Both of my boys had to turn in a science project this morning. This year, instead of the usual experiment report, they had to do a research-based paper, and be prepared to give an oral presentation.
They are not defending their theses, I must point out. They are 8 and 10. Which means that although I am a firm believer in kids doing their own work, deciding how much effort to put in, and making their own mistakes, someone has to be there to unblock the glue tubes, help with the formatting, and drive to the store to buy all the essentials that they should have put on the shopping list 2 weeks ago.
Of course, that someone was me.
On Saturday, my 10-year old (Natural Disasters) remembered that models, diagrams, and illustrations while optional, are encouraged.
"I want to make a tsunami."
"Why did you not mention this sooner? "
"I want to make it out of modeling clay."
"We do not have the supplies."
"I want it to be 3-feet high."
At this point, I suggested he change his project to heart attacks, because I was pretty sure I was having one. He'd have a live model.
Of course, this exchange inspired my 8-year old (Global Warming).
"I want to make a factory."
"Can you do a nice picture instead?"
"I want it to have 3 chimneys."
"How about a diagram?"
"I want it to pump real CO2 into the atmosphere."
I pointed out that, while not poisonous, COtton wool would make an acceptable substitute for CO2. So they made their models. My initially churlish response to these last-minute additions did not discourage them, and it was wonderful to see them pour heart, soul, and lots of glue into their work.
On Sunday, my 8-year old remembered that rather than a research paper, he could present his work on a board.
"So which do you want to do?"
"I want to do both."
"I want to do both."
"Honey, Mummy is so stressed she can taste her own bile."
"I still want to do both."
He did both. I expected him to get bored halfway through, leaving me to paste and stick as his proxy. But he worked on it for hours. I just checked his spelling, helped him arrange the board, and discouraged the more violent illustrations. He positioned the board on the dining room table, arranged the model and the research paper, and said "Look mummy. Can you believe I did all that myself?"
I am never excited to hear it is science project time. But when you let them run with it, it pushes kids a little further, makes them try a little harder. It allows them to amaze themselves, when they try.
I have, against all odds, decided that I like science projects. We all need to amaze ourselves once in a while.