Project-based Homeschooling for Young Children: Interview with Lori Pickert, Part 3

Rocket ProjectThis 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.


Below you can read additional questions that readers had and Lori’s answers at the time that this post was published. For future inquiries, feel free to e-mail me or see Lori’s website. Thank you! 

Click here to read Part 1 of this interview.  Click here to read Part 2.

Project-based Homeschooling for Young Children: Interview with Lori Pickert, Part 2


This is Part 2 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 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 is why I’ve divided the interview into three posts. (Note that I have emphasized important parts of the interview in bold text.)

PART 2: Interview with Lori Pickert on Getting Started with Project-based Homeschooling with Young Children

2. As I read your book, I could see that it’s very important for children to be able to present their findings to some kind of audience. While my six-year-old is happy to show his creations — for example, the model of the Titanic — to anyone who wants to see them, neither does he want to explain what he has learned about the Titanic, nor does he want to put it into book form, charts, puppet shows or anything else.  (And, yes, I have written his questions and progress in a journal, and I have asked him what else he would like to do, etc.) Is this just his age, and can I assume that as he gets older, he’ll want to go farther with his projects? Is the model of the Titanic enough because he has decided it’s enough? How do I encourage him to share his knowledge? 

Lori: Showing his creations and talking about them is one way to share. If you have family far away, you might start a family blog just to share his project work. Kids usually really like blogging — they love getting comments from friends and family. You could transcribe what he wants to say about his project and type his words for him. He could take photographs himself if he was interested. You could video him talking about (and showing) his constructions. And as he gets a little older, he might want to type his own entries.

If he decides his model is enough and he isn’t interested in producing other types of representations, that’s fine. You can encourage him to represent his work in different ways by exploring different media (drawing, painting, clay, etc.) and by having a nice selection of materials available all the time. But if he’s not interested, don’t push it.

It’s great to share your work not just when it’s completed but while it’s being constructed. If he has friends over (just to play or specifically to make art with), he can show them what he’s made and field their questions and suggestions.

If he’s showing his work to his little brother, that counts, too!

As he gets older, he may focus just as intently on sharing his knowledge in a particular way — by making a film, say, or a model. That’s okay. Variety is nice, but it’s more important for him to own the learning process — and being very confident about what he wants to do and when he’s done is part of that. He should have abundant choices, abundant materials to choose from, and abundant experiences. Then he can narrow them down and communicate his ideas in the way that feels right to him.

There are many reasons why project-based homeschooling emphasizes sharing what you learn. You really know you understand something when you can teach it to someone else. Collaboration is a crucial life skill. And PBH is about helping children connect with their meaningful work: where their interests and their talents intersect. This is a years-long process that you are only just beginning; there will be time to explore it fully and develop it from project to project.

Helping children share what they know helps them find their place in the world, and it helps them discover what they have to give. I don’t think there’s a better goal for education than that.

3. On page 58 you wrote, “He learns to plan and make first drafts, write lists of needed materials, and adapt materials to new uses.”  My six-year-old wants a final product RIGHT NOW. I realize that it takes time and maturity for him to overcome his impatience, but do you have any advice as to what I could do and say to help him learn that it takes time to do things, especially to do them well?

Lori: Remember, he learns to plan and make first drafts — he probably won’t start off already working that way.

Every version of a draft is a final product, in a way. It’s the repetition and enlargement of the original idea that makes the earlier version a “draft.” So if he wants to make a book or a robot or a cape, he does. What turns it into a first draft is continuing to come back to that piece of work and talk about it, examine it, share it with others, and possibly decide to improve upon it. Children working together spur each other to do multiple drafts as they copy and extend one another’s ideas. I make a cape out of paper; you make a cape out of paper and add a big emblem to the middle. I make a new cape out of fabric and add an emblem to that. You make a fabric cape with an emblem and you change the way it is tied shut. And so on. But a child working alone can also be encouraged to improve upon an original design by asking him, “Is there anything you want to add? Is there anything you want to change? Why don’t you show it to your friend from next door?” Get in the habit of asking, “Are you done with this or is there more you want to do with it?”

My book discusses other ways to encourage multiple drafts, including introducing new materials, stepping up to expensive materials at the end, repeating field trips, and so on.

As to helping him learn that it takes time to do things well, that is a lesson that life teaches us, right? We can try gently pointing it out. (Although that would get old fast if someone was doing it to us, so proceed delicately.) If you try some of the ways listed in the book to “deepen the work,” he will hopefully learn through experience that when he comes back to do something again, he gets a little further than before.

You can also sit down together and reflect on the work he’s done, looking it over and talking about everything he did. Then you can talk about that life lesson: that it takes time to do things well, that we get better with each attempt.

Shelli: I would like to also mention that since our Titanic Project, I have learned that showing my son how other people (artists, builders, etc.) have dealt with mistakes and gained resilience has helped him start to become more patient with his own abilities. I will write more about this in an upcoming post about our rocket project.


Click here to read Part 1 of this interview. Click here to go to Part 3.  You can e-mail me, if you have any questions.  I also hope you’ll subscribe to my blog so that you can join me on this project-based homeschooling adventure——->

Project-based Homeschooling for Young Children: Interview with Lori Pickert, Part 1

NEW! Join me on Patreon where I can give you daily support in your homeschool.  Learn about project-based homeschooling techniques that complements any kind of curriculum or style of home education. I’ll be writing more posts from my current perspective after having homeschooled for over ten years, and I will be monitoring my messages on a daily basis. You can share your kids’ projects, successes, and we can work through the tough spots together. Get more behind-the-scenes information about my homeschool and how we have dealt with the naysayers and hard times. Click here to learn more. Thank you!

Lori Pickert was the owner and director of a small, Reggio-inspired school, and she has also traveled around the country as an educational consultant “helping teachers and administrators explore authentic art, long-term projects, and Reggio-inspired learning.” Later she began homeschooling her two boys, and now she’s the author of Project-based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-directed LearnersYou can find her blog, forum and other resources at

Last week I published my review of Lori’s book.  When I first found Lori’s blog, I was very attracted to this idea of mentoring my children, which is based on the Reggio Emilia educational philosophy.  It just felt right. What I learned on her blog echoed my own thoughts on how to homeschool my children, and I was very excited when her book came out because I wanted to understand this process better. While I loved the book, I found myself asking questions throughout it because I had already experimented with project-based homeschooling with my six-year-old. Doing it in real life is hard and messy, as I wrote about in Building the Titanic: Project-based Homeschooling. That post is my first true foray into a complicated project with my son, but it is a good example of how this process works.

My questions mostly had to do with getting started with such young children who obviously don’t have the experience to direct their learning.  I asked Lori if I could interview her about project-based learning specifically for young children, and since she is supportive and gracious, she said yes. I sent her six, multi-layered questions, and not only did she answer them, she gave very detailed answers, which I appreciate very much.  However, they are too long to put into one post, so I have divided the interview into three posts, which I will publish this week. (Note that I have emphasized important parts of the interview in bold text.)

The good news is that Lori has promised to be available to answer YOUR questions.  (Update: Since this is an old post, I will have to turn off comments for Lori, but I’m always happy to try to answer your questions, and Lori is available via her website. Also, you can see the questions and answers she gave to commenters when this post was first published on Part 3.)

(Update: The rest of this interview has been posted: Click here to go to Part 2. Click here to go to Part 3.)

PART 1: Interview with Lori Pickert on Getting Started with Project-based Homeschooling with Young Children

1. In your book you say it’s very important to not make suggestions and let the children “own the work.”  However, I find it very difficult to not make suggestions to my six-year-old.  When I ask, “Where can we find out more information about this?” he always says “the computer,” so I end up suggesting other resources we could turn to.  When we were doing the Titanic project, I worked very hard at letting him try to come up with the ideas first, and then when he got stumped (which was often), I made suggestions.  Is this what you mean?  Or in other words, how do you let a child direct his own work when he doesn’t yet have the experience to know how to answer his own questions? Or even know how to articulate the questions he wants to ask?

Lori: The most important thing is to remember that it’s a process. You are learning how to mentor, and your child is learning how to direct and manage his own learning. Mentoring means slowly transferring the power to him and helping him learn how to be in charge of his own learning. You should try to stay out of his way as much as possible and leave him room to have his own ideas — but that doesn’t mean never making suggestions. It just means waiting to see if he will have his own ideas and supporting those first.

He needs an environment that supports independent working, he needs you to model how to ask questions and research and make and share, and he might need you to help him recognize and articulate his interests and questions.

Being a mentor means helping him slowly take control — and it means showing him the ropes.

You keep the ball rolling by making gentle suggestions (or offering choices) when necessary. You use a gentle touch, staying alert to his questions and ideas (even if they need some digging to uncover) and letting him lead whenever possible.

I’ll quote from the book:

At the beginning, your child might need you to model how to wonder aloud, ask questions, consider alternatives. He looks to you as an example of how to approach learning as a researcher and investigator. As times goes on, this approach to learning becomes second nature to him. He is accustomed to asking questions, seeking out experts, collecting research materials, investigating first-hand, and creating original work. He looks automatically for ways to share what he learns with others.

He will look to you to set the tone, get the ball rolling, and keep it rolling. In time, he will take over. He knows what to do and how to do it. He knows what to expect from the process, and he has a firm goal in mind.

But he will still need you to be that trusted resource. He will still need you as his first audience, his best collaborator, and his mentor. He will still need the support of a family culture that celebrates and supports meaningful work.

There are times when he might get off course, lose steam, hit a dead end. He will benefit from your input and suggestions. —Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners 

You learn to observe carefully and wait to offer suggestions only when and if they’re needed. It takes practice to be patient, to support his interests without directing how he explores them, and to prioritize his ideas. You have to give yourself the gift of time and allow yourself to slowly but steadily acquire these mentoring skills, just as you respect his setting his own learning pace.

You focus on giving him the tools, experiences, and skills he needs to work as independently as possible. But it doesn’t happen immediately. If it did, he wouldn’t need a thoughtful mentor! It is a slow and steady transfer of control and decision-making.

If your son is stuck in a Google/Wikipedia rut (like most of us adults), remember that research is multilayered. Finding one answer should turn up new questions (if an interest is deep and engaging enough). Google results can offer up books on Amazon, which can lead you to checking your library to see what books they offer. Reading a National Geographic Kids article on sharks might spark new questions he’ll need to look up in books or online. Or it might remind you of a show you saw on Animal Planet. And so on.

Children can’t reference things they are completely unfamiliar with. They can only work with the raw materials they’ve been given and the experiences they’ve already had. So we need to make sure they get plenty of experience at the library, looking through reference books at home, and even asking friends and family for help. We need to visit places in the community that offer knowledge and skills — universities, libraries, museums, park districts, events. We need to start making a connection between the things that interest us and how we can explore them. Then, when they are puzzling out where they can find information they need, you can ask leading questions like

  • Where else could we find out about this?
  • What kind of people might know about this?
  • Are there any places in our town where we might go to find out more?

and so on. If they get stuck, you can gently nudge them in the right direction, both by modeling (“I remember Grandma showed you that book about birds…”) and gentle suggestion (“Maybe we could ask the librarian for help”), then back off as soon as they articulate a plan.

If he keeps suggesting the computer, ask, “Where else could we look?,” then sit down and brainstorm together. You can make a game of it: Let’s think of ten things we could do to find out more about igloos. This is a good learning step to master: instead of just working on one idea at a time until you figure out it doesn’t work, have a brainstorming session and come up with a whole list of ideas, then let him decide which is the best one to start with. You might brainstorm about materials he could use to build a model of the Mars rover, places in the community where you could learn about cats, and so on.

It also helps to build a habit of talking about your own learning. Say out loud, “I wonder what kind of bird that is at the feeder — I’m going to get the field guide and look.” Say, “I’m totally stuck on the sweater I’m knitting — I’m going to ask one of the women at the yarn store to help me.” This can feel awkward at first, but you’re making your own learning visible. He can see you using different resources to find your own answers, and it gives him ideas for his own investigations.

Finally, don’t ignore or slide over suggestions he makes that seem silly or useless on the surface. Let him try his ideas. They may take longer; they may even fail — but you don’t want to shorten the learning process or make it easier. Make long work of it; slow learning leads to authentic understanding.

While it’s always optimal to stand back and let your child lead, when he gets stuck, it’s fine to help get things rolling again — just do as little as possible and then step into the background again.

Mentoring self-directed learners is like rolling a hoop down a hill. You want to let the hoop roll on its own, only touching it when necessary to keep it upright and rolling, and even then as lightly as possible. — Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners 

Overall, remember this is a slow process. You are helping him develop these abilities by living this way yourself (and sharing as you go), by deliberate modeling, by making suggestions but letting him lead as much as possible. It’s not a hands-off process — it’s actually very hands-on. The more aware you are of his thinking process, the more carefully you observe his play and conversation, the better you can help him take control of his own learning.


Click here to go to Part 2. Click here to go to Part 3.  

Back to Homeschool Update

{Homeschool Schedule}  {A Day in the Life of Our Homeschool}  {Homeschooling Kindergarten / 1st grade with a three-year-old in the house}

playdates are a regular part of our homeschool schedule

At the beginning of September I wrote a column for the newspaper titled “Back to Homeschool” because we started our new school year and homeschool routine.  More notable, however, is that this is the first year that we are “official” homeschoolers. That is, we have filed our intent to homeschool with the Georgia Department of Education.

When I wrote that column I had a “plan of action” of how I’d proceed with our daily routine, but I wasn’t sure how it would look in reality. I’ve been a mom long enough to realize that things rarely go according to MY agenda, so having a flexible schedule is a must.

Now that we are a month into our new routine I’m pleasantly surprised that it’s going so well, though I have tweaked it as necessary.  This was my original plan:

  • We’re late sleepers, and though I don’t mind that, I also knew we’d make more use of our day if we got up a little earlier.  So I planned to wake up early and also wake the six-year-old by 8:30 so we could start our lesson by 9:00a.m.
  • I would e-mail my son a loose agenda for the morning the night before, and first thing in the morning we would check his e-mail and go over this agenda. (There’s more than one reason I’ve given him an e-mail address, and I wrote about this in Using E-mail in Homeschool.)  Telling him ahead of time what our plans are has always been essential to getting him to cooperate.
  • After checking e-mail and going over our agenda, I would start off with our main lesson. I planned to alternate a math and reading lesson Monday – Thursday.
  • On Fridays we would have a more relaxed day with just a project, and I also planned to move my cleaning day to Fridays and perhaps partly on Saturdays too.
  • After the lesson, we would do some kind of project either initiated by him or me, but it would be based on his interests or a lesson I want to teach him.
  • I thought by this time, it may be lunch time, so I planned to have lunch and then do “book time” after lunch.
  • After book time, he would be free for the rest of the day, although, of course, we still have other parts of our daily routine too.

As for the three-year-old, I was hoping I could keep him occupied at least during the math/reading lesson with a learning box I made for him.  I filled it with paper, crayons, and coloring pages, which he likes to do sometimes.

So how did that plan pan out?

Here’s what we have been doing:

  • I have been getting up a little earlier and waking the kiddo up a littler earlier too.  He can be very hard to wake up, though, so I’m not using an iron fist with this rule.  It’s my opinion that being able to sleep as much as we need to is one of the many benefits of homeschooling.  But after waking earlier for a few days, he’s starting to wake up on his own around 8:30 anyway.  It’s been good for me to have a few minutes to myself in the morning too.
  • Using the e-mail has been great, and my son enjoys checking it every morning.  An occasional message from a friend or relative is a treat too.  (See Using Technology in Home Education or Using E-mail in Homeschool.)
  • We’ve been alternating a math and reading lesson Monday – Thursday, and that’s been going great. My son has been showing his maturity by being able to complete the lessons, and mama has finally figured out how to stay at his level so that it’s not frustrating for either of us.  Keeping this lesson under 30 minutes and doing it first has also been a key to its success.
  • Having a relaxed day on Friday has been helpful too.  I’m struggling with keeping my house clean, but I think that has more to do with an illness I’ve had, and I’ll get back into a routine at some point.
  • Having a project planned has been working too, and so far, my son has liked everything we’ve done.  Though not completely “child-led,” the projects are inspired by what I know he’ll like.  In an upcoming post, I’ll list what we’ve been doing in more detail.
  • And as I suspected, it’s usually lunch time after we’ve completed our project, so I stop there.  The difficult part is fitting in “book time.”  Unless the project is short or I include a book within the project, we don’t have time for book time.  After lunch, the boys clearly need to be “let loose” to play, imagine and sometimes create, if they ask for the art supplies.  I’ve decided this is okay because unstructured play, movement and make-believe is still my highest priority for them right now.  We have found time to read books at other times, although not everyday.  Since my son seems to enjoy the spontaneous reading moments more than when I insist on reading to him, I think I’ll just leave it at that. (I should note that every night before bed, I still tell him a story that I make up, and I read a book to my three-year-old at that time too.)

As for the three-year-old, he’s not interested in the learning box, and this is what I’ve figured out:  whenever he wakes up, he needs a good dose of mama.  If I can give him my undivided attention for 20-30 minutes, he usually goes off to play by himself while I work with the six-year-old.  Sometimes he wants to be with us, and he might be content playing with puzzles on the table next to us.  Many times, I’ve been able to include him in our projects, especially those we do outside.  If he is in a particularly needy or difficult mood, I let go of my agenda and direct my six-year-old to work on while I stay with the three-year-old.

Staying flexible and light-hearted about the whole process has served me well, and it’s made me realize that while we all operate better with a little bit of structure, I can also feel free to stay relaxed and yield to our whims on occasion too!

You may also be interested in:

  • In addition, I’m still keeping track of our homeschool with the method I described in this post.
  • To read about our homeschooling schedule last year when the boys were 5 and 2, click here. (We did everything after lunch!)
  • And, I’ve updated this post in Our Mid-year Homeschool Update….I have tweaked a few things since writing this!

How is your homeschool year going?

Homeschooling a Kindergartener with a Toddler in the House

a follow-up to my series Homeschooling a Preschooler with a Baby in the House

Note:  * denotes that I’ll follow-up on that topic in a future post. If it’s underlined, click it – that means I’ve followed-up!

The first thing I’d like to clarify is that every family has to find what works best for them, and in fact, I’m in the process of trying to figure that out for myself.  As children grow, and with life’s ebb and flow, I think our schedule will naturally evolve to fit the needs of my family at any given time.  What I offer here is what I’ve been doing thus far.

However, to understand how I homeschool, you must take a look at my series on my mission / priorities.  Sorting out my priorities for my boys at this age (5 and 2) was invaluable for me, and as you’ll see much of what I do for my boys’ “homeschool” is simply life experience with a little bit of guidance and influence from me and my husband. 

Learning happens all the time, and I don’t feel like I need to “teach” much at all.  My boys absorb almost everything on their own.  At this age, I don’t believe there’s any need for a curriculum or a lot of planned, formal lessons.  Though I’m not there yet, I bet this will hold true for the future too.

However, I do some formal lessons with my five-year-old.  Why?

  • Because my five-year-old is ready and wants to do them.
  • Because I want to give him those first links in the long fence of learning.
  • Because it helps me find out what he’s interested in and what he’s ready for….If I don’t try something, I won’t know whether he’s ready for it or not.  If he doesn’t try something, he won’t know whether he likes it or not!
  • I consider this a time to experiment with different approaches to see what works and what doesn’t.  I am trying to ascertain what his learning style* and needs are.
  • I want to get him used to having some kind of schedule and goals to accomplish.  Just like cleaning the house, I feel that a little schedule and a little accountability now can set the stage for when he’s older and doing more on his own.
  • Honestly, I’m not completely comfortable with a pure “unschooling” approach at this time.  If I did that, I would probably come up against some strong opposition anyway, so I feel like by stating my priorities, keeping track of what they do on a daily basis, and by doing short lessons, I’m finding a balance and an approach I like.

As I said, learning happens all day, especially when the boys are playing by themselves, watching educational television, or playing a game like Simon Says with their parents just before bedtime.  Many of our days are spent running errands, going on play dates or playing outside if the weather is nice.  But for the purpose of this post, I’m writing about when we’re home and inside most of the day. On those days, our formal “homeschool” happens at two points during the day:

1. Between breakfast and lunch ~ This is when both boys are awake, so I do things they can both participate in.

  • We do a long book time. I call out, “It’s book time! Everyone get a book!”  The boys go the bookshelves and pick one or two books, and I do the same.  This gives me a chance to read something new or educational to them.  They often pick the same books over and over.
  • We do puppet shows. I don’t force the puppet shows, but if the boys don’t initiate some other activity, I say, “Let’s do puppet shows!”  We’ve accumulated a basket of puppets, and we each take turns getting behind the love seat and putting on a show. Puppet shows have all the educational benefits as storytelling, which you can read about by clicking here.
  • We may or may not do another activity.  My five-year-old is quick to initiate all kinds of projects.  He wants to build, make paper animals, or he wants to watch a video of something on the computer after we read about it.  I usually go with the flow here.  If the boys begin to play on their own, more power to them. (I do chores or take a break.)  If they want me to play with them, I do it.

For me, our morning rituals are about making learning fun, igniting their imaginations, and letting me spend concentrated, quality time with them.  This sets a good tone for the rest of day, and no matter what else happens, I feel good because I’ve accomplished my most important priority.

2. When the two-year-old is napping ~ This is when I do more formal lessons with my five-year-old. I only do one kind of lesson each day, and I keep it short.  There’s no way I could do it any other way.  He’s five.  He’s a boy.  This is not the time for longer lessons.

Note: As I write this, my two-year-old is transitioning out of naptime. (Yikes!)  This is what I’ve done for the last several months:

On our white board, I write our goals for the week and check off each time we finish a lesson.  It doesn’t always happen, but my goals are two reading lessons, two math lessons, and one day to work on our project.  This is what it might look like at the end of a good week:

2x Reading ✓✓

2x Math ✓

1x Project ✓

I should also note that I feel like we’ve hit a plateau with the reading and math.  While my son really moved quickly at the beginning of 100 Lessons, I haven’t seen a lot of progress lately.  However, that’s okay with me.  I have to consider these things:

  • He’s only five, and if I were putting him into school, he would be entering Kindergarten this coming fall.  He’s way ahead of the game already.
  • Children all learn at a different pace, and there’s a lot of evidence that boys (and some girls) learn to read slower. This has no bearing on their level of intelligence.
  • It’s not my priority to make him learn how to do anything right now.  I believe that the most important thing a teacher can do to teach any child how to read or do math is to read to them frequently and show them how math is used in an everyday context.
  • I believe that developing his imagination and showing him the wonders of this earth will lead him to want to learn how to do all these basic skills on his own time.

In addition to all this, my son gets a good dose of science, social studies and art through the classes we attend, books we read, crafts we do, television we watch and conversations that I have with him.

Please stay tuned for my follow-up posts on this and more!  And to find resources on how to start telling stories to your children, see my Storytelling Page.

Do you have a blog post about how you manage your daily homeschooling?  Feel free to link to it in the comments section.

November & Thanksgiving Activities With Small Children

In an earlier post, I mentioned that I wanted to create history lessons around each holiday this year.  In addition to this, I want to do general activities to celebrate each season.  However, I still feel the need to keep things extremely simple with my boys.  At ages 5 & 2, they just aren’t ready for big projects or crafts.  When I do initiate crafts, it’s usually me doing most of the crafting, or the boys take over by making it a cutting-up-paper-into-tiny-bits session.  Whether it’s their ages or that they are boys, long sit-down lessons and activities don’t work for us.  (And this also goes for just the five-year-old when the two-year-old is napping too.)

So here are the simple things we did this November to celebrate autumn and Thanksgiving:

  • We had a gorgeous autumn in Georgia this year, so I wanted to celebrate those beautiful leaves.  We collected leaves and laminated them.  Last year I tried ironing them between parchment paper, and it looked awful.  I asked my sister – a first grade teacher – what she recommended.  She said she just laminated the leaves.  Guess what?  It works great!  After laminating them, I strung some up over our window and the doorway into our activity room.  I tacked the others up to our bulletin board, and I labeled the leaves that I knew.  (Tree identification will come when they’re older too.)  (This it the laminator I purchased over a year ago – a worthwhile investment.)
  • We planted bulbs.  And garlic.  I’ve never planted garlic before, so I’m excited to see what will happen.  Planting seeds is a favorite pastime of my five-year-old, which I have written about extensively in this post.
  • We read our Thanksgiving books:
    • What Is Thanksgiving? by Harriet Ziefert – A sweet, lift-the-flap book about a mouse who asks his parents “What is Thanksgiving?”  It’s very simple and dedicates only two lines to the history of the holiday.  It’s mostly about what we do now to celebrate Thanksgiving. I would only recommend it for very young children.
    • The Story of the Pilgrims by Katherine Ross – I highly recommend this book for the approximate ages 4~6 or anyone needing a beginning lesson on Thanksgiving history.  It starts in England and talks about a group of people call Pilgrims and why they left, their journey in the Mayflower, their first difficult winter, the encounter with the Indians and what the Indians taught them, and it ends with the big feast.  It’s simple enough for youngsters but full of interesting details.
  • As we talked about Thanksgiving and what we give thanks for, I used A Child’s Book of Animal Poems and Blessings (collected by Eliza Blanchard).  My boys love animals, so these poems and prayers were fun.  The illustrations are beautiful.  It teaches respect for animals, and it gave me a chance to talk about praying and poetry.  Needless to say, this isn’t a book I will use only for this season.
  • The night before Thanksgiving, I told my five-year-old a story about Jack and Piper and the big Thanksgiving feast they hosted in the forest.  All the forest animals were invited, and on this day, there was no bickering or squabbles.  One by one, each animal said what he was thankful for.
  • Besides these simple activities, I have spent as much time outdoors as the weather permitted.  We visited Ft. Yargo, the Botanical Garden, and spent lots of time in our own yard.

Maybe next year I’ll get around to baking, more crafts and more history lessons.  Or maybe we’ll just spend more time outside.

What’s your favorite activities for November?

Online Resources for Homeschooling a Preschooler, Part 3

My youngest is ready to get at that computer too!

This is the third part of my 3-part column series that I wrote for The Barrow Journal about homeschooling a preschooler.  In it I focus on our online learning.  Click here to read the full column, and scroll down to find all the links I mention in the column plus more! — great for teaching kids their ABCs and phonics –>  and Free! —  a full, online curriculum for Pre-K through 8th grade; includes reports (except for Pre-K portion)  –>  $20 per month (But they are having an April special for $4.99, so you can check it out for cheap, if you want!) — I didn’t mention this in my column because we have not used it yet, and I think my son needs to get a little older before we do.  But it looks awesome, and it’s FREE!  It’s great for math and science.

A few other sites that I have found, which look great, but I haven’t used them much. —  (My sister, the first grade teacher, tipped me off to this one as well as

We also use applications or “apps” on my iPod Touch.  You have to download iTunes to access these.  ( iTunes is free to download, and it works on a PC too.

These apps were all under $2 to use.

“Letter Tracer” by Niftybrick Software

“First Words: Vehicles” and similar apps by Learning Touch

“TeachMe: Kindergarten” by 24x7digital LLC

“Itsy Bitsy Spider,” “Wheels on the Bus” and similar apps by Duck Duck Moose

Last but not least, my son and I LOVE YouTube.  I only gave it a paragraph in my column, but I wanted to go on and on about it. Sure, YouTube has a lot of junk on it, but you can also find many gems.  In the past, we have used it to look up different kinds of music and musicians because my son likes music, especially classical.  (“Play something with no words, Mommy.”)  Mostly we use it to look up videos of animals, especially ocean animals.  In fact, every time we make a paper animal as I mentioned in my earlier post/column, we always look it up on YouTube to see a video of the real animal in action.

If you are interested, here are a few of my son’s favorite videos on YouTube.  I have bookmarked them and taught him how to retrieve them, so once in a while, he watches them by himself.  (By teaching him to use the bookmarks, he goes down the list, and I don’t have to worry too much about him clicking on something I don’t want him to watch.  But I do check on him often, if I let him sit and watch by himself, just in case.)

Hermit Crab Shell Change — This hermit crab is a pet for a Kindergarten class in Florida, and in this video, you can watch it get a new home.

Lobster Migration —  Narrated by David Attenborough.  A BBC production.  For some reason, I think this is my son’s favorite.  Go figure!

Swimming with a Manta Ray —  Such beautiful creatures.  Another BBC production.

Army of Sea Urchins — Part of BBC’s Planet Earth.  (We are planning to watch that whole series sometime.)  This is a cool video because you can watch the sea urchins and starfish move in fast motion.

Shark vs. Octopus — by National Geographic.  Not for the faint of heart.

Stingray — by National Geographic.

Of course, you can watch lots of videos for kids at National Geographic for Kids!

These links are only a drop in the ocean of what is available to our kids today.  As long as children have a good balance of play time, outdoor time, and other activities, I strongly believe that it’s okay to let kids use computers, television and gadgets to learn, and I believe they enhance learning and the imagination too!  When our kids are adults, the world will be even more technologically sophisticated than it is today!  If a parent is able, why not let them start using these devices?

More Preschool Posts:

Homeschooling a Preschooler, Part 2

As promised, here is the second column that I wrote for The Barrow Journal on homeschooling a preschooler. In it I write some specific examples of what I do to teach my son, such as activity books, games, puzzles, and some of the arts and crafts we do.  Next week I’ll post the third column, which focuses solely on the online resources that I have used with him.

Click here to read the full column, or you can scroll down to see some related links and photos.

One of the activity books we have used….  It’s probably the most “school like” thing that we do.

My son and nephew playing a game together.  We love games and puzzles, and we use a lot of them.  To learn more about the benefits of playing puzzles, click here. To learn about an easy sight word game I invented, click here.

When I first began to wonder what kind of arts and crafts I could do with my son, I discovered that he didn’t like to paint or draw, but he liked using scissors!  He cut up small bits of paper, so I began to use those scraps to make paper animals.  This is the first one I made.  He calls it his “rainbow fish” after the popular children’s book of the same name.

I try not to spend a lot of money on homeschooling, but not long ago I invested in a laminator.  I got this one on Amazon for about $30, and a packet of 50 laminating sheets for about $11.  The sheets will last a long time.  I’m very happy with it, and I think that it’ll be very helpful over the long haul.

This is one of the projects we did with the paper animals.  We learned all about what kinds of animals live in trees.  On our first day of making the tree, we took a white sheet outside and shook some branches over it.  At that time, the trees in our yard yielded only an ant and a spider, but we knew all sorts of animals live in trees.  We made a new animal every few days.  🙂

Now we have an ocean on the wall.  However, I have not taught my son what lives in the ocean because HE TEACHES ME.  This kid is obsessed with ocean animals, and we already had a full supply of paper ocean animals to fill up our ocean.  (And some of them are not on the board because he likes to play with them.)

For a long time, it was Mama making all the animals, and my son refused to help.  This was a little frustrating for me, but I didn’t pressure him to change (too much), and over time, he started to help make parts of the animals (like the teeth of the saw shark above), and now he will even make the animals by himself!  Hooray!  Sometimes he gets busy making animals while I’m busy doing something else.  Double Hooray!!

I really think having an activity room helps encourage him to create and learn on his own.

This is the first animal he made:  a whipnose.  They are fish that live in the very deep parts of the ocean and have fishing-pole-like noses.

Here is his lion fish.  He likes to look in the animal encyclopedia that my nephew gave him for Christmas for new animals.

And I’m happy to say that he also likes to paint and draw now too!

What kinds of things do you do to help your children soar?!

More Preschool Posts:

Homeschooling a Preschooler with a Baby in the House, Part 1

As promised, I’m posting the first of my (what is now THREE-part) series of columns about my experience homeschooling a preschooler.  It’s been a challenge to do anything that looks like learning with a high energy one-year-old in the house, but after writing the columns, I have realized that we’ve managed to do quite a lot.  This is a good testament to keeping some kind of record or portfolio of your children’s work, if you choose to homeschool.

In the column I mentioned that I used the World Book Typical Course of Study (UPDATE: Unfortunately, World Book has removed this page from their website, but put it on their website. You can access it here.) to give me peace of mind about the “academics” side of the equation, although at this age, I really do feel it’s more important for children to have free time to play and explore their worlds more than anything else.  I wrote a column about the importance of playing make-believe a while back, if you are interested.

Above you can see my son’s “Learning Box.”  He and I decorated it together, and I fill it with the things that I want us to work on when we have time.  This is a huge help because I don’t have time for any kind of “planning.”

I keep the box in our “activity room.” It’s been a big help to have a space we dedicate to activities and learning.  All the tools are very accessible to my son, and he is increasingly going in there to use them.  Much of the learning we do is done spontaneously when he gets interested in doing it!

Click here to read the column, and please sign up for my RSS Feed so that you won’t miss the upcoming columns in which I write about what we use for learning and some of our favorite activities!  These columns will definitely have more “meat” about how to homeschool a preschooler.

As always, thank you for stopping by, and please leave your own insights about homeschooling during the preschool years!


UPDATE: To make it easier for you, I’m including my Table of Contents for Preschool here: