Getting The Job Done
Getting The Job Done

Time management is key for kids' group projects

For children in a group setting, crafting projects can be inspiring, invigorating and a lot of fun — but they can also pose challenges when it comes to time management. Here are some tips to minimize the hassles and maximize the value of classes for kids.

Understand age-related capabilities

"Smaller children can have physical dexterity challenges," says Daniel Rathner, founder and director of Areyvut, a nonprofit organization that creates innovative programs for Jewish day schools, congregational schools, synagogues and other locales. "Keep that in mind when you consider projects that might involve detail work such as cutting with scissors or threading beads on a string."

Dexterity issues that slow students down can prolong the class and cause them to quickly lose interest or confidence. Rathner advises finding easier, faster projects for the youngest students, or preparing some of the more difficult steps, such as cutting paper into strips, beforehand. Younger kids can also make messes — causing additional cleanup time — if classes are disorganized.

"If the supplies are all set out at once, it can be chaos," says Heather Bragg, early education consultant and author of the book "Learning Decoded." Bragg suggests bringing out supplies only as needed. "If you give younger students a tube of glue, they'll use all of it. Instead, give them a squeeze the size of an eraser tip right at the point where needed, and it will save on cleanup time," she says.

Also keep in mind the learning differences between genders, says Bragg. "Little girls tend to be more detail-oriented than boys," she says. As a result, a roomful of girls might do better job on the project but also need more time built in for completion.

Enlist help

For the youngest students, make sure a parent is involved to interpret directions and help the student one on one, says Bragg. "For those between about ages 4 and 7, use teachers' assistants whenever you can and try to have no more than 10 or 12 kids per adult," she says.

Minimize downtime

Kids like to stay active and they can be a bundle when they're bored. Some will finish projects faster than others, and then have nothing to do. To avoid distracting the rest of the class, make sure there is time-filling work, says Rathner, who also suggests making sure that the project has no built-in downtime. "If it involves painting, for instance, make sure you have interim steps or projects available while waiting for the paint to dry."

Practice and prep beforehand

"Regardless of the age of your students, make sure you have actually done the project before the class tries it, not just seen it on a YouTube video," says Rathner. Doing it yourself first is the only way to identify possible obstacles or pain points and to make sure that the work you envision can actually be done.

"Dedicate as much time to preparation and cleanup as you do to the actual project, at least the first time out," Bragg says. "Once you've completed the program a time or two, you can adjust that ratio based on actual experience with various age groups."

Motivate using results

Nothing can kill creative inspiration faster than projects that go on endlessly without much to show along the way for the time and effort. If it's a multistep process that will take several days or weeks to complete, make sure the kids can see incremental progress, says Bragg. "Set them up for success," she says. This will keep kids anchored to a goal and keep up the pace of their creative output.

Learn and refine

Actual results may vary. Not every class of 5-year-olds is exactly the same, and not every project will go off with equanimity. But be bold, says Bragg. "It’s better to start off doing too much and then back off if you need to, than to leave your class unchallenged," she says.

Key tips and takeaways

  • Tailor your teaching style and projects to your students and their capabilities.
  • Keep the activity flowing with relatively few steps and adequate supervision.
  • Build in prep and cleanup time.
  • Complete the project before you teach it so you know what to expect.
  • Prepare to rein in or retool if the project is beyond the scope of your class.

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