Where I spray-paint my thoughts…



It’s that FUN FUN FUN time of the year again — when our children-slash-WE have to do Literacy Fair projects for school!


At our children’s school, for some reason, they don’t do the ubiquitous Science Fair where the parents have to work harder than the kids to come up with some kind of cool project the kids can display and talk knowledgably about. Instead, they do a Literacy Fair. Kids have to read a book, then their parents have to work harder than they do to come up with some kind of cool project which the kids can display while they talk knowledgeably about the book.

Literacy Fair is obviously a bit better suited to my talents than Science Fair would be, but in the end it still boils down to how artsy-craftsy  you are, and how much work  you are willing to put in for a project which your kid is going to get a grade for.

I have mixed feelings about this, as I guess a lot of parents do.  I know the parenting spectrum ranges all the way from parents who are completely unaware that their kids even have a project, and leave the whole thing to the kids to do or not do (which probably encourages independence in some kids, but despair and poor grades in more of them), to the super-duper overachiever parent who basically DOES the child’s entire project and brings in the all-singing, all-dancing Harry Potter LIVE!! musical in a box, or whatever.  This child looks pretty cool, but let’s face it — everyone knows who did the thing, and what has the kid really learned?

As with most aspects of parenting, we try for the middle ground here.  We encourage our kids to take the lead in coming up with ideas for the projects and doing most of the actual work, but Jason and I will serve as sort of creative or artistic directors, and help with some of the trickier bits.  Generally, without really planning it this way, we tend to divide our skills so that each parent helps one child.  The last couple of years, Jason has been Chris’s go-to parent, while I have helped Emma with her projects.

Let’s be honest: the child who gets Jason for Parent Helper has a distinct advantage.  He is creative, has good ideas, can draw and do artsy-craftsy things, and, oh! Is a mechanical engineer!!! While I? Am creative, and have good ideas. There my contribution ends.

This year we somehow got switched around, and Jason ended up working on Emma’s project, which featured huskies and sled dogs from Roddy Doyle’s novel Wilderness.  To match the model husky dog Emma happened to have around the house, Jason constructed the cunning little sled you see in the photo above.  Emma did a big display board of facts and pictures about the book, and we were all set to go on that project.

Christopher’s was a little more problematic. This may have been because, for the first time since he started doing these projects in Grade 2, he wasn’t allowed to pick a book he had read and enjoyed himself.  Instead, for his class the teacher picked books and assigned them to the kids — I have no idea why.  This resulted in Chris (and some others in his class, from what I’ve heard) being less than avid about his project.  The book assigned to him was OK, but he wasn’t enthused about it.  He had an idea for a project, but wasn’t too enthused about that either.

I had a sort of vision of a project he could do, and I eventually sold him on it, but it was really a case of me guiding him through it.  Jason helped a bit with making a papier-mache island, but largely the project was down to me and Christopher, and only I was committed enough to take ownership of it.  Chris is much more artistic than I am — he draws beautifully, and constantly — but when it comes to crafts I think he has inherited some of my shortcomings, because he’s not the master of cutting, folding, gluing, etc.  As for me, I have frequently described myself as “adhesively challenged” — anytime glue or tape get involved, my fingers all turn to thumbs.

So as a result, this year, Emma is taking a very polished project that she’s totally excited about, and Chris is taking a less-polished project that he’s a little more blase about.  Interestingly, Chris’s project actually looks like it was done by a fifth-grader — but that’s because much of the work was done by a forty-three-year-old woman whose work looks like that of a fifth-grader. Oh well. Some years are better than others.

I’m still unsure about how involved we parents should get in these projects.  But I will say that my favourite memory of all the many projects I did in elementary school was a Grade Five project for Newfoundland history.  My dad got very involved in this project and laid out a wonderful little outport house, shed and garden, all set in a shallow box-top. The garden was done in half an egg-carton lid filled with real dirt — I remember it that vividly. 

My dad did a lot of the construction while I remember things like colouring the clapboard on the house yellow. It was an absolutely gorgeous project, and I loved working on it with my dad (he was clearly in charge). It was also still in my parents basement up till about ten years ago — I haven’t checked lately, but for all I know it may still be there.

When I brought it to school that day in Grade Five, most people ooh’d and aaah’d, but one girl said with a sneer, “Did your dad make that?”

“Well, he helped me,” I said.

“My dad never helps me with projects!” she said proudly, and walked away.

“Poor you!” I shot back.

Like I said, still not sure of the rights of that one.  But I do know that Chris gets to do Heritage Fair this year for the first time, and I have a few ideas …. We should probably get Jason in on the project early, though.

ADDENDUM: After I posted this, my dad sent me this photo … the project is still in their basement:


Isn’t that AWESOME? I mean, both the project, and the fact that there’s a place where EVERYTHING from my past is perfectly preserved?! Admittedly scary when I think about helping my parents clean out the place if they ever decide to move, because I am obviously descended from the two most extreme “savers” on the planet, but still … seeing this brings a little tear to my eye.  I forgot the outhouse! And the little metal pot over the fire, made of tinfoil, which my dad singed with a match to make it look a little burned …

Wait … with a little scotch tape, could we just patch this up and submit it for Chris’s Heritage Fair project later this year????


5 thoughts on “Projects

  1. Jaedyn just had a project where she had to build a structure. When Tatiana had to do this, there were fewer children in the household and she got more help with a better result. Poor Jaedyn’s structure was a mess, though, and we ran out of time to fix it.

  2. oh man… having a kid in school looks daunting!

    but that project your dad did with you does look awesome! and that is just the sweetest thing that he saved it!

  3. I agree — I adore your dad for keeping it.

    I have exactly ONE memory of a project I worked on with my parents. We were supposed to invent something. That was the parameter (yes, singular). It was VERY stressful.

    I finally decided I wanted a lap desk (because I was always scribbling away in journals even then). Of course, I couldn’t actually make one myself, so I asked Dad to help.

    He ended up doing the entire thing by himself while I watched. The end result was much too big for me (it was still too big after I became an adult) because he had a scrap of plywood that was about the right shape and he refused to cut it down because that was extra work. So the desk wasn’t functional unless I had my legs straight out in front of me (painful — it was heavy), or sat it on the bed in front my crossed legs (not a “lap” desk). He also insisted on using a rigid, too-small, U-shaped drawer pull he already had, rather than buying a hinged handle, so it was extremely awkward to carry.

    It was a deeply disappointing experience. The desk was cool enough, and it kept for many, many years to store my stationery in. But it wasn’t functional; it didn’t fit me, and whatever part of it was “my” invention died in the process.

    Not that this sour memory of mine has any pertinence in your conversation.

  4. Boy, this must be a bigger deal than I realized!

    It occurred to me as I reread my comment (thinking I should have proofread!), that I kept that desk for decades. It was a treasure, despite the sour memory.

    You know why? It was the only thing I owned that my father ever made for me (he also made a set of really cool rubber band guns for us once, but they got played to death). At some level, I kept the lapdesk because I wanted to feel like I was at least sort of important to him once.

    How pitiful is that?

  5. Not so much pitiful as intriguing, Katrina … I expect to see your non-functional lap desk show up in a story someday. (A story of yours, I mean … I wouldn’t steal it).

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