A couple of months ago, I read Lori Pickart of the Camp Creek Blog‘s book Project-Based Homeschooling. While I didn’t absolutely love it, I would say it’s definitely worth a read. The ideas from it are still swimming around in my head, along with bits and pieces about project-based learning.
I liked the book because it straddles the space in homeschooling that I aspire to straddle: the space between structure and freedom and actually had practical ideas about how to bring that space about in your homeschool. It was a book that made you want to do art with your kids, especially if they’re at all arty. And the ideas about organizing art spaces were excellent and inspiring. However, for a short book, the text got repetitive for me pretty fast. And I was disappointed that the projects remained focused on art or letting kids use art in service of subjects that interest them. To me, engineering, science and writing are all just as ripe for project-based learning as art. These topics do get some coverage, but it’s pretty clear to me that the author has a lot less experience with them than with art, which was clearly her passion. I would have loved to see just as much space about organizing science supplies as art, for example.
I’m not sure if this really heralds any changes in our homeschool though. As much as I love projects and try to support them when they arise, I can’t see them as the center of our homeschool. If they were, then I know myself. I would swoop in and ruin them or take them over. It’s so much better when the kids have full charge of them and my roll is as tape supplier and general appreciator.
I will say though that eight seems to be a big project age in our house. BalletBoy has been busy making things for the stuffed Perry the Platypus he got at Disneyworld, like a special carrying case from a tissue box and a special “room” from an Amazon box. He also, of his own accord, made a Christmas stop animation video for his Christmas Eve performance, featuring a bunch of his toys going to admire the baby Jesus from the Playmobil nativity set. A couple of years ago, I helped the kids make a stop motion Lego movie for Christmas, and while they took the photos and made the creative decisions, the whole thing required a lot of executive action on my part. This go around, he did the whole thing alone and I was surprised by how good it looked. He only had me step in at the end and show him how to load and edit it on the iPad. (By the way, let me recommend Smoovie for that purpose.)
Mushroom has also been busy with projects. He decided that he should have a “job” at co-op, which he refers to as the “revolution.” It has led to a number of enterprises on his part, including a “fifteen minute writing class” that he has been teaching to some of the adults and which is both precious and surprisingly well-planned for a writing class taught by a kid who can’t spell. He also initiated a co-op newspaper, which he drew a masthead for and wrote two articles for. At which point, I stepped in and offered to help him put it on the iPad so he could play around with formatting and put in other stories. He published one issue and was so excited to hand it out. When I wrote my self-assessment, I said that I needed to plan more writing projects ahead of time instead of waiting for them to organically arise. So, of course, as a result, one organically arose from the kids.
With all this great project learning going on at the Rowhouse, I can’t really deny the power of project-based learning. I say it’s not central, but upon more reflection really I mean it’s not central to my thinking and planning. It may be central to the kids’ learning and processing. As I said before, it doesn’t take much planning for the adults to have tape, junk, electronics, and other project materials on hand. Nor does it take anything but simple time to listen and encourage for us to support kid-driven projects or a little flexibility to work something important into our schedules. The things that take planning for me are teaching the various core subjects we learn about. It takes planning and buying curricula and books to teach math, reading, history and so forth. That’s my job: to teach the actual stuff. The wonderful thing is that the stuff I teach informs these projects. They get into the history topics we study. They make art about the books we read. They act out games that play off the science we learn. This is like a learning conversation. So while I plan school, they plan projects and each can inform the other.