What is it about school projects that brings out the beast in most mommas? Is it that one’s children become the conduit for a sense of competitiveness that’s been squashed? After all, we moms live where there’s no tangible award for being the Valedictorian of Laundry or for being the gold medalist in a sport called, to quote a dear friend, “competitive pumping”. Clearly, we see our children as a reflection of ourselves as parents, and since we are in a society that spends way too much time trying to one-up one another, we (wrongly) see sending Junior off to school with the Mack-Daddy social science fair project as a way to make ourselves feel like we’ve won the Parenting Olympics. Rather than letting our children actually complete a project on their own and run the risk of it looking shabby, crooked or, Heaven forbid, incorrect, many parents would gladly rather sit down and just do it themselves. Doing it the grown-up way is also way less time consuming, and isn’t that the ultimate goal of parenting: across the board efficiency?
But this defeats the whole point of education, doesn’t it? Don’t we preach to our children to learn from their mistakes? To keep on trying? That practice makes perfect?
I am a staunch advocate of letting my children do things themselves. They write their own thank you notes (even if it takes weeks to get them out). They build their own Lego contraptions. True, their folded clothes are more correctly called “wadded” once they hit the drawers and their beds are never made. Towels hang lopsided off doorknobs instead of on the cute little star-shaped hooks they helped me pick out. Certainly, we step in when help is needed, but we refuse to take away the learning that comes with doing something. We try to do things together, as companions, not as a leader and a follower or–even worse–a passive observer.
That’s my mantra I’ve toted around for years now…and then about a month ago we learned that Jack had auditioned for (!!) and gotten (!!!) a role in the first grade musical production The Princeless Princess at his school. His Music teacher emailed me and said Jack needed a costume–a princely costume, at that–and asked if I could come up with something. She sent me a picture of a typical Medieval-ish prince-type-person and said to aim for something like that. Easy enough.
Jack was to wear a black t-shirt, black pants, and whatever princely accoutrements we felt were worthy. I brainstormed daily while running on the treadmill. I pondered it at red lights. I did research on coats of arms. Knowing his favorite colors (green and blue), I picked up the felt one day while he was at school. I was taking over his project…
But that was ok, right? This was for a play–for a school production–so I wasn’t really doing the work, I was just polishing what Jack had done with his adorable audition on one knee (“Why, yes, my lady; just show your tower!”)…
We talked about Coats of Arms and what they signified. We put a cross (Christian sentiments) and a dog paw (loyalty and, of course, in homage to Jack’s best pal, Dog) on the crest. I wanted to put a “J” and an “H” inside the other parts, but Jack vetoed that. We went with infinity symbols, instead, because Jack loves math, and we also figured a true prince would love a princess forever and ever, right? The entire crest was going to be glued on top of a white cloak (to make it stand out more; my idea) but I cut the neck hole too big.
Clearly, this was not going to work. It was falling off Jack’s shoulders, and besides that, Jack hated the white (he’s running a 103 fever in this picture and was none-too-happy to model the cloak).
He asked for a green cloak instead. Green? But green wasn’t going to make that crest I’d worked so hard on really pop out on the stage!
We did go with green in the end, along with some red around the edges of the crest (his idea–red like a heart). And in the end, it all looks marvelous, I think…
I can’t imagine there’d really be a princeless princess with this cute prince around…
(This may well be the last picture of Jack with both of his top baby teeth; his top right tooth is hanging on by a thread…)
So, am I eating crow right now? Have I taken away a true learning opportunity from my son? Have I done too much for him this time? I think not. We did this together. He had very clear ideas and a very vocal input. He can tell you all about the symbols on his crest as well as what other symbols mean, too. He conducted a dress rehearsal here in our living room. Furthermore, Jack is our child whose language of love is Quality Time (if you’ve not read Gary Chapman’s book about the different languages of love, I highly recommend it). Jack feels most loved when we do things with him, not for him. He learns best in collaboration with others. He adores to spend time with us, participating with us, being with us, teaching us.
Thus, I think our costume creation work this week was the most perfect example of quality education: Jack gained knowledge in a setting that was chock full of qualities that speak directly to him. Our collaborative effort embraced him on multiple levels. He learned a little about the Medieval world and helped create a costume for something about which he is incredibly excited, and he got to do this with one of the two people on this Earth who shoulders the sole responsibility of constantly teaching him. In the end, Jack was the leader on this one; his mom just handled the glue gun.
So let me tell you: teachable moments rock, especially when you find it’s yourself who is being taught.