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Are Parents Too Involved in School Projects?

When the public talks about parents pitching in at their children’s schools and taking an active role in their children’s educations, I’m right there pumping my fist in the air cheering parental involvement on. Let’s promote literacy! Let’s build a gym!

But I lose my enthusiasm when it comes to parental involvement in school projects. I was stunned last year at my city’s district-wide science fair: kindergartners building rockets? Third-graders managing miniature wind farms? I talked to the mother of a Kindergartener, whose quite sophisticated project on color was selected to represent her school at the district fair. Dad’s an artist, interestingly enough. Mom says all she did was type up the report. Mmmmhmmm.

Over at MomLogic, AngryMom has her suspicions, too. She had gotten dragged into, well, a lion’s den — she had to help her young child with a diorama of the lion’s home. She wasn’t alone:

When I brought this up at a birthday party yesterday, the other moms chimed in about the projects they’d been working on: a 15-entry slave journal, complete with charcoal illustrations and parchment paper burned around the edges; a Picasso mural; a milk-carton birdhouse. Another mom said she had to type out a four-page planet report for her SECOND grader (!) because it would have taken him about twenty hours to type the damn thing … and don’t even get her started about the bibliography.

Sandra Tsing Loh, a writer I adore and a mother who takes parental involvement in school to levels far greater than I could ever achieve, recently wrote about helping her daughter make a mission, a requirement for all of California’s fourth-graders. Disappointingly, Loh appears to have run the whole mission-building show in an effort to keep her daughter competitive with the other students. Not you, too, Sandra!

Of course, the question really is why do schools assign projects that are beyond the skill and development level of some of its youngest students. Or, why is the bar set so high? Do kids really learn much about the scientific method or to they learn to sit quietly while Dad’s doing some delicate soldering work? And by raising the bar to practically demand parents some of the work, where does this leave kids whose parents aren’t educated or don’t know what a science fair is or don’t have a computer at home or have never used a computer in their lives? Should their kids be down-graded for that?

To compete for a spot in my child’s district science fair, the entire poster board and written materials have to meet certain specs: nothing hand-written, 1.5-inch margins, this font, that color and on and on. Well, of course parents are taking it over. Who wants to turn over the home computer to a 5-year-old who will need 20 hours to type up three pages. Whose 5-year-old really wants to sit there and do it?

Come on, admit it. You helped your kid out a ton on this year’s science project. Or did you make a private pledge to let them sink and swim on their own? A friend of mine flat out told her third-grader’s teacher her son would not be typing his report and that she wasn’t going to do it for him. Know what? The teacher said hand-written would be fine.

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