We joke that Gracie earned a PhD in 4th grade this year. It was an unexpected PhD in every way: while most families that attend the school where she goes have years in advance to prepare themselves for the looming 4th grade Alabama History Portfolio project, we had the distinct disadvantage of having it sprung on us in August as the new family in town. And really, I didn't fully grasp what it all entailed until open house night, when all these ginormous examples were spread throughout the classroom for parents to gawk at.
IT WAS A BIG PROJECT.
The ending first: in many ways it was a great project, and Gracie is feeling both huge waves of relief and accomplishment from finishing. It was just A LOT. 9.3 lbs, 135 pages a lot.
She was required to complete a minimum of ten entries in the following areas: Maps and State Symbols, Notable Alabamians, Transportation (both past and present, 10 total), History, Government, Places and Events, Current Events, and Journal Writings (based on field trips they took—she actually has two more to include but those field trips aren't until next week). A summary and table of contents were also required. Most everything needed to be written in cursive. The majority of journal writings were completed at school, and everything else was an at-home endeavor. It didn't replace homework or other at-home projects, but was on-top-of.
I didn't do a good job taking work in-progress photos throughout the year, though I do have this one—taken before the first of four checkpoints, when both Gracie and I were close to nervous breakdown. We both learned some time management after that one.
So here's the thing: with a handful of exceptions, I kind of loved this project, even though I think some of the sections could have been smaller and some bigger. I love Alabama history. In college, my (puny compared to this) capstone project for my methods class was a comprehensive unit about the Civil Rights Movement, and it has always been one of my favorite eras to read/learn about. This portfolio was not just about the Civil Rights Movement, but she did spend a lot of time learning about it and I think it made a big impression on her. The other thing I loved: we went A LOT OF PLACES, and she went to even more with her class. Dauphin Island! Huntsville Space and Rocket Center! Peach Park! Edmund Pettus Bridge! Governor Bentley's Inauguration party! The Shakespeare Garden! Tuskegee National Forest! Alabama Book Festival! and so much more. We turned a whole lot of our year here into sightseeing for her portfolio, and that was fun. There is a lot to do in Alabama.
Stories always seem to circulate (partially because there's always a true one) about parents who do their kids' homework/science fair project/Alabama History Portfolio/whatever for them. Let me tell you: it would have been easier to do Gracie's project for her, indeed. She used pictures from my camera, and I helped her print things, we paid for supplies and gas (I'm glad I didn't keep track) but otherwise—this project was all her. The key: it was important for me to teach her how to do stuff, then walk away. That cool Alabama title up there? She had to make a computer-generated cover. We talked about ways she could do it, and she liked the idea of making the letters include photos of places we'd been. So, I taught her how to do that with a set of letter frames from Design Aglow that I've used for other projects. And she did a great job. I taught a number of mini-scrapbooking lessons that really sunk in: namely, that you don't need to reinvent the wheel every single time. We worked on sketching out page designs, how to flip and rotate them for variation, how to choose a color scheme that can apply to an entire section, etc. What's the point of a project of this scope if you don't learn some new tricks? It is possible to be involved and useful and hands-off at the same time.
It also taught us a few things about ourselves. For Gracie: that big projects are like a big bag of bricks hanging over your head all the time. (See? She is totally ready to write a dissertation.) This made for some great days of productive-Gracie and some truly horrid days of I-CANNOT-DO-MORE-Gracie. This was magnified by the fact that she is at gymnastics so much, so she really had to follow The Mama Plan of Time Management to work here and there to avoid leaving too much until the last minute like we did in October. I should note: I am not the best at distributing a giant project over a reasonable timeline, so I had to really work at developing my skillset on this.
I, on the other hand, learned in a much more intense way how much work it is to provide an environment in which the kid can do the work independently and successfully with a parent as resource. It made past science fair projects and The Giant Architecture Project of 2010 pale in comparison for sheer amount of work that needed to be done. We both did some throwing up of hands in frustration with each other this year, but in the end, she was just so happy to see what she managed to pull off.
I have some posts brewing to illustrate some of the cool things we did and learned this year. I'm still hoping very much to make it to Gee's Bend before we move, as that is a place I've wanted to go since I became a quilt appreciator back in college. Gracie gets to go to the Hyundai plant next week (no parents, hmph) and we're going to at least one Biscuits game before we move. Thank you, Alabama, for being such an interesting place to spend 4th grade for Gracie. And New Mexico—I better not find out that you do state history in 5th grade.
p.s. All three of these pictures are totally inside her finished portfolio. HA HA HA!