Our grade 6 Country Fair project is getting underway in the next few weeks. Country Fair Night is a great annual event at the school—think “Science Fair” for Social Studies—for parents & other involved adults to come see the kids, and alumni often return to sample the food! For Country Fair, the students will research all aspects of an assigned country and then display their findings on a trifold board. In class, they will learn how to take notes and evaluate sources of information; at home they will practice making charts and graphs, consolidating information into reports, and honing oral presentations. The displays will feature colorful pictures and the kids will dress up and serve cultural foods.
But, through the years, a number of parents have commented how hard they had to work to finish the project! The truth is, no 6th grader can do this project on their own. It is a major, multi-part research project, and they will learn skills that will carry them through middle school and beyond, but right now, they need adult support to balance all the requirements. One parent hit the nail on the head recently, writing:
“[We could use] some guidance regarding beginning to let go and hand over more responsibility to the kids. At times (for instance for the Country Fair) parents are not sure how much to help and how much to step back. It is a time to make mistakes and learn from them so we want to help in that transition.”
Your child needs your help, but not as much as they did in elementary school. What should you be doing now?
PLAN IT OUT
Most students will not know how to break down a major project into sizable chunks, and you are the best person to know just how big of a “chunk” your kid can handle. Take the teacher’s timeline and your child’s assignment notebook and go through them together. Have them write key deadlines into the calendar pages, but then ask where else in the assignment notebook they should put reminders: the day before something is due? The Friday before? Every 2 weeks? Help your child understand that these assignments need to stay in the front of their mind, and tailor it to their own ability level and habits.
If you keep a planner yourself, it might be useful to open that up and show them your own system. But, remember that a pre-adolescent will need more reminders written down than you do. Talking to your child about your own process—and your own time management hurdles—will help them understand that this is a life skill. It also establishes you as a resource when they hit a bump in the road later on. New habits form over time & won’t be perfect every time!
Here’s another key detail: don’t write it down for them! Having your child go through the process of recording assignments several times on various dates will help them recall the deadlines and visualize the timeline.
USE YOUR RESOURCES
If your child uses a calendar on their smartphone or computer, make sure they add reminders in there, too. They need to get into the habit of using whatever tools they’ll use in “real life” as they grow up!
CHECK THE WORK
Transfer the deadlines to your own calendar too, or the family calendar.
Keep due dates present in everyone’s mind by asking how the project is going every few days, or at least once a week.
A lot of the early research will happen in class as the teachers go over how to take notes, how to find sources of information, and how to evaluate sources. Ask your child to see their notes before they’re due. At dinner, ask them to explain what the teacher has said about note-taking strategies. This way, you’ll know if they’re on the right track or if they should see the teacher for extra help. Teachers can schedule time after school or during Extensions, and some will make themselves available before school or during Silent Reading.
SHARE IN THE WORK
Offer your own experience with research in school or at work, and explain your own approach to note-taking. But remember, you’re just offering examples: if the teacher has instructed your child to do certain things in a specific way, it’s probably because they’re planning to practice a variety of methods or use a particular strategy suited to a specific assignment. The teacher is the specialist, but parents and students should feel encouraged to ask if they can try out a modified strategy. By sharing your own experience, you’ll be helping your child see the importance of the work, expand their repertoire, and connect with you in a more grown-up way.
Here’s the challenge: some kids can work independently and do fine, others need to be led step-by-step… Really, everyone is somewhere in between! You need to determine how independent your child is, and it may be different for various aspects of Country Fair.
CHECK THE RUBRIC
Students will have a rubric that tells everything they need to do and how to make it better, so make sure they have that out and ready for review. They need to learn how to evaluate their work against the rubric, and then decide where revisions are needed and how to go about them. The first time through, the rubric is essentially a checklist to make sure they have everything they need. Then they can look for areas to improve.
A crucial goal here is to help your child develop an inner critical eye. You are not going to be there when they are polishing a presentation for the boss or revising a paper in college, so they need an inner voice that can help them know when they’re ready. To develop this voice, ask your child questions: What do you think should go in the center of the board? Where are you going to put your map?
Check in often, and ask what steps they are going to take next. Planning is essential for a visual display, so help them think at least a few steps ahead. If your child isn’t a planner, then stick with them and make sure they actually follow each step of the way!
The hardest part of asking questions may be waiting for them to answer. If they are silent, just wait! Don’t give in to rephrasing and leading them to the answer. If they say they don’t understand, that’s still better than sending a message that you don’t think they can figure it out.
Every child will appreciate your interest, so even if they are an independent worker, make sure you’re checking in a few times along the way. It’s not a bad idea to have them work in a “public” area like the dining room table, so you can weigh in on their progress. Remember, meaningful praise is valuable! If constructive criticism is needed, try to use questions: Will everyone be able to see this if we put it way at the top? Do you think we should try to print this a little bigger/smaller and see if it makes a better fit? In this way, your child will either identify the issues in their own words, or they’ll have an opportunity to defend their choices. You may need to push back if something is clearly not going to work, but if they can explain their thinking, make sure you let them do the work their way so it doesn’t end up feeling like your display board!
- What’s one interesting thing you learned about your country?
- What’s your graph about? Why is it important?
- What are the main industries in your country?
- What are the most important parts of your country’s geography?
Every day in the car on the way to school or practice, ask for one “interesting fun fact”—make sure it’s different every day!—and discuss their answer. Rehearsing will make your child more confident at Country Fair Night, and they’ll impress their teachers, the other parents, and you!
If this sounds like a lot of work… It is! But putting in the work now will help your child move to greater independence in the upper grades and beyond. Just like you held their hands when they started to walk, you’re giving them just enough support now to push them to the next level with schoolwork. Plus, you’ll be guiding your relationship to a more grown-up level: no longer just a parent telling a child what to do, but now an adult asking questions and hearing their voice as a young adult. The conversations may be fascinating!
UPDATE: All relevant resources will be posted on the BMS Country Fair webpage: click here