Educators love their buzzwords. One of the latest trends in education is project based learning. Instead of the stereotypical classroom with paper, pencil and rote memorization, students participate in hands-on projects to learn the same skills and information. Trends in education come and go, but this one may have some staying power.
This particular trend has an invaluable tool for Christian parents, teachers and ministry leaders. Have you ever helped a child with a school project? You know, the one where you have to make a paper mache duck-billed platypus by Friday and you don’t have any idea how to make that gooey stuff?
Somewhere in all of that family research, shopping and supervising, you may or may not have realized something. Doing a project with a child can give you a lot of opportunities to teach the child beyond whatever the original project was supposed to teach. (Please note: I am in no way suggesting parents do a project “for” a child. Nothing irritates a teacher more than a project that is obviously done by the parent. Instead, I am talking about keeping your child company while he works, or working with her on projects where help is allowed or that you design for just the two of you.) Projects are a great way to mentor your own child or any child whom you want to impact.
The project can be one already assigned to the child for school or one you create together. Be creative. Choose a service project or a new craft you have both wanted to try. The project’s topic can provide additional opportunities, but there are chances to mentor no matter what the topic. If you are mindful while doing a project with a child, here are some of the “extras” the opportunity can provide you:
- A chance to get to know the child and his world a little better. Most hands-on projects allow you to talk while working. These sometimes crazy, styrofoam ball moments can provide you with a relaxed atmosphere to ask about school, friends, thoughts, feelings and more.
- A chance to model and discuss various godly principles. Is your child tempted to give up or do a sloppy job? Did the guy at the store give you too much change? Did the project turn out to be a disaster? Avoid lectures, but these can turn into great teachable moments. Your child may roll her eyes at the fiftieth time you have brought up the idea of honesty and returning incorrect change, but those little moments are becoming a very loud, strong tape in her head. Trust me, she will still hear that playing twenty years from now – even if she chooses to ignore it!
- A chance to build a bond of love and support. Children want to know the people in their lives will be there for them no matter what. Research has shown that no matter what a person’s “love language” is, everyone feels closest to those they spend the most time with doing things together. Giving your focused attention to a child, while working on a project together, lets the child know not only how much you care about her, but how important she is to you.
- A chance to add meaning to the project. Is this “just” a service project? Take the opportunity to explain to your child how service allows people to feel God’s love in tangible ways. Talk about the ways you can share your faith while serving others. What is the real purpose behind school projects? Often learning about the topic is not as important as the other things a child learns while doing something. Teachers are taught math, for example, teaches a child about analyzing any problem they may encounter in life as much as it is about learning the actual math involved. Help your child understand why this project can help him later in life.
- A chance to discuss and practice “people” skills. Did it hurt your feelings when the child grabbed the glue instead of asking for it? Often, our children will exhibit some of their bad habits when working on an involved project. Many of them involve how they treat others working on the project with them. If it is just you and the child, you can have discussions while you work. If it is a group of children, often any discussions are more effective if held later (in private) with the offender.
- A chance to help you identify the child’s gifts from God. One of the best things about being a parent or a teacher is helping children identify and develop their God-given gifts. If you watch closely, you may discover the child has a talent for organizing. Perhaps, he has a great eye for detail. Look for those less obvious gifts in addition to the artistic or language ones that may be clearly obvious. As you notice gifts, point them out to the child. He may not believe you at first, so be prepared to give examples of why you believe the child may be gifted in that area.
- A chance to teach about finding joy and contentment in everything. The Apostle Paul spends a lot of time in his letters writing about finding joy and contentment no matter your circumstances. Many parents’ favorite Bible verse commands us to do everything without complaining. Projects can tempt even the most patient person to become cranky and complain. Use the opportunity to teach the child how to find the “joy” parts of anything. (I know you don’t love doing science projects, but wasn’t it fun to be able to tell each other all of those funny jokes while we worked?)
Years later, my daughter and I are still in search of seeing a live duck-billed platypus (we got close in San Diego, but not exactly the same animal). I still couldn’t tell you how to make that gooey stuff, but we remember the experience as a happy time we spent together. Try some project based mentoring with the children in your life. What are some memorable projects you have done with children? What “extra” lessons do you think they learned in the process?