Thursday, January 15, 2009

Parents, leave them kids alone

Dun, dun, dun, dun…“Who’s on the $5 bill?” “What was the name of the final Harry Potter book?”

Oooh, oooh! I know! Of course, so did my elementary-school aged daughter. She tried out for the kid’s version of Jeopardy by taking an online test this week. She had 20 seconds to submit her answer, and, boy, did that time go by fast, especially when listening to the Jeopardy tune.

Watching her hunt and peck on the keyboard, I admit to shouting, “Get out of the way! You call the answers, and I’ll type them in!”

As I bite my tongue through several questions, I couldn’t help but wonder how many parents “helped” their kids, or, in other words, cheated. It’s a common problem in elementary schools. If you don’t believe me, just visit the local science fair.

The parent-projects are pretty easy to recognize. They are immaculate--neatly printed and hot glued, with all the words spelled correctly. During the presentations, the kids to whom the projects belong stand two feet away from them because they have been repeatedly warned at home not to get near them. Ask them a question about it, and they refer to the typed sheet their mom or dad prepared, often stumbling over the words.

I’m not blaming the children. I’m sure they would love to get their hands dirty with paper mache or glue or paint or marker or something to make it their own. One mom I know said her mother did all of her projects for her when she was a little girl, so she does all the projects for her daughter. Okay, sometimes we have to break the cycle. I witnessed one science fair in which the winner mumbled into the microphone, “My dad did it all,” and then ran off stage. What guts!

Personally, I love kid creations. They far surpass what adults do, and it’s the little imperfections that make them, well, perfect. In my house, my children use lots and lots of tape on their projects. I don’t know why. Perhaps we are out of glue. Usually whatever they create requires an obscene number of popsicle sticks, too. You name it—igloos, hot houses to demonstrate the greenhouse effect, castles--the sky’s the limit.

When my oldest daughter was in 4th grade, her school held a decorative hat contest. She told me about it as I tucked her into bed. It was the next day. She asked if I would make it for her, and I told her to just wear her ball cap. I could tell, however, that it was important to her, so I found a straw hat and gave it to, along with a bottle of glue, some tape and a stapler, and told her she had ten minutes to get it done.

The final project was a beauty, a dazzling array of glitter and feathers, dripping with beads, and the piece de la resistance—a book. She took first place, which if I recall was a coupon to Burger King. We celebrated with a cheeseburger that night. I still have that hat.

There’s nothing better than popsicles, tape, misspelled words, and the creativity of little kids. Parents, let them be. They’re all winners.

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