Long Term, At-Home, Elementary School Projects Are Bullsh*t

If you have a kid in first grade, then you and your child (but mostly you) may have just completed the (fucking) 1ooth Day of School Project.

This project, along with every other long-term project that teachers assign to students to do at home, is bullshit.

It’s not just the 100th Day of School Project.

It’s all of them.

In elementary and middle school, anyway.

Because what is the point of these projects? Why are they assigned?

To teach children how to manage their time? To teach children how to do research? To teach children the different phases of brainstorming, planning, and executing a project?

I believe those are the goals. And they are great goals. They are certainly necessary life skills.

But six-year-olds have not learned these things yet. Neither have most nine, ten, and eleven-year-olds.

And let’s be honest.

There are two types of long-term projects assigned to students to do at home that come into school: the ones that are completed by the parents, and the ones that are completed by the students.

And approximately 97% of all projects fall into that first group.

I know because I taught 4th grade for six years, and sixth grade for three years.

It did not take long to realize that close to 100% of projects that were assigned to be done at home were not being completed by the students.

What a waste of time and energy, both for teachers and parents.

I was evaluating work that wasn’t the kids’ and the parents were ripping their fucking hair out, or going psycho trying to make sure they outdid the other parents in the class.

It was stupid. And pointless.

So I stopped assigning projects to be done at home.

And we started doing them in school.

Because the other thing didn’t take me long to realize was that the kids in my class had absolutely no idea how to manage a project.

They didn’t know how to research. They didn’t know how to plan. They didn’t know how to figure out what supplies they would need. They didn’t know how to determine if the idea they had in their head was feasible or reasonable. They didn’t know how to budget time. They didn’t know how spatially plan out a poster. They didn’t know how to use the computer to print out graphics or to change the font type or size and print out headings or text for their project. They didn’t know how to do much of anything independently.

And that was when it became clear that the real need wasn’t in ensuring that the kids came into school on the due date with a kick ass project that looked like it was professionally done.

It was in learning how to do all the stuff that leads up to that.

You know, the whole journey and not the destination thing.

So I broke the project down into steps, and I taught them how to do each one in school.

I helped the kids who were struggling. I challenged the ones who “got it” right away.

If there were kids who fucked around in class and didn’t get much work done, well, that was reflected in their final grade.

That didn’t happen too often, because when the kids were invested in what they were doing, they were a little more motivated to try.

Some kids’ projects were better than others.

But they all looked like fourth grade students did them, and not like 42-year-old parents did them.

Which is how it should be.

As far as I’m concerned, there is no justification for requiring children under the age of ten to complete long-term, at home projects.

Not even “an opportunity for family bonding.”

If I want to bond with my seven-year-old, it’s not gonna be like that.

If you want to offer that as an optional assignment for kids to do at home, if you want to give that as one suggestion in a list for families who are looking for more ways to bond with their kids, fine. Go for it.

But don’t tell me how to spend quality time with my kid. Don’t require me to “bond” with my kid over a heritage project. Don’t try to disguise a pointless assignment that ultimately teaches the kid nothing about the process of long-term planning as a bonding exercise.

There is no bonding going on here at my house when I do the 100th Day of School Project.

There is a lot of heavy eye rolling, sighing, and crying. The kids get upset, too.

And yes. I meant “I”.

Because I did most of this “project.”

Why?

Because I think it’s a waste of time.

While other parents kids were making intricate and detailed collections and presentations on tri-fold posterboard and other stuff that no six-year-old could do independently, I printed out a picture of a gumball machine and drew 100 little circles in it.

My kid?

He colored it in.

That’s it.

It’s a joke compared to what most of his classmates did.

But I don’t care.

Because I don’t believe a six-year-old should have any homework to begin with. And I certainly don’t think a six-year-old should be assigned something which requires skills he hasn’t been taught yet in order to complete it.

But I do believe this is a great way to introduce the basic concepts of how to do a long term project in school.

Break the project down into components, and teach those skills. In the classroom.

  • Have the class brainstorm a list of “things” they could collect. Determine which objects are reasonable and which are not.
  • Brainstorm ways in which these collections could be presented.
  • Divide the class into four or five groups.
  • Have the groups choose one item to display and one way in which to display it.
  • Guide groups who are having trouble agreeing. Offer solutions for ways to come to an agreement. (You are teaching communication, cooperation, and problem solving)
  • Figure out how many of those items each child must bring into school. (Now you’ve incorporated math into the lesson!)
  • Once the groups have decided on their object, come back to a whole group. Discuss what jobs each group will need to do in order to complete their project. (Now you are teaching planning.)
  • Group members choose jobs. (More communication, cooperation, planning, and possibly compromising).
  • Help kids plan out what projects will look like. Where the title goes. What information is important to include. Give kids time to work together on projects.
  • Present projects to the class! (Now you are teaching presentation and public speaking skills)!

The kids have learned, among other things, math, problem solving, planning, cooperation, delegation, communication, responsibility, and public speaking skills. And they are one step closer to  knowing how to complete a long-term project independently.

I can tell you for sure that my kid learned, um, zero of those when he was coloring in 100 gumballs last night.

And if the kids aren’t ready developmentally to learn those skills?

Well… um… that’s easy.

Then don’t assign the fucking project.

 

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2 replies
  1. Kay
    Kay says:

    100% agree. My youngest is in college now but I still have flashbacks of the horror which were home projects. All pointless- especially ones assigned after spring break as I was completely over the school year by mid march.

    Reply
  2. Deanna
    Deanna says:

    My 5th grader has projects. They do 99% of it in class. If he’s not done by a certain date, he can bring it home to finish it (that’s the other 1%) The only homework he actually had so far this year was to read a book and put together a powerpoint book report (with her supplying very specific questions for each slide to answer). The other “homework” is stuff he didn’t finish in class. She doesn’t supply specific homework. My point of view is that I already passed grade school, I don’t need to do it again.

    Reply

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