This is Part 3 of my interview with Lori Pickert, author of Project-based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-directed Learners. Please click here to start with Part 1.
My questions have to do with getting started in Project-based Learning with such young children who obviously don’t have the experience to direct their learning. I sent Lori six, multi-layered questions, and not only did she answer them, she gave very detailed answers, which I appreciate very much. However, they were too long to put into one post, so I have divided the interview into three posts – this being the last. (Note that I have emphasized important parts of the interview in bold text.)
You can see more questions from readers and answers from Lori at the bottom of this page. Feel free to e-mail me with any questions too.
PART 3: Interview with Lori Pickert on Getting Started with Project-based Homeschooling with Young Children
4. I liked a comment you once made to me on Twitter that for youngsters, we need to “silently feed” their interests. Can you speak more about that for the sake of my readers? I think I have been doing this in many ways with my son, but it has never felt very child-led to me. However, I know if I ask him his opinion on things, he’s not going to articulate exactly what I know he’s deeply interested in. And if we “silently feed the interests of young children,” how do we transition them into doing most of the work on their own? Is this something that we can expect will happen naturally as they get older? Have you noticed an approximate age that all this gets easier?
Lori: The age at which children will take over directing and managing their own learning depends on many things — your comfort level, your child’s personality/temperament, his level of independence, and his experience doing this type of work. Some children have a stronger need to collaborate and prefer involving others in their work. If that’s the case, if you don’t provide an opportunity for him to work with other children, he’ll probably depend on you to be his co-learner. Other children prefer to work alone, even in a classroom situation.
A child of six might conceive of a project and pretty much carry it through to the end without needing you to do much more than supply resources and transportation. Another child might not work that independently until much later.
When I talk about silently feeding a child’s interests, I’m usually contrasting that to sitting down and having a purposeful discussion with a child about what they would like to study. Instead, you simply enhance their environment and support the work they’re already doing, letting them discover and use what you’ve provided in their own way.
As an example, if you know your child is very interested in dinosaurs, you might sit down and say, “Do you want to do a project on dinosaurs? What questions do you have? What do you want to learn?” Or you could silently feed that interest by bringing in a few library books, hanging a couple of posters, putting plastic dinosaurs in the block basket, and so forth. Then as your child articulates questions, you ease into project work.
This works well for children who are resistant to adult involvement, who are prejudiced against anything “educational,” who are (maybe rightfully) suspicious of your motives, and so on. Maybe you’ve had a bad experience turning something they enjoyed into a unit that they did not enjoy. Maybe they’re deschooling and are afraid of anything that smacks of school. Maybe the words “project” and “learning” have negative connotations for them right now. Or maybe they just prefer to be completely independent.
It can also work well as an introduction to project work if a child is too young or inexperienced to understand what you mean when you say, “What would you like to learn about?” If they have an obvious interest, you can begin to feed that interest and support their work immediately.
Even an older child can be confused about what you mean when you ask what they’d like to learn more about. Silently feeding their existing interest can help them put the experience before the jargon.
It is still “child-led” or self-directed — you are simply offering, without expectation or demand, materials and experiences that can provoke further investigation, play, and questions. And as they research and make and share, you begin to talk about that work in a way that introduces the ideas of doing long-term projects. Next time, they’ll probably tell you what they want to learn about next.
5. Finally, much of the time that I would like to dedicate to project time is eaten up by the demands of a particularly needy three-year-old. Do you have any general advice for moms of youngsters who are interested in PBH, but are having a hard time “doing it all”?
Lori: You can’t do it all perfectly all the time, so relax and concentrate on setting and meeting some small goals.
One of the reasons we focus on “small wins” in the PBH forum is because focusing on what’s working is usually the best way to make more of it! Alas, focusing on whatever we perceive to be lacking is not as motivating.
Younger children benefit enormously from being at the edges of project work. They can pick up the habits and routines and attitudes of their older siblings. They learn early on to be independent and clean up after themselves, and they imitate the creative work and play they observe. Give them the chance to do what their siblings are doing if they are interested. Let them experiment with the same materials as much as possible; give them age-appropriate versions to work with, and let them have their turn getting your full attention as they work on their own ideas.
Look for pockets of time during the day when you can focus on your older child — even for just a few minutes — and use that time to have him tell you about what he made, what his plans are, his new questions, and so on.
Use time and activities you already do to fold in project work. When you read aloud, choose a project-related book. Try reading aloud right before dedicated project time. If they watch a little TV, use that time to watch project-related videos from the library. At dinner, have your son tell his dad about what he did today and the newest things he’s learned, and so on.
Finally, be aware that the kids are always getting older and more mature and it’s likely that everything will be completely different in six months!
Even when it feels like you aren’t accomplishing as much as you want, keep living a life that prioritizes learning, making, and sharing. It’s those underlying values that will form the foundation of his learning life. ~Lori Pickert
Thank you, Lori, for taking the time to answer my difficult and long-winded questions! I also have a couple of extra questions that might be helpful to my readers, and I’m curious too!
What are you working on now?
Lori: Currently I’m writing a book for adults who want to learn to mentor themselves (a more formal companion to my PBH for Grown-Ups series) that also folds in advice for mentoring children (without necessarily homeschooling!) as well as building a family culture that supports this type of learning and living.
Do you have any other resources to help parents get started in project-based homeschooling?
Lori: We have a forum with over 600 members. It’s a warm, supportive, inclusive community, and I answer questions and brainstorm with readers there daily.
I’m also working on a mini-guide to starting PBH and another guide for starting a project group. We’re enhancing the site with a gallery of children’s projects and a forum for people who would like to meet other PBHers in their area. And I will be publishing a series of e-books that drill down deeper into various aspects of PBH (focusing on the different age ranges from preK to teen, authentic art, journaling, and so on) so people can get more detailed information in the areas they need most.
I’ve received tremendous feedback from my readers during the last six months. My intention now is to create a foundation of supportive work that will give people the help they need to try these ideas. I’m very available on my site, in my forum, and on Twitter for people who want to make contact, ask questions, or offer suggestions. I strongly believe adults need the same type of learning experiences that I champion for children: to follow their own path, work at their own pace, explore their particular interests, make mistakes, and work within a supportive community. If we can learn this way, it makes it so much more likely that our children will, too.