School Projects: The Thief of Joy and Maker of Memories

This week we completed the African Market project and when I say “we,” I mean all the humans with the last name Carter that reside in this house. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but what that actually means is that it takes a village to do their school projects. This particular project is a seventh grade event that has tempted me to home school both times the rubric dropped.

The primary purpose of the African Market Project is to teach the kids economic principles like labor, cost, supply & demand, etc. The secondary purpose of the African Market project is to boost alcohol sales in the county. That’s just my theory, but one could make an argument for it. The children are partnered up and they have to make some kind of “African” craft, track their costs and labor, set a price, and barter with the other groups to exchange their goods. If you think this is a wonderful idea you have either no children or children that are too young to have been assigned group projects. Trying to find time for two thirteen year old girls to get together and make African handicrafts and a trifold of economic data when they are both engaged in sports and extracurriculars is much like negotiating peace in the Middle East. We all WANT it to happen but despite the best intentions and multiple interventions, it’s likely not going to happen.

So Lindsey and her partner decided to divide the labor with one handling the math/economics/trifold and the other making the craft. Guess who got the craft? Hint: The same person who suggested this is a ploy to boost alcohol sales.

When Lindsey came home and told me we were going to make Dreamcatchers for the African Market, I was immediately concerned. I taught Middle School Social Studies for seven years and have a working idea of what is historically and culturally accurate. I asked her if this was approved by the teacher because Dreamcatchers are NATIVE AMERICAN. She assured me this was fine and Stephen (who I made 20 African drums with 2 years ago out of styrofoam and masking tape) assured me that the real lesson was the economics of this and not the historical accuracy of the handicraft. Perfect. A traditional African Market that sells origami and home made slime. These kids are ready for AP History.

We started the planning phase by searching Pinterest for ideas. Lindsey found one tutorial that was in Spanish and took about 100 hours to complete. I found one that looked about 20 minutes long made by the type of Super Crafty Mom who thrives on school projects. Actually that’s not fair, she was quite clear in the video that her four year old desperately wanted a Dreamcatcher. He was having bad dreams and this whimsical craft was sure to bring him “only good dreams, ” which is ironic because I was fairly certain these Dreamcatchers were going to bring me nightmares.

We got our supplies and sat down to begin this project. We were sitting on the couch wrapping sueded cord around the hoops when Lindsey said, “This is kind of fun. It’s almost like pioneer times.” This would be a good time to interject that Lindsey has a very romantic idea of pioneer times. She recently told me she wished she lived in pioneer times because then she would not have to take geometry. I informed her that if she lived in pioneer times she would be married to a 40 year old farmer with 6 kids washing and mending clothes, cooking dinner, milking cows, and making him even more babies. She replied,”Good grief, Mom. Why do you have to be so negative?!” Why? Because historical context matters.

But back to our Native American Dreamcatchers for African Market.

We started the complex part of weaving the twine around these hoops so that the “bad dreams” will have something to be caught in. Super Crafty Mom assured us in the YouTube video that this would be “easy,” which is code for “This is where it all goes horribly wrong.” The one thing I can say about helping my kids do projects is that no one has ever been suspicious that a parent did the work. I am so bad at this kind of stuff and the only fruit that comes of it is that my kids learn “adult vocabulary” words that tumble out of my mouth unbidden.

A grown up made this. It was “easy.”

The process of making these 10 dream catchers took about three days. We needed them done before Paul and I left for a trip and the kids were headed over to my Mom’s (and Nana has paid her dues with school projects). We had a weekend volleyball tournament and volleyball practice so that cut back even further on how much time we could dedicate to this. Paul dabbled on one after he watched the YouTube video that we had playing on a loop. Of course, he had to make a fancy pattern and use complimentary suede cords because it’s important for him to be recognized as the Artist in Residence.

That brought us to Tuesday night or the Final Hour to get these done. Lindsey got home from practice around nine pm, hyper, hungry, and with zero focus. At one point she was wandering around playing the harmonica while Paul and I were fabricating Dream Catchers. I called Stephen over to help, and he said, “No way. I did this project two years ago.” (As if this family has never helped him complete a project.) His refusal was rejected because we are in pioneer times and everyone has to help. He lined out the feathers, string, and beads and we pushed through with the assembly line method. At 10:30, finished and relieved it was done before midnight, Paul suggested we have a glass of wine to celebrate but I overruled that and poured bourbon. Project completion calls for hard liquor. And thus, the secondary purpose of this project was realized.

Here’s the thing about these school projects. I hate them with a passion while we are in the midst of them. I hate the deadlines and rubrics. I hate the mess and space it takes up. Ugh, it stresses me out so much.


The four of us laughed so much during this whole experience and we will talk about the African Market Project fondly 20 years from now. So as much as I hate school projects, dreamcatchers, and crafty Mom YouTube videos… thanks. Thank you all for the memories.

No more bad dreams. I only have good dreams.

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