What Can Children Do
When our children come home from school
and announce they've a project due, we immediately imagine hours of
last-minute adult "adjustments" to get the thing out the door and in on
time. Anything more than poster board or popsicle sticks and the
child will need to be saved from his or her own ineptitude...or more
properly, lack of development. Often the projects are simply
ill-chosen, and while they might sound good on paper, don't match the
skills and knowledge of the child.
There is a wide latitude between the working replica of Edison's first
phonograph above and the "mud in Kansas" below. The difference is
what the child can do, and boils down to their level of precision, dexterity, and knowledge.
There is not much precision involved in scribbling with a single
colored pencil on a notecard. But, there is a critical
requirement for precision in adjusting the bearing force of the needle
on the aluminum strip as the cylinder turns to make "Mary had a little
lamb" properly record and playback.
Achieving the appropriate level of precision is a matter of dexterity
and knowledge. The child has to understand that making something
that just looks like the picture in the book is not enough to make it
work. And, that knowledge is useless if the fingers cannot be
What does a child actually know...about the effects of atmospheric
conditions on materials...that cardboard is not that easy to cut
straight...that popsicle sticks are pretty strong, but the hot glue
that holds them together isn't...even Aba has a hard time cutting two
pieces of wood just right so that they go together to form a nice,
Selecting a project appropriate to the ability of the child is also a
matter of credibility. The 10-year-old who brings in a science
project on the nuances of blood chemistry and whose parent is a
hematologist will only provoke knowing smirks from the class.
Even a child of six knows better!