Book Review: Project-based Homeschooling by Lori Pickert

PBH book coverNote: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on February 27, 2013.

How many children realize that education is for them, so they can do whatever they want to do in life…?  ~ Lori Pickert, author of Project-based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-directed Learners.

Friends of mine know that I’m a fan of Lori Pickert’s book Project-based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners.  I had begun following her blog before her book came out, and it peaked my interest in this style of homeschooling that is based on the Emilia Reggio Approach, an educational philosophy for early-childhood that began in Italy shortly after World War II.  Now there are Reggio-inspired schools around the world.

I don’t like that Pickert titled her book with the word “homeschooling.” To me, it’s a manual for every parent who wants to become a better mentor for his or her child.  Though homeschoolers have the luxury of time, any parent can use the strategies in this book, especially since the work you would do with your child would have no time restraints.

If you want to understand how you can support your child’s interests and foster independent thinking and entrepreneurship, then you need to read this book.

Broadening our perspective about how our children should learn is a good idea anyway. According to Cathy Davidson, author and professor at Duke University, “65 percent of today’s grade-school kids may end up doing work that hasn’t been invented yet.”

I got that quote from an interview with Davidson on Mindshift, an excellent education blog, and one of her suggestions to parents is to have students embark on meaningful community projects. “Dreaming big, taking risks, and scaling back if and when you have to are fantastic skills. These skills are hardly ever taught in the school room….” she writes.

This sounds very much like the kind of learning Pickert writes about, though projects could be big or small. They could be shared within your family or outside of it. Whatever the size, they are going to give students a chance to direct their own education.

Adults and children learn best when they are studying subjects of their choosing, and with a good mentor, they’ll take their learning to a higher level and find ways of sharing it with other people. After all, teaching what you know to others is the final stage of learning.

What Pickert has done with her book is explain in an easy-to-read and practical manner what parents can do at home to ensure that children will take charge of their own education and gain essential skills. If that sounds far-fetched, I suggest you read the book.

Project-based learning (PBL) is for any parent who wants to be involved in their children’s education. What I found inspiring in the book is the way she insists parents must live the lives that they want their children to aspire to. After all, to be a mentor, you must be doing the work yourself.

One way to teach your children how to fulfill their goals is to show them how you work toward your goals. Your children will learn from your example. Your goals don’t have to be lofty – Everyone has work, hobbies or other interests that they can share with their children, and sharing your disappointments are just as important as sharing your victories.

In PBL, children chose their projects and make long-term deep inquiries into their chosen subjects.  Unlike traditional school where students have time restraints, PBL students can take the time they need to dig deep.  They could take months or years to complete a project. It may branch off into other projects.  Letting them make mistakes and learn from them is a key component in PBL.

As mentors, parents will be writing down their questions, reminding them of what they wanted to know, documenting their work, and most importantly, scheduling dedicated project time. You will ask them what materials they need to do their work, and you’ll make suggestions when they get stuck.

What you don’t do is take over the project or push your agenda on the child. That’s not easy, but Pickert gives practical advice on how to do it. I love how she includes lists of “things you might do” which includes materials you might have on hand. (Environment is considered the “third teacher” in the Reggio Approach.) She even suggests things to say to your children when you’re trying to get out of the rut of doing things for them.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve gotten from Pickert is that parents need to pay attention (vs. giving empty praise) to what they want their children to do more of. By writing down their questions, recording their progress, photographing their work, hanging their artwork on the wall, you are sending them a message that this is meaningful work. If you do this (and don’t give attention to the less desirable acts), kids are going to want to do more of the good stuff.

After reading the book, I had many questions about how PBL would look for young children like mine, so I asked Lori if I could interview her on this topic. She said yes! Please come back next week for my three-part interview with Lori Pickert on Project-based Homeschooling for Young Children. (Yes, she’s so thorough I had to break it up into three posts!) Lori will also be available to answer your questions at the end of the interview, so I hope you won’t miss that.

11 Responses to “Book Review: Project-based Homeschooling by Lori Pickert”

  1. I so excited for the next three posts! I will add the book to my ever-growing reading list. :)

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  2. thank you so much, shelli! looking forward to the interview and the Q&A. :)

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  3. Good timing on this post as I just finished reading the book (by your recommendation)! I thought it was quite good as well. One major thing I took away from it was the knowledge that the hardest part for me, as the mentor, will be finishing up my own projects and encouraging my children finish up theirs. I also like the lists and am glad I bought a hard copy instead of reading in my kindle, as I think I will look back at those lists for inspiration and ideas in the future.
    As a former teacher, I did what I could in the traditional public school classroom setting to inspire my students to come up with their own projects, etc, but time for this type of thing is really limited in most schools. I agree with you, Shelli that you do not have to be homeschooling your children to encourage them to do work like this at home, when there’s time. That said, I am so grateful for the opportunity to be able to homeschool my kids so they can have a lot of time for this type of learning.
    Looking forward to reading your interview!

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    • Thank you for your comment, Peggy. I’m glad you enjoyed the book and got something out of it. It’s the first Kindle book I’ve read (and I read it on my iPad), but I like being able to highlight sections in it and being able to skim through a list of my notes. Despite that, I have considered buying a hard copy for the same reasons you mention. I don’t know if it’s just because I’m not used to the Kindle or what. Anyway, that doesn’t take away how useful the book is. I found it to be very practical with those lists.

      I appreciate your perspective as a former teacher. I know that most teachers would probably love to do this kind of thing, but they just can’t in that environment. Yes, I’m very grateful that I have the opportunity to homeschool my kids too!

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  4. We consider ourselves project based homeschoolers already, so this books sounds like it is right up our alley! Thanks for the review!

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