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Project based homeschooling (book)

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I read this book from the library and think it seems like it could be a fun thing to do with the kiddos.The whole point is "mentoring self-directed learners," so they're the ones choosing topics, forming goals, planning how to get there, etc. We do a lot of open ended stuff anyway, but I feel like the ideas in this book would give us a little more direction and help them to really learn to how to direct their own learning (right now, they express an interest, but it's really me who still does all the work). But I'm having a hard time understanding how it *actually* works, especially when kids are young (though they say that this sort of learning is best started between ages 2-4).


So my 7 yo wants to learn about machines and robots and my 5 yo wants to learn / learn about ballet. Can you give me some ideas of how I'd actually help them approach this? I felt like the book was pretty lean on specifics/details (perhaps by necessity since kids are all different and so their products are all different).

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We homeschooled like that for years.  Did you see her website/blog?  Also, she had a forum - I haven't been on there in a couple of years.  


We decided yesterday that my 8 year-old will be doing interest-led learning this year, too.  I sat down with her and made a list.  I said, "If you could spend all day studying whatever you wanted, what would you study?"  And she said Math.   :svengo: (sounds horribly painful, but OK)  After some interrogation, I basically made a list of what she wanted to read and learn about.  I went to the library last night and checked out books about the topics she was interested in.  Today, we'll just play it by ear and work on what she wants to do.


That's how I handle it.  Projects and stuff just kinda spontaneously appear in our house.  I don't really put any effort or planning into it.


If you can afford it, I would just put the 5 year-old in a low-key ballet class!  Several years ago, my 8 year-old kept telling me she wanted to do ballet, too.  We put her in a once-a-week class and she loves it! (still - 3 years later)


Machines...robots...there's all kinds of stuff out there.  I would start with books and Youtube videos.  Snap Circuits are really fun for that age.  My kids really enjoyed Physics Workshop (although it could be frustrating at times and we'd have to "wait 'til Daddy came home from work" - Lol).


Some of the best science for that age we've had was from cheap junky science kits I bought at Hobby Lobby.  We've done optics kits, Simple Machines kits, DNA extraction/model building, etc.


Good luck on your search! 

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I really enjoyed that book as well! This is how we incorporate the ideas into our life: We do our formal desk-type (mostly classical-ish) school in the mornings from about 8 or 9 until about 12 or 1. (So, this is when we do math, language arts...all our core subjects, etc.) After lunch, the girls are then free to pursue their own interests and projects. There are several things I do to facilitate this: (1) get information (2) gather supplies (3) strew interesting/related books (4) make space for their interests (5) seek out additional learning opportunities (such as museum visits or field trips), and (6) let them see my husband and me pursuing our own interests. 


Some details:


(1) Get information: At the beginning of each semester (when I plan), I ask the girls to make a list of things (and it can be anything!) they'd like to study this semester. They both think about it for a couple of days then give me a little list.


(2) Gather supplies: Once I have their lists and I am shopping for school supplies, I am sure to pick up any items they will need to do their studies. For instance, my oldest daughter is really interested in art and learning how to draw this semester, so I was sure to buy her the special pencils, brush pens, and sketchbooks she would need to complete the activities in the online art instruction videos she wants to do this semester. Likewise, my younger daughter is really into building these elaborate cardboard box houses for her Calico Critters, so I am sure to keep collecting empty food boxes and paper towel rolls and fabric scraps, etc., for her to have on hand. And I was sure to order lots of glue and tape for her, too. 


(3) Strew books: I take some time to search for book titles that are relevant to the interests they listed, then I get those books from the library and leave them in the girls' rooms where they can find them and look at them on their own time. (So, books on drawing for the older one, and books about architecture or with cute illustrations of houses for the little one.) 


(4) Make space for their interests: Usually, this comes naturally. (The girls are generally eager to work on their stuff!) But the way we structure our day emphasizes this, too. For instance, in our house, you are not allowed to watch a Netflix show until you have done school, read independently, played physically (park, biking, etc.), and done something creative. (This sounds stricter than the system actually works in practice...really, our routine is just that we do school, reading, and creative things before we watch TV.) But they almost always would rather be doing something creative than loafing around. Sometimes all it takes is a little nudge like, "I noticed your most recent house now has a ladder to the second floor! Did you have any plans to add something new today?" And the little one is off and running to work on her newest little house instead of flipping on the TV.


(5) Seek out additional learning opportunities: This is just something that happens a couple times per semester, when I can make it happen. Is there a cool documentary related to this topic we can watch? Is there a museum we can visit that is related to this area of study? Can we read aloud a book about a famous person who does this thing for a living? 


(6) Let them see my husband and me pursuing our own interests: Honestly, I think this idea is one of the most important. I'm super into sewing/quilting/knitting/needleworks as well as literature, so I am always working on a project of some kind or reading or writing. Likewise, my husband loves to bake and cook and is always perfecting a new recipe or learning how to make something new. Your process doesn't have to be fancy and your interests could be in anything; I just think having your kids see you learning all the time shows them that's it's a natural state of being in the world, and they follow suit. (To be sure, I don't have hours in the day to pursue my own projects! But I do make it a priority. I would rather sew or run or read than watch TV. Even just seeing me add a row of stitches to the scarf I'm knitting is enough to show them that adults are always trying to get better at things. It's also great that they can see me mess up. It doesn't matter if it takes me 10 days or 10 weeks to complete the project.) 


So, that's the basic way we approach it (as a way of living), but new interests crop up all the time. The kids are always stumbling on a new library book and setting off in a new direction. I encourage this exploration and don't police it. (As long as the kids are interested in something at any given moment, I don't really care what it is--we just want them to be endlessly curious!) The other thing I would add is that I don't judge their work. I don't correct it, I don't assess it, I just observe it. (I say, "I see you added a roof!" NOT, "Oh, if you just added a support beam here, the roof would stand up straighter.") I figure, I correct the girls in math, where it is necessary. I correct their behavior when they're acting out. My 6-year-old doesn't, however, need my advice or corrections on her independent projects. (And she always figures out on her own a way to make the roof straighter.) I'm pretty sure that idea was stressed in the book--the projects are theirs. Nothing will shut down self-directed projects faster than meddling adults. 


So, like Evanthe said above, for your robot kid, just get some kits, get some books, maybe some tools or raw materials, and strew them around the house. Let him discover them and explore them freely, on his own time. Don't create artificial deadlines or anything. As for your daughter, you could take her to the ballet or enroll her in a ballet class. Watch ballet videos online together. Get books on the Nutcracker, etc. But honestly I think the most important thing is making space for their interests, both physical space (does your son have a place to build and store his robots-in-progress?), and space in the day (are you giving them enough time in the day to really dig into projects?). Good luck! 

Edited by EKT
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Oh, and I wanted to add that in my experience, it gets much easier as they get older because eventually, they can READ! Reading is a non-issue for lots of projects (play-doh and building stuff, etc.) but years ago, I had to be very involved in my older daughter's projects, simply because she needed me to read things to her. So if I got her, say, a book on origami, she could happily page through it and look at the pictures on her own, but she would still need me to actually read her the directions, and physically help her make the projects. (Your robot-loving son might need this sort of help at first.) But now that both girls are reading well on their own, I can often hand them books and leave them to their own devices and not really have to "do" anything other than get them their supplies. (We still read aloud novels, of course, but I happily let them read independently when it comes to their own interests.) So...just wanted to throw that out there. But I would say that it's still worth it to build the self-directed routines now; creativity will become a habit and you can be less hands-on as the years go by, as their skills and abilities start to match their desire to create. 


Editing for spelling!

Edited by EKT
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I think one of the weaknesses of the book is the focus on art and art outcomes as being the primary way that kids do projects and the primary suggestions all seem based around that. Also, that it's focused so much on younger kids (though her blog has a lot more about older kids and obviously that's not a weakness if you have a 7 and 5 yo).


I think EKT and Evanthe have great suggestions above. For robotics, you might get a kit or two and strew them. I think some topics need parents to be more involved because otherwise a child may be frustrated that they can't make a "real" robot. But then you have to be careful not to become the director and end up laying down a specific path. It's a tricky line to walk.

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This is how we homeschool.


We have specific times each day which is 'project time'. In those times, my goals and expectations aren't part of it. It's not a time to 'get them' to achieve any of my specific goals - it's all about their own learning. We also have a project space, so they can access the tools for exploring ideas. Visiting the library each week to grab books for their interests is important too.


So, if they wanted to learn about robots, *I* wouldn't find the books (or strew any), find the websites, find the activities. I would instead support them to do that. If they didn't have any clue how to start, you'd suggest going to the library, looking online, asking someone etc - basically the way *you* would research, but get them to do it. If they want to buy something, you'd work out a budget with them, just as you would for yourself.


You have to remind yourself the outcome isn't 'learning about robots' but 'learning how to learn'. It's quicker to give them the books and experiences - but more effective when they do it themselves.


There's a great facebook group which is very active called project based homeschooling, and Lori is on there and answers questions quickly.


I'd say about half the people on the FB group do just PBH, and the other half do parent-directed stuff as well, at a different time.

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After listening to the author present her ideas and talk about how the process is implemented in their home, I thought to myself, "This is what we do for 4-H!"


My kids pick a project of interest, immerse themselves by doing, read lots about the subject, do reports, keep records and logs, do a demonstration in front of others, have special learning experiences, and get evaluated and rewarded based on their hard work and expertise.


I can't imagine doing this for the entirety of our school, but it sure does bring a nice balance to what we already do. The nice part for me is that I don't have to reinvent the wheel. 4-H has already done it for me!

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