During my three day long summer vacation I helped my niece with her summer project. (See post dated 9/19/11). This incredible experience was rich with learning opportunities. Not only for my niece, but also for myself. And my sister. What did I learn?
First of all, never underestimate the difficulty of a 5th grader’s summer project. Be careful about being too confident. Don’t say to yourself, “How hard could it possibly be?” You are about to find out! Summer projects for 5th graders can be incredibly challenging, difficult and time consuming.
Second, adult confidence can be easily shattered by a 5th grade project. When that happens, it’s best to step back, take a few breaths and remember that you are the adult. If your confidence is suffering, imagine how the ten year old feels. I discovered if I treated the entire experience as an exercise in mental gymnastics, the project became more fun than work. As a bonus, neither one of us became stuck and were able to keep focused on the experience of the process, not the final goal. That helped keep my stress levels under control. I can’t speak for my niece, but if my stress levels were low, I’m guessing hers were as well. Consequently, if I started to panic, I’m betting she would, too.
Third, find a way to create an environment of support. Ask questions, initiate open ended discussions, share ideas, but keep your personal biases to yourself. This gives your child the space and freedom to allow their creative energy to flow. It might be tempting to take over and do most of the project yourself, or superimpose your own ideas. But, where’s the sport in that? And what does the child learn from that experience?
Fourth, you can’t allow exhaustion and the looming deadline to get the best of you. Stop. Take a break, take a walk, use your eye drops, but keep thinking and talking about the project. Once you unleash the creative genius in a ten year old, there’s no stopping her. Her creativity and her energy are limitless. I also discovered how supportive an eight year old brother can be when his sister is faced with a difficult task. I always knew my nephew was exceptional, but his patience, maturity and support as my niece and I spent hours working at the dining room table was very touching.
Fifth, I learned how much fun it is to read the same book as a ten year old and talk about it together. I also discovered that nothing is impossible when you work together as a team.
Finally, I learned that I will ask ahead of time if any projects are on the agenda are so I can read the book in advance.
My sister learned that when her children are entering a new school, the “Welcome Package” isn’t always 100% complete. Sometimes a small bit of information may be missing, like the fact that her child has 2 mandatory projects over the summer. She learned that her sister rocks, but she already knew that! Oh, and she also learned how to duck when a golf ball comes flying at her. But that’s another story. I’m just glad she has quick reflexes.
The truth is, we encounter rich and rewarding learning opportunities every day of our lives. We can ignore them, grumble about them, or refuse to participate in them. We need to recognize these opportunities, honor them, revel in them, and make each one count. We may be surprised by what we learn!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP