PBH: How to start
The most important part of learning through projects isn’t amassing knowledge about any particular subject, but mastering how to learn.
So we start by asking children, “How can we find out about this?”
Running concurrently with our study of any particular subject is the study of learning itself: Where is the information? Who knows about this? Where can we go? What can we see? Meta-learning: learning about learning.
We gather knowledge and acquire skills: What do we want to know? What’s important and what’s not? What do we want to do with what we’ve learned? How do we explain what we know to others?
“How can we find out about this?” Children may suggest books; they may suggest the internet. They may make surprising suggestions, like “Let’s ask Grandma!” They may make really interesting suggestions, like “What about that place we went last summer? I saw something about it there.” We are investigating our deepest interests and we are learning the process by which we acquire knowledge. We can look things up in books, we can look at websites, we can watch movies. We can visit the places where things happen in real life; we can interview experts in person or by phone, letter, or email. We can ask our friends, our family, our neighbors, our community members.
There are myriad ways to learn about something. Rather than handing these resources over to our children as a fait accompli, we help them to discover their own resources. Rather than supplying them with readymade activities, we help them pursue their own ideas.
You’ve heard about slow food; this is slow learning. You could bring your child a stack of books from the library and take a trip to the museum — or you could let your child go to the library and talk to the librarian about how to find books, let your child decide which books look like they have the best information, wait for your child to suggest visiting the museum then let her plan the trip ... well, it’s going to take a lot longer. But they are digging deeper, exploring outward in more directions, doing more of the work themselves, discovering, solving, and planning.
Even something as simple as talking to the librarian themselves is a huge accomplishment for a young child. In our adult world, we always want to race ahead; getting there first is seen as a win. Doing more is seen as accomplishing more. When we mentor children to be self-directed learners, we slow down to their pace. We take our time and savor every step of the process, because when our child really knows it, they own it, and they can access it whenever they choose.
More important, [we] had developed guidance strategies for promoting behaviors in the children that enabled them to begin to become self-directing, self-disciplined, able to make choices, and to engage in projects for sustained periods of time. — Ann Lewin, Model Early Learning Center
Interested in learning more about PBH and self-directed learning? Start here: 10 Steps to Getting Started