Tuesday, 8 November 2011

I will no longer hijack my kids' projects- I promise

It's hard to believe that schools are already starting the final formal assessments for the year.

These assessments usually are constituted by projects and tests.

So often I've heard parents (particularly mothers) complain that involvement in children's projects is adding to their already heavy workloads, with parents often contributing more than the kids themselves. Given South Africa's uneven wealth distribution, it bothers me that children who have a stay-at-home parent with a decent level of education, will have an advantage over children whose parents work full days, especially in the case where parents are very often not educated or even literate (and therefore not in the position to help the children with projects and homework).

My kids have the added 'advantage' in that they have a mom whose sense of self-worth is directly tied in to her kids' achievements (or lack thereof), and who is therefore obsessive about providing the necessary support and
motivation to ensure their success (so that she can feel good about herself).

My kids usually do their own research for projects, after which I will check, give input- and try to restrain myself from re-doing the entire project MY WAY, while they are sleeping. Their projects are usually a result of their own research and understanding of the topics- well, most of the time......

Two years ago Shakeel had to do a project on an influential South African. He selected Dr Chris Barnard and I had insisted that he use the public library instead of the internet (as I thought that he would score extra marks for extra effort). We took out 'Christiaan Barnard- One Life' by Christiaan Barnard and Curtis Bill Pepper, a 366-page book with the tiniest print you've ever seen; which I started reading on the way home. By night time, I was completely hooked and was reluctant to give up the book.

I completed reading the book over the next few days, and then proceeded to answer the assignment questions, which Shakeel had hurriedly jotted down at my request. Oh, I was so pleased with myself; not only for the fact that I had been able to answer all the questions without re-reading any part of the book or conducting any additional research, but also for my depth of understanding of the complicated medical processes explained in the book.

I completed my draft of the assignment in no time. All that was left for Shakeel to do was a cover page, contents page, introductory summary, bibliography and a blurb at the end of his project booklet.

I was pleased with my part of the project, so I did not even care to check his.

On the day the result was released, Shakeel looked nervous as he approached me. I (er, I mean 'he') had obtained a lousy 64%. I felt a wave of nausea as I sank onto the sofa- shocked, humiliated. After recovering slightly later that night I looked at the final copy of the assignment for the first time. My son had not bothered to attach a proper cover page, he had not done a contents page, summary or a bibliography. He had not even provided me with all the questions which had to be answered!

I know I should have been furious, but I couldn't help feeling relieved- the low mark was his fault, and not mine. Or was it? I wished I could approach his teacher and ask her to have my contribution to the project graded independently of his. (Yes, I know, I should be committed).

Let me hurriedly state that none of this should be a reflection on Shakeel. He had known better than to challenge his crazed mother as she took it upon herself to hijack his project.

My kids perform better in tests than they do in projects. In the early days I would question Shakeel on his work, ensuring that he did not leave the house on test morning until he could answer each question effortlessly. But, since I now have three kids at school and a demanding baby, I am training him and Tharaa to draft their own question papers, which they should use to study and revise. This is not always successful, as they still need so much guidance when drafting the questions.

On test mornings we usually try to maintain a calm and positive atmosphere in the house before they leave for school. (All threats like "Don't bother to come home if you get less than 80%" would have been made the night before). Previously I would worry the entire test day, wondering how they were progressing, but thanks to poor hubby, who often is forced to act as my therapist and life coach, I now try not to stress about things over which I have no control. 

At the moment Shakeel is busy with a project on one of the major religions in South Africa; while Tharaa's is on the planet Mars. At this point I must give myself a pat on the back- my only contribution thus far has been to point them in the direction of relevant websites and provide some books- which they could choose to use or not.

I think I should focus less on controlling their projects and work on an important project of my own- developing my own goals so that my sense of self-worth is linked to my own achievements instead of theirs. My kids will be so relieved.

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