Like any parent of an elementary school student, I am less than thrilled when my child comes home assigned to do a project that they are clearly incapable of doing by themselves because it involves more skill sets than they have yet acquired. Such was the case when Cava came home telling me he had to create a land forms and bodies of water diorama.
Now this task was one where I had to take a deep breath, say a prayer and tell myself, "Remain calm and be patient" since I was working with a 9 year old with ADHD, anxiety issues, and a need to have everything turn out perfect so that he can get the approval of his teacher and peers.
The landforms and water diorama had to include 9 landforms (volcano, mountain, canyon, valley, plateau, plain, island, hill and coast) as well as 6 bodies of water (lake, river, marsh, sea, ocean, and glaciers). And all of this had to be in one box. No stress.
First, I found our box. It measured 18" x 23". I cut off the sides and reinforced the bottom of the box.
We got out all our craft supplies: acrylic paints, piper cleaners, paint brushes, streamers, glue, construction paper, air dry clay, glitter, cotton balls, sand, and reindeer moss (Who can forget the reindeer moss?).
After Cava and I decided on what the layout was going to be, he set to painting his diorama.
While Cava enjoyed painting, he began to get frustrated working with the clay. "I can't do it," he repeated again and again, to which I pointed out all that he has been able to do when he gets out of his own way, as he can be his own worst enemy. "I can't do it," is a phrase that is not allowed in our house. I keep reminding him that, with all things new, it's not that he can't do it, it's just that he hasn't learned the techniques on how to do it yet, but that he will and that I was working on this with him.
Here he is once we'd made our clay volcano and island. We used pipe cleaners and red streamer for lava and green streamers for palm trees. It was his big brother Benjamin who came up with the idea for using the pipe cleaners. Along with the volcano and island, he made the canyon that went on both sides of the river that leads to the ocean, three mountains with valleys in-between, a lake, a marsh, and a hill.
Each time we started something new, he'd immediately say, "Papa, you do it."
"No. Cava, this is your project and I am here to help you. You won't get any sense of accomplishment if I do it."
We would take each step slowly and I became his cheerleader encouraging him on with, "You can do it." If he became too frustrated, I'd declare it, "Break time!" and we would stop for awhile and I'd tell him, "We'll work on your project some more later." Usually, he would go do something for a short period of time before finding me and saying, "I'm ready to work on it some more."
"Okay," I'd reply and we would do some more work. Once we'd painted the sky, he set to work gluing on the cotton-ball clouds. I let him put the clouds wherever he wanted to.
When he was done with that, he moved on to writing the little cards that told what each land form and body of water was. Once more, he told me, "Papa, you do it. My handwriting's too messy."
I declined with, "And it will never get better unless you practice." He would write out each one and show it to me. If he'd written it neatly, I'd tell him, "Okay, now we can cut it out and make a sign." (Our signs were the small cards taped to a toothpick and then stuck in the clay).
Once he'd written all of them and we'd made them into small signs, we placed them in their appropriate spots in the diorama.
After we'd painted the small pieces of clay that were noticeable in certain areas (such as the bodies of water), Cava and I looked through magazines (good-bye Smithsonian and wildlife magazines) to cut out photos of different land forms and bodies of water to glue on the outside of the box.
After he'd finished gluing all the photos where he wanted them, he posed for a picture of him with his work.
Here's the finished inside of the diorama:
What I do love about school-assigned projects is the time I get to spend with Cava. While we work on the task at hand, his mind is preoccupied so he will usually talk to me about his past in Ukraine. Some of the memories are sweet, some give us a glimpse into his daily life, and some are quite painful and heartbreaking for us, as his parents, to hear.
Cava will be graded 60% on the diorama and 40% for presenting it in front of the class, including answering the teacher's questions. This part concerns me as he tends to get flustered whenever he has to speak because he is very aware that he doesn't talk like other kids (as other kids have so cruelly pointed out to him). I worked with him on telling how he made the diorama and on what each landform and body of water was. He had difficulty remembering it all, but I told him to just do his best.
When I helped him take his project in to school, we had to sit in the lobby and wait for the bell to ring to take it back to his classroom. As we sat there, I held the diorama in my lap. Anyone who passed by stopped to look at and admire his diorama. I could tell Cava was proud of his work because he would tell each one of them, "It's mine." This was exactly why I wanted him to do most of the work on it so that he could have this sense of accomplishment.
Today was the day he presented his diorama and I was nervous and prayed throughout the day for him. Because he'd asked me to and because I didn't want to wait until he got out of school to find out how he did, I had lunch with him. As always, he beamed a big Cava smile when he saw me as his class walked to the lunchroom.
"Hey buddy, how'd your presentation go?"
"We haven't done it yet. After lunch."
So I would have to wait until I picked him up from school after all. Still, I enjoyed eating with my buddy in his classroom.
When it was finally time to pick Cava up, I immediately asked, "Well? How did it go?"
Giving his usual Cava answer, "Good." He told me he might have forgotten a couple of things, but I told him that I was proud of him and that he just had to do his best. Cava has come along way in less than two years. He is still struggling with retaining information, especially in his reading, because he is still trying to understand the English language and so much of what he is learning is new to him. So, I will continue to work with him on his comprehension, but I'm glad that by working with him on this project that he could see that he really can do something as complex as a landforms and bodies of water diorama.
Each new accomplishment is another step towards him seeing himself as someone who is smart, capable, and able to do so much more than he thinks he is. Cava needs to truly realize he is an awesome and amazing kid who has learned a great deal in a short period of time and has also taught us so much as well.