Our First Project Fair

Lessons Learned and Victory Achieved For All.

It all began innocently enough. It was a wonderful January day. I was reading my e-mail from THSC. Next I was at their Web site reading about the upcoming Family Conference; then I was clicking on a link to the first state home school project fair.

Wonderful memories began to flash through my mind. When I was in the eighth grade I won my local science fair and went to the regional competition in Dallas, at which I won an award. What a great thing to expose my son to! So he is only nine and only in the fourth grade; but, still, it would be so exciting! What made up my mind was that the project fair offered both science and history categories.

Although my son loves his science, I knew that history would be better for our first try. In my “let’s all get excited” voice, I told my son about the fair. He had no clue what I was talking about, but he said it sounded neat.

No problem. After all, we had thirteen weeks to do a little history project. Right? I knew exactly what he would pick for his project—Indians. He has always wanted to be an Indian, and a cowboy, and a horse … and so many other things. Sure enough, an Indian is what he chose. He ran and grabbed his bow and arrows that my father had made him for his seventh birthday, and he was off and running … out the back door to play. This was not the start I anticipated.

Lesson 1: One person can hold all the excitement for everyone and just give out portions as needed.

After my son calmed down enough to talk about the project we decided that he needed to know more about Indians. We checked out books, borrowed books from my father, and searched the Internet. Oh my, my, my! Did any of the Indians wear clothes? Surely some tribe thought enough of clothes to put some on. I suggested looking for some of the northern Indians—like in Alaska. No, he wanted to study the Indians who lived right here in Texas. This was a point worth praying about. “Lord, it seems a small thing, but my son does not want to look at all these pictures of naked people in order to study them … and I know this is pushing it, Lord, but could we find some that are not so pagan in their worship? Amen.”

There! We started looking at some of the tribes in Texas. No, he wanted a tribe that lived right here—on the ground on which he lives. All right, we would look … that would be the Wichita, so I looked at them first. Clothes! They had on clothes! The women were wearing dresses, and the men donned pants! Thank you, Lord! My son had his subject; we were off! We purposed to find some books on the Wichita.

Lesson 2: Don’t panic when there are no books on your subject; none, zero.

We found some books with small chapters on the Wichita, but that was it. On the Internet we came across a site for the Wichita Tribal Offices in Anadarko, Oklahoma. I called them and explained my situation, and they encouraged me to come to that area and have a look around. Field trip time! We love field trips. Weather.com helped us decide the day, and away we went: my son, my two daughters, my dad, and I. We went through Wichita Falls; we stopped at the Wichita Mountains and saw buffalo and elk and chased prairie dogs. We went to three museums, visited the Wichita Tribal Offices, and went to Indian Village, a place that had actual houses from various tribes through which we could go. We received several information packets along the way. One last stop for a picture of the Red River, and home we went.

Lesson 3: Museums are expensive and not always profitable. Ask questions before you pay to see nothing.

Now my son had information to read and organize. It was time to serve another dose of excitement. This is the point at which I heard all the “Oh, I can do this!” and “Can we do that?” and, also, I said, “Ask your granddaddy.” Here my dad reminded me that I had asked for his help in an advisory capacity only. A large dose of encouragement was meted out here.

The next few weeks went something like this:

Order beads; buy leather; make son write outline; give nine-year-old sharp knife to cut tree branches; buy band-aids; buy project boards; tape off living room floor for project; make son write that outline; send beads back and order right size; cut out shoes; give nine-year-old sharp awl to pound holes in shoes; make son finish that outline; get film from trip developed; make pattern for costume by cutting up old clothes; find out Granddaddy cannot go with us; give nine-year-old long, sharp needle to sew shoes; go buy more leather; make son start report; rejoice to learn that Baptist missionaries came to the Wichita and set up a church; call church; let son start making costume; get on son about that report; call church again; make last trip to leather store; must attend husband’s father’s birthday party in Oklahoma, a three-day weekend the same weekend as the public school project fair; loom beads; order porcupine quills; reserve hotel room; loom more beads; cut and wrap grass for house; cut more branches; gather feathers; loom more beads; cut more grass; finish costume; report, son, report!

Mom gives herself a dose of encouragement. Start on project board, find recipe for fry bread, finish arrows, start on grass house, finish those reports, find out Daddy cannot go with us, call church to talk to someone, work on grass house, cut more grass, decide to do a tepee too, make tepee, get other granddaddy to go with us, find sticks for game, stay up late making a not-so-round ball for game, visit relative in hospital for two days, almost drain supply of encouragement, go to friend’s house and laugh our way through presentation, pack, go back to hospital, decide at last minute to build a stand for project, load the car, stop on the way and have film developed, drive to Houston, have several near-death experiences with Houston drivers, and arrive at the hotel the night before the fair. Whew! Here we are.

Lesson 4: People in Houston drive worse than people in Dallas.

At this point I was the only one who was nervous. It was the night before the fair, and we still had to put part of the project board together because it could not be bent in the car. I had all the beads my son loomed that I had not sewn onto his costume, and he had not one time practiced his presentation! I was a nervous wreck, and all he wanted to do was put together the new toy Granddaddy bought him at Wal-Mart. When we arrived at the project fair, no encouragement from me was necessary; it was all around us.

Looking at all the projects and all the hard work that was involved, there was an immediate bond. Peace at last. Where would we set up? That table over there? Oh, no, we signed up for a floor display. No problem; they whipped out some tape and a ruler and there it was—our space. We still had plenty of time to set up.

Lesson 5: If anything can go wrong, it will – so, improvise!

Our wonderful, last-minute stand fell apart—several times—so we threw it in the nearest dumpster out back. Praise the Lord for duct tape! We spent the last precious minutes that we had making that project stand up and putting all the little things–-beans, beads, corn, porcupine quills, and a bowl of fry bread—on the shelf.

Lesson 6: Duct tape: don’t leave home without it.

Now it was up to the judges. We had two hours until we had to be back with my son in costume for the second phase of judging. We left to have a relaxing lunch, got back to the hotel in spite of getting lost, and made it back with two whole minutes to spare. There it was: the project … lying down on the floor … things scattered everywhere. It was almost comical at this point; what else would go wrong?

The absolutely wonderful ladies who organized the fair rushed over and said that it happened right after we left, and they had tried to find us but could not. Well, no use crying over toppled projects, and one look at my son told me not to be upset. All he wanted to do was talk to his new friends.

Lesson 7: If no one else is upset, don’t upset them.

We got the board back up, propped it against a table, and with the help of my son’s new friends, we gathered all the corn, beans, quills, and such. I had to leave quickly, so I gave my son a kiss and ran.

I was able to sit for an hour-and-a-half worrying about his speech and the grease stain on the report from the fallen fry bread. Would he remember everything? Would he freeze and not talk at all? Why did I not make him practice? Did I ever want to do this again? What would I say to him if he did not win anything? This would be a good lesson for him. Would they count off for a project they had to judge lying on the floor? Would he at least win for his costume? (He wanted that award most of all.) It would all be over soon enough. And it was … too soon.

After phases two and three, we had the evening and the next morning to wait. We were able to relax and visit with family outside Houston the next morning. When we got to the awards ceremony my son started pointing out some of his new friends. “That’s Michael; I sure hope he wins. And see that boy over there? I can’t remember his name, but he did real well on his project, and he will probably win something.” As the names of his new friends were called, I saw the joy on his face as he clapped for them.

This was the win I did not foresee. We were shocked when my son’s name was called as a winner, but he had already won more than an award could give. He learned the value of friends, he learned how to be happy when others did well, and he learned how to accept loss in the one prize he wanted most—best costume. I learned that I had a wonderful son, full of virtues, who just needed an avenue in which to express them. Together we learned the real lessons of a home school project fair.

See you next year!