The Little Projects: Project-based Homeschooling

{A.K.A. I don’t plan any crafts in this house.} {In between projects} {Exploring mediums}

I’ve written about what I’ve considered our “project-based homeschooling” in terms of long projects in which my son learned about a specific topic and also spent some considerable time constructing something, such as in Building the Titanic and Rockets and the Benefits of Failure. But to tell the truth, he spends most of his time doing what I think of as “little projects.” That is, they are projects he has come up with on his own, but they aren’t tied to what I consider a long-term study project. Not that they couldn’t become that, and in a way, you could consider some of what he’s doing long-term study in that he’s learning some skills such as sewing.

For me, this is what homeschooling is all about. I want my children’s imaginations to be unfettered. I want them to have fun. I don’t want them to be told what they can or can’t do. I want them to have the time and the resources (to the best of my ability) to develop their imaginations and real, quality skills along the way!

I’ve already written about how my boys love to build. You can read about many of the building and art supplies we keep on hand and ideas my son “found” last year in Boys Like to Build. You can read about the benefits of building with Legos or blocks in Little Builders.

Here, I want to show you examples of other projects. For lack of a better term, they’re kind of “artsy.” How did he come up with these ideas? Many different ways:

  • He “finds” ideas in television shows, such as Blues Clues, or he happens to find an idea in a book or on a pamphlet at Hobby Lobby, and he tells me he wants to make it.
  • Some ideas are from pure imagination.
  • Some ideas I lead him to. Occasionally I’ll see something online that I think he might like or could easily do, and I show it to him. If he likes it, he wants to make it.
  • For holiday craft ideas, I don’t plan anything. I let my son google “Easter crafts,” and then we look at the zillion of images and he picks what he likes!
  • Most artwork comes from just playing with different mediums. I keep all art supplies out where the kids can reach them at any time. Here’s a short list of what we’ve got:
    • paints, brushes
    • construction paper
    • markers, crayons, pens, pencils
    • glue, tape
    • lots of fun stuff such as sequins, pom poms, little wooden cubes, etc.
    • modeling clay
    • recently added: watercolor pencils and watercolor paper!
    • sewing stuff: fabric, felt, fabric scissors, craft thread, needles (but the needles are kept in a safer place)

We have one section of the wall in our kitchen that is our “art gallery.”

I am the “YES” Mom.

Part of “project-based homeschooling” is creating an environment where supplies are on hand and easily accessible to my children. From the time my son was three- or four-years-old, I’ve been doing simple art with him – nothing stressful for me and nothing that needed a lot of pre-planning. For example, when he was two and three, he just liked to cut paper, so I turned his paper bits into animals. We did that for the longest time, and sometimes my boys will still ask me to make them a paper animal!

We have a routine, and there are things that I require of my children, but I try very hard to always say “Yes! Go ahead!” whenever they want to paint, draw or create something. It doesn’t have to be a certain time of day – I just let them do it. The only time that I may say no is when it’s, say, fifteen minutes before our evening routine begins, and someone wants to pull all the paints out. Then I’ll say, “Well, you’re going to need to get your bath in a few minutes, so why don’t we plan to paint tomorrow?” But if it’s crayons or markers, I’d probably be inclined to say “Go ahead!” even at that time.

My kids don’t “create” everyday or every week, but looking at all the pieces of artwork in the house, I know that they’ve had a lot of fun and freedom. It does make for a messy house, and even though I always make the boys clean up after themselves, there’s still a lot of mess left over waiting for me to pick it up. (And it can just keep waiting.) I’ll be writing about this “chaos” and our messy but productive environment in upcoming posts.

Art Lessons

It’s always in the back of my mind to get a little more formal with the art. Show them different mediums, artists, and styles. I’m really looking forward to reading more of Amy Hood’s amy hood arts blog for ideas on teaching art to my children. But right now I can hardly keep up with my son’s ideas, so for awhile, we’ll just go with his ideas.

Here’s a few of his self-made projects:

Making a bed for one of his stuffed animals. He used a box, fabric & a glue gun. He’s never felt the need to paint the boxes or add embellishes.

Making an alien puppet. This idea came to him after we made the dinosaur puppets below.

Here it is!

I saw the dinosaur & rocket puppets online & thought they’d be easy to make. The six-year-old made the one in the middle. We both worked on the green one. I made the one on the right.

The rocket puppet. I cut out the pattern & the six-year-old sewed it.

I started this lizard for a Christmas gift, but I don’t have the patience my son has, so he had to finish it for me. ;o

Our Thanksgiving wreath. Idea given to us by a friend. (Once my six-year-old hears good ideas, there’s no stopping him.)

My six-year-old found this pamphlet with instructions on how to make a lion puppet at Hobby Lobby. He bugged me for months to make it, and we finally did. The instructions were not good, by the way, so I had to improvise on some of it. I helped with the sewing/cutting on this, but the six-year-old did a lot of it!

Nature art. My six-year-old did this all by himself. He got the idea after seeing some similar artwork at the Botanical Garden.

Clay is a huge hit with my boys! My six-year-old watched this tutorial on how to make this car.

This tree was his idea.

I’m really impressed with how my son has taken up sewing. (I don’t sew.) He saw this snake fabric at the store, and he said he’d make a snake with it. And he did! I helped, but it was all his idea, and he was very fussy about how it needed to be done.

Every day my son carries some little toy around the house all day, and at night, he puts it to “sleep” on his nightstand. One day he had the idea to make a bed for his toys! I didn’t even know what he was doing until he was almost done. 

I can’t forget the three-year-old! He LOVES to paint, cut paper, glue, build with blocks, make pretend food, paste things into his “notebook,” and create different things too. At Christmas, I got him these little wooden cubes and sticks. I let him make all the messes he wants to. (This picture was taken the day after Christmas, which is why there’s a lot of odd stuff in the room.)

The three-year-old doesn’t have the motor skills to make things like my six-year-old, but he’s often creating interesting things with blocks or cards or anything he can stack.

The three-year-old made this flower face with some wooden shapes. I think the six-year-old had showed him how to do this once.

The Benefits

I know there are more benefits to living this lifestyle than I’m even aware of, but I do feel confident to say that my boys are developing their imaginations, self-esteem, fine motor skills, problem-solving skills, and a general awareness of how things work. By experimenting, they are learning how things work together, and learning how to deal with the frustrations that come with trial and error. I try my best not to interfere with how they plan out their work unless they ask for my help or get very stuck. I can hardly wait to see what they come up with next!

Note: I have noticed that in most of my photographs, especially these, my boys are in pajamas. Ahem. Just so you know, I do dress my boys! But with that thought, I’ll leave you with this quote:

Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.  ~Lewis Carroll

Please share your children’s artwork with me!

12 Responses to “The Little Projects: Project-based Homeschooling”

  1. My son likes sewing too — we haven’t done too much since he just recently seems able to handle the needle with dexterity, but he has enjoyed using an embroidery hoop. It is easy to hold and he can make neat designs with the bright colored threads. His first project was a pillow for his stuffed frog friends. He just had to remember to go up and down through the fabric and not around the hoop. We also love to make felt food. There are tons of free tutorials on-line and the book Big Little Felt Universe is great.

    Have you tried liquid watercolors? They are our very favorite — bright, saturated colors and so many options (paint coffee filter sun catchers, blow the paint with straws, etc.) We found ours at Discount School Supply along with these paint cups (http://www.discountschoolsupply.com/Product/ProductDetail.aspx?product=2805&keyword=paint%20cups&scategoryid=0&CategorySearch=&Brand=&Price=) It is 6 little paint cups in a base — they hold plenty of paint, but if something gets spilled or mixed, you don’t lose too much. We have sets for different types of paint. Plus, it makes clean up quick and easy. I keep two sets on a tray with a cup full of brushes and straws and we are ready to go.

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    • Thank you for your comment, Erica! That sounds like fun stuff! We have used little paints in those cups, but I’m not sure if they were watercolors or not. We have the regular watercolors, which you have to mix with water, and recently we purchased watercolor pencils, which are so much better than regular colored pencils – much brighter and you don’t have to press down so hard! Thank you for these suggestions. I’ll have to mention them to the six-year-old and see what he thinks. ;)

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  2. V does little projects pretty much every day! Here’s one: http://geodeink.com/2013/04/15/paper-beads/

    And I talk a little bit about how she’s really not interested in my help with them at all. She’s pretty much always been this way, and I just try to support her in that.

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  3. While I was otherwise occupied, my almost-6-year-old was using my scrapbooking punches today. She started with punching stars and coloring them yellow, then she punched some circles, and colored them to be Earth and the moon. She asked if i had a triangle punch, and I told her I usually punch a square and cut in on the diagonal when I need a triangle. She thought that was brilliant and made some triangles that she glued to a circle to make the sun. She wanted to start taping these individual items to the wall, but I suggested a big piece of construction paper. Pretty soon she brought me her finished work. “our soler sestem. I love scool!” it said on it. She missed Mercury and Venus, but had all the other planets (and Pluto) in proper order. Saturn had rings, and Jupiter had a big red spot amid the yellow. She had stars and a comet. It was awesome! the 3-year-old made his solar system too, with scribbles and punches.

    Later, I freaked out when he squeezed a giant puddle of glitter glue in his coloring book, and he cried. So that wasn’t so awesome. I wish I was better at letting messes happen.

    I read some books about Ancient Greece, and she read some on her own. Otherwise, that was it for school today. I almost felt like an unschooler since I didn’t initiate any of it!

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    • That sounds like an awesome day! How fun that she got almost all the planets right and in the right order! That must have made you so proud! And hey – a giant puddle of glitter glue goes much more nicely in a coloring book than on the sofa! ;)

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  4. I am loving your blog and inspiration to homeschool your kids. My kids are the same age as yours and I have been working with my 6 year old for a year on sewing. (BTW I do not homeschool). She sounds like she has the same personality as your son as for the patience part. I was wondering how you organize your sewing kit for him and allow for him to sew when ever he wants. The last time I “allowed” or was not in the same room when she was sewing she lost a needle, which I later found with my bare feet, broke my store bought needle contain (which is not a normal thing for her), and made a huge mess. I love that she like sew but I am loosing my patience with just being in the room while she sews.

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    • Hi Robin – I’m sorry for my slow reply. We were out of town for a few days. Thank you so much for your compliment! If my blog helps anyone, I’m thrilled! And I definitely hope I can help non-homeschoolers as well, so I’m glad you’re here!

      As for your question, unfortunately, my son has not sewed anything for quite a while. This past year he did a lot of other building projects, mostly with cardboard. But I think I can answer your question anyway…I hope. As for all our supplies, including the sewing stuff, until this past week I had most of it stuffed into a small plastic three-drawer container thing that you can buy at Target. (Paints/markers/paper etc. are in a different place though.) It was not ideal at all, but the boys could reach it. (Just this past week I was able to utilize an old, small dresser and put that into the activity room, so now the supplies are a little more spread out….that is, when they open the drawers, they can actually see what they’ve got instead of pulling it all out on the floor. Not that that will prevent them from pulling it all out on the floor. lol) Anyway, the exception I have with the sewing is the needles. I keep them in my dresser in my room, but my son knows he can ask for one whenever he needs it. I usually try to give him the biggest, fattest one I can but not so big it won’t fit through the material, if you know what I mean. I also have taught him and made a clear rule that when he’s not using it, the needle must be put on the table and poked through some scrap of fabric. That way I can see it and put it back. Maybe you have a pin cushion or something that you can designate for the place for the needle? It’s a lesson that you just have to gently remind a child over and over until he/she gets it. I make it pretty clear how much a needle can hurt someone too!

      I completely sympathize with you regarding losing your patience! Whatever my son is creating anything, he can be a perfectionist and get so upset if he makes a mistake, and sometimes it really escalates. I’ve actually learned that if I sit with him and watch what he’s doing and gently assist him when he asks for it (or if I see something that really could lead to disaster and try to help – but without taking over!), that helps alleviate his frustrations somewhat. However, I don’t always have the patience to sit there for so long, and I can barely help but stand up, walk around the house and busy myself with something else. I guess the best I can do is try to be there as much as I can, but I also allow myself a break here and there because I know I’ll lose my patience with him and not be as helpful, if I don’t. So, I guess you could say when he’s working I make myself as available as I can, I monitor what he’s doing, but I don’t always sit there for the whole time he’s working.

      I will address your frustration with the big mess in your next comment on my other post since it seems to fit better there, and I’m writing a book here! ;) I hope I have answered your main questions. Let me know if I didn’t.

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