The Nevada challenge (4th-grade level)

Lisa Ingebrand,

My daughter Ellen’s fourth grade class just finished memorizing all 50 states and their capitals. We studied those darn things for weeks, using maps and homemade flashcards.

We’d quiz each other on road trips and while preparing dinner.

What’s the capital of Maine? Alaska? Oklahoma?

Where’s Carson City? Olympia?

For the few she struggled to remember, we made up silly sayings, like: “Sail ‘em (as in Salem) on in to Oregon!” and “Frank had too much KFC in Kentucky, so… Frank fort-ed.”

She nailed the tests, and I proudly hung them on the refrigerator, but the states lesson wasn’t over.

Each student was assigned a state to study and was required to create a special “state float box” that would be used to make an all-class Parade of States. Unlike the typical shoebox diorama, students were instructed to use the outside—the top and four sides— of their shoebox to construct a display that represents their state.

Ellen got Nevada.

After diligently researching “The Silver State” (which actually produces more gold than silver), my little redhead had lots of questions, including: “Why is Las Vegas called Sin City?” and “What is stripping?” That was a fun conversation.

Next, we gathered the materials.

Big sister Anna located “the perfect” shoebox under her bed and charged Ellen $2 for it.

The cashier at Walgreens charged me a lot more for the special sparkly paper, colorful gemstones, and big bag of glue sticks for our hot glue gun.

Thankfully, the construction of the Hoover Dam was free. Using cardboard from the recycling bin, Ellen created a rather impressive Hoover Dam using the corner of her box (since the iconic dam is on the edge of Nevada).

Ellen set up her workspace in our unfinished basement. Sitting on a yoga mat, she sat and glued and cut and colored for hours. She did a great job. My only issue with her creative process was she “needed” me to be there—right next to her for every snip and dob of glue.

I enjoy hanging out with her. She’s a fun kid, but just watching was incredibly difficult for me. I tried not to comment on her craft, really I did.

I also tried not to constantly pull at all those annoying strands of hot glue that were building up on her box. Really, I did.

It was hard for me to keep my hands off the project. I wanted to help. I wanted to adjust her Las Vegas sign “just a bit” so it would be more visually pleasing.

And that spaceship we—I mean she— created to hover over Area 51? I desperately wanted to cover it in more aluminum foil. Those exposed areas of cardboard drove me nuts until the morning she hauled it off to school.

My role in the project was purely emotional support / conversation, but it was exhausting. My darling daughter just had no idea how fantastic the project would be if I helped “just a bit.” (I really wanted to add battery operated lights to her Vegas area, but she said no.)

When my older daughter worked on crafty school projects at home it was totally different. Anna would happily go off to her room with all her craft supplies and work on it solo, emerging with a completed project for us to admire.

But, Ellen’s an extrovert. Just the thought of being alone in the basement working on homework (even though it was fun homework) was devastating.

So, I sat there, encouraging her, praising her creativity, and fighting each and every intense urge in my being to adjust things and align edges. (I swear the girl doesn’t know what straight is.)

Ultimately, her Nevada state box turned out great.

She strutted like a proud little peacock carrying her finished project to school the morning it was due. I watched from my vehicle as she patiently waited for someone to open the school’s door for her so she wouldn’t have to risk dropping her precious box.

While she waited, one of her classmates appeared with their state box. Even from where I sat, I could see that the letters on that student’s box were perfectly trimmed and all the elements were beautifully— and symmetrically—arranged. Obviously, I wasn’t the only parent who had trouble keeping their hands off their kid’s project.

But, thanks to Ellen, the project she turned in that day was all hers.

I’m darn proud of both of us.



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