What Is Project-Based Homeschooling?

{Project-based Learning} {Reggio-Inspired}

Over a year ago, I found Lori Pickert’s blog and the terms “project-based homeschooling,” “project-based learning” and “reggio-inspired” started to dance in my head. What I read on her site echoed my own thoughts on how I wanted to homeschool, but she defined the terms better for me. I think many homeschoolers can relate to this method of homeschooling, and you may find you’re already doing part of this in your homeschool like I did. What I find helpful in Lori’s advice is how she spells out exactly how to “mentor” my child. 

After reading her book, interviewing her, and especially after trying to implement the strategies she has outlined with my own child, I’m starting to “get it.”

When I was going through some rough spots during my son’s Titanic project, it was hard to foresee the value of letting a child direct the course of a project. Sure, I’m all about doing a child-led approach in our homeschool, but letting him make all those mistakes in a small building project and then endure the temper tantrums when it didn’t work? Shouldn’t I direct him more? But as Lori has said, it’s a process, and we have to learn how to become mentors just as our children are learning to direct their learning.

This process is about learning how to step back and see the value in letting your children take the lead. It’s also about learning how to “step in” to support their interests by helping them learn how to find answers to their questions, solve their own problems, achieve their own goals, and watch them become deeply engrossed in their work. 

Children don’t get personal mentors in traditional school, but every child – homeschooled or not – has the opportunity to be mentored by a conscientious parent who knows him/her best, who is with him/her through it all, and who can guide him/her to the resources he/she needs to become more than passive learners.

Lori has been busy making additions to her site so that those new to Project-based Homeschooling can have help getting started.  She is my mentor in this process, so if you want to go to the source, go to her website, and be sure to check out 10 Steps to Getting Started with Project-based Homeschooling and her FAQ.

But here’s a bullet list of what I have learned…at least, this is how I view project-based homeschooling for my family thus far.

I’m not numbering them because all these elements work together to create this lifestyle of learning. Project-based homeschooling is like putting together a puzzle. It doesn’t matter which piece you start with, but as you lay them all on the table, you’ll start to see how they fit together to make the whole picture.

  • Create an environment where all questions and interests are honored. All projects should stem from your child’s true interests - not yours or a prescribed list of what a child should learn.
  • Create an environment where your children can freely access a variety of materials to create and learn with. As long as it’s safe, let them make a mess! Also, don’t plan so many crafts. Show them how to use the materials and let them experiment and get to know them. Sometimes a planned craft may be helpful for this, but you should allow your child to experiment and create according to his whims. (I’ll be writing a post about our home learning environment in the future.)
  • PBH is not “arts and crafts.” By making representations of the Titanic and the Apollo Saturn V, my son had to inquire, study and really ingest those structures. He learned a lot of problem solving skills in the process of making the models, and I’m guessing the stories of the Titanic and Saturn V will stay in his memory much longer!
  • Also part of this “environment” is giving them rich experiences: field trips, meeting people, showing them how to use the library, exploring the computer. Teach them how to use the resources that are available to them to answer their questions.
  • Think out loud as you go through the process to find answers to their or your questions. This is part of modeling the behavior you want them to use later when they are more capable of working independently. (This is something I need to work on.)
  • In the beginning, you may need to “silently feed” their interests.  If you know your child loves tigers, lay out a book about tigers. Take them to the zoo. Find a show for them to watch about tigers.  Suggest they make a tiger out of clay or paint one for the wall.  Or fill a notebook with tiger facts.
  • Observe what they do, how they play, and note what their questions are. Keeping a journal is helpful.  If you can’t answer a question, try to go back to it. Show him you’re writing it down, and schedule a time to work on answering his questions.
  • When you think they’re ready, ask, “Do you want to make a project out of this?”
  • Start asking them, “Where do you think we could find the answer to that question?” Or as Lori suggested in my interview with her, write down a list of several places you could look and ask the child where he wants to start first.
  • When assisting them with their creations, always go with their ideas first. Let them make mistakes. Let them make a mess! Only make suggestions when they get stumped or ask you for help.
  • Sometimes a well-placed suggestion works wonders. Don’t get hung-up like I did thinking you can never make a suggestion. As Lori said, “It just means waiting to see if he will have his own ideas and supporting those first.” (Our Titanic project was jump-started by my suggestion to make the Titanic out of clay, and when that failed, my husband suggested he make it out of cardboard.)
  • To help him work through his frustrations, start looking for real-world examples of artists, makers, builders, and entrepreneurs who have failed and had to start over again.  Talk about the process of goal-setting, rough drafts, trial and error. (If your child is old enough, the NASA Missions are a perfect example of this.)
  • Start sharing your work/hobbies/goals with your children. Think aloud when you’re working.  Share with them your frustrations and how you’re working through them. If you need help working on your own projects, see Lori’s PBH for adults.
  • Schedule project time.  There’s no right or wrong to how much time – The important thing is making time for it, and making it a regular part of your routine. Schedule time to show your child fun building or art materials and follow their direction. Schedule time to go through your journal and answer their questions.  Schedule time to work on their ideas.
  • Get in the habit of asking, “Do you want to do more with this? Do you want to learn more about this?”
  • If they don’t want to do more, be okay with that. Later you will ask them again as you continue to refer to your journal.  Some interests may peter out quickly. Others may become deep interests.
  • You don’t have to make a project out of every interest your child has. Pick and choose according to your thoughtful knowledge and observations about your child. Of course, older children will tell you what they want to work on.
  • Your homeschool can be all project-based, or project-based learning could be part of it. For example, currently I’ve also created a reading and math program for my son. Follow your instincts. Whatever you do, it shouldn’t cause you a lot of stress. Although PBH is a lot of work for the parent, it should be rewarding and fun too.
  • Remember this is a slow process.  Build it up over time. Create the environment over time. Learn how to mentor over time. Let your children take control slowly as they grow.

If you haven’t already, be sure to read the interview with Lori Pickert on Project-based Homeschooling for Young Children. The last post is open for your questions about PBH. Be sure to read the great questions and answers that commenters have left already!

Okay, so what do you think? Would you add something to this list? Or eliminate something?

10 Responses to “What Is Project-Based Homeschooling?”

  1. great post, shelli — really enjoyed this!

  2. Reblogged this on Raventhreads and commented:
    I really like this post from Mama of Letters because we’ve been working towards Project-Based Homeschooling in our own homeschool. This is an awesome explanation of how you actually go about working through the process with your kids.

  3. My hats are off to the homeschooling Mom’s!! You have to be blessed with patience, patience and more patience! It is obvious that it works really well for you and the boys seem to be grasping the ideas as well. Keep up the good work!

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