When Homework “Help” isn’t Helpful
by Beth K. Vogt
My 9-year-old daughter is working on the first project of the new school year. She brought home the instruction sheet, complete with all the details. Only thing missing? A warning notice.
Warning notice? About what?
School is back in session and kids are starting projects, then … Warning! Warning! Warning! Watch out for the onslaught of parental peer pressure — and the temptation to “help” your child with her assignment.
You know what I’m talking about. You’re helping your daughter carry her jungle scene diorama into class. She’s proud of her efforts. You’re proud of her efforts. Sure, the monkey looks a bit like a sloth — or maybe it is a sloth. And the colors are a bit, um, creative.
She sets her project next to a diorama that looks like it was designed by a professional graphic artist. The animals, flora and fauna are to scale. Is that a soundtrack of authentic animal noises piped in? No second-grader constructed this masterpiece. Reality hits: This kid’s parents did his project!
I often joke that I’ve repeated elementary school three times — and thanks to my caboose kiddo, I’m on my fourth go-round. But when it comes to my children’s school projects — those assignments that you’re given three months advanced notice about and a laundry list of supplies — I let my kids take the lead. I had my chance to earn my grades when I went through school the first time, as a student.
As moms, how do we forget about the other parents who can’t seem to keep their hands off their kids’ assignments and keep a healthy parental perspective about school projects?
- Long-term projects help our children learn to plan, prepare and organize. If we do everything for them, they will never learn how to think for themselves. Take your child to the store and let her handle the supply list — selecting items and marking things off the list once you’ve purchased them.
- Let your child’s decision trump yours. When my daughter Amy constructed a castle for Medieval History Week, she designed one made of graham crackers and candy — licorice, gum drops, fruit slices — cemented together with icing. Not what I’d imagined — but it was all Amy!
- Sometimes the project is more about the process then the grade. Don’t get me wrong, I encouraged my children to do their best. But there’s lifelong value in teaching our children that science fair projects and designing a model of a knee can be fun, rather than expecting them to be “all adult” about it — or teaching them to expect us to do it for them.
I’m not advocating being an absentee parent when it comes to school projects. Your involvement helps your child develop the fundamentals of teamwork. But if you slip up and refer to that project as “yours” — take a deep breath and remember: You’re there to assist, not to commandeer the entire process.
Beth K. Vogt and her husband experienced a double-dose of parenthood — three children in their 20s and a surprise fourth in their 40s. The author of Baby Changes Everything: Embracing and Preparing for Motherhood after 35, Beth edits Connections magazine and is a consulting editor to MomSense magazine.