The boys had no sooner settled in the car after school when I heard those fateful words.

“I HAVE A PROJECT!”

BJ was excited. “I need a rock and I have to cut paper and … ”

A project. Uh-oh.

All the details were in his book, which I could not see. But I knew it was a PROJECT. And it was big. And he was going to do it that afternoon.

And so was I.

The project was to gather objects to show the states of matter. There were specific instructions on mounting, labeling and displaying the specimens.

BJ couldn’t wait. He ate lunch quickly.

“Are we going to do my project?”

“I’m not finished with my lunch yet. You need to gather a bunch of stuff.”

I found a box for his treasures and sent him outside, suggesting he look for grass or rocks.

He came back with a rock and a large grass specimen.

For the next hour, he gathered smaller items while I gathered the construction materials. I had a senior moment and could not find my hot glue gun, so I went to the store for a new one.

Amid supper preparations, we arranged the specimens, printed and cut labels, glued the objects to their labels, then mounted the labeled specimens onto a foam board.

“Who’s doing that project?” Mike asked.

“Tradition ... the Mama … .” I began singing. “Who else does school projects?”

Actually, we did it together. BJ did what he could and I helped with the rest. It’s the way school projects have been done since public school became the standard.

My mother — who was a schoolteacher — helped us with our projects. She did so because she thought most projects were a waste of a kid’s time.

Academically, she was right. Children learn little from them.

The real value is in the parental involvement. When a mother gets down and dirty with a child — getting hot-glue burns and paper cuts — it tells him that Mom cares that he does well in school. That encouragement can carry over to more independent work at school.

It also builds confidence.

BJ was so pleased when we finished his project that he sat looking at it for a long time.

The next morning, he eagerly but carefully carried the board into school.

“Bring it here,” his teacher said. “Oh! It’s the best project you’ve ever done!”

He beamed.

Project accomplished.

Mission accomplished.

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