Experimenting with Project-based Homeschooling, Part 1

Note: This is a column I wrote for The Barrow Journal.  For a list of all our projects, see the Table of Contents for Project-based learning.

Now that the holidays are over, visiting relatives are gone, and we are overcoming two back-to-back illnesses, I think (I hope) I can finally begin to think about a regular routine.  One thing I have been intending to do is think more about how I want to homeschool.  After reading a website I bookmarked several months ago, I’ve decided to experiment with project-based homeschooling.

Lori Pickert is a homeschooling mom of two boys, but before her days at home, she was the director of a private preschool for several years.  Her school used a project-based curriculum in multi-aged classrooms.  Now she writes extensively about this approach to teaching on her Camp Creek Blog, which you can find at www.whiteoakschool.com.

I think project-based learning can be useful for kids whether they attend school or not, so if this peaks your interest, be sure to read through Lori’s blog.  I am not an expert on the subject, and I’ll only be sharing the highlights of what interested me about this approach and how I hope to apply them when working with my son.

In project-based learning, a child gets to choose a project that interests him or her and then study it in depth.  Then they chose who they might want to share their information with and in what format:  a book, video, poster, etc.  The teacher or parent is there to offer support and help the child find the materials he needs to fulfill his projects, but the parent should not take over the project or push her agenda on the child. 

I am guilty of this myself.  Sometimes when I sit down with my son to work on a craft, I have a hard time letting go of control.  I want that fish we’re creating to look like a real fish, so I volunteer to glue the eyes on for him or cut the paper just so.  I’m getting better at sitting back and letting him do the work, and Lori’s website was a good reminder why this is so important.  Kids learn by doing.

After reading her posts, I realized that it’s important for me to ask my son more questions instead of always offering the answer right away.  Project-based learning emphasizes that it’s less important for children to memorize facts than it is for them to learn how to acquire information.  Isn’t that the most useful thing we can teach children?  Children learn the most when they are engaged in an activity that makes them problem solve and search for the answers themselves.

There was one post on her site where Lori shared a comment from a teacher, and the teacher gave this story.  She said that one of her second grade boys once asked her whether the Loch Ness monster was real or not.  She told him she didn’t know, but she’d help him find out.  Over the next few days, this little boy visited the library, and he also interviewed his classmates to see what they thought.  She said he was having a lot of fun, and obviously he was learning valuable skills along the way.

After a few days, the teacher said the boy dropped the subject altogether.  When she asked him why, he told her that he asked his dad, and his dad told him there was no such thing as the Loch Ness monster, so that was it.  My feeling is that even though the boy may have dropped the subject eventually when he felt satisfied with his research, parents can do a disservice by supplying quick answers.

When children are truly interested in a subject, they have much longer attention spans than many adults give them credit for.  I know that my son has wanted to read the same books over and over again, and he can also watch the same television programs night after night.  There is something about these things that are captivating to him.

Another tip I learned from this site was that I should write down the questions my son asks me.  This was a light bulb moment for me because he has been asking me off the wall questions for several weeks now, and usually he asks them when we’re driving in the car, or I’m dealing with the baby or some other chore, and I can’t always engage him at that moment.  So now, I’m jotting down the questions he asks, such as, “What is a lighthouse?”  “What does fire burn?”  …Two questions he asked me out of the blue yesterday!  When we have more time, I’ll ask him if wants to me to help him find the answers.

When I told my son about working on a project and asked him what he might be interested in learning about, he came up with “hammerhead shark.”  This didn’t surprise me because he loves ocean animals.  Next week, I’ll write about our project and let you know what we came up with.

Click here to go to Part 2.  UPDATE: Now my son is older, and I’m much wiser! To learn more about project-based learning, see my Project-based Homeschooling page.

8 thoughts on “Experimenting with Project-based Homeschooling, Part 1

  1. “Another tip I learned from this site was that I should write down the questions my son asks me. ”

    My husband and I created a family “Wonderboard” recently. It’s nothing fancy- just a bulletin board where we keep a calendar, important reminders, etc, but its main purpose is to post questions we’ve “wondered about”. We’re hoping that as our son (and future children) get older we’ll be able to really involve them in the process and look back at these questions to research on a rainy day or prior to a trip to the library.

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    1. I love that idea! Thanks so much for sharing it! Once I tried putting out a notebook to jot down questions my son had, but it was quickly forgotten about. Perhaps I could try it again now that he’s a little older. He tending to remember these things better than mommy now, so maybe it would work!

      Like

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