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Sometime soon your child will have a project-type assignment for school. It might be a major paper, a poster or demonstration, or something she needs to complete as part of a group. Whatever the project, you know the risk: that your child will leave this until the last minute and you will find yourself getting over-involved just to help your child get it done.

Over-involvement is something you want to avoid. Your child’s teacher will not be impressed if he suspects Mom or Dad did more of the work than the child did herself. And, of course, the purpose of the project is to aid in your child’s learning. Giving too much help robs your child of a great opportunity to add to her skills.

Your role is to teach skills here too – skills in organization and time management. Here’s how you do that.
1. Start the minute you know a big project is due. Sit down with your child when you have 20 or 30 minutes to think and talk over the whats and the whens.

2. Break the project down into its component parts. There might be library or Internet research, notetaking, creating the final project, and planning a presentation. Look over the assignment  together and figure out what steps need to be accomplished in what order. If there are questions about the assignment, now is the time to make note of these so your child can ask his teacher.

3. Figure out how long each step might take. Work backwards from the project’s due date, filling in on a calendar what has to be started by when. Be sure to add in some time for unexpected setbacks and take note of any interruptions, like vacations or other events, that you know will get in the way. You should end up with a calendar that has the big due date on it for the project itself and a lot of little due dates for each step along the way.

4. Plan how to work on the project a little bit every day. The secret to getting a big assignment done on time is to work on it steadily. That way, there are no surprises when one part is more difficult than expected and there is plenty of time to adjust.

5. Make it clear that your role is one of support person and advisor but not one of participant. You will not do the project and you will not tell your child how to do the project the way you would do it. You will help him stay on track and will troubleshoot challenges that come up but the project, from concept to completion, is your child’s responsibility.

If your child is supposed to complete the project as part of a group, the same steps apply. If you are worried about the group’s ability to deliver, then get off to a good start by hosting a planning session along the lines just described. But resist the temptation to become the leader of the group or to thrust your child into the leader role. Group projects are valuable because kids have to negotiate responsibilities. Don’t deny your child and his classmates this learning experience by taking it over.

Some parents worry that other families will “cheat” and do a project for their children. They think that they have to cheat too, just to keep their child competitive. Please try to avoid this sort of thinking. Remember that your child needs to learn how to manage her time and organize her work. No matter what other kids do, don’t short-change your child but teach her what she needs to know to be a success now and into the future.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.