Parenting Fails

Dinosaur Diorama Drama

The biggest project for Pickle this year is the Annual 1st Grade Dinosaur Museum. All of the first-graders do group projects, including big class projects and little in-class projects. But the big project every year is the diorama that they make at home and bring in to show off on the big day.

The guidelines are pretty simple.

1. The diorama is to be the approximate size of a shoe box.

2. Make items for the scene. (No plastic dinosaur toys.)

3. The project is to be done by the students. Parents are allowed to assist, but the child is to be the leader.

While chatting with a friend whose children went to the same school, she warned me, “The other parents are going to do all the work.” “You didn’t.” “Nope, but the other parents all did.” I thought back, many years ago, to science fairs and such. There was always a project or two that the parents helped too much with. I had a little giggle and she gave me a “you’ll see” look. But really, it’s a first-grade project. It’s not like the kids are even getting grades on it!

We spent a fair bit of time talking about what Pickle wanted in his diorama. I helped him research what type plants his dinosaur may have been around and what type of animals it may have preyed on. Hubby helped him cut out the cardboard. Otherwise he did all the work. Don’t get me wrong, it was no Van Gogh, but for a six-year-old, he did a good job. He was rightfully proud of his work as we brought it to school.

They spent all day setting up for the museum and I got off early from work to make sure I had time to see it. Pickle lead me over to his desk where his diorama sat, showed it to me, and then closed the box. He was embarrassed. “Buddy, what’s wrong?” “Mine’s isn’t like everybody else.” I was a bit confused and looked around. I was shocked. All around the room were projects that were done by the parents. I stood there and looked at elaborate projects I couldn’t pull off, projects made with plastic toys, and one that may have required a minor in art. Of the twenty-one kids in Pickle’s class, it looked like only two others had done their own work. I looked back at Pickle, trying to hide his project, and I was pissed!

When I looked around the room, I saw parents that were trying to outdo each other in the fucked-up little game parents play when they go on ad nauseam about how over achieving their kids are. To them this was just the next step after “Becky learned to walk at 12 months.” “Really? That’s nice, Lisa was only 11 months old.”

Pickle didn’t see that. He looked around the room and saw that the projects were better than his and assumed that just like him, his classmates did all the work too. He was comparing all his hard work to that of an adult, and it almost brought him to tears. I told him how proud I was of him, how hard he worked, and how we researched to make sure it was right. What I wanted to do was explain it to him, loud enough for everyoen to hear, but I didn’t. I couldn’t. I had a wounded little one, and I had to make him feel better. We talked quietly not to make a scene, and when his teacher came over and she and I agreed that Pickle did a great job, he felt better. Then we got apple juice.

A few words for parents that are thinking about doing their kids’ projects. Knock it the fuck off. You may be perfectly okay telling your kid they are not good enough (because if they were, you would let them do it), but you are raising the bar so that no child has a chance. Ruin your own kid’s self-esteem, but not mine. You aren’t helping anyone. Your kid isn’t learning what they need to. And I’m pretty sure your kid’s teacher doesn’t want to see another diorama made by a thirty-year-old.


I'm thirty-something and lucky enough have a job doing SCIENCE! I live in Madison, WI with five chickens, three dogs, two partners and one munchkin. Someday I would love to live on a big compound with my whole poly-family and goats.

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  1. If those were pupils in my class (OK, I’m not going to be a grade school teacher), I would let the kids fail their assignement and ask to repeat them in class.
    Yes, I know, it’s cruel. And probably the parents would get very angry. But I have a resonsibility for the pupils and teaching them that mum and dad will do their homework is plain wrong.
    Will they write their final exams as well?

    1. I have to admit, setting the expectation that your parents will do the work for you was not something I even thought of. That is a scary point too. You can’t function in the world as an adult if you need mommy and daddy to do all your work for you. Not to mention that very important life lessons are learned from our failures.

      1. Unfortunately, it’s a tendency
        There’s a horrible amount of students who get brought to school by mummy and daddy each morning and picked up after school as well. Those kids have zero personal responsibility for managing their own affairs, but suddenly when they leave school everybody, including their parents, expects them to be functioning adults. And then complain about the “kids these days”.

  2. Wow. I hope if I’m ever in that situation I can manage to handle it with the same level of grace as you, because I want to yell at those parents just hearing about it second hand. What the hell are these people thinking?

  3. What part of “no plastic toys” do these people not understand? I totally understand being pissed and I might even say something to the teacher in that situation, not to get the other kids in trouble, but to encourage zir to encourage those kids who did the assignment as described.

    Also, Pickle’s diarama is AWESOME.

    1. His teacher was actually really pretty good about it. She came over and talked with Pickle when she saw something was a miss. She assured him that he did a very good job and she could see how hard HE had worked on it.

  4. My stepson had a big 4th grade project a couple of years ago that he seemed to be putting the least possible effort into. So, I encouraged him to be more creative and not just meet the minimum requirements for the project. I dug out my scrapbooking supplies and gave him colored paper and sticker sheets to work with. I helped him put the book together and create an eye-catching cover page.

    When he received his grade for the project and his teacher commented on how neat and creative it was, I realized that I had done too much, and she was unknowingly complimenting *me* on *my* work. Not a proud moment. Luckily, the book was only part of the total project grade. The rest was a presentation that he prepared and delivered himself, so the majority of his grade was earned for his own work. The experience definitely informed my approach to his later projects.

    It’s tough, though, to resist the temptation to “help”.

    1. I had a similar moment just this year – I thought I’d learned to step back after watching my son succeed without me all the time, but writing is a huge issue for him that he’s really been working hard on, and since writing is kind of my “thing”, I’ve been trying to help. Perhaps a little too much, which I realized when he got comments home criticizing him for doing something I specifically bullied him into doing because I hadn’t bothered to read the rubric. Oops.

    2. I think there are degrees. You helped, probably over helped and realized it. We make mistakes and learn. What bothers me most about the experience is the other parents didn’t look around and say “I went to far.” It was much more an air of, “My kid turned in this great project.” I think I am starting to realize why I don’t fit in with the other parents when I can help on field trips.

  5. If I may be so honest, I hate these *fun* take home projects. I mean, right now, my daughter is in kindergarten. I am well trained to assist her with homework and assigned nightly reading. Her teacher has a chart for us to fill out daily, which I don’t because, I don’t see why *I* have too fill it out. I digress. If my child can not possibly do ANY of the assigned homework on her own I feel it is not age appropriate homework. I can see why parents get over involved, we have been getting reviewed by teachers since apparently our kids start school. Personally I don’t see why the diorama project could not be completed in school and next how they could do the research and really complete the project on their own at home. Once again, it is up to the parent to *assist* in said project. Up front, the project is not really age appropriate and for kids. Again, my opinion.

    1. I think in the actual assignment, there is a lot of room for children to do almost all of the work for *this* project on their own. I helped Pickle with the research to help him find the right types of plants and animals that his dinosaur would have been around. The concept and execution were his own.

      As for parents being assigned work, that seems a bit much. I (or one of the guys) review math sheets and nightly reading, I don’t think we have ever had to do more.

  6. Homework in kindergarten? I’m glad this hasn’t caught on here already…
    Here’s a trade secret of educational science: homework is not really efficient when it comes to achievement. Classes where children get homework don’t do much better academically than classes without homework* (Hattie, Visible Learning). The effect wouldn’t be worth the enormous effort if we only looked at academic achievement. The most important role and effect of homework is to teach children work discipline and self control, as well as organisational skills.
    This means that over-achieving parents (and teachers) are actually working against the child’s development.
    I make sure my daughter’s homework is correct and complete. I am also very firm in my expectations. But I also let her manage these things on her own. She would be done in 20 minutes if I simply sat next to her to keep her from doing other things. But I don’t, even if it takes her three hours. She has to learn to work with discipline and that the only person suffering from her laziness is herself because she’ll spend the whole afternoon at her desk.
    Still, I let her skip the reading exercises. Because they are for training reading skills and she already has those skills at a much higher level. I rather spend time with her reading about prehistoric men and nurture her love for books and reading than force her to read “the ball is green”.

    *This refers to homework in general, not to remedial exercises geared towards the specific needs of an individual child

  7. My little one cannot wait to get homework 🙂 she comes home and begs to play teacher teacher or for me to set her homework. It will be interesting to see how she feels when she actually *has* to do it. And yes, I have to sit on my hands when it comes to helping, especially when it comes to neatness: I’m a neat freak and she simply isn’t. (But at least I’m conscious of it, right?)

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