Learning about the natives

My son's class has been learning about Native Americans and this week they were given a creative project to do at home. They could make a model shelter or a poster or a necklace representing a certain tribe etc. I think that he did a great job on his hairpipe choker.I had thought that we might have an unfair advantage over some of the other kids in his class, as my husband's grandmother was Native American and we had a few of her beads etc. as well as necklaces on hand to use for inspiration.That was until I dropped him off at school this morning and saw some of his classmate's projects. Wow. Especially the one model tipi, made out of actual skins as far as I could tell. Half of the models wouldn't have looked out of place in a museum display.

It can be a little confusing living over here. There are words used in schools that differ slightly from those used back home, so I'll find myself double-checking what an assignment meant exactly. Other things just seem completely different from back home, though. I think that we live in a down-to-earth non-competitive neighbourhood, yet I would say that several of the kids in his class had quite a bit of help from parents.

So now I am wondering how much help I should have given. I'm still leaning towards the amount that I gave, which was talking him through the construction of his dad's choker and helping him whenever the needle was not wanting to go through.

I'm also wondering how much effort should be going into these projects. Some of the dioramas even had little figures and fake plants etc. For starters, where are they even getting all these model supplies? Should we be spending the money and time to achieve authentic looking details? Again, I'm still pretty much leaning towards using what we have on hand or buying just a few cheap everyday things.

My mum didn't really help me on projects such as these (she is not artistic) and I usually had to make do with what scraps were around the house - but then so did most of my classmates. If we had made a model tipi, it would have probably been made with twigs and a cut up cereal box. Macaroni and beads would have been used for a necklace. Maybe it's just a sign of the times, but I really thought how much luckier my kids were that they had a mum with craft supplies about the house. Yet it turns out that their classmates seem to have even more at their disposal.

How much help do you give your kids with school projects? What is expected when it comes to craft projects like this?


  1. This is one reason I would like to homeschool. I don't see a problem with parents and kids working on projects together, unless there is a grade involved. I think you gave the right amount of help. I also think that the extras would not have been a problem so much if the project had been a home one. Since they are graded, it isn't fair to everyone that some parents gave so much more help.

  2. I think kids' school projects should be their projects. The amount of help you gave seems reasonable, but what good does it do a kid to bring an awesome project to school made by their parent? Your son's choker looks pretty amazing to me, and how neat to have authentic materials to use!

  3. One would hope that the teacher will recognise how much the child has done unaided and give credit accordingly.

    I think you did the right thing. I have no idea whether it's the accepted thing ...

  4. I'm not sure I'm of much help, as my kids are still little and I'm also a foreigner; but as a teacher (now I teach preschool, but I taught 4th to 6th grade for a while) I assigned work to the kids, not the parents, and gave enough guidance for them to complete on their own.

    What's the point otherwise? It's supposed to be part of the learning experience. You want them to find information and interpret it. It's not about how "good" what they make looks, but about what they learned in the process. Did they practice finding information? Did they compare several sources? Did they consider what the object they want to make was used for, or what its significance was? Did making the object help them understand that particular culture a little better?

    Those are the goals behind this kind of assignment (at least for me), maybe you could ask his teacher to clarify for you what is expected from them; but I have a hard time imagining that s/he would say the goal was for the parents to work as much as possible.

    Ooops, that turned out longer than I thought it would.

  5. When my kids were in school there were always the parents who basically "did" the projects. The kids really never did learn to do things on their own and suffered when they got to the higher grades. I think the parents do a great disservice to the kids when they do it.

  6. I would probably be with you on this one. I would follow my child's lead and help him or her if it was requested. I would encourage them but not take over. My daughter's brownie group had a similar situation where they had to make a Christmas hat for a competition. She came up with a great idea and apart from the hot glue gun did it all herself. Other hats were clearly made with significant help from the parents. They were really cool, but my daughter was super proud of her creation. Isn't that the point?

  7. I think you did the right amount also. My kids are out of school now but I really only helped them when needed (and maybe not even then). Afterall, it was their homework.

  8. as Thea said, I also think you did give the right amount of help. I usually do the same, we talk about it, I might ask questions to lead them in case ideas are not there (but it is really rare) but they definitely are the maker. I think it is also a way to make them autonous and responsible for what they are doing. I am amazed by the neckless your son made !!! Also, in a way, seeing us doing stuff, trying, undoing and redoing, make them not as afraid to try and try !!!

  9. I am with you - I've already been through school - now it's my sons turn. Good for you mom - stick to your gut - your children will be better off and self-sufficient because of it ... Isn't that the goal - to raise independent thinkers, not spoon feed blobs.

  10. My kids go to a school with a high proportion of SAHMs - and the level of 'help' tends a lot more to the 'mum really enjoyed making this'-side of the spectrum. I, however refuse to do my kids homework for them, and thankfully (so far) their teachers have been happy to award extra marks to students who clearly did their own work :-)
    Love the chocker btw - looks really authentic!

  11. Long story coming....

    I'm with dottycookie. I'm thinking that there would be something wrong with the entire education system if parents were significantly helping out/doing most of the projects and it was actually the norm. Where I'm from, it was just as usual as not, to have home tutors for many of the subjects (what they call classes here). Everyone said it was because lessons were going too fast for the average kid to keep up with. True, ours is a rigorous system, and, funnily enough, lots of homeschoolers here in the US use our Math syllabus because they think it's good. But it makes a person think, doesn't it, if that many of the kids felt they needed the extra at-home help?

    Art projects wise, though, I look at it this way: some kids have their parents work on these skills from the time they were like 1 year old and by the time they're in grade school, they can do amazing things without needing adult help. Some parents only help their kids when they're IN grade school, when they have the actual projects to do. Both are help, aren't they? I guess the point is what motivates parents to help, and what motivates the kids to ask for it. That said, I think you did great, Dawn. You provided resources and ideas, and help with the fine motor skills that even escape grownups oftentimes) and your young man made an awesome thing to bring to school, WITH a story to tell about his family history. Hooray for you both!

  12. I hate it when parents do their kids' projects for them. I feel like it somehow is telling the kid that their work is not worthy. I have always believed that it is the parent's job to jump in and help a child when they are lost but in a way that they still learn something.

    That said, my fourth grade teacher was a lunatic (they actually committed her two years later) and she fixated on me as the focus of her mental illness (perhaps because I was taller than she was). She failed me on a few projects that I knew I was right on (won't bore you with the details but suffice it to say, I could prove my answers and show my work). So we had to do a project about maps and she had me so terrorized that I had a complete and total meltdown when I was trying to do it. My dad jumped in and did the work for me (all I had to do was color in the countries). It was so kind of him. She was so bad that my dad signed my report cards and then wrote "under protest" next to his signature because she gave me bad grades on things I was really good at.

    Your sons choker is beautiful.

    I'm pretty sure I still have that map somewhere.

  13. As I often say to my kids, "I've been to school and done my homework. Now it's your turn." Having said that, helping with the projects is fun - especially for us crafty Mum's - but I always make sure that it involves maetrials from home and nothing fancy or that has to be bought.
    Your son did really well!