20150403_13025220150403_130040 When I was a teacher, I commonly gave students projects to complete at home. I don't think I inundated the parents with projects week after week (at least that is my perspective), but I did have between 2 and 3 major projects each year for students to do at home with their parents. These included inventing a new board game, Ocean Life tic-tac-toe (students could choose 3 out of 9 available mini-projects), and designing a science fair project. This was always a fun experience for me and the students, though I am certain at times it caused some stress on the family.

How do I know this? Well, the two major projects Sam and Nate have done this year have caused some major stress. Perhaps major is an exaggeration, but we definitely had to put all things aside and focus on the project for one or two days. This may have more to do with the personality of the "project manager" than it does the nature of the projects, but even so, these are a little bit of an undertaking.

This got me thinking (which is heavily influenced by my time as a teacher): What about those families who have never done this sort of thing before? Or those kids who do not get a lot of help from home? Or those parents who simply do not have any time? I can imagine even a relatively simple project could throw a family for a loop, or they just won't do it. I know I had kids like this in my class, and I did become more sensitive to them over time. If you relate to any of these questions, then I have some simple steps you can follow to make the next take-home project not seem so scary.

Step 1: Find out the due date and make it visible

The number one ingredient to de-stressing your child's school project is to make sure you know the due date from the beginning. Most teachers send home a notice between a month and two weeks in advance, which is more than enough time to get the project done. When you know the due date far in advance, you can work backwards to make sure you give yourself enough time to finish without panic. By finish, I mean your child finishes the project during the day or evening, not the parent finishing it at 2 a.m.

For example, the latest project in our household was to build a contraption that would protect an egg even when dropped off the school. I put the flyer from school in a place where I could see it, and this let me not only plan our time building it, but I was also able to see how this project fit within the context of our over-planned week.

Step 2: Look up examples on Pinterest

Probably the most important part of any school project is to carefully walk that "parameter-choice" tightrope. You want to give your child some feasible choices for what to do without making it completely open ended or totally parent-driven. Pinterest is probably the best place to look for ideas. If you are not familiar with Pinterest, just imagine a seemingly unending museum of just about every project that has ever been done in every area of life. No matter what the project, there are hundreds of people who have done the same thing, taken pictures of it, and pinned it to some board.

In the case of our egg-drop challenge, I did some homework on Pinterest before I mentioned the project to the boys. I was able to see several different categories for this project, then I showed them some pictures and asked them which category they liked best (e.g., parachute, cushion, exoskeleton, etc.). Had I just asked them to brainstrorm how to make this project without giving them some options, they would have been envisioning rocket boosters, landing gear, titanium, or some other Marvel-inspired innovation. Thankfully, they both chose the same category, making my role in the project WAY easier!

Step 3: Do a materials inventory

Once you and your child have decided how to actually make the project, you need to look around your house and decide which materials you already have those you need to purchase. When I was a teacher, I felt guilty when I could tell from a child's project that the parents had to go out and purchase a bunch of materials. I actually had a parent tell me once that she spent more than $25 at Michael's on supplies! That was not my intention, and I began to wonder how common this was.

For our egg-drop project, I was able to determine which supplies we had and those we needed to purchase. Aside from buying eggs, which we would use anyway, we spent about $2 on some new sponges and $5 on card stock. I could have used some old sponges we had at the house, but ... ewww! We had every other supply at the house, and it was fun figuring out ways to repurpose some of our everyday household items into a hi-tech egg delivery system. Who knew that plastic Target bags could make such a great parachute?

Step 4: Pace yourself

If you are anything like my family, you have a lot going on. We are in soccer, do Tiger Cubs, are involved in our church, and my wife and I have careers that don't always end when the work day does. I had to find ways to fit this project into our packed week. The due date was Friday, which meant it had to be done by Thursday, which meant we had to have all of our supplies purchased and organized by Tuesday or Wednesday. I had to be creative when finding time to take the boys to the store to buy the sponges and card stock, but we got it done. And THEY got to pick out the color of their sponges (remember: it's their project!).

Step 5: Celebrate

I won't go into detail about how we built our project, but suffice it to say, we were able to finish at a reasonable time with very little stress. Yes, I had one child more interested in this project than the other, but he hung with me long enough to finish it. We took pictures, we Facetimed the grandparents, we sent the parachutes on their maiden voyage in the backyard. It was a lot of fun, and the boys ended up being very proud of what they did. Oh, and both eggs landed perfectly on the concrete with nary a scratch.

So, am I missing anything? What are some helpful hints you have found for successfully finishing school projects?