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.