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.

Inspire Kids: Young student builds rocket and launches Hello Kitty 93,625 feet

A big thanks to my Twitter buddy, @NomdeB, for sending me a link to this video. We were all fascinated by it, and my six-year-old wanted to watch it twice.

Enjoy!

(If you subscribe to my blog by e-mail, you may have to view this post on the Internet to see the video.)

pink columbines This is a new series I’ve started under the tag “Inspire Kids.”  If my six-year-old likes it, then maybe your children will too!

Story: Lego Boy

Since I don’t have a column to share with you this week, I thought I would share one of the silly stories I made up for my son one night during our nightly storytelling ritual.  If you want to start a storytelling ritual with your children, please see The Storytelling Advocate for a list of resources.

Storytelling tip:  Pick something that your children are interested in, and make it the main character or setting for a story. This story was inspired by my boys’ nascent interest in building, especially with Legos.  In it, I also tried to touch on something that my son had been dealing with recently: his frustrations when he couldn’t do something the way he wanted to. I wanted him to know that set-backs are part of building and creating, and part of life!

Lego Boy by Shelli Bond Pabis

Once there was a little Lego boy who lived in a big, Lego city.  The city was built by two brothers, and it was sitting up on a table in their room where they always left it.

At night, while the brothers slept, Lego boy would wake up and explore his city and play with his Lego cat.

“I think,” the Lego boy said to his cat, “I could build this city even better!” And he went about rearranging the Lego pieces. He built himself a nice, cozy room for him and his cat to sleep in during the day.

But that night when he woke up, two walls of his room were gone, and he had to put them all back. He also built himself a bed and a chair for him and his cat.

The next night, he was happy to wake up and find that his room was just like he had left it, but there was another place in the city – his other favorite place – that was gone!  It was the park where he liked to go with this cat, sit on a bench and look out the window at the moon.

So that night he worked hard to remove all the blocks that had been put right in the middle of his park, and he found the flowers and put them back. He built a bench, and he and his cat had just enough time to sit there awhile and watch the sunrise out of the window before the two little boys woke up.

The next night was Lego boy’s happiest night because when he woke up, he found that nothing had been changed in Lego city. The two little boys must have been busy doing other things that day. So Lego boy and Lego cat sat on the bench in the park and gazed at the moon all night. Just as the sun was rising, they hurried back to their room and went to sleep.

When they woke up that night, however, Lego Boy was heartbroken to see that his room was gone. Everything had been changed! “It’s going to take me all night to fix it again!”

He was very frustrated. “There must be something I can do. Something I haven’t thought of before.”

Lego Boy thought and thought and then realized he would have to go on a journey. He’d search outside the city. He and Lego cat left the city and walked to the edge of the table. He looked out into the room. The two brothers were sleeping peacefully in their beds. He also saw a shelf across the room. On it there were paints, paint brushes, paper, scissors, and…..the answer to his dreams!  GLUE!

With the help of Lego Cat, Lego Boy made it across the room, climbed the shelf and got the glue. When they pushed it off the shelf, it made a soft thud on the carpet, and one of the boys turned over in his sleep!  Lego Boy and Lego Cat held their breath! Luckily, the boys didn’t wake up.

When they got back to Lego City, Lego Boy collected the pieces he needed to build his walls again, but this time, as he was building them, he poured glue between the pieces. It oozed out as he snapped the pieces together, and he smiled in satisfaction.

It took him all night to build his room again, and right at sunrise, he couldn’t even make it back to his bed! He fell right to sleep on his doorway!

The next day, the little boys were busy doing other things and didn’t notice the glue bottle sitting inside Lego City. But their mother came into their room that afternoon to put laundry away. She noticed it, and she frowned as she tried to pull Lego Boy’s walls apart – they wouldn’t budge.

She called the boys into their room and showed them the glue. “You need to take care of your toys!” She scolded them. “I’m not buying you new Legos if you are going to glue them all together!”

“We didn’t glue them together,” the boys cried. But, of course, the mother didn’t believe them.

When Lego Boy woke up that night, he didn’t know anything about the scolding that the two boys got. He was just very happy to see that the walls to his room were still there, and, in fact, while Lego City got changed around quite a bit over the years, his room always stayed right where he glued it.

***

I apologize in advance if this gives your children the idea to glue their Legos together.:)

Remember: Please respect copyright laws. While I’m happy for any parent or teacher to borrow this story, I hope no one is stealing it for other purposes. Don’t plagiarize.

Homeschooling Reading and Language Arts for Kindergarten / 1st Grade

Last year I wrote a post titled How I’ve Taught Kindergarten Reading, and now I’m following that up with our reading progress this year. I have titled this page Kindergarten / First Grade because I really don’t know what level my son is at, but I’m guessing somewhere between K and first.  If your child is five or younger, I suggest you start with that post. Now my son is six-and-a-half.

I read over last year’s post with a little trepidation. How far have we come? I can’t say my six-year-old is reading independently or that he’s excitedly delving into chapter books on his own. Frankly, he’s just not that interested in reading (or math, for that matter), but we have made good progress.  He says he likes our lessons, but he doesn’t ask for more.

Since he doesn’t balk at his lessons (like near the end of Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons), and he’s quite agreeable to teach, I feel we have finally gotten into our groove when it comes to learning reading (same for math).

In other words, I’m not forcing anything, but I don’t wait until he says, “I want to learn how to read” or shows an interest.  I do that for most other subjects, but I strongly feel that he’ll be more capable of doing the things that interest him once he learns how to read (and do basic math). I also feel that the earlier he can learn these skills, the easier it will be for him.

So how have I taught him?  Like always, I have used my instincts, and as for curriculum, I have pulled from many sources. I’m fortunate to have been given many educational tools!  It would be foolish for me to buy something unless I knew for sure my son needed it.

Time Spent Teaching

As far as formal reading lessons, I still alternate reading and math lessons Monday-Thursday mornings, although I’m flexible if we get busy. I also use Fridays for catch-up, if needed.  We spend about 20~45 minutes on a reading (or math) lesson.

Resources Used**

The main resource that I started out with was passed on to me from a friend who is a retired Kindergarten teacher.  Ready to Read Phonics by Educational Insights.  The reason I gave it a try is because the lessons are on cassette, and all my son has to do is follow along in a workbook and listen. I feel strongly that he is a auditory/visual learner, so I thought he would like it.  I stop the cassette and repeat some of it when it goes too fast.  The set also has some fun games and simple books to read.

This set has proven useful, but by itself, it has not taught my son to read. The instructions say to repeat the exercises until the child has mastered them. (A lot of reading and math sources say this.)  Well, my son is NOT interested in repeating anything, and I don’t blame him!  After one time, it gets boring for me too.  So I’ve done one lesson at a time, and I have followed them up with several days or weeks of other lessons going over the same material.  Simply put, I have used it as a sort of teacher’s guide.

The second main resource I have used is My Big Phonics Word Book written by Cass Hollander and published by McClanahan Book Company.  Each page spread goes over one letter blend, i.e. “-ag,” “-am,” “-ap,” etc. all the way to “-unch.”  We read each page, and then we use the accompanying stickers in a notebook, and I have him write the words corresponding to the pictures.

**These items may be old and not as accessible, so I encourage you to simply look for cheap workbooks at various stores such as Walmart, Target, a grocery store or teacher’s store. Go to library book sales. Exchange with other homeschoolers. You can adapt many simple materials to teaching basic concepts. There’s no reason to spend a lot of money.

Other than this, I have used games, videos and reading practice:

Games**

  • Long vowel “Go Fish.” ~ On index cards, I wrote out 36 long vowel words, and I made sure there were two of each long vowel sound. Deal six cards to each player and the rest goes into a pile. Player #1 asks Player #2 for a specific long vowel sound (i.e. “Do you have a long vowel e card?”) If yes, Player #2 gives Player #1 that card. If not, Player #2 says “Go fish,” and Player #1 must draw card from the pile. If Player #1 gets a match, he keeps them and sets them aside. Take turns until all the cards are used up. The player with the most matches wins. Be sure to read the words as you play.
  • Blends and digraphs “matching or memory game.” ~ I used a small blends and digraphs chart that someone gave to me, but there are many to be found on the Internet, such as this one. Simply make two copies, cut out the squares, and paste them to heavier paper, if needed. Mix them up, and spread them out on a table. Each player takes a turn turning over two cards, trying to make a match. If they find a match, they put it aside in a pile. Keep taking turns in this manner until all the cards are matched up. The player with the most matches wins.
  • My sight word game (sometimes the three-year-old plays this using letters.)
  • Sight word bingo 

**Note that you can adapt these games to teach a variety of skills.

Our favorite videos

Reading Practice

Most importantly, however, I have started a reading practice with my son. I try to get him reading even if it’s 2~3 pages in an early reader. This is where I know we’ve progressed because last year this was almost impossible for him.  Now it’s challenging, but he can read!

As we’re reading I remind him of all the phonics rules we’ve learned and the various blends. I don’t make him suffer through words if he doesn’t know them, but I do try to get him to sound the words out.

Our favorite early readers are the We Both Read Books, and my son’s favorite titles are Just Five More Minutes, Animals Under Our Feet, and Fox’s Best Trick Ever.

Language Arts

Last but not least, we make language arts part of our daily routine. I don’t have to worry about ‘teaching it’ because it’s going to happen no matter what.  Please see:

Since my son and I love stories so much, I have used this opportunity to teach him the elements of a story using a few worksheets in Story Elements by McGraw-Hill Children’s Publishing.  I’ll write more about this in an upcoming post.

Writing Practice

We don’t have a regular writing practice yet. My son isn’t particularly interested in writing at this time, but he has good handwriting skills, which luckily came easy to him. I have him write periodically for special purposes such as:

  • The phonics workbook (see above)
  • Our snake book project
  • Whenever an occasion comes up (and we take advantage of every holiday) to make someone a card or write a thank you note, I have my son make a card and copy a note in it.
  • My son also knows I’m available if he wants to dictate a story or letter for me to write for him, but so far, we’ve only done this once.

I hope this helps you think about how you can teach reading in a relaxed and eclectic manner! 

Worthy Reads

I’m going through my photo archives, and I came across this old favorite. “Playing with (throwing) leaves and dirt”

Homeschooling

The Importance of Realigning Priorities – Interest-Led Learning

Highly Inappropriate, then and now – Avant Parenting

It’s not enough to be smart – Project-based Homeschooling

German Homeschool Case May Impact U.S. Homeschool Freedom – HSLDA – Worth being aware of. Ever since the HSLDA posted this, there has been many spin-off articles.  I’m just posting a couple of extra below:

Mainstream television features kids growing up without school – Innovative Educator

Waco: As Texas Weighs School Safety Options, Local Couple Advocates Home Schooling – Our Town Texas

Homeschooling, community college aided high-achieving Moorestown family – philly.com

Education

How Do We Prepare Our Children for What’s Next? – Mindshift – Excellent article!

Why Inquiry Learning is Worth the Trouble – Mindshift

Has Kindergarten Become Too Academic? – Anne Murphy Paul

A warning to college profs from a high school teacher – The Washington Post – Someone posted this on a local homeschool list. Thank you!

Best Paying College Majors Are Mostly In Engineering – Huffington Post

A 15-year-old student’s ed reform plan: Self-directed learning – The Washington Post

Why introverts shouldn’t be forced to talk in class – The Washington Post

Obama touts preschools in Georgia: ‘This isn’t baby-sitting’ – CNN.com – I have mixed feelings about this.  I do think good free preschool should be available to all families who need it. It does seem to be beneficial in certain cases, especially when parents don’t have the time to devote to their children because of economic hardship, but ideally, children should be at home bonding with their parents, playing, exploring, learning for fun, and being kids!  They don’t need more school.  They need good parents.

How Free Play Can Define Kids’ Success – Mindshift

What Is a True Friend?

Note: Due to space restrictions, this column was not published this week in the Barrow Journal, but it will appear next week on February 20, 2013. I’ve received permission to go ahead and post it here for Valentine’s Day.

On Valentine’s Day I will take my boys to a small party where they will exchange valentines with their friends. Watching them form their very first friendships, I reflect on what I have learned about friendship these past forty years.

A wise person once told me that she would not know whom her best friend was until she became an old woman. Only at that time, she asserted, could she look back on her life and say, “You have been my best friend.”

Young people throw the terms “best friend,” “best friend forever,” “BFF,” or “bestie” around like balls, hoping the person they throw it to will toss it back at them.  I have no doubt that for some people, the friends they make in their youth stick with them for a lifetime.  But as we grow older, we realize that true friends are rare.

Some friends are here for only an era of our life – school days, college, married with children, a summer vacation – and then when the ties that bind them loosen, they slowly (or quickly) exit our lives. I don’t think this lessens the value of the relationship.  We need various people to learn from and lean on during the different seasons of our lives.

What can weaken a friendship? Two friends may mature at a different pace, or sometimes interests change.  Distance can have a huge impact, if someone moves, or perhaps there’s a complete change in lifestyle. Are there friendships that can withstand any or all of these conditions?

True friendships withstand the test of time and the changes that can put obstacles in the way of a stress-free relationship. That is, it’s easy to be friends with someone who is available, who you have much in common with, and who you agree with on most issues.

I’ve learned that true friendship does not have much to do with what you have in common, though, of course, commonalities are needed, especially since they bring you together. What holds your friendship together is a deep love and concern for the other person’s well being. You care, so you continue to be there for that person.

  • Friends show up in times of trouble. When I lived in Japan, I had a friend at home who died of cancer, and I’ll never forget the e-mails she wrote to me before she died. In one of them she said that once she was bound to a wheelchair, she learned who her true friends were. I wonder if I had been at home, would I have been one of them?
  • True friends give each other space to grow and change though maybe not in the way you would choose for them. As long as your friend is happy, healthy, and living in harmony with the people around them, you cheer them on.
  • True friends are honest with each other, and they accept the other person’s honesty. They don’t let petty arguments come between them. They forgive each other. They realize that they don’t always have to agree.
  • True friends give you the freedom to have other friends. They are secure enough to know that if you are a worthy friend, they don’t have to do anything to persuade you to spend time with them. They know you have enough love in your heart for all your friendships.
  • True friends aren’t difficult to meet up with, and they aren’t hard to keep in touch with, if they live far away. While we all get busy at times, true friends inform each other that their friendship is still important, and both of them make an effort.

In the past I had a friend who pulled out a calendar and listed a handful of dates over the next three months that she could schedule a time to see me. Hmm, I thought, I’m busy too, but it shouldn’t be that difficult to find time to spend together (this was before we were married with children, of course). In contrast, I have a friend in Australia who I have been e-mailing for thirteen years. Our correspondence has ebbed and flowed depending on the demands of our lives, but both of us keep it up and neither of us wait for the other to write first.

  • True friendships are those that bring out the best in you. Your friend should give you energy – not drain it.  How many times have we stayed in relationships simply because the person was present, but deep down we know they aren’t good for us? When possible we should clear our lives of people who drain us and leave space to foster relationships that fill our wells.

A friend of mine told me she believed the mark of a true friendship was intimacy – your friend knows and wants to know what is happening in your life. On some level, they stay involved in your life. Indeed, that’s the mark of a true friend.

It goes without saying that to have true friends, we must work at being a good friend.  Even after forty years, I’m still learning how to be a better friend. I hope that I can guide my boys at fostering meaningful relationships that can last or at least serve a good purpose in their lives.

What do you think? What would you add to this list? And by the way, Happy Valentine’s Day!