School project hell

What’s the scariest sentence in the parenting vernacular? Drumroll please….

‘Mom, I have a project’…. Oh lawdy – the horror! The horror!

I’m terrible with projects – and they never seem to be over. There’s always another on the horizon. Like SARS forms. Or yeast infections.

Layla quite enjoys projects – she clearly learns differently to her brother Conor and I; much more hands-on. She’s an OBE poster-child, while I suspect I would have been better off being a parent in the olden days of parrot-fashion learning.

I can’t help with this fancy free-thinking stuff. Facts and numbers I can do. Long division – check. A 2- page essay on Gavrillo Princip – easy peasy. But working models of Archimedean screws constructed only from recycled materials? Not so much. I would not even know where to begin. I’m all thumbs and was clearly absent on the day the resourceful creativity genes were handed out.

Of course, parents are only supposed to “help” and not do the whole project for the child. Phew. Lucky break there. Can skip embarrassing my child with pitiful display of incompetence and still take the moral high ground.

But when they really need help, we call in the big guns – my mother. She’s an expert in all things projecty. She whips up desks and coffee tables when nobody’s looking and over the years has helped with missions from the Great Wall of China to mechanical boats made of rubbish (and it actually worked! That one was great).  Somehow she can just SEE what needs to be done and has a knack for directing the action without taking over.

While I sit there fruitlessly banging two pieces of polystyrene together, hoping nobody will notice.

I thought that as they got older, there’d be less glue and more theorems. Alas, no. The projects just get bigger and vaguer – no more handy diagrams showing you exactly how to build that weathervane, for example. How’s this one? ‘A self-portrait reflecting rebellion in any form, and which does not necessarily have to include you.’ Like, huh?

I’ll factorise as many trinomials as you care to throw at me. I’ll thumbsuck some sort of opinion on Hamlet’s motives. But please, for the love of Pete, save me from the balsa wood and oh my goodness – the chicken wire…

I’ve no doubt that for many children, practical creative learning is the way to go. And yes, it can be fun, instructive and interesting (but only if you don’t suck).  I’m glad they’re getting chances to try new things and learn in different ways – I only wish I didn’t have to do it too.

Are projects a pain or a pleasure?

Read more by Tracy Engelbrecht
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