Making Time for Project-based Homeschooling

Projects and creativity are a natural part of a child’s life. They can be big or small. They may last a few minutes or many years.

Project-based homeschooling seems to be changing for us, and on one hand, it’s made me feel like I’m not doing it right, but as I sit here writing, which is how I work things out in my brain, I realize maybe it’s just growing and looking different as my child grows. If you read my last post, How do you balance supporting your child’s interests while also achieving the academic goals they need?, you’ll know that I’ve been struggling with balancing our academic goals with his many interests. This is a follow-up to that.

It was very easy to see how building the titanic and a rocket and learning about carnivorous plants and everything else my son has done is project-based homeschooling. They had a clear starting point and ending point, though occasionally he goes back to those subjects, adding more to his knowledge. That is how I felt a project should be. It should be something I have to make time for in the mornings when I’m available and alert, and it’s something I need to actively be helping my son with.

But now I realize there are many things going on that could look like projects, and we are indeed supporting them in many ways. I’m just not as hands-on anymore, and many projects have become part of our daily or weekly routine, which is ideal, when I stop to think about it.

  • My son has always been interested in science, and I guess you could say we’ve done lots of things to support this interest. There is no beginning or end to it. Now he’s interested in learning about engineering, especially robotics. Aside from buying him a robot, we’ve been able to support that by enrolling him in some nearby classes. He’s taken some STEM Club classes, a robotics summer camp, and right now, he’s taking a homeschool Chemical Engineering class, which he loves.
  • He likes working with clay, and we still do that at home on occasion with air-dry modeling clay. But now my son has taken several classes at a local pottery studio, and he can’t really work at the same level at home as he can at the studio. So this project depends mostly on our budget – when we can afford to let him take another class.
  • He is also taking piano lessons once a week, and he practices twice a day. This has become part of our daily routine so much that I tend to forget that it’s my son’s major interest right now, i.e. his project. My husband and I usually make time to sit down and be his audience, and we try to help by telling him when it sounds good, or if we notice a mistake. Our son seems to like the attention and feedback. We also watch a lot of YouTube videos of the songs he’s playing, which he requests so that he can get to know the music, and in the evenings right before bed, my son is watching pianists compete in the Tchaikovsky Competition with his father. His dad started watching it for his own pleasure, but my son wants and asks to watch it too! (You can watch the latest performances online.)
  • My younger son’s major interest seems to be birds (and dinosaurs), but as with anything, his active engagement comes and goes. Mostly, he just likes playing with his toy birds. He’s not so interested in the books about birds, though we’ve looked at a few, and he’s stopped wanting to look at the bird app every night, which he wanted to do for months. I asked him if he’d like for me to sew him a little toy bird, and he was very excited about that, so we did that, and he helped as much as he could. He hung them on our Christmas tree. We’re also planning to go out looking for real birds whenever we can, but that’s something we have to work into the whole family’s schedule.

So, my sons definitely have projects. But I worry that by having such a busy schedule….the lessons and the classes, I am not giving my children enough time for more spontaneous work. Would they dig deeper, if we had more time? Well, right now, we just don’t have the time, but now that I’ve written about everything we are doing, it doesn’t look so bleak. Right now I’m realizing:

  • As for spur-of-the-moment projects and crafts that my older son used to do frequently, I can’t say I’m surprised he’s doing that less when he’s working so diligently on several interests through classes and lessons.
  • I also can’t forget that my younger son still likes to draw and color a lot. Lately he has been drawing a lot in an art app on the iPad while my older son is practicing piano! It hasn’t evolved much more than that, despite my attempts, but at six-years-old, he’s working right at his level. He mostly likes to draw dragons or prehistoric animals that are either real or made-up.
  • My older son will sometimes draw because his younger brother is drawing. When we took a break from homeschooling while my in-laws were visiting, he did a little building project too. So it does happen; it’s just not scheduled. It’s not anything I need to help with…that’s not a bad thing!
  • And before I forget, the most important time of the day to my boys is their tablet time. They get about 1 to 1.5 hours a day to play on their tablets together. Most of the time, they are collaborating on building projects in Minecraft. Throughout the rest of the day, they spend about 50% of their time discussing their plans for what they are going to build on Minecraft and another 10% of their time telling me about Minecraft. There are days when I wish they wouldn’t care so much about screen time, but gosh, I’m forgetting how much they are getting out of it, how interactive they are while playing side-by-side, and how educational most of their games are. This is important to them, so I’m glad I honor it as part of our daily routine.

Our Project-based Calendar. An imperfect solution.

Finally, I’m going to share something I came up with to help me make sure I gave those random projects – not just the ones that are part of our routine now – a chance to come to fruition.

Every month I print out a blank calendar from my computer’s calendar. (I do this in iCal by unclicking all my “calendars.” This makes the master calendar blank. Then I print it.) You could use any calendar though, and you can even print calendar pages from the web.

I keep the monthly calendar page on a clipboard on the table where we do our lessons. At the beginning of the month, I fill out the calendar with any appointments that the boys or I have. Right now, we have appointments three days a week, which only gives me three other days (including Saturday) to do lessons with the boys. So I haven’t designated any day as “project day” because there isn’t much time, and as I mentioned above, most of their interests are part of our daily routine, or either they are taking outside courses, which is on the calendar.

Every Monday morning, I show the calendar to the boys, tell them what appointments we have that week, and I ask them if they have anything they want to work on. If they do, we pencil it in on the calendar. I’ll even offer to skip a day of lessons, if they have something they want to work on.

I call this imperfect because so far this year, the boys haven’t had much they want to do. Either that, or if they do have an idea, by the time the scheduled project time comes around, they aren’t interested anymore. Still, it has worked a few times, and if they are really interested in doing something, they do follow through. Mostly I’ve been prudent enough to make project day that very day – Monday – so as not to lose momentum in their enthusiasm.

So as you can see, I am starting to learn that project-based homeschooling can look differently as my child grows and becomes more independent and capable of working on his projects without my direct assistance!

This and my last post are very long posts, so if you’ve made it this far, I thank you! How have you made time for your child’s interests and balanced that with their academic lessons?

2 thoughts on “Making Time for Project-based Homeschooling

  1. I appreciated reading this. We started PBH about a year ago, but have stopped homeschooling as of last summer when my partner lost his job. However, we are keeping up our PBH as much as we can in our home environment, and spend time on projects during evenings and holidays. My kids are about the same ages as yours–my girl is 8.5 (grade 3) and my boy is 6 (grade 1). It is great to see how you are making it work in your home, and how you are thinking through the practicalities of how it is working now that your kids are older. There aren’t many stories out there of people who have done PBH over a period of time, so it is great to read yours 🙂

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    1. c – Thank you very much for your comment. I think it’s great that you have continued PBH even though you aren’t homeschooling. I think it’s perfectly suited to work while a child goes to school. I will try to keep writing about how it goes in my family. Thanks for letting me know it’s helpful.

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