How Not to do your kid’s elementary school take-home project

My son came home at the beginning of November with his first serious take home project in his academic career. To thoroughly research and display a natural landform.

Cry me a River.

If you have elementary school-aged children, you have been presented with the following scenario:

Your child comes home with a project assignment. They must research a topic and then display their findings in a creative way. Suggestions included making a diorama, a puppet show, a video dramatization. The project instructions come with a rubric so the child knows just what the teacher will be looking for in the research, delivery of facts and visual presentation before giving the grade.

In true tradition of thinking in terms of our achievement and perfection driven culture, as demonstrated in the film Race To Nowhere, I initially got it into my head that this was not my third grader’s project, but it was mine. It would have to be mine if I was to make sure my son got the highest grade possible. I couldn’t just let my eight year old go it on his own, could I? Because  other parents in my highly competitive school district wouldn’t just hand off their kids project, would they? If I let him do this on his own, would I seem neglectful? Would I come off as apathetic mom in a tiger mom school district?

 Right away, I approached the project – Rivers –  like the 40something I am and not like the eight-year-0ld child that my child is. As far as the research, I would visit three different library branches to take out every children’s nonfiction book on rivers in publication.

The research went well and with much enthusiasm, my son, with some direction, came up with vocabulary flashcards with river terminology like “mouth” and “source” and “delta”. He also created about six flashcards with facts on the world’s longest rivers and New York State rivers. To top it off, he wrote the flashcards showing off his latest 3rd Grade skill: using cursive letters!

Next came the all-important presentation of Rivers. Should we create a video? I had the FlipCam ready. We could go off to the Genesee River with the University of Rochester in the background  …..we could script a newscast and dress him in outdoorsman clothing….what would he say? … Or, we can go in the über diorama direction. It would have to include mixed media like clay and pebbles for the river embankments and shiny cellophane for the river. And, some parts of it should be relief sculpture and for artistry’s sake, there must be perspective and depth to show a river’s origins far away and its mouth up close…

All these ideas were shot down during the design conceptualization meeting with my son.

 “I really just want to color, mom.”

Really? Just Color? Would there be an initial sketch? How would a sense of scale and perspective be achieved?


The more suggestions I made, the madder he became until he started to cry.

Remember, this was supposed to be an enjoyable project to be completed at home.

So I backed off. And this is what he created: 

Three days later, he came home with his final grade: Outstanding. Well, good for us.

I mean, good for HIM!

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About stacylynngittleman

I have been a reporter and public relations professional for over 30 years, specializing in profile features and investigative longform writing. During my career I've profiled WWII Honor Flight Veterans, artists and musicians and have written on topics that range from environmental and gun control issues to Jewish culture. Click around on my writing samples plus read my blog on my personal life raising three kids over 27 years and three cities.

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