Tips for helping your child complete projects that may seem overwhelming and impossible at first.
Jackson loves the book, Pete the Cat Play Ball, which is why he chose this Pete the Cat book to be the subject of his pumpkin character book report for school. When the project directions came home I was immediately trying to think about what I needed to do as a mom to support Jackson in completing this report and the accompanying pumpkin.
The report required all of the students to write a minimum of 2 sentences each for two of the questions and answer some basic information at the top of the page. They were also asked to create decorate the pumpkin he brought home to look like the main character in the book. The note indicated that the students must be the one to complete the project. Since fine motor tasks are daunting for Jackson and he does not quite have the visual spatial ability to write sentences on a paper quite yet, I knew I would need to provide accommodations to support him in completing this project.
I started thinking that I know that there are more than likely other students and parents out there who are also feeling worried about how to complete projects like this at home. I want to share how I worked with Jackson to break down the task and created opportunities for success, which in the end led to feelings of pride after his project was complete.
At first glance you might think that we did this entire project for him, but that is definitely not the case. The beauty is in the details and the steps that we took to get this pumpkin and accompanying report completed. Did it take time? Yes Did it take patience? Yes! Were there some frustrating meltdown moments? Umm… yes! We worked through each of those moments and it actually opened the doors to more creativity in our home and confidence in Jackson’s heart.
The following steps show how we achieved the book report section of the project on the required paper.
- Paul read the book with Jackson and discussed the details in the book. Jackson was able to make text-to-self and text-to-text connections with the book.
- They went back through the book and he incorporated the questions from the book report while reading the book.
- We had Jackson answer each of the questions out loud without feeling the stress of having to write a complete sentence on paper. The process of dictating the answers reduces his stress and gives him the freedom to answer the questions without the worry of writing.
Pause: I want to share that as soon as we sat down at the table to complete the report on the required paper Jackson escalated and started to shut down. Literally, seeing the paper made him shut down. I explained to him that he has already answered all of the questions on this paper and that I am going to help him with the paper. The lines on the paper were not clear for him so I provided starting dots and used highlighter to show the lines and the spacing. We also used a finger spacer to help with spacing between words.
- I wrote out each answer that Jackson gave me on a separate piece of paper and put it on his paper right above where he had to write it. He copied it on the lines. I only wrote one sentence at a time and only showed one sentence at a time. This help to reduce visual discrimination challenges when writing the sentence.
There were many moments of frustration, but there were also great learning opportunities in each of those moments. Jackson learned that it’s okay if he needs to erase and start over. He learned that one sentence can actually go on two separate lines. Most importantly, he learned that he can accomplish anything he sets his mind to if he doesn’t give up and that perseverance with difficult tasks can lead to incredible pride in our abilities.
This process of writing the actual sentences took us almost an hour. I asked him if he wanted to take a break and come back and work on it, but he refused. He wanted to complete the task. His hand was shaky, but I noticed he started to feel confident and super proud of himself the closer he was to finishing his paper. I wish everyone could have seen the look on his face when he realized he wrote all of those sentences for his report. He was full of pride.
Now let’s talk about this Pete the Cat Pumpkin character. I have actually never painted a pumpkin so we had our own little learning curve with finding the proper tools, but we did it and we had fun. In the first set of pictures you will see that Jackson is painting the pumpkin but the paint is not sticking to it. Wrong paint!:)
Below are the steps we took to complete the pumpkin:
- A few trips to the craft story… kidding… not kidding.
- He painted the pumpkin blue (twice since we had the wrong paint at first) and I helped him with the second coat of paint. Can you see the difference in the paint color? Now we have the correct paint. Always buy acrylic paint when painting a pumpkin. 🙂
- Hand over hand painting for the eyes and nose. He felt so proud of himself. Jackson is very particular about things so he wanted to make sure it looked just like his picture. I decided that painting it with him hand over hand would help him to achieve what he wanted and it would reduce the opportunity for a meltdown. I tell parents all the time that you do you and you choose what is best for you and your family, but for me in this moment, I chose what was best for Jackson and our home in that moment. We can view this process in very different ways, but this is the process we chose.
- Then I surprised him with the painted T-shirt and by the look on his face you would have thought I told him we were going to Disney World.
- We did not have whiskers so we found some blue pipe cleaner and luckily I found a glue gun and glue in an art stash (praise Jesus) and we added the whiskers.
- Jackson picked out his baseball helmet he wanted Pete to wear. Once the paint was dry, Jackson added the baseball helmet.
- The final touch was going through his stuffed animals to find his Pete the Cat stuffed animal that I got him when he was in Prek. The pictures of my little Jackson from Prek make me super emotional. Whew! He was so exited that I was actually able to be there with him at school that day because it was a rare opportunity with my job at the time. Oh my heart!
This is the finished Pete the Cat pumpkin that is now sitting on his desk at school. The process of making this pumpkin character was interesting and full of learning opportunities. I’m actually thankful for this project because it opened up the door to creativity for both boys and created opportunities for us to foster confidence in Jackson’s abilities. He was beyond proud to bring his pumpkin back to school on Tuesday.
Both boys have now painted multiple paintings on the art easel with all of our new paints and they seem to really enjoy the painting process. It showed me that I need to create more opportunities for them to express themselves through open ended art at home. I have now created a space with all of the paints and markers for them to use at any time.
In summary, we completed this project together with scaffolding and accommodations that fostered confidence and pride. When we feel confident in our abilities it opens the door to endless possibilities that are already inside of us.
Below is a quick summary of the supports we used to complete this project:
- Verbal prompting
- Visual Prompting
- Dictated sentences written out for him
- Highlighter to show spacing on lines
- Physical Prompting
- Hand over hand support to help with the details in his pumpkin
- Finger Spacer (See Link Below for an option for this type of support)
- Word Spacer (See link below for an option for this type of support)
- Created a timeline to complete the entire project together
If you are a parent who is overwhelmed by a school project that you know if too difficult for your child, I want to encourage you to break the task down and create small opportunities for success with accommodations. I have learned that school projects can either lead to chaos and frustration in the home or they can lead to opportunities to connect and foster confidence in our child’s abilities. I have to admit that I have been on both sides of that fence and I prefer the side of connection and fostering confidence in my boys’ abilities. We live and we learn daily as parents. We get to reflect on our successes and our mistakes, reevaluate, and make changes to do it better next time.