The school project conundrum

When your child arrives home with an assignment – whether it is creating a macaroni masterpiece or a spectacular model of the solar system – it raises an important question: how involved should you get?

As parents, we want to help our children because we want them to do well and we want to boost their self-esteem. In addition, doing the work ourselves is much faster – after all, we have better research, art and writing skills!

But the point of school projects is to assess how a child is doing and what he knows, and the purpose is to allow him to make mistakes and acquire new skills. So instead of endorsing perfect parent-created projects, children should be taught to do it themselves – even if it means getting a C instead of an A.

By completing any part of a project on your child’s behalf, you are taking away his ability to acquire that specific knowledge or skill. In fact, research has shown that parents who exercise too much control when it comes to schoolwork can actually make their children less interested and less proficient. Some studies have even proven that controlling parenting can be associated with lower levels of motivation and poorer self-regulation – issues which relate not only to children’s development and well-being, but also to their success as happy, functioning adults.

Does this mean you should leave your child to his own devices? Not at all! You simply need to know when and how to help, and when to take a step back.

When your child comes home with a project:

  • Look at what the project entails, then help your child plan when he is going to complete each part. Don’t plan the entire project for him.
  • Suggest keywords when doing research online. Don’t do the research on his behalf.
  • Provide the materials and tools needed to complete the task. Don’t interfere unless adult skills or supervision is needed.
  • Point out spelling mistakes and content that is unclear. Don’t correct his mistakes or rewrite his work.
  • Observe and advise. Don’t do anything that he can do for himself!

Projects provide an excellent opportunity to teach kids to be resourceful, to emphasise effort over grades, and to highlight the importance of proper time management. In addition, allowing your child to do the work himself can teach him some valuable life lessons, including:

  • If I work hard, I can achieve my goals.
  • This was hard, but I did it!
  • I may not have succeeded this time, but I am going to try again.

If you truly want to empower your child to become an independent and self-sufficient adult, you can start by letting him do his own homework and completing his own projects. And when he is done, praise him for his efforts! It may not be perfect, but it will be exactly what it is supposed to be – the work of a child!

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