When I was in kindergarten, the only "family project" I ever remember bringing home to work on with my family was learning how to tie my shoes. Never terribly gifted in the manual dexterity department, I wore a pair of zip-up boots all winter in kindergarten and into the spring because I couldn't tie my tennis shoes and hated it when they came untied on the playground. My mom thought my boots were cute, and because she was a fairly laid-back parent, she let me wear them every day. Come May when I came to school wearing my brown leather calf-high cow kickers with a pair of shorts, the teacher decided it was time to send me home with the wooden shoe to get my parents' help in learning the elusive art of tying.
It's a new age. In Ainsley's 3 grading periods as a kindergartner, she's come home with several "family projects." As an educator myself, I've been a firm believer that kids should do their own projects. It's painfully obvious when the parent does the project for the kid. I had a child turn in a popsicle-stick replica of the Globe theater once when I was teaching that probably could have won an award in Architectural Digest. I looked at this little freshman girl handing it to me, was about ready to cry because she had been failing and the loads of extra credit I was about ready to give her for putting what had to have been hours and hours of work into this was going to pull her up to passing, when her friend said, "Isn't that awesome? Her dad frames houses and helped her with that." Helped, you say. When the kid failed the Shakespeare test that followed, missing even the question I had about the name of Shakespeare's theater (DUH!), it confirmed that the kid had learned nothing from my extra-credit assignment because her dad did it for her.
Ainsley's first family project was to go out and collect autumn leaves and make a leaf creature. I turned her loose on it, and it only took an hour on one gorgeous Saturday. Her creature was about what you'd expect from a handful of leaves, a 5-year-old, and some glue. When I volunteered at her school a week later, I stopped to check out the display of her classmates' creatures. My jaw dropped. One creature had a waterpaint backdrop that susiciously looked like the work of someome who had taken art classes. Another creature was made with layers and layers of leaves, so the creature literally popped off the page in three dimensional realism. Some creatures had googly eyes glued with the symmetry and precision a 5-year-old does not possess. Then there was Ainsley's "bird", a study in minimalism featuring 5 leaves glued in a T-shape. Go, us!
So we have made the rest of her projects true "family" projects. Which means Jason and I help. A lot. (Don't judge me! She can learn by watching!)
The most recent one was by far the most frustrating. We had to construct (and I am quoting from the assignment paper here) a foolproof leprechaun trap. No larger than 18 x 18. That your child can set up on his/her own and explain to the class. Riiiiiiight.
I thought and thought and thought about it. And before I knew it, it was the week it was due and I was in a panic. And then Ainsley got strep, and missed a day, and we were screwed.
So here's what she went to school with today (get ready to marvel at my genius and creativity):
We (I) "borrowed" a paper box from my school (which we raided at 4:00 yesterday afternoon) and covered it with red, yellow, blue, green, and purple contruction paper to make a rainbow on all four sides of it. Then I constructed a stick from some leftover cardboard from a large shipping box. I tied some twine around the "stick", bought some chocolate gold coins to put in the propped box as bait, and voila! Ainsley thought it was very cool and spent most of the evening practicing yanking the stick out to drop the box and catch the leprechaun. I kept looking at it thinking, "Oh, lord. That's truly pitiful and unoriginal."
I watched her get on the bus today, and saw how proud she was of her trap. She will be proud of it until she gets to class to do her little demo today, and the kid ahead of her shows off some contraption his dad made with steel bars that drop down over a trap made from lightweight virgin pine that's voice-activated and laced with leprechaun pheromones.
I hope that by the time her school projects get to be truly complicated, she's developed some artistic and creative ability that will allow her to turn an ordinary shoebox into something worth of oohs and aahs. Because if she's counting on me to turn popsicle sticks into to-scale representations of English-renaissance theaters, she's SOL. The best I can offer is a poorly decorated paper box and a stick.