I am the mother of a fourth grader.
Chances are any other parent of a fourth grader past or present (in California) knows what’s next … the fourth grade mission project.
First, I must jump back in time a bit to the ‘good ol’ days, when I was a kid. When I did my time as a fourth grader, there was not a ‘Mission Construction’ project. Instead, we loaded a school bus at our Bay Area school and took a field trip to San Juan Batista. I still remember it pretty vividly, in all honesty. We took notes, explored the grounds and then wrote a report.
I’ve always been aware of the current standard, as well as the options. So as my oldest made his way into his fourth grade year, last fall I inquired about it immediately. I was informed of the mission selection process, as well as the time frame this would all manifest. My heart was set on taking my kids on our own little ‘field trip’ to visit an area mission. Take our time exploring the grounds, photographing and sharing what we learned as we go. It all played out so perfectly in my head and imagination.
How many of you are laughing at me?
This did not happen.
Now, granted when my son came home with Mission Santa Ines, I could have very easily made a hotel reservation and rearranged our existing calendar. Much to my surprise, my son thought construction would be more ‘fun.’
Okay. So, I deep breathed and accepted this was his project and I needed to follow his lead. Yes, I know what we are all secretly acknowledging, for most families this is a parent project with some student involvement. I learned my lesson about this approach with my son during his Kindergarten Science Fair Project.
I was insistent on making the Presentation Board ‘pretty and exciting.’ He was determined (at the age of 6) for it to simply represent the findings of his study. Simplicity, with minimal splash and excessive color was how he chose for his Air Quality Board to look. His dad and I conceded to his wishes. He was only six at the time, after all, and we were proud that he expressed an interest. He earned a first place trophy, as a result. The simplicity was actually noted in the feedback.
Ever since that lesson, I put my ego and stubbornness aside (for my kids).
So off I set for the craft store to buy the makings of his Mission. Prior to this he had stated he thought he could do just fine with some cardboard, scissors and glue. Ummm … See prior paragraph. Apparently I had not fully embraced my lesson, because I still went to the craft store. Ninety dollars and a ‘left to buy’ list later, I reevaluated the decision I had succumbed to.
The kit stated it would take one to two hours to complete. How and what would he learn, I wondered? Cut, paste and follow directions? Glue a tree here, fountain there and hang some bells?
Now granted, a large number of Missions are completed this way. I am not judging. Mission projects are big business at the craft stores and serve many well. I just couldn’t do it.
There is no price one can put on the value of learning and education. Yet, as I drove home with my $90 craft project in my trunk, I could not help but think, was this the best fit for my student? I knew the answer. The kit never left my trunk, it went back to the craft store.
I had to make peace (with myself) that what he envisioned may not be the prettiest, the grandest or the most to scale, but it would be the best. It would be the best, because it would be his vision and his effort.
As I discussed Plan B (aka his wish) with my son, he became excited for his project. I showed him the kit, lying in our trunk and I shared some of the creative options friends had shared. He began beaming and I could see the wheels starting to spin as he entertained his options.
“How much time do we have left?” he asked. Two weekends and all the days in between, I informed him. He thought this was perfect.
As this piece goes to print, I will be walking that ever popular project onto campus with a proud fourth grader. I am aware of the point value and grade which now lurk in the not so distant future. Honestly, it’s of little concern for this mom. This ‘project’ and its looks are but a blip in the big picture of his education. My hope is that in 10, 20 or 30 years when he looks back he will not recall the score, but the experience and the pride he felt in doing his own ‘best’ work.
Teresa Hammond is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at email@example.com or by calling 847-3021.