School projects

School projects are a learning opportunity for your child, but only if she does the work

Evan’s grade three project was to build a model of his dream house. But instead of the expected Popsicle stick construction, his home featured a working doorbell (and Evan’s dad just happens to be an engineer). This situation is all too common, say teachers. When it comes to at-home work, some parents have trouble knowing when to step in and when to back off.

Here’s how to help your child get the most out of school projects:

Planning

DO help brainstorm ideas by asking what subject-related topics interest her. Discuss pros and cons to help narrow it down to something that is both exciting and achievable, suggests Jennaya Borsten, a high school teacher in Mississauga, Ont.
DON’T offer idea after idea of your own. “Chances are your child has already thought about the project and has ideas of his own,” explains Keri McKenzie, a grade six/seven teacher in Vancouver. “Your ideas may diminish or confuse his own ideas.”

DO ask questions to find out the purpose of the project. Is it to show what has been learned in class or to learn something new? What are the criteria? Is she working alone or with a partner?
DON’T bombard your child with too much detail. If he doesn’t know the requirements, encourage him to discuss it with his teacher.

DO support time management and organization. “Large projects with far-off due dates can be overwhelming for people of all ages,” explains Borsten. “Help break the project into manageable chunks with a timeline for when each section should be completed.”
DON’T create a colour-coded computer spreadsheet and paste it to the wall. Kids should choose the most appropriate system for them, allowing them to independently follow it through.

DO make sure she has all the tools she needs and a safe and suitable place to work in, says McKenzie.
DON’T buy out the craft store. Expensive art supplies don’t make for a better project, just a more costly one. Be sure to first check what supplies have been provided in class.

Creating

DO be supportive, enthusiastic and encouraging.
DON’T criticize or show frustration. “Of course you could do it better and quicker,” says Borsten. “They are young and will make mistakes, but letting them learn from their mistakes is an important part of projects — and life.”

DO help with any safety-related components.
DON’T do the project yourself. When your child comes up with the idea and does the work, he both learns and takes pride in what he has achieved.

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