“Children!” my voice was pitched loud so that it could be heard over their chatter and pierce their internal imaginations. “I have two children with two projects and we have about two hours before bedtime. There is only one of me and I’m going to need you to follow instructions.” My declaration came at the end of fifteen minutes where I kept trying to get the kids to focus, but they kept pinging off in random directions the moment my back was turned. Patch’s project was an animal report where he made a lift the flap book about leopards and a shadow puppet play about monkeys. Gleek needed to construct a Mesopotamian house out of paper that compared and contrasted it to a modern house. These are the sorts of projects which lead to late hours and many tears, except this is at least the third such set of projects for the school year and thus far we’ve avoided major project meltdown. The kids nodded in response to my words and began adjusting their ratios of work to distraction in a more productive balance.
I was not good at projects when I was in school. I was a fairly classic procrastinator except in the cases when I loved the project and thus expanded it to be much more difficult than it needed to be. I was really good at working in a huge burst of creative energy, but not at all good at continuing to work when the energy ran out. Even in my early mothering years I would work in bursts, organizing the entire house, making a cleaning schedule, and then letting it all fall apart less than a week later. Somewhere in the last seven or eight years I learned how to work a little every day. Perhaps it was learning about the power of practice in creating excellence, but more likely it was just that I’d finally lived long enough to see the the accumulation from small efforts. The most physical manifestation of this was the day when I received an inch-thick book in the mail which was full of one year’s worth of blog entries. I’d written a novel’s worth of words a day or two at a time. I could see that later blog entries were smoother than early ones. I could see that my skills at layout and design progressed from year to year. Expertise requires practice over time.
My children appear to be learning this lesson at a much younger age than I did, probably because I’ve been so focused on it myself. I don’t let the big projects slide, they have to work on parts of them days and weeks ahead of time. In our business I’m always deciding what needs to be done today in order to prevent next week or next month from being crazy. Keeping track of kid projects is part of that. Last year I did all of the tracking and enforcing. It was exhausting. This year Gleek is doing it all for herself and Patch is beginning to. Patch sat down to draw a cover for his Leopard book while Gleek scrounged for scissors and tape. I went to dig out our shadow puppet theater and discover which pieces could be re-used for Patch’s play. I came back upstairs to discover Gleek playing with her stress ball and Patch eating pistachios. I redirected them back to work. I cut out a cardboard alligator (You can’t have a monkey play without an alligator) and then took the pistachios away from Patch until he glued down the informational flaps into his book. Later Patch declared that he would die from having to write down a bibliography, but he did it in his deliberately over dramatic voice, so I just waited and then he wrote it all down. Gleek was in the front room throwing her stress ball onto the floor to watch it flatten, but when asked, she informed me that her house was done.
In the morning Patch will need to practice his shadow play. Gleek will need to figure out how to transport her house safely. There will also be computer homework (10 minutes typing practice) and some spelling sentences to be written. The homework does not end until school does, but the work and projects just seem to fit right in with everything else around here.
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