I am the queen of school projects.
I know, the kids ultimately do them. But fellow parents know that projects involving more than a marker and construction paper really end up falling on mom or dad. I have a seventh grader and a fourth grader, and I have yet to run into a school project that doesn’t involve me — and my wallet — somehow.
Trust me when I tell you I am not a crafty person. I don’t sew, scrapbook or do anything with my hands other than play music, type and clean. Yet I’ve been forced to become a gladiator with a glue gun in the fight for school credit, and have lived to tell the tale.
My first major project as a parent was a fifth grade diorama on The Bridge to Terabithia. A trip to the recycling center netted a shoe box. A trip to the store was required for paint, miniature trees, straws for miniature soda cans and other tiny items. Over the course of two days, Terabithia was writ small on the kitchen table. That wasn’t so bad, I remember thinking.
In fourth grade, my youngest daughter decided to create a one-room school for an Ohio history project. Three bags of large pretzel rods later, we had constructed a pretzel palace that required a special mid-day delivery trip to school. It was a thing of beauty — tiny coal chunks in the corner for the stove, a miniature flag flying by the door, and an apple for the teacher. To this day, however, the smell of pretzel rods makes me gag.
That was all a warmup for the biggest project on which I’ve assisted to date — a display on the subject of China for sixth grade. My daughters are from China, so parts of it came easy. Still, I think my oldest got tired of “display summits,” where I made her think about the relative merits of sparkle versus matte, what pictures to use, and how to attach an undulating dragon to the top without crushing the whole tri-fold board. I considered myself lucky when I walked away from that project with only one hot-glue burn and a laceration from the X-Acto knife.
We are now in science fair negotiations. The experiment is hers. The display, I think, will again call for parent power. But science is a cruel mistress, and I was asked to help count corn kernels into plastic baggies for the experiment. Five hundred kernels each went into nine different bags. It took most of the morning, including stopping midstream to run to the grocery store the day before Thanksgiving to get another bag of popcorn.
There are ways, however, to survive project season.
The most important rule to remember is always have a say in the project. Often times there will be a choice. Unless you have the Martha Stewart mutation, pick the easy one. A hand-woven, meticulously crafted doll with lifelike features will be worth as many points as a pioneer journal. In consultation with your child, pick the doable project that won’t take over the kitchen table for three weeks.
Do you have materials handy, or are they pretty cheap to obtain? Part of Terabithia diorama included tiny stones from our garden and a snippet of evergreen from the tree out back. It is easy to run up a massive bill at the craft stores, so it’s best to think ahead about cheap substitutions. Or, find a scrapbooking friend and beg or borrow those tiny stickers and baubles.
My final words of advice have nothing to do with project construction itself. With rare exceptions, my daughters are instructed to never bring the project back home after it is graded. I did not want to take another trip to Terabithia’s magical kingdom, nor did I want to smell pretzels in my kitchen. And I’m pretty sure I can live without hearing popcorn popping for a good long while.
Projects? Bring ‘em on. Armed with a glue gun and Google — not to mention car keys and a credit card — we’ll do just fine.