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"Project-based learning" with a mixed-age (i.e., family) group


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From what I've been reading about the "project-based learning" trend, it's aimed at helping children to explore their individual interests. When it's done in a group, it's with children who are around the same age and skill level.

 

This wouldn't be suitable for our family, because I just don't have the time to get involved with the preparation, clean-up, and general assistance for several different projects on a regular basis. Besides, the children very often enjoy doing the same thing as each other.

 

What I'd appreciate would be some specific advice for dividing up larger family projects -- such as gardening, or building something, or putting on a play -- so that each person (preschooler to adult) can be involved in a way that's reasonably challenging and interesting.

 

Or, in the case of smaller individual projects, how to arrange it so that they can all be working on similar things but on a different level.

 

Is there anything like this? Sort of like a multi-age unit study, but with more of a specific goal, rather than just general learning about a subject? I've done a lot of searching, but haven't come up with anything. Not sure if this is because I'm using the wrong keywords... or because it's such a simple and easy idea that nobody's ever bothered writing about it ... or because it's such a difficult and crazy idea that I shouldn't even try. :001_smile:

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You might look at some of the projects on DIY.com Someone here just told me about this site. The projects vary from easy to hard but the harder ones would be good to do in a mixed age group. (I don't know if you can get credit for it as a family on the site but it would still be fun to do them.)

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Thanks for the suggestion. (I'm thinking that you must have meant DIY.org. DIY.com looks like the UK version of Home Depot. :001_smile: )

 

We actually have lots of ideas for projects; it's the figuring out how to involve multiple children that gets me bogged down.

 

I guess you could say that I'm looking for something like Tapestry of Grace, but for projects, and for an even wider range of ages. Not just "how to build a container garden," but a list of suggestions for preschool, grammar stage, logic stage, and rhetoric stage involvement in container gardening. ;) Or setting up an aquarium, or planning a holiday celebration. Or making things out of wood, with each person doing a project at his or her own skill level.

 

I'm sure there are ways for our whole family to get involved in these things. In fact, I suspect that we already have sufficient ideas and instructions for all of the above, but they're hidden away in separate books that are intended for preschoolers, or for elementary aged children, or for teenagers and adult beginners, or for skilled adults. It just seems as if this would be much more straightforward (and thus, far more likely to actually get done) if we had some sort of guidebook that was organized by type of project, with the ideas for multiple ages included in one place.

 

Surely this isn't a new idea -- to have families working together, side by side? It's about as old as the human race. And yet, I'm finding nothing written on the subject, for those of us who need a bit of help with it.

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We have family projects.

 

Throughout each project we have the same "titles" and they are rotated between each person (including adults)

 

Since there is 5 of us we have:

 

Leader

Manager/Overseer

Gopher

Two Worker Bees

 

The Leader is the one in charge of the whole project, the big picture person. Obviously the leader/one in charge.

The Manager/Overseer is the person who reports to the leader, and keeps an eye on the project & the worker bees.

The Gopher is the one that "goes-fer" things, rofl. They move stuff, among other misc duties, sort of like a PA.

The worker bees are the main ones that "get things done". Thet are concentrating on the minute picture.

 

From the outside looking in, one could say that "only two/three are doing the work, the other two are sitting around". Not so, they all have individual jobs, everyone is always busy, and everyone in the "hive" is important. Everybody learns a lot from working like this and rotating jobs (even hubby) and each project looks different. In regards to work, everyone pitches in moving something if its heavy, even the leader, and if someone is stuck, another that is free will come and help them.

 

We had to fix up the fencing on the property, and even used that as project time. My 4yo daughter was the leader in that project, DH & I were worker bees, my son was the Gopher, and DD7 was the overseer. It taught Atlas a few lessons regarding having someone younger being in charge, and taught me my 4yo is a slave driver, pmsl.

 

I don't know if thats the kind of info you're after though :)

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We have family projects.

 

Throughout each project we have the same "titles" and they are rotated between each person (including adults)

 

Since there is 5 of us we have:

 

Leader

Manager/Overseer

Gopher

Two Worker Bees

 

The Leader is the one in charge of the whole project, the big picture person. Obviously the leader/one in charge.

The Manager/Overseer is the person who reports to the leader, and keeps an eye on the project & the worker bees.

The Gopher is the one that "goes-fer" things, rofl. They move stuff, among other misc duties, sort of like a PA.

The worker bees are the main ones that "get things done". Thet are concentrating on the minute picture.

 

From the outside looking in, one could say that "only two/three are doing the work, the other two are sitting around". Not so, they all have individual jobs, everyone is always busy, and everyone in the "hive" is important. Everybody learns a lot from working like this and rotating jobs (even hubby) and each project looks different. In regards to work, everyone pitches in moving something if its heavy, even the leader, and if someone is stuck, another that is free will come and help them.

 

We had to fix up the fencing on the property, and even used that as project time. My 4yo daughter was the leader in that project, DH & I were worker bees, my son was the Gopher, and DD7 was the overseer. It taught Atlas a few lessons regarding having someone younger being in charge, and taught me my 4yo is a slave driver, pmsl.

 

I don't know if thats the kind of info you're after though :)

 

Ecclecticmum, I love this!

OP, Ecclecticmum has really given you some great ideas. I just have a couple of thoughts to add:

 

  • Look for ways your children can help each other when a task is a beyond one childs skill level ask them to coach the other child through it (nothing reinforces skills like teaching it to someone else)

  • Think about projects in terms of skills needed and spend small amounts of time helping them with the underlying skills, this will empower them to take on the tasks needed to do the project but free you up from having to be involved in the nitty gritty

  • Insist on planning sessions where they map out what materials they might need, how much time and effort might be required, is a dedicated workspace needed and what type of clean up will be involoved

 

Good luck

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Thanks for the helpful suggestions. :001_smile:

 

I'm still wishing for a guidebook that gives advice for specific projects broken down by age, but at this point, it's seeming less and less likely that one exists. And the more I read about the method described as "project-based homeschooling," the more I realize that the author and I are coming at this with such different mindsets that I'm not likely to find any answers from that movement, either. While I do take my children's likes and dislikes into account, I see myself primarily as their mother and teacher. Not as the mentor of their hobbies, or the matchmaker between them and their passions, or the nurturer of their unique genius, or what have you. This means, among other things, that until the children have shown that they're able to work independently on a given activity (which includes setting up and cleaning up), their projects in that area are going to be substantially parent-limited, and sometimes very much parent-led.

 

To each her own, but it seems to me that the fully child-led method would be more aptly named "unschooling with a personal cheerleader/slave."

 

And yet I agree with her on a lot of other stuff, especially the emphasis on the arts, and the value of having a dedicated space for projects. The post about storing recyclables made me laugh. "Later, we sort it out and carry it to the studio, where we try (I emphasize try) to keep it corralled in a couple of attractive baskets that, nevertheless, then look like attractive baskets filled with garbage." :D

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The post about storing recyclables made me laugh. "Later, we sort it out and carry it to the studio, where we try (I emphasize try) to keep it corralled in a couple of attractive baskets that, nevertheless, then look like attractive baskets filled with garbage." :D

 

 

Yep.

 

In our atelier, I have a gourgeous, solid wooden plan chest, reminds me of something a pirate would have. I put the recyclables in there. It looks like someone dragged the treasure chest of a poor pirate home, and dump it in our art room. Now I'm going to try storing it (accessibly) under a low table, so its available, but not such an eyesore. Adults shouldn't be able to see it unless they are wandering inside the atelier.

 

I'm actually having to turn our atelier into a double room now, as I need to move the computer from my retreat, and also need somewhere to do the one subject that we do a bit more "Schooly". Luckily it will still be able to be used as the art room, but it took a whole weekend of creative thinking, and lots of drawn up plans. The whiteboard will be an eyesore, so I'm thinking of looking into the linen cupboards or going on a charity shop spree to find an attractive piece of linen or something to drape over it when its not in use. The whiteboard will also hopefully hide the computer. I'm actually in the middle of re-arranging now (kids are using the room to "skate" in their socks since its practically empty lol).

 

It really sounds like what you want is something more like TOG, Winterpromise, Oak Meadow, Mystery of History, or any of those structured/classical programs that have projects based on each childs stage (grammar, logic, rhetoric). For other areas like Gardening, etc, you know your children, just write up a roster/assignment for what each child has to complete.

 

The only thing I know for structured projects based on a childs age is the above programs or the sites that have chores listed by age. rofl.

 

A guidebook of projects based by age sounds like busy work/twaddle? If your wanting generic projects to add into your childs current schooling, I think someone like Weird, Unsocialized homeschoolers or a similar blogger made an ebook on livening up your homeschool with projects, which could be an option.

 

Elsewise, I think I need more information, are you talking life skills wise? In that case there is a book called life skills for children, and theres groups/books like Pearables for Girls and Boys, Keepers of the Faith etc.

 

I'm pretty much lost on what exactly it is you are after (which is not surprising, my brains mush lately.)

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Try using "emergent learning" as your search keyword. What you are describing is a little different to real "project based learning". The facilitator (you) really doesnt do much at all...all the work is done by the children. True emergent learning projects would not be difficult to do with mixed age groups because everyone forms ideas at their own level. In fact working with older children would be great for the littles as they have exposure to more experienced ideas.

 

We do it here and all my kids work together. Everyone, no matter their age, seems to get a fair amount of input. The point of PBL is not the "project". Its the learning and thinking the kids do as they figure out how they will get to the end result. For example if your kids wanted to make a garden box they would have a discussion about how they would go about it. The little kids ideas are as valid as the big kids. They might decide they need to take some measurements and they would discuss how to do this. The big kids might suggest using a tape measure while the little ones might suggest "using rocks in a line". The little kids might then go outside and try their method and during feedback and experimentation decide it either works fine or the big kids idea is more accurate and use that method instead. The trick is making sure everyone gets to test their ideas. The big kids might start with a tape measure and through experimentation decide some other idea is better. The kids then come to a consensus about how they are going to get the measurements. Once consenses is reached they might assign jobs to each other on who is best fitted to the task.

 

There is quite a bit more to it then just what I've explained so search "emergent learning" to get a better idea.

 

With true PBL you don't need a guide as to what each child can do for their age because PBL assumes the child is fully competent in figuring out thier own answers whatever their age. To have a "guide" would limit the kids learning because they would only get to do the tasks someone else thought they were capable of. There is no guide because the "sky is the limit" KWIM.

 

If you just want to work on a project together I would suggest just getting everyone together as a group. Deciding what the steps will be to make the project and then assign everyone a job you think they can handle.

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What you are describing is a little different to real "project based learning".

I don't think there's any one approach that can claim the title of "real" project-based learning. Various people have used the term in different ways (see Wikipedia, for instance). Learning through projects is a natural part of our existence, and it's also been tried in the public schools, in various forms, over the last hundred years or so. In most of these forms -- both in schools, and in real life -- the teacher or elders will either set a general task for the child to complete, or set limits within which the child can choose. In some cases, such as Reggio and Montessori preschools, the adults provide the limits indirectly, by choosing which materials to present to the child.

 

It seems to me that none of these methods is inherently better than the others. It depends on the purpose of the project. If they're simply exploring and being creative, then go for it. But if the goals include learning certain skills (e.g., sewing a hem or building with masonry), or learning how to get something done to outside standards (e.g., planning a Thanksgiving dinner for a crowd, or making baby clothes that fit and don't fall apart in the wash), then I'd be inclined to give either an assigned task or a limited range of options, and provide plenty of guidance along the way.

 

They could just figure these things out by trial and error, but one of the nice things about being human is that we have a culture, and so we don't always need to keep reinventing everything ourselves.

 

The point of PBL is not the "project".

In our family at least, the project itself would be a good part of the point. Otherwise, it would seem artificial.

 

If you just want to work on a project together I would suggest just getting everyone together as a group. Deciding what the steps will be to make the project and then assign everyone a job you think they can handle.
For other areas like Gardening, etc, you know your children, just write up a roster/assignment for what each child has to complete.

This gets right back to the question in my original post. The part you're both describing is exactly where I'd like to have a guidebook. I do know my children pretty well (though they still often surprise me :001_smile: ), but, as the little old ladies in the supermarket keep saying, I have a lot on my plate right now. What generally happens is that I either get bogged down in planning and never do it, or forge ahead and actually get it done but then realize that I forgot to include X, Y, and Z aspects that would have suited certain children perfectly. To help with planning, I'd like to have something that's already laid out, so that I can look up a particular type of project and find ideas for involving all ages and skill levels.

 

This "something" could be a book of step-by-step instructions for group projects (e.g., make a doghouse, or plan a vacation), with each one having suggestions for ways different family members could participate.

 

Or it could be a compendium of suggestions for smaller projects that are grouped by skills or materials. For instance, a section on "Weaving" might include weaving with strips of paper, potholder looms, simple homemade looms, all the way to advanced skills and design. And a section on "Woodworking" could start with gluing popsicle sticks and go on from there. This sort of book wouldn't have to include specific instructions for the more complicated activities. It would be more of a scope and sequence. ;)

 

Those are two possibilities that came to mind, but I'm pretty much open to anything that gets us all on the same page. Even if it doesn't exist, I'm still open to it. :D Hmm, maybe I can make the "family project book" be our next family project?

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I think I understand what you are wanting now but I still don't see a reason for progressing in such a linear fashion. Are you saying that you want the little kids to start off with "paper weaving" before they move to "weaving on a loom" ?...like a practice to learn the skills sort of thing?

 

When my 5yo old DD wanted to learn to sew I just went out and bought her a real sewing machine, pulled out an adult pattern and started teaching her how to do the proper thing. I didn't start by telling her to make paper clothes or something.

 

When my DS wanted to make a birdhouse I pulled out the wood and hammer...I didn't make him build one in cardboard first.

 

None of my kids had the skills when we started they gained them as we went along. I think it would be frustrating for the kid if you insisted they made a Popsicle stick birdhouse when they wanted to make something that was actually useful for birds to live in.

 

I'm kind of confused here lol.

 

 

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I think I understand what you are wanting now but I still don't see a reason for progressing in such a linear fashion. Are you saying that you want the little kids to start off with "paper weaving" before they move to "weaving on a loom" ?...like a practice to learn the skills sort of thing?

For the youngest children, it's not so much about progressing in a linear fashion, as it is about having various options available so that everyone can take part if they like. Maybe some three and four year olds can complete a project on a standard loom with minimal assistance, but not all of them are up for that. I'm pretty sure mine would find it challenging enough to weave a mat out of wide strips of colored paper. He could choose the colors, and then we could wrap the finished product around a canister to use it as a wastebasket, or a storage container for his toy cars. In fact, I'm off to do this right now.

 

When my 5yo old DD wanted to learn to sew I just went out and bought her a real sewing machine, pulled out an adult pattern and started teaching her how to do the proper thing. I didn't start by telling her to make paper clothes or something.

 

When my DS wanted to make a birdhouse I pulled out the wood and hammer...I didn't make him build one in cardboard first.

I'm not sure where the references to paper clothes and cardboard birdhouses are coming from. There's a difference between telling the children to make a fake version of their own first choice of project, and offering them a limited choice of different projects. One is pointless and patronizing, and the other is just being realistic under the circumstances (i.e., child's abilities, materials on hand, and my availability to teach or supervise).

 

I do have a "linear progression" of teaching hand sewing before machine sewing, though. To me, it's just like teaching handwriting before typing. As a bonus, they can carry their work around with them, and sit facing one another to talk, as they sew such interesting little non-linear creations. :)

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Is it something like this you are looking for?

 

http://www.thekidsco...ent-age-groups/

 

Well, "cooking" is a very broad subject -- sort of like "art" or "music." To fit what I'm trying to describe, it would need to be sorted by, say, type of dish (bread, pastry, salad, cooked vegetables, etc.), and then by age.

 

But cooking is something we do so much of around here that I already have a pretty good intuitive sense of who does what. It's all just part of the daily routine. And I'll generally have only one or two of the children helping with food preparation at any given meal (the rest are doing the dishes or finishing schoolwork nearby). So, for us, it's not the same situation as the more special types of projects I'd like to organize.

 

Thank you for the suggestion, though. :)

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