When I visited my sister and her kids two months ago, I was recruited to help my young niece with her summer project. Unfortunately, my sister had just found out that my niece had two mandatory projects over the summer. What the other kids had all summer to complete, my niece had about a week. And I had three days to help her. I was up to the task. After all, she is only ten years old and starting the 5th grade. I have a master’s degree. How hard could it be?
The first day, my niece sat me down at the dining room table. She explained that she was required to develop a board game based on the book she had read. Okay, that seemed a little challenging, but again, how hard could it be? Another sister had already bought all of the supplies. My niece had finished the book the night before. I was looking at a blank board game, unmarked play money, blank white cards (what were those for, I wondered) and a blank white book that we were to somehow turn into a “Rule Book.” I was clueless on how to begin, but confident I could help her pull this together.
I asked my niece to give me a book review so we could get started. She began to enthusiastically tell me about the book. I was getting confused. I asked her a few questions. She answered them, and my confusion got worse. As my confusion grew, I noticed her face starting to fall as she watched the expression on my face. Her voice became less animated and more uncertain as she started to look worried. My own confidence was beginning to falter, so I changed tactics. I picked up the book and told her, “You just give me an hour alone and I will speed read this baby. Then we can talk about it and get a better idea of how to get started.” That was fine with her and she ran off to relax with a little bit of television.
I started to read. Fifteen minutes later my head was swimming. There were so many characters introduced in the first two chapters that I couldn’t keep them straight. I began taking notes. Thirty minutes later I was getting a headache. Forty five minutes later it was time to go pick up my nephew at his baseball camp. I took the book and read in the car. Good thing I wasn’t the one driving. We watched my nephew play ball. I yelled and cheered just enough to embarrass him while I read the book. We took the kids to lunch. I took the book to lunch. I was in serious trouble. This little project was proving to be a whole lot harder than I had anticipated.
By the middle of the second day, I was halfway through the book and was able to begin to talk about the story and the characters with my niece. We started planning our strategy for the board game, including ideas for the Rule Book. I figured we would tackle the money and the blank white cards later. Since I felt I had a good grasp of the story line, the characters, and already figured out the ending, I was done reading the book. I checked that off of my to do list, and we spent the next few hours discussing ideas as my niece drew several drafts on paper.
Confident once again that I had the situation under control, my niece and I discussed the story as she showed me what her ideas were. During the discussion she dropped a bombshell regarding what happens during the second half of the book. “What?” I exclaimed. “Oooops,” she replied, “I don’t want to ruin the story for you.” Well, she didn’t ruin the story, but she did ruin my day. Sighing, I told her to stop working. The new twist in the book wasn’t going to work with the rough draft she had started. I picked up the book again and started reading. She went to relax with a bit of television. Where were the other adults? They were hard at work on the golf course. Of course.
I finally finished the book the next morning. My niece and I spent the entire next day working on the project. She put the finishing touches on it just before we adults went to dinner that evening.
Viola! She and I had done what I thought was impossible. We finished the project in 3 days. Of course, we spent at least 8 hours each day working together, not counting the extra time that I was reading the book or thinking about the project.
My husband and I left the next morning before anyone else got up. Exhausted, the characters of “The Westing Game” were still swirling in my head as we went to the airport. My husband got an upgrade, which he generously gave to me. As I settled comfortably in United’s business class, I had to smile. Out of all the summer vacations I have ever had, this one was the best!
The finished project:
Cheryl Ilov, PT GCFP