Monday, March 2, 2009


I went to Erika's weather fair at school last week because Amy was, ahem, very busy. Erika was thrilled to see me and proudly took me around the auditorium, showing me her classmates' projects. There was quite a range of talent on display, and by that I don't mean children's talent, I mean parent's talent.

Here is Erika's project, conceptualized and written by herself (in case you couldn't tell), except for the giant hailstone, which Matty made for her (with her participation):

Here is the line to get into the project right next to Erika's:

Yes, you read that right: there was a line to crawl into this black box to see... something. Softcore porn? Tom and Jerry cartoons? Something having to do with lightning? In all likelihood the latter, but I wouldn't know, since I wasn't about to wait on line to see a second grade weather project.

Now I'm no expert, but I could tell from a cursory glance that most of the projects on display had a lot of parental input. And by that I mean the parents did the whole thing. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. When Erika was in kindergarten, she had to do a project on the 13 colonies. Since she could barely write, it was evident that the parents were supposed to help the kids out with their project. Amy and Andy spent a long time with Erika designing her project, helping her glue pictures and facts to the board, and coaching her on her presentation. Erika certainly learned a lot about the state of New Jersey. She also learned that school projects are important.

But Erika was only 5 then. Now she's almost 8. When are kids supposed to start doing their schoolwork on their own? Erika did her weather project on her own and was mortified when she saw how involved the other projects were. She didn't have any black curtains or wind-simulating fans to entice the other kids, so she spent most of the fair like this:

I tend to think that Amy was right to let Erika do all the work on her project, but judging from most of the other weather projects, she and I are alone in this belief.

What do you think? At what age should kids be doing their work on their own?


KWaugh said...

This breaks my heart -- the difference between the first picture of Erika, and the last. She should be SO proud of her work ... and clearly she isn't. I'm having the same issue with my daughter right now -- she's supposed to give a 5 minute memorized presentation, in character, in costume -- and really, it's beyond her. She's only 8. So I have no choice but to help her organize her random thoughts and make a costume, etc. What has to change are the teachers and their unvoiced expectations. If kids are supposed to do their own work, then they need to be VERY clear about that and assign projects that a child can actually DO. If parents are allowed/expected to help, then they should be clear about that, too -- and realize that what they're actually judging is a child's socio/economic status. (Because that definitely impacts how much time, energy and money a parent can expend on their child's homework.) And frankly, I fail to see the value in that.

KWaugh said...

Just wanted to share:

That's the URL for a funny Garrison Keillor piece on "parent enhanced" dioramas.

Steph said...

When my first grader had a project to make she needed some help but I made sure it was "her" project. I watched the presentations in class and another girl actually said "My Dad made this at midnight last night." Dad was there and looked embarassed. My daughter was able to answer questions about how she made her project. I agree with you that children need to do their own homework. Our all girls' school actually has the students do their entire science fair project at school. so no parents can do it for them. Yeah!

LilySea said...

Go Erika! Go Amy! And it's time for schools to re-evaluate some of these ridiculous homework projects. Do it at school, I say. Especially at ages at which kids can't do it alone.

cryitout said...

That last photo is heartbreaking! But she's totally going to kick ass when she knows how to do stuff on her own and all those other kids are left to their own devices someday.

Rose said...

This reminds me of my 4th grade California Missions project. Each of the students had to write a little report on and make a largish model of one of the 21? missions in California. There were specific instructions that the models were not supposed to be bought pre-organized, and we were supposed to do them on our own. I followed that rule, and so did maybe 3 other kids in the class. >:l
Everyone else bought the "Mission kits" from Michael's craft store.
Mine looked like crap, and I was heart broken.