parent) to learn from.
What tips would you add to this list?
Here are some great posts on this topic from some of my fellow bloggers:
- Long Term Projects in Elementary School from Planet Smarty Pants
- How to Pick the Best Science Fair Topic for Winning OR Taking it Easy from Thriving STEM
- Supporting School Projects from 3 Dinosaurs
- 5 Things Teachers Want You to Know About School Projects from Books and Giggles