Tag Archives: project homeschooling

Projects, Part One


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…

Autonomy Now

Lately both my boys have been asking very clearly and vocally for more autonomy.  They say things like, “This is my project and I decide!”

Brace yourselves, I think we’ve entered the tweens.

I know some kids came out of the womb stubborn and independent, but not my kids.  This is a whole new thing.  It’s exciting and scary both.  It’s not that they haven’t had any opinions about their own work and lives before now, just that they have always been small opinions.  They wanted to learn something, but they wanted me to plan it.  They wanted to do something, but they had no road maps or plans beyond these vague desires.  When they got frustrated, they wanted me to finish it.  Now, they want to grab the keys to the car.

I’m glad.  I was sort of waiting for this.  They surprised me by having so few forthright passions and by being so malleable when they were younger.  I’ve adjusted and appreciated their Renaissance qualities and taken advantage the best I could by trying to pack in as much basic content as I could while they were so open to learning about anything and trying anything.  If I said, time to learn about the Romans, want to try a new sport, how about you do it this way, they nearly always said, “Great!”  Now, they want the reins.

Grocery shopping.  I had to meet them at the end with the credit card because I didn't have enough cash.
Grocery shopping. I had to meet them at the end with the credit card because I didn’t have enough cash.

I see it in their friendships where they’re busy telling the parents to butt out and let them settle things themselves.  I see it in projects they set for themselves around the house.  This weekend, they spent an entire day planning a “restaurant” for the Husband and me.  They planned the menu, did the shopping, set the table, and cooked all the food.  And while I spent most of the day fielding questions about the location of various kitchen items and the clarity of recipe instructions, every bit of help was resented, especially by BalletBoy, who couldn’t stand that there might be anything he didn’t know and needed to ask.  I was not allowed in the kitchen.  A year ago, they would have wanted me in the kitchen the whole time.

photo 2 (6)I see it in school too.  They’re both working on the Brave Writer Partnership Writing imaginary islands project.  A big part of the project is making maps.  Since we don’t do photocopying as the project suggests, I had them make a digital drawing on the iPad of the outline of their island and then printed off multiple copies for them to make multiple maps.  They each have planned really cool maps inspired by the neat map book Where on Earth? with all kinds of backstory and details.  The book is a bit of a departure from the project directions, but that’s just how Brave Writer projects go, right?  They meander away from their original instructions.  The kids have been making some really neat maps and imagining things I wouldn’t have thought to tell them to do, such as shipping routes.

photo 1 (6)However, we have also clashed over things like, “Coffee won’t grow if it’s as cold as you said the temperature is,” and, “Nowhere has an average age of 5 years old.  That would mean no one lives long enough to have children,” and, “You’ll need a story to explain why this part of the country is so rich and this one right next to it so poor, or you should consider changing it.”  Let me tell you, they don’t really love that input.

On the one hand, yes, it’s their project.  But I keep running into the need to let them learn and make sure it makes sense.  If more projects are going to be the future of school (and I think it is for us), then those things need to come into play.  Just doodling colors on a map doesn’t tell a story.  You have to think about it first or it’s not school, at least not for us.

But I also know I have to let go more and let them figure this stuff out on their own.  I need to help them work on those skills of asking if something is going to work or not, asking if they followed all the rules, asking if they fit all the pieces together, asking what they could improve for themselves, asking if it makes sense.  And if they want more autonomy and control, then that’s a skill set they need.  Perhaps most key is figuring out when to ask for help on your own and how to take it.  Of course, I have to figure out how to give help without giving too much.