By Hannah Moore
"Oh noooooo!" I groaned when I saw what my kids' homework was this week. "Please make a book-themed hat, ready for a hat parade in the playground on the morning of World Book Day," it said.
I'm not remotely creative. I can't sew. I can't draw. Even ready-made arts and crafts kit pose a challenge for me. And whilst I know the homework is supposed to be for the children, not the parents, let's be realistic. My five-year-old son isn't going to get very far all on his own and even my seven-year-old daughter wouldn't have much hope.
I predicted 90 per cent Cat in the Hats, with a roaring local trade in white and red card, and decided that if you can't beat em, join em. But when I got my pack of coloured card home (how can a pack of card be £15?), I realised that (a) A4 card wasn't big enough and (b) there wasn't any white card in there and (c) I wouldn't have known where to start even if it was bigger, and white.
I know I'm not alone in my cynicism. "To all my teacher friends," posted another school parent on Facebook on Sunday. "Please don't hand out any craft based homework. I realise you have amazing skills in this area, but I don't. Some parents are rubbish at this and it ruins our weekend. World book day hats, I ask you! Give us more factual boring things, please."
It's not just our school. "My son is eight. He's in year 4. I've just received his homework schedule for the term and it includes things like 'cook a simple meal', 'make a model of x', 'design a pattern using rice, etc', 'research xyz on the internet' - things that, although I like to consider he's a bright child, there is absolutely no way he can achieve without parental input," groans a mother from another part of the country.
"Don't get me wrong. I know that we, as parents, play a role in his education too and we educate him in all sorts of ways outside school. But projects which involve children of this age producing models etc invariably end up completed by the parents," she points out.
"There are two options, either you give the child the materials, sit back, watch him make a mess of it, pat him on the back and resign yourself to another low mark, or you get stuck in, 'help' and produce something which may get a better mark but isn't actually his work."
Another mother complains, "I don't have time to travel to Hobbycraft every time there's another crafts-based homework, yet I feel I'm given no choice. I know some people are able to make a hat out of a cereal packet or paper bag, but I'm not one of them. This also makes it expensive. Why should my kids' homework put me out of pocket?"
It certainly wasn't with glee that I parted with another £7.38 for four coloured cardboard top hats on Amazon on Sunday, I can tell you. But I was at least relieved we finally had a starting point, particularly as my son had become dead set on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as his book theme, for which I pointed out the purple top hat would be ideal. So he and I got to work on cutting out Willy Wonka images that we printed off from the internet and my husband agreed he'd get some candy canes to stick on too. Job done. For my daughter, still keen on Cat in the Hat, we agreed we'd add some red card and white paper to the white cardboard top hat.
It's awfully small, I thought to myself when the box of hats from Amazon arrived the following day. And when it turned out they were micro-hats – and I'm taking about 2cm wide - with attached elasticated bands to hold them on, I realised I hadn't even thought about the sizing and I laughed in spite of myself.
It's not the first time arts and crafts homework failures have been the object of laughter in our family. There was the Christmas hat competition. And the Easter bonnet parade homework. Even our Autumn leaves for the Year 1 seasons project managed to arrive all broken up in the zip-lock bag.
Not everyone thinks there's a funny side. I remember the time I bought a Budgens' lemon drizzle cake for the school's summer fete cake stall. Believe it or not, I like baking, but my kids' birthdays fall in the same week, so there's no way you'll get me baking any extras at that time of year, despite the clear instructions that come back on the white paper plate every year from the school for that week's homework: "Please fill me with cakes, but strictly home-made please."
"Don't tell the customers," I said, with a wink to the parent setting up the stall, when I handed it over. "They'll never know." I didn't feel too guilty – Budgens' does a mean lemon drizzle cake - but the parent was horrified.
I blame the parent-committees – these parents who have all the time and creative skills in the world to sit and have meetings about the latest cruelty they'll inflict on us non-creative parents. Them and the creative teachers, that is. I know it seems churlish to beg them to stop, but I am begging.
Fill my kids' homework folders with comprehension, times tables and science homework you like. And by all means, invite them to wear outfits for Christmas or World Book Day (for which, after all, you can just pull a themed onesie or dressing-up outfit out of a draw). But please, please leave the arts and crafts in the classroom.
As for tomorrow's parade, I'm another £7 down as I finally found some plain black hats online that we'll decorate. If they arrive in time, that is. Even if they do, we'll need a new book idea for my daughter. To be honest, I'm almost past caring. At least, I was until my daughter called up the stairs earlier. "Oh mum," she said, "you didn't miss the line on the World Book Day homework about us also needing to make cupcakes for the Mad Hatters' Tea Party tomorrow, did you?"
Do you feel like this? Tell us your horror stories...
More on Parentdish: When good crafts turn bad
By Hannah Moore