So I’ve started to write about the role of projects of various sorts in our homeschool a number of times and keep junking the posts because I have so much to say that keeps coming out as a jumbled mess. However, “projects” and their role in our learning process have been very much on my mind lately so I’m coming back to try again. First, some background. When people say “project based” they may mean so many different things…
- a Reggio Emilia like approach where teachers support and create projects based on student interest and inspiration
- an almost business like approach where students (usually in groups) solve real world style problems (the curriculum Engineering is Elementary is a cool example of this approach)
- a unit studies style approach to learning
- an almost unschooling approach, taking special care to encourage and support children’s natural interests to create their own projects (this is the approach in the Camp Creek Blog and Lori Pickart’s Project Based Homeschooling, which I talked about awhile ago in this post)
Basically, “projects” in educational thinking can be very adult led or very child led. They can be very free form or very specific. They can be very process oriented or very product oriented, though most projects involve some product. In other words, who knows what anyone means when they say “project based.”
Previously, projects haven’t been huge for our homeschool. When we started out learning, one of the things that made Mushroom and BalletBoy great to teach was their ability to be interested in nearly anything. Sure, some things were more fun than others, but when I said, hey, let’s learn about the Mongols or Roman roads or plant life or how forces work or nearly anything else, they were always up for it. If I said, let’s do it by trying this experiment, or making this piece of art, or reading this book, again, they were fine with that.
I called them my little Renaissance men. Let other kids have one track minds for their passions. My boys were amenable to nearly anything. So we crammed it all in. A full cycle of history from the dawn of mankind up to the present (almost, we’re to the Cold War technically). Piles of historical fiction to support it. A look at pretty much every science topic you can imagine in biology, physical science, earth science, astronomy, and so forth. Plenty of art history. Lots of geography. And I’m happy with all that. We used the grammar stage, in classical education thinking, just as it was meant to be used. We went all through time and space and introduced everything we could.
Well, they’re still pretty amenable, but I can see how they’re changing gears. I’ve written about how they want ownership and new challenges recently. As such, I’m changing my thinking about projects and I’m now envisioning projects as one potential solution to our needs. I’m thinking of these as all of the above. Child led projects, teacher led projects, projects for contests, projects for the joy of learning, projects for content and for fun.
I’m feeling like this may be a good way to come at the logic stage for us. I come from teaching middle school for many years and have a vision of it as a time of great growth, but also a need for flexibility and new kinds of learning. One of the things I want my kids to discover the most is the ability to pursue their own interests and a love of learning. I think they’ve been too young to fully find their way to those things yet, but they won’t be for long. I want to turn the reins over a little bit for a little while and loosen up our content structure.
I still see us returning to a more classical approach in a few years when the kids are really ready for high school level science and a primary source based history. And I don’t want to drop the ball on skills in the next few years either. I’m hoping to get both kids through algebra within the next three years (or so) and to keep honing their growing writing voices. However, I’m also excited to let them play with 3D design or robotics for school time. I’m excited to let them choose things to study about for history and do their own research. I’m excited to see them design a real science project and carry it out themselves. I’m hoping to do more things that get us thinking like Destination Imagination does and to enter essay contests and take better advantage of things like traveling exhibits and shows that we see.
So we’re slowly moving toward projects as one of the bases of what we do. We’re always tweaking and realigning our homeschool, but this feels like a big one even for us.
Up next… What projects? Anxiety and projects…