Group projects are commonplace in 21st century education, and for good reason: they make kids work as a team, practice their social skills, and take control of their own learning. But they come with challenges, too. Maybe your kid is always stuck with the heavy lifting while her peers do the easy stuff. Sometimes, just getting the group together can be a scheduling nightmare. And during a school group project, your child is likely to think, “It would be so much easier to do this myself.” Read on to learn how to help your kid take the right approach to group projects.

  • Put group work in a positive light. Discuss the value of working in a group with your child. Let her know that collaborative work is typical in professional jobs. Ask what she wants to be when she grows up, so you can talk about the group work involved in the job of her dreams. She would probably appreciate your own stories of successful teamwork and interpersonal conflicts at your workplace.
  • Build communication skills. Help your child rehearse how she communicates with her group. For instance, if she really wants her group to choose seahorses for their marine biology project, she could practice explaining to you why they are so interesting. Help her learn how to make a convincing argument. For example, she should tell the group why a particular choice is beneficial to the whole group, not just why she likes it.
  • Make sure the directions are clear. Guidelines from the teacher are essential. Suzie Boss, a journalist and project-based learning advocate, says that teachers should determine the learning goals of the project, state how it will be assessed, and map out a rough calendar before presenting it to their students. Read the directions of the assignment thoroughly with your child, so you both know what needs to be done. Veteran teacher Katie Frank adds, “Having a grading rubric for collaboration is also important.” Find out how much of the project can be done in class and how much will be done outside of class.
  • Notify the teacher of any issues. Discuss possible problems with your child’s teacher as soon as possible. For instance, if your family is planning a two-week trip in the middle of a month-long project, your child’s teacher might not want to assign your child to a group at all. If your child has had a conflict with another child, most teachers would prefer to know about it before forming groups.
  • Be organized from the start. Insist that your child get the full names, phone numbers, and e-mails of other members of her group early on for a project that involves meeting outside the classroom. It is also a good idea to mark deadlines on a calendar for your child, and suggest that the group finish their project a couple days before the due date, in case last-minute problems arise.  
  • Discuss positive people skills. Katie Frank says groups are more likely to get along if the teacher has already created a positive classroom environment overall. Both teachers and parents should discuss “the expectations of being positive, using active and respective listening, and giving every group member an opportunity to contribute.” Frank tries to resolve conflicts by meeting with the whole group and modeling problem solving strategies. 
  • Encourage flexibility. One of the hardest parts of creative group projects is getting kids to agree on what they want to do. Hopefully, your child’s teacher is encouraging all the kids in the group to share their ideas. Even when two kids get together, it can be hard for them to compromise on conflicting artistic visions. Help your child see how one idea can build on another, and that sometimes she might not be able to complete the project in the exact way she wants to.
  • Encourage honesty and leadership skills. If your child complains that she is the only one doing any work in her group, encourage her to share her thoughts with the group. Sometimes the most diligent, organized students feel uncomfortable taking the lead, so they end up doing the project themselves. To avoid this, you could ask your child to make a list of all the tasks she is doing, and find some straightforward ones to delegate to others in the group. Put a positive spin on it by saying that managerial skills are highly valued at most workplaces and that she’s learning to be a leader. Brainstorm with your child how to get the group working as a cohesive unit.
  • Reflect on how it went. Parents will often go over homework with a child, but it is less common to review a group project. Of course, you should celebrate the final product your child’s group created, but it is also very helpful to review the process that created it. Help your child articulate what went well, and what didn’t. Help her see how communication and division of labor between group members could be improved in future projects. Remind your child that working with others can be one of life’s great challenges, but it can also provide some of life’s greatest rewards.