Eliana is a builder. She turns almost anything into something else. Bites in her breakfast can turn an ordinary piece of toast into a boat. Cups upside down become houses for little toy counting bears. At one point, fairy houses were built daily during outside time, with sticks, pinecones, flower petals, anything really. She used to love play dough, creating for hours at a time, although now at age 5, or at least for the time being, she has set this aside. Now she loves clay. Legos have always been a favorite around here. Eliana will use the really big ones meant for her baby sister, the Duplos that we still have around, or the little tiny ones that I find all over the house meant for older kids, but that she loves. She can follow the 40+page instructions by herself or she can make a two story house of her own design. A few months ago she had me video tape her demonstrating how the Lego mansion worked just like the YouTube videos she likes to watch so much. She plays with blocks happily and what seems like forever, which it might very well be if a younger sibling doesn’t inevitably knock them over.
Eliana is also an artist. She’s not going to grow up to be one, she is an artist now. And, she’ll tell you as much. Project time lends itself easily to her. She loves creating, working with all different mediums, making something out of nothing. She has new ideas constantly.
After starting our now slightly obsessive viewing of The Voice, she decided she could make her own “voice chair that is red and turns around. Oh, and we need a button!”
After attending an extravagant Princess birthday party for one of her friends and deciding she wanted the same party herself, only to hear my replies as “maybe…we can think about it…we’ll see” she didn’t get discouraged. Instead, she immediately starting planning how she could do it at home, dressing me up as the princess, making our living room into a castle, covering the floors with pink paper, and so on.
After running out of all of her Melissa and Doug stickers (over 700 in each packet, and this running out thing happens frequently!) and realizing mom, Amazon and the UPS man were not going to coordinate the replenishment soon enough, she decided “I know! I can make my own!” and proceeded to draw tiny designs, cut and paste them onto paper and called them stickers.
Project time for Eliana (age 5), looks much different than project time for Stephen (age 4). Stephen’s interests are easy to put a label on. Spiders. Sharks. Garbage trucks and construction trucks with an emphasis on the claw. Oh, claws are so interesting to him! Eliana’s projects are not as easy for me to put in a box and tie a bow on. They are constant and constantly changing. Or so it seems right now.
A month or so ago I was saying good night to her. As my oldest child I always expect she should be the easiest to put to bed. Jokes on me. We were saying our nightly “I’m thankful for”‘s and the subject changed to building houses for her stuffed animals. She expanded to wanting to build an entire city and listed off all the buildings she needed, complete with a Trader Joe’s, a clothing store (where she would have actual clothes to sell), a convenient store with snacks to sell and playgrounds for her kids (aka the stuffed animals). She went on and on and the next day I wrote it all down for her. That night I listened and got excited about her project with her, but when I finally got out of that room I’m pretty sure I plopped on the couch with a glass of wine. The next day more plans were made and the first two houses were built.
We are starting to dig deeper into our projects now that Eliana is a little older and can take even more ownership of her time and ideas. We are doing this by finally setting time aside for projects and not just fitting them in here or there. (Although we still do that too). I am hoping to increase our project times to at least 1 hour, 3 times a week. This is time I can be with her with my (almost) undivided attention. She is always able to work on her projects without me, or with my very divided attention, but for this hour I can be dedicated to this task only. We start by looking over what she’s done and what she plans to do. During the rest of the time I am there to help, if needed. I might read or fold laundry, but I can put it down easily when suddenly a third hand is needed to tape something down or ideas are needed to be bounced off of someone. One thing we are really working on during project time is asking for help. Not whining or complaining “I can’t do this!” but rather just asking. I try my hardest not to butt in or take over, so it helps me to wait to get involved until I am asked to. As we wrap up project time I ask her what she plans to do next time and write that down, as well as writing down what she did during the last hour. Sometimes she keeps working by herself and sometimes she changes direction.
Eliana now has 3 houses built and plans for 3 or 4 more before she starts on a zoo, a farm and lots of playgrounds. The plans keep getting bigger and bigger. Even if they don’t come to fruition, that’s okay. She’s learning how to make her own plans and how her plans might unfold. She’s in control. I’m not going to tell her that’s too much or question whether or not it gets done. I’m going to support her ideas and let her learn for herself.
She has taken a clipboard to playgrounds we visit and has drawn them so she has blueprints for when she builds them. Right now her plans are to use toilet paper rolls for the monkey bars. I don’t understand how this will work, but I don’t have to. It’s her project. She realized she didn’t have enough toilet paper rolls saved up and without my knowing she asked her babysitter to bring her some, which she did the next time she came. I was impressed with my quiet little girl asking another adult for help all on her own. Another time, unbeknownst to me, Eliana and her friend’s mom talked about how smoke could come out of the chimneys on the houses she had already made. Eliana later asked me to buy cotton balls for smoke. It may not sound that impressive, but as the main adult in her life I love seeing her talk about her projects with other adults, getting ideas and help all on her own.
Eliana is a kid who is always doing mini projects, inventing and creating. This City Project is the first time we are attempting something more long term, with real, designated project times, not just fitting it in here or there. I don’t know how this project will end, but I have high hopes that we’ll both learn a lot from the process.