From the forum: Project work with a 3-year-old

Published by Lori Pickert on July 16, 2012 at 08:23 AM

“I've got an only child, just 3... I'm wondering about how to approach project work for her. My inclination is that she is too young to "formalize" it but maybe I'm underestimating — or misunderstanding exactly how to approach project work!”

It is definitely not too young. Our Reggio-inspired preschool did long-term projects with three- and four-year-olds, and the youngest students came in on their third birthdays. :)

The “formalizing” it is, remember, only on YOUR end. You are formalizing your approach to creating circumstances under which she can learn how to direct and manage her own learning, work independently, have her own ideas, and etc. She is already doing all of these things, but you can help her in a myriad of ways: by how you set up her environment, choosing open-ended toys and materials, paying attention to her interests so you can help her stay with one subject longer, and etc.


“She plays with her lego animals, her feltboard animals, recently her stuffed animals as well. I've done all this to follow up her interests, rather than as a formal "project." Would it look different as a project? I don't know.”

The difference would be in your deciding to focus on exploring her questions, how you can help her investigate them deeply over time, how you can help her remember her questions and plans, and etc. The “formality” of project work, again, is our applying deliberate focus to a series of questions: How does my child learn? What are her interests? How can I help her learn to direct and manage her own learning? How can I help her remember her questions and her plans? How can I help her acquire thinking and learning habits? and etc.

For example, she is playing with lego animals and feltboard animals — how would you apply project-oriented focus to that play? You could take photographs of her playing and hang them up. You could have her tell you a story and transcribe it, then read it back to her. If she talks aloud to herself while she plays, you could record her and play it back for her. (Or use video for the same purpose — young children are fascinated by seeing themselves in this way.) You could listen to her play and talk about animals and see if you can tease out any questions she has. You can supply her with art materials so she can draw and paint animals — it helps to put these making materials directly alongside her toys and her books. You can give her clean recyclables so she can make props to go along with her animals. Listen for her asking questions, and listen for her saying “I want...” Give her materials so she can extend her play. — read more

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