Actually, “on a mission” isn’t exactly an accurate statement. I should clarify I’m on a second mission. Allow me to explain.

Parents with kids in fourth grade living in California know the challenge that we face this time of year. Yes, their child is expected to craft a model for one of 21 California missions. I’ve seen some incredible models during the school’s open house over the past couple years, crafted from everything from cardboard to Legos. It’s inspiring to see what children can create. I’ve even seen a few built with marshmallows and candy. As “creative” as that sounds, it’s not long before the bugs take over.

When I think of a project of this scale, I encourage my kids to build a piece they will be proud of not just for the assignment, but something they would like to keep for years to come. I don’t take this project lightly. Of course as an artist myself I realize I may put a little more demand on my kids for this, but I’m there to offer guidance and cut a few pieces in the process. I’ve also come to realize this fourth grade project is more about learning larger lessons than the craftsmanship behind building an architectural model. These are serious life skills I’m talking about. Below are the top ten lessons that hit home for me.

1) Sometimes you don’t have a choice in the tasks placed in front of you. My daughter wasn’t very happy to be assigned the mission the farthest away from our home and in a lot of ways the most simple design of all. But the mark of good work ethic is you accept what you’re assigned and do the absolute best job you could.

2) When taking on a large project, you MUST look at the big picture AND a few of the details right up front. What I mean by this is, if you plan to build a anything at the wrong scale, the details may be impractical to produce. For missions, the kids are limited on the size they can build to and that means you have to make some choices. If they want to add figures then it’s likely going to be at a 1/48 scale. At that size the entire mission landscape (cemetary and all) will likely not fit in the space allowed. That means kids learn to edit and adapt their ideas. Try explaining to a ten-year old that the corn stalks will be 50 feet tall based on the scale of the building.

3) Plan, sketch, plan and sketch again. Before anyone picks up the knife and glue they have to sketch out a plan. As impatient as kids, and many artists are, we must learn the importance of the planning stage. Trust me on this parents. It will allow the creation time to be all that more fun and inspirational.

4) Measure twice, cut once. Enough said.

5) Create a prototype. This could be anything from a color sketch, framework architecture for a website or a mock-up for a movie standee. In the case of a mission, pin all the panels in place as they are cut to insure everything fits properly and leave the painting until the end.

6) Solve the biggest challenges first. Kids and artists usually prefer to dive straight into the details first. But if a solid base isn’t  established, all the decoration in the world won’t conceal weaknesses in the foundation. In the case of a mission, that means save gluing in people and adding foliage until the end.

7) Work in shifts and layers. This is another lesson in patience, one that’s particularly difficult for me. Don’t rush and try to get everything completed on day one. I’ve learned that a mission takes anywhere from 3-4 weekends. We need to find all the right elements first. Michaels Art Supplies and model train stores are great resources. There are many times when the project must sit overnight to let the glue set and the paint dry. The lesson in this is patience because multitasking is overrated.

8) Create authenticity. Authenticity has been the key word in business these past couple years. Authenticity comes from the word “authorshop,” which in turns comes from the word “author”– one who is believed to be the founder, master or leader. Even in a mission, it must be real, believable and a true exhibition of the CHILD’s vision.

9) Save the details for last. As much as we want to go straight into liking the spoon, we must learn to hold off our taste buds until the cake is set and cooled. When the time is right gluing on the bushes and figures will be like icing a cake.

10) Document the journey. You just never know when you might need to share your experience with others.

California Mission #2 is over 50% completed and I’ve been inspired to do more than just share how the kids and I made these models simply gorgeous. There just may come a day when not only do I share these 10 steps, but also a much bigger plan. I just need to take my own advice beginning with #1.