I had thought that we were doing quite well with our gold-sprayed shoebox Sarcophagus, that was until I saw the fanfare accompanying the arrival of a life-size replica of Tutankhamun’s mausoleum, bourne aloft through the playground by one parent. “And it has a working mechanism so that you can open it and become the mummy,” whispered a fellow mummy in awe.
Welcome to the world of the school project, otherwise known as a masterclass in parent one-upmanship.
In this particular instance homework was creating your own Ancient Egyptian artefact. My daughter decided to make a Sarcophagus.
Having stalked the ladies at Clarks, and actively talked some bewildered lady into buying a pair of burgundy loafers, we bagged ourselves a long narrow box and my daughter set to work creating her very own Ancient Egyptian masterpiece. She persuaded her younger sister to sacrifice a one-armed Tinkerbell to the project and we all watched avidly as my daughter mummified Tinks on the kitchen table. Various body parts were modelled for the Canopic jars and a good job done.
Or so I thought until little Johnny arrived with his colossal, three dimensional, fully interactive replica of the Ancient Pyramid complex of Pharaoh Khufu.
I pondered my next move. Hard landscaping my back garden to exactly mirror the undulations of the Valley of the Kings? Hiring a dromedary camel from London Zoo? Rerouting the Nile to Muswell Hill?
It has been my great joy to watch many examples of this type of parental shenanigans. I remember weeping with laughter at one Christmas assembly when the five ‘Christmas trees’ took to the stage. The children had been asked to design their own costumes. Three were similarly decked out in green tights, green tops with a number of baubles artfully sellotaped to their attire. One poor soul, whose mum had totally forgotten the event was happening, was still in school uniform but strangely clutching a cheese plant in front him, that normally resided by reception. Albeit adorned with a scrap of red tinsel.
And then there was the child whose outfit was so exquisitely sewn it could have been made by the costumiers of the Royal Shakespeare Company. It was already outrageously good, but as they walked on stage the Dad rushed to switch on the button that illuminated the entire costume with synchronised, flashing, Christmas lights. Pity cheese plant mum, whose boy looked like death could not come quickly enough.
School projects are the time when all the kids whose parents have a background in architecture and/or design tend to shine. In a former class where two dads were architects there was an openly acknowledged competition between them to see who could produce the more superior project in terms of function, structure and beauty. They would conduct in-depth analysis of each others projects. Or, lest we forget, their sons’ projects.
As far as I could work out size was a key factor in success.
With this in mind, and absolutely no forethought on design or purpose, I remember taping together four of the largest cardboard boxes I could lay my hands on when my daughter was asked to create a mathematical game. For me the overriding criteria for success was the inability of my child to carry the project into school on her own. I wanted a ‘thing’ that required the lifting power of at least two adults. We sort of overlooked the whole maths aspect of the project, but it did have a tunnel down which you could throw socks.
I have to say it was a triumphant moment. The boys in the playground, small and big, were truly impressed with the magnitude of ‘the sock sucker.’
As you can tell I had fallen headfirst into the trap of making the child’s project my own. And really let’s face it, this is not what it is all about. The whole idea of these projects is that the children have a chance to come up with their own ideas, try out new skills and take pride in THEIR accomplishment. Of course you are going to help source materials, handle hot glue, but at the end of the day what sense of achievement can it give them if they simply watch you do their homework.
Also do not try and palm the whole thing off on another parent. My mum still shudders at the recollection of one school holiday playdate where the child’s Mum deposited her six year-old with a wooden spoon and milk bottle and suggested ‘what fun it would be for the girls to do their Tudor doll project together.” It was a project that every parent dreaded. Every summer holiday this class were asked to create miniature Tudor masterpieces and on return to school an exhibition was held for everyone to gaze upon the handiwork. It was a day of judgement for all parents.
My mum, to her credit, refused to acquiesce to this lady’s suggestion and instead my friend and I had a lovely day at Birdworld. In the end the other mum got her dressmaker to run up the project. Nice (home)work if you can get it.