This week, we are drawing the map of Spain in my household. In painful detail.
After four kids, I think I would have been smarter to invest in poster board and gluesticks than high tech stocks. My kids were always racing the clock to finish posters, projects and presentations.
After years of helping kids create dioramas, panoramas and kidney-bean maps of Alabama, I have to wonder — do children learn much from these endless school projects?
In their zeal for hands-on learning — a zeal shared by many parents — schools have adopted what Education Week once described as the “Crayola Curriculum.” Kids are now coloring and making trifold posters even in math and chemistry classes. Parents hoard shoe boxes for dioramas. The back-to-school shopping list now includes sheaths of white poster board and Styrofoam balls for the inevitable solar system project.
My household has been through just about every iteration of school project, from the classic paper mache volcano to a tasty armadillo carved out of chocolate cake. (Notice my theme: projects that double as class snack, another growth industry and a topic for a later date.)
I never felt these projects fostered deeper learning, least of all in elementary school. A teacher once told me that projects in the early grades didn’t necessarily increase learning, but provided parents and kids with a shared experience. I told her it was a lot more rewarding and relaxing to go on a family walk than to build a pyramid out of Saltines.
One of my worst memories was a fort that my oldest daughter and I created out of gingerbread, a messy late-night adventure that finally yielded a shaky but standing structure.
But ever the perfectionist, I couldn’t resist adding one last dollop of icing to shore up the sides, and as I did so the edible edifice simply collapsed. In the end, I was forced to grab a glue gun to repair the damage and post a “DO NOT EAT” sign on the project.
Many parents, especially crafty types who always have construction paper, felt fabric and feathers at the ready, no doubt consider these projects great fun for their kids. I don’t disagree. I’m just not sure how educational they are. How much did my kids learn by creating a glitzy poster showing how they would spend a million dollars, an annual fifth grade project. Or copying the flag of Spain, which my sixth grader did this week.
Am I just a crank? Is there some higher learning going on with these projects?