5 Tips to Help Kids With Their First Research Project
My kindergarten-aged son has just completed his first “research project.” His class had been studying insects and to culminate the unit, each student was required to obtain research about an assigned insect and create a shoebox habitat for their insect.a
I’ll be honest — when I taught kindergarten I don’t even remember using the word “research.” We discussed information, we differentiated between facts and opinions, but “research” wasn’t something that came up a whole lot in my kindergarten classes. (In all fairness, though, the last time I taught kindergarten was the 2005-2006 school year, and standards have changed since then.)
In kindergarten, it’s all about exposure and providing our children with the opportunities to develop strong, life-long study habits. So while my son (and I) did discover that fireflies are related to beetles, that Japan hosts an annual firefly festival each August, and that fireflies are nocturnal (another one of those “grown-up words”), my son also learned some important lessons while working on his research project.
- Break a large project into smaller sections. When my son came home with his assignment, we read the paper together, he looked at me and asked, “So what do I do?” The scope of the project was too big for him, so we broke it down into more manageable chunks. For example, one day we found a Nike shoe box and cut off the top. We taped black construction paper to represent a black sky. And that’s all we did that day. On another day, we added green construction paper for the grass, and star-shaped stickers onto the black paper. Students have to be able to recognize that such projects aren’t supposed to be completed in one day.
- Time management. Especially true with older children, regular homework, larger research projects, and after-school activities can lead to a sense of overload. My son and I concentrated on his weekly homework packet first. Near the end of the week, when his homework packet was completed, we then worked on his habitat project. For older students, it may not be a child’s ideal, but weekends require work and study. We are getting them ready for college, after all, where time management will be crucial to their success.
- Creativity. Some children don’t perform well on tests. Some children don’t feel comfortable sharing their thoughts with an entire class. For these children, the confines of a classroom setting doesn’t allow them to truly demonstrate their learning. Projects, which are generally more hands-on, can really provide them with the opportunity to shine. For my son, it was a series of open-ended questions that got him excited to create his firefly habitat. “Where do fireflies live?” “Some live in backyards.” “What do you need to make this look like a backyard?” “Grass. Branches.” Furthermore, upon completion, these projects will all look different. And they should. Because each child is different, and each child will have a unique way of completing the project.
- Perseverance. Because this was my son’s first big at-home project, he was pretty excited about the whole prospect. However, I know that as children get older their enthusiasm tends to wane. Any large task, anything that requires multiple steps and multiple days, also requires perseverance. You don’t stop, and you don’t give up, you just continue to chip away at it, until it’s done.
- Pride. When my son completed his shoebox habitat, his eyes shone and his smile was ear-to-ear. He was so proud of himself, and rightfully so. I always told my students that ultimately anything they turned in to me had their name on it. And anything with their name on it should be something they are proud of.