When I was a young mother, I was sure I would be the kind who did everything right and provided my children with many enriching activities. I knew I could never homeschool my kids, but I thought I could at least supplement their education with exposure to music, art and literature, much like my own mother did. Instead, somehow I became the mother who would see the crafts and science projects in Family Fun magazine (and Facebook posts by those who did them in real life) and mutter under my breath about those overachievers. I was in survival mode most of the time and it often felt that just keeping kids bathed, fed, and in clean clothes was enough of an accomplishment.
When I stopped teaching afternoon lessons, I had visions of suddenly becoming that mom I always thought I’d be, but I soon found that, although my schedule had changed, my attitude about messy, time-consuming projects hadn’t.
Fritz is now in second grade and his teacher is young and new to the school. When he came home from school telling me about all the extra science experiments, multiplication tests, and geography lessons he had at school, I thought it sounded a bit ambitious for second grade but chalked it up to the energy and zeal of a new, young teacher. Fritz would excuse himself to study for his South America quiz or his math test, and I thought nothing of it. He told me all about the class pets they had (one week, they had a room full of reptiles, fish the next, etc.) and I thought his teacher must be trying to give Ms. Frizzle a run for her money. Each day, he would report back on his excellent test scores and go off to study some more. I was grateful he had a teacher who understood him and was willing to provide him with so many enriching activities.
Then at parent teacher conferences, it became clear that–well, he’d been fantasizing about most of that “homework” he was doing and those subjects he was “studying” for, and I had fallen for it. It was pretty funny – I thought kids lied to get out of doing homework, but here mine had lied so he’d have an excuse to do extra!
At one point, I asked, “Did you make up those stories because you wished you could do those things for real?” He teared up and nodded. Then I realized that, even if I am too tired or grouchy for extra projects and crafts, this kid really needs enrichment so badly that he is willing to invent it out of thin air if I don’t provide it for him.
That is why, for the first time ever, I channeled the overachieving parent I once thought I would be to help Fritz with his science project this week. (An actual science project, actually assigned by his actual teacher.) I tried to talk him into something simple, but I think he has dreamed of getting to make a science project for school since he was three, and nothing says “Science Project” like an erupting plaster of Paris volcano, right? The fact that this was my first time buying plaster of Paris after 18 years of parenting four boys should tell you just how much I have avoided this sort of thing in the past.
I found many different suggestions online for how to accomplish this, but they seemed to make it all harder than it had to be. We only had one evening to get this done and I really didn’t want it to drag out any longer than necessary, so we just came up with our own simple way and busted it out in no time.
First, we shaped some poster board into a cone around a glass soda bottle. We used a lot of masking tape. Then we taped the cone to an old rusty cooking sheet that should’ve been thrown out years ago.
We mixed 4 cups of plaster of Paris with 2 cups of cold water. If I had it to do over, I’d probably make a bit more. We dipped strips of paper towel in the goop and used them to cover the poster board and cookie sheet, the lumpier the better. This part went pretty quickly, and the only tricky thing was getting my kids to stop trying to shake the excess off their hands. We had plaster flying everywhere.
It took about 45 minutes for it to dry, then we painted it. Look how happy they are, and it really was easy peasy. The hardest part was keeping the dog out of the room long enough to let it dry.
I told Fritz he should probably figure out what he was going to say in his presentation and he rattled off all the facts he had already researched. So, although I came to school for support and volcano delivery, he didn’t really need me. He had it all under control and he loved every second of it.