Dreaded school projects, a parent’s Mission Impossible

By Lynne Conner for Chronicle Media

The Battle of Bunker Hill, brought to you by a homemade burlap football and an old blue sheet. (Photo by Lynne Conner / for Chronicle Media)

Your mission, parents, should you decide to accept it, (and really, you have no choice) is to spend your entire weekend scrounging around your house, Walmart or the dollar store, finding the necessary items so that your child can complete their school project.

If you or your spouse make the project look too good, your child will disavow any knowledge of your actions.  If this project is not completed, your child’s grade will self-destruct and they will be embarrassed in front of their entire class.

Good luck, parents.

Wouldn’t helping your child with a school project be way more fun if teachers sent the project information in a self-destructing audio file?  Of course, this wouldn’t work for us, a family of visual learners because we need the comfort of that printed sheet of instructions.

The school project—we’ve all done them, some of us have assigned them (guilty) and many of us have “helped” our children with them.  I put the word helped in quotation marks; because that term can mean anything from the idyllic parent/child shopping trip for gathering materials to the late night “instructional” session, “Just glue the damn animals down and write your conclusion!  I’m not going to be up all night helping you with this thing!”

Teacher, parent or student, we all know, down deep that school projects can be a fun, educational way of learning about a concept or topic.  It’s just the execution of said project that turns this wonderful learning experience into a last minute battle of the wills, child versus parent.

At the very least, modern technology has made the process of completing school projects easier for my kids than it was for me.

As a fifth grader, back in 1980, I was assigned a report on the digestive system.  I was almost excited to do this report as my parents had recently purchased an entire set of hard cover, gold gilded World Book Encyclopedias, a wealth of knowledge at my fingertips.

Of course, there was still a trip to the library to get additional sources for the report, but the color pictures and cellophane overlay pages of human anatomy provided me with enough information to get a solid start on the report.  I think I even traced over the cellophane pages to show the path of food during digestion.

School project tools of the trade including the ever important hot glue gun (center) and corner rounder (top right). (Photo by Lynne Conner / for Chronicle Media)

Fast forward to 2018, I don’t think my kids, Cara and Ian, have ever seen a set of encyclopedias.  Naturally, the home computer has made reference books and typewriters a thing of the past.  While I was busy tracing encyclopedia pages, my kids pull photos off the internet and use Power Point.

I love it when Cara and Ian have to use Power Point for school projects.  Power Point is like a “get out of this project free” card for me.  They already know more about computers than I do and any questions about Power Point are automatically directed to my husband Patrick.  “Dad uses Power Point at work and he knows everything about it.”  That’s what I tell them and so far, it’s worked like a charm.

Of course, it’s hard to believe that Cara and Ian get their Power Point presentations done at all.  Their internet “research” often defaults into watching make-up tutorials (Cara) and stupid YouTube vines (Ian).  In all fairness to my kids, they are both good writers and can usually get the report segment of a project done without any help.  I’d like to take full responsibility for this trait, but their Dad is a good writer too.

Building or constructing something for a school project always seems to take the most time, but even this has gotten easier since I was a kid.

My first school project, on different kinds of Florida shells, was entered in the school science fair when I was in first grade.  To make sure the larger shells stayed secured to the display board, my Dad wired the shells into place.  Years later, modern advances in crafting have given us God’s gift to parents helping with school projects:  the hot glue gun.

From Cara’s fourth grade “wax museum” display on Sally Ride, to Ian’s recent American alligator project; my hot glue gun has been an integral ingredient to the success of practically every school project we have completed.  Mom rocks the hot glue gun!  This, combined with a corner rounder and pop dots equals school project nirvana.  That is, until hot glue lands on Mom’s fingers and the kids get a vocabulary lesson in words starting with g,d,f and s!

For Ian’s latest school project, a report and display on the American alligator, we really ramped up our efforts by getting the sewing machine out.  A quick check on ordering a stuffed alligator on Amazon.com proved both cost and time prohibitive, so out came the sewing machine, green felt and Sharpie marker.  “How hard could this be?”  I thought as I outlined an alligator body on the felt.

A short time later, I had an alligator shaped pillow but something just wasn’t right.  What alligator out in nature has a closed jaw?  It needed to have a fully functioning jaw complete with sharp, white teeth.  Well, as sharp as you can make triangular, glued felt.

At the end of the weekend, Ian’s report was completed and so was the alligator.  Measuring in at almost three feet, with a working jaw, stiff white felt teeth, darling googly eyes and semi-realistic “scales” from a sacrificed dishtowel; Ian proudly took “Alli Gator” to school for his report.  Alli got her “reward” later that week when one of Ian’s classmates stuck another student’s stuffed snow leopard into Alli’s open jaw.

From the Florida shells science fair project to the Battle of Bunker Hill diorama; through nine Forensics for Kids speeches to the birth of Alli Gator; our family has certainly seen its share of school projects.  Patrick and I live for the day when we no longer have to oversee these educational opportunities.

In the meantime, I’ll continue as curator of the school projects museum housed in my basement as I catalogue felt remnants and take inventory of my hot glue sticks.






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