1. Think about your family culture.
PBH is centered around helping your child direct and manage his own learning. It’s about independence, responsibility, and exploring talents and deep interests.
Every choice you make matters. How you set up your space, how you arrange your day, how you talk about successes and failures as a family — every choice either supports your goals or works against them. To align your life with your deepest values, you have to examine and articulate those values. You have to really think about your goals so you can get your big rocks in first.
PBH is about living your values. So spend some time up front deciding what those values are. Figure out what’s most important to you — so you can do as much of it as possible.
2. Look at your space.
Reggio calls the environment “the third teacher” because it has such a tremendous impact on how your child learns. Your space needs to help you achieve your goals. Make sure it’s working with you and not against you.
Is your space encouraging independence? Are materials where children can see them, reach them, use them, and put them away again without help?
Is your space reminding your child of his own goals? Do you have a bulletin board, wall space, and/or shelf space that pulls together your child’s project materials and reminds him of his questions and plans?
Does your space allow your child to be creative, try new ideas, and work large? Is it okay to make a mess as long as it’s cleaned up afterwards? Is there enough physical space to build and play? Can things be left out so your child can add to them over time?
See some PBH workspaces (home and group) here
3. Build toward abundance.
Exploring materials and tools for making gives your child something to do with an interest. Explore them together in a relaxed and fun way. Purposeful work will come later, when your child is fluent in the material.
A large number of materials offered at once can be overwhelming. Disorganized materials or things in closed containers are forgotten.
Start with the basics and build from there. Keep things in sight and attractively displayed. Make a space that beckons. All of your choices should be directed toward encouraging the kind of work you’d like to see.
A schedule crammed full of activities can turn a child into a passive recipient of other people’s ideas. A constant introduction of something new and exciting can keep a child skimming along the surface rather than diving deep into a particular interest.
Start with a clean slate. Add slowly. Explore each new thing thoroughly. Let your child set the pace. Don’t distract your child by introducing something new when he’s still happy with what he already has. Feed the long attention span that children have for things that genuinely interest them.
4. Observe and document.
Many people strongly resist journaling, but it boils down to this: Your memory is not enough to help you remember your child’s questions, ideas, plans, and requests so that you can respond thoughtfully and promptly.
Journaling doesn’t require that you write big blocks of text; it does require that you make some kind of notes and perhaps take a few photographs.
Depending on your child’s age and experience with self-directed learning, they may not be able to recognize or articulate their own interests. Pay attention to their play, what they do in their free time, their conversation at mealtimes and with friends. Begin to keep track of their questions and the things they talk about and play most often. This is where you may discover an interest that will sustain long-term investigation.
Prove to your child that you are a trusted resource. Let them see you writing down their questions, their requests, and their plans. They will bask in your respect for their work, and they will double their efforts. You are creating a family culture of supporting and celebrating meaningful work.
See a gallery of PBH journals here
If you want help establishing or rebooting a journaling habit, check out our Journal Boot & Reboot e-class — a week of emails plus a bonus PBH Tip Sheet for $7.99.
5. Abilities, not activities.
Make the most of the learning potential of every situation. Focus on slow learning — holistic learning. Build your child’s knowledge and skills slowly, from scratch.
- Primary: Learning about our topic.
- Secondary: Acquiring skills we need to do the things we want to do.
- Tertiary: Learning about learning, making, doing, and sharing.
Whenever possible, we want to include all three layers.
We want to choose meaning over randomness and abilities over activities.
6. Set aside dedicated project time.
“If project work is left to simply happen when it happens, it may not happen at all. Your focus and attention create a gentle gravity that pulls your child back to his work. And remember: it’s work he wants to do. Setting aside time for project work is a way of honoring it and making sure it happens.” — Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners
If you set aside time, you prioritize the work. It becomes a family value, and doing and sharing meaningful work becomes part of your family culture. Dedicated time is a self-fulfilling prophecy: it creates more of the work that it supports.
7. Support your child’s interest without taking over.
If your aim is to maximize every learning opportunity, then you don’t want to solve problems that your child can solve for herself.
You don’t want to offer ideas or solutions; you want your child to discover her own. You don’t want to chart the course; you want to let your child explore while you keep track of where she’s gone.
Like every part of PBH, this is a learned process. If you are so uninvolved that you just leave your child to her own devices, you aren’t feeding or supporting her interest. If you are too involved, you will get in her way or take it out of her hands — and when she loses ownership, she loses engagement. You must search for the sweet spot: the place where you are an active, engaged co-learner and mentor — the place where she is making her own plans, having her own ideas, and solving her own problems, and you are there as a trusted resource.
8. Help your child go deeper.
Stop skating around on the surface. Stop hopping from one random activity to the next. Find an authentic interest and stay with it. Dig deeper. Make connections to make learning complex and layered. Instead of moving on, go back and revisit. Instead of introducing something new, repeat experiences and do multiple drafts.
9. Buy the book.
Invest in the changes you want to see. And by buying the book, you help support this site!
Children, even when very young, have the capacity for inventive thought and decisive action. They have worthwhile ideas. They make perceptive connections. They’re individuals from the start: a unique bundle of interests, talents, and preferences. They have something to contribute. They want to be a part of things.
It’s up to us to give them the opportunity to express their creativity, explore widely, and connect with their own meaningful work.
Many parents and teachers readily agree that children have these abilities, but they want to believe they can (and perhaps should) blossom naturally with no interference from adults. Traditional educators think this will happen in the child’s free time — presumably sometime between the school bell ringing in the afternoon and bedtime, in and amongst homework, extracurricular activities, team practices, and play dates. Many parents want to believe it will happen if their child has adequate free time. They hope their child will drift naturally away from the TV set and the video game console toward literature, nature, and science. They know that their child is intelligent and creative, and they expect — or hope — that deep thinking, rich exploration, and a strong work ethic will follow.
We can do better than that.
Rather than expecting children to seek out a balanced life all on their own, we can help them live it. We can create an everyday life that prioritizes what we value most. We can help our children grow up experiencing creativity, inquiry, and making ideas happen as part of their normal, everyday life, from their earliest days.
We can help them live a life based on learning and doing. — Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners
See reader reviews and responses here.
“In addition to teaching how to do project-based homeschooling, it’s like a manual on how to live.”
“Not to be a huge cheeseball, but it is actually life-changing.”
10. Join the forum.
Support yourself as much as possible to increase your chances of success. Connect with other people who are on the same path and be part of this community. Check out some other kid projects. Share your small wins and get help brainstorming solutions for your challenges. Click here to join the forum.
“I’m especially grateful for the shared experiences, questions, and suggestions in this forum. Already I have been able to think more creatively about some of our dilemmas and I think the idea of a tribe of families working on this makes it so much more interesting to me.”
“[Y]our blog and forum have had an amazing impact on me and my almost-4-year-old.”
“[His] question [“What shall we create today?!”] confirms what my husband and I just talked about last night. [He] is living and breathing his project, daydreaming about it, planning for it, talking about it. In fact, we all are.”
“When he first got going on this current project, my son told me, ‘I’ll work on it day and night. That means I’ll be done with it by dawn.’ So far, it’s been a week’s worth of dawns working day and night. He is *that* excited, and so am I.”
“I love that you just directed me back to myself, the things I can do and focus on to help them acquire the same skills. As always.”
“I am anxiously awaiting that book but feeling armed with so much goodness from this forum that we’re going for it. Oh what lovely goodness there is here!”
“I’ve been blown away by the richness of [the] blog and forum.”
“I love it here. :-)”
Myths about Project-Based Homeschooling
It’s only for young children.
False. PBH is a method that works with every age from toddler to adult.
The elements are the same: find a deep interest, explore it, play with it, use it to make something new, share it with others, get feedback, set goals, make plans, teach someone else what you know.
How does play factor in for older children, teens, and even adults? We must explore new areas in a relaxed and playful way; when we are deeply engaged, we are in the “flow” and work feels like play. Scientists and mathematicians play with ideas — designers play with concepts. Older children and teens combine age-appropriate skills (writing, blogging, book-making, poster-making, drawing, painting, videography, filmmaking, etc.) with their interest and their research. It’s the combination of deep interests and skills that create project artifacts.
Older children and teens learn how to plan their own curriculum, set their own goals, create their own communities. PBH is not only a way to learn — it is a way to live a life of making, doing, creating, and sharing.
It’s only for older children.
False. Children as young as three can do amazing project work. You don’t have to be able to read or write to do research. You can do field work, draw your notes, make plans, execute them, solve problems, share, receive feedback, improve on drafts, compare facts learned from difference resources, make arguments, and share what you know.
Your child’s ability to do projects depends on whether you are willing to see him as a curious, competent learner. He can definitely do the work — and he wants to work on what interests him — if you will support him.
It’s all about arts & crafts.
False. Authentic art enables children to work actively with knowledge and build thinking, learning, and communication skills before they can read and write. As children get older, they fold in age-appropriate skills. They read, write, blog, podcast; they create websites, wikis, films, books, posters, zines.
Project-based homeschooling is about combining knowledge with skills. Project work is real, authentic work done by someone who wants to know and understand and communicate with other people. Read more here.
You have to make it your whole curriculum.
False. From the book:
“Project-based homeschooling is concerned with the underlying motives, habits, and attitudes of thinking and learning. However you feel about knowledge and skills — whether you’re a Latin-loving classicist or a relaxed unschooler or somewhere in-between — the point of project-based homeschooling is to devote some time to helping your child direct and manage his own learning. This does not have to comprise your entire curriculum. (Though it can.) It does not have to be the primary focus of your learning life. (Though it can be.) But it is essential. It is the part of your child’s education that is focused on that underlying machinery. It is the part of your child’s learning life that is focused on your child’s very specific and unique interests, talents, and passions. It is the part of your child’s learning when he is not only free to explore whatever interests him, but he receives attention, support, and consistent, dependable mentoring to help him succeed.” — Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners