Project-based homeschooling

Project-based homeschooling (PBH) is inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach, and the term was coined by Lori Pickert. It is a method in which parents become mentors to their children in order to help the child direct and manage his/her own learning. Children may undertake long-term projects (or short-term) and will be given the time and tools that allow them to spend a meaningful amount of time and energy on it. It can be used in conjunction with any curriculum or style of homeschooling, from classical to unschooling.

{FYI Even though our homeschool is mostly child-led, I still do some formal lessons. You can learn more about how we homeschool here.}

Project-based homeschooling is about mentoring my child so that he will eventually direct his own life-long learning. It’s not “arts and crafts” or letting him do anything he wants. There are “tricks of the trade” in project-based learning that will help him dig deep into his interests and truly learn. My goal is to help other parents learn these “tricks” too – whether you homeschool or not.

Please note that to be PBH, the projects have to stem from my child’s own interests, and he is in charge every step of the way. If he loses interest or doesn’t want to do something I think would be a good idea, that’s okay. By contrast, if I take one of his interests and gather books, activities and art projects for him to do on that subject, that is NOT project-based homeschooling. (That is unit studies.) If you want a manual on PBH, I highly recommend Lori Pickert’s book, Project-based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learnersbut I hope my blog posts listed below can help you on your journey too.

How do I get my son to start projects without actually telling him what do to? First, I just need to observe him and document what he loves doing the most. That’s where a project begins — even if it’s an obsession with a video game or television show. I ask him questions. I learn about what he likes.

It’s also my job to model the process and behavior I want my son to emulate. Through my own projects, I show him what could be done. For example, I started my own sketchbook habit. He may not pick up on the habit, and that’s okay. Maybe he’ll see something else I do and want to try that.

I have created an environment where materials are accessible, and he has the time to use them. When he was little, I showed him what could be done with these materials and whenever I can, I introduce him to new materials and ideas. Now he knows right where these supplies are, and when he gets an idea, he starts working. He knows I’m available every morning (unless we have something else on the calendar) to help him with his projects. We also work on weekends or afternoons, if necessary, but making him understand I can’t always be available is something I just have to keep reinforcing. (Giving him plenty of opportunities to get my help is key. Keeping a regular schedule of homeschool-in-the-morning-and-my-work-in-the-afternoon over the last few years has helped too.)

When building or making something, I always go with his ideas first, and I only make suggestions when he turns to me for help or absolutely needs my help. Letting a child fail is an important step in this process. (Believe me, I know this is hard, especially when it involves temper tantrums!)

I pay attention to the “good stuff” that my son is doing by displaying his work, photographing it, putting it on my blog and giving him opportunities to share it with others. I teach him how to use the resources available to him, and I take him places that interest him.  By doing this, he usually wants to follow-up on the work he is doing, and often his projects will spill over into other ideas and learning opportunities. But we also go through spells when there is no specific project. Or maybe it’s a lot of little projects. Or maybe it’s a lot of inquiry, but he’s not really interested in creating anything. Or (I hope) there are seeds of a project being planted, and in the long-term, I’ll see the fruits. I remind him that if he wants to do something more, I can help him do that. I give him new materials to work with. I also try doing more visible projects of my own that will hopefully give him ideas.

When you create a family culture of learning, doing, and making, your kids are going to learn, do, and make because they don’t know any other way to live! 

As my son gets older, he’ll take this path as a researcher and creator more independently.

Once my eldest son turned six, we began to embark on project-based homeschooling in a more serious manner. Some of the kindergarten projects you see listed below were projects I initiated in order to “silently feed the interests” of my young children. But in later projects starting with the Celery-Lettuce Cake and Building the Titanic, my son initiated and controlled every point of the project. As he’s gotten older, I’m amazed to see how productive, creative and busy he is! And I have to do so little!

I hope you’ll follow along with us on this journey!  Thank you! Don’t hesitate to e-mail me with your questions: shellipabis (at) gmail (dot) com.



What is Project-based Homeschooling? – A good place to start.

At Home with the Editors: Shelli’s Project-based Homeschooling – A post I wrote for the home / school / life blog. It’s a big picture summary of what this PBH has looked like in my house up until my eldest son was 8 1/2 years old and what I’ve learned from it. A very good bird’s eye view!

Book Review: Project-based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners

Interview with Lori Pickert: Getting Started with Project-based homeschooling for Younger Children, Part 1

Interview with Lori Pickert: Getting Started with Project-based homeschooling for Younger Children, Part 2

Interview with Lori Pickert: Getting Started with Project-based homeschooling for Younger Children, Part 3 – This post has a Question and Answer with Lori Pickert in the comments area for YOUR questions. Check out the good questions that have already been asked.

Embracing the Chaos, Part 2: Creating a Welcoming Environment for Homeschooling

Experimenting with Project-based Homeschooling, Part 1 ~ My very first glimpse at PBH. For more in depth, see other posts.

My Nature Boy – On discerning my son’s deep interest.

The Power of Time and Materials

(Note: I’m not labeling these projects by grade level because they are only appropriate for that level. This is when my boys became interested in each subject and knowing which year the project happened may be a helpful frame of reference. You can read here why I even keep track of grade levels.)

Preschool with my youngest son:

Homeschooling Preschool the Second Time: My four-year-old’s Letter D

Project-based Homeschooling Preschool: My four-year-old’s projects

Project-based Homeschooling: Mama’s Sketchbook Habit

Project-based Homeschooling: Sketching at the Botanical Garden

Pre-kindergarten with my youngest son:

Project-based Homeschooling: My five-year-old’s grocery store

Project-based Homeschooling: Birds & Feathers

Kindergarten Projects:

Homeschooling: A Look At Our Hammerhead Shark Project (Part 2 of Experimenting with Project-based Learning)

How to Build a Wildlife Habitat in Your Yard

Music Appreciation with Beethoven

A Kindergarten Child-Led Project: Seeds, Plants, Gardening

The Eastern King Snake & Our Snake Project

Using Storytelling and Puppet Shows in Homeschool

Raising Tadpoles

A Child-Led Project: The Celery Lettuce Cake

Building the Titanic: Project-based Homeschooling – an example of PBH in real life.

Rockets and the Benefits of Failure: Project-based Homeschooling

The Little Projects: Project-based Homeschooling – What my son spends most of his time doing. The “in between” projects & experimentation with different mediums.

Clay Penguin – Another “little project.”

Kindergarten with my youngest son:

More to come!

First Grade Projects

Project-based Homeschooling: Carnivorous Plants

Project-based Homeschooling:  Steps I Took to Support My Son’s Interest in Carnivorous Plants

The Power of Time and Materials

Project-based Homeschooling: Mama’s Sketchbook Habit

Project-based Homeschooling: My seven-year-old and his pottery

Project-based Homeschooling: Long-term clay interest

Project-based Homeschooling: This year’s cardboard projects

Project-based Homeschooling: DNA

Project-based Homeschooling: A Mushroom Project Teaches Mama When to Let Go

Project-based Homeschooling: Angry Birds – You Never Know

2nd Grade Projects

Project-based Homeschooling: Tardigrades

Project-based Homeschooling: Rube Goldberg Machine

Project-based Homeschooling: Growing Mushrooms Update

Project-based Homeschooling: Pottery Class Update

Project-based Homeschooling: Paper Dinosaurs + 1

Project-based Homeschooling: Timeline of My Son’s Star Wars Project

Project-based Homeschooling: Carnivorous Plant Update

Piano Lessons

Project-based Homeschooling: Robotics

More to come…!

3rd Grade Projects

27 Responses to “Project-based homeschooling”

  1. This is what I have been looking for!



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