Open thread

Published by Lori Pickert on November 18, 2011 at 01:38 PM

[V]isions, no matter how grand, need to be acted upon to become real. Ideas, clearly, are important. Without them change has no rudder. But change also needs wind and a sail to catch it. Without them there is no movement. — Elliot Eisner


Comment by Lori Pickert on November 18, 2011 at 07:34 PM

love love love this, sent in by barb (thank you, barb!):

Leonardo's To-Do List

"That ability to let go, float free, does seem like an essential part of a creative mind..."

"They recruited 60 undergrads, half of whom were diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). So these kids had real difficulty focusing and sticking to any one activity. All the students were then given a variety of creativity tests (including the Creative Achievement Questionnaire, originally developed by Shelley Carson at Harvard) and, surprisingly, the ADHD students generally got higher scores. When White asked, "Who among you has won a big part in a play, an art prize, a science prize?" — who has been recognized for his or her achievements out there in the real world — again it was the ADHD students who had done better."

"Minds that break free, that are compelled to wander, can sometimes achieve more than those of us who are more inhibited, more orderly, the study suggests."

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 18, 2011 at 09:39 PM

and this:

"I, like many of you artists out there, constantly shift between two states. The first (and far more preferable of the two) is white-hot, "in the zone" seat-of-the-pants, firing on all cylinders creative mode. This is when you lay your pen down and the ideas pour out like wine from a royal chalice! This happens about 3% of the time.

The other 97% of the time I am in the frustrated, struggling, office-corner-full-of-crumpled-up-paper mode. The important thing is to slog diligently through this quagmire of discouragement and despair. Put on some audio commentary and listen to the stories of professionals who have been making films for decades going through the same slings and arrows of outrageous production problems.

In a word: PERSIST."

Comment by Pam on November 18, 2011 at 10:34 PM

Hi Lori. I have been exploring Project Learning again (and writing about it on my blog) and my daughter has recently expressed some interest in some fun topics. Currently we do some basics, reading aloud and unit studies. I would like to replace the mom-planned unit studies with project based learning. I envision us having that time set aside for project work. When your kids are working on a project is is happening every day? And if it stalls you try to remind them of a question they had earlier? And if they simply aren't interested in working on a project that day what is their other option? I envision offering to play a game with them or read them a book about a different topic or offering art supplies -- but something for that designated project time.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 19, 2011 at 12:29 AM

hi pam. :)

when they were younger, it was four or five days a week *plus whenever they wanted*. we would have set project times either every morning or, depending on what our schedule was like, all weekday mornings but one. (we usually bunch our activities up into one "out" day.)

now that they are older, they work on their projects pretty much every day including weekends.

if you are setting aside certain time for working on projects, yes you can definitely remind them of unfinished plans or unanswered questions when things stall, but you also have to respect the natural ebb and flow of project work and learning. some days will be more for thinking, playing, messing around, etc. i wouldn't try to keep the energy high every single day.

i would try to orient "project time" toward activities where they are in charge/taking the lead, so - art supplies out and ready, books out, etc. if you set up your space to reflect the work they're doing, and if you start by reminding them of what they were working on before and letting them know what's ready for them today, you can segue nicely into it. always try to schedule open time after project time (if you can) so they can work as long as they like without a harsh transition.

so, rather than offering to play a game, i would wait to see how they want to use their time. if they want to work on something non-project-related, that's always fine. but preferably that time is for them to do their own, self-directed work.

between projects is a great time to introduce new art supplies, build art skills (e.g., learn a new skill with an old material), go on random field trips/jaunts around the community, read new books they've chosen, etc. etc. - all the one-off things that you save so you don't disrupt the flow of their self-chosen work.

if you offer a space that supports and encourages self-directed work, materials and tools, and your support and attention, they will probably move forward to fill that time. if we step in too soon to fill it, they'll let us - and then look to us the next time. if we put all the pieces there and then step back, they can learn to take charge of that time. you might even need to model a bit for them, help them articulate their own ideas - just use the lightest touch possible.

hope this helps! :)

Comment by amy on November 19, 2011 at 01:16 AM

Love Leonardo's To-Do List; thanks for sharing. I am (again) in the frustrating place of having so little time to act upon my ideas. 15 minutes here or there. I wouldn't not-choose motherhood, but I'd like to borrow Virginia's Room for a day!

Comment by Pam on November 19, 2011 at 03:28 AM

Yes, yes. Thank you that makes so much sense. More time as they get older and I am needed less. Open door to the supply cabinet (I have a 2yo so it has to stay locked otherwise.). Staying back so they don't depend on me. I think that will be the biggie, because they are already used to me driving. Not only will I have to work on stepping back myself, but also getting them used to me stepping back and not running the show -- only then will they step forward. Excellent.

I think I had an epiphany about PBL, please correct me if I am wrong. PBL at young ages is kind of like art at young ages. It should be about PROCESS not PRODUCT, right? I think what was throwing me off was the whole "project" in the name. My 6yo may not create some wonderful crafty or science fair-type project at this age. Instead she may paint picture after picture of butterflies and include what she has learned in her play, but that is enough. Instead it should all be about the process of her learning -- her asking the questions, having the spark, doing the research, and using her art and activities to process the information -- not about the pretty or complete finished product. There may be a journal, but it may just be a collection of research. My job is to aid and suggest and maybe model some. As she grows the project part will become more rich and complex????

Also, you mentioned waiting and doing other things "between projects." I guess I am mentally hung up because you talk in the PBL series about giving kids long periods (a year) to work on a project. Is it safe to say that some younger kids may do more shorter projects or flow in and out of one over time? So we will not wait a year to explore other topics, but it might be over weeks depending on the project and the interest?

Thank you so much for your time and expertise!

Comment by Alexandra Woodsen on November 19, 2011 at 07:38 AM

This quote is inspiring, can open minds and dare to love change. The picture you chose is also appropriate - an atmosphere that can trigger reflection. Thanks for sharing!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 19, 2011 at 04:26 PM

amy, i bet. :)

all i can say is, faster than you can blink, they are older and you have time again! i realize that probably doesn't help today. :)

pam, i left a looong comment on your blog. plus some shorter ones. :)

"Not only will I have to work on stepping back myself, but also getting them used to me stepping back and not running the show -- only then will they step forward. Excellent."

you can work this as a transition, gently segueing into having them take control. if you are still talking with them (but you shift to asking questions, having her dictate to you, having her tell you about their play, etc.), if you are still working with them (but shifting to open-ended art set-ups and eliciting her ideas), they shouldn't feel it as a shock. hopefully. ;^)

as i wrote to you on your blog, YES, it is about process and not about product. what matters is the child being in control, directing and managing her own learning - NOT the particulars of what she produces. and you are right - the word "project" can be confusing because we think of projects as activities and really here the word represents a long-term learning focus.

"As she grows the project part will become more rich and complex????"

you DO want to encourage her to work deeper and wider. so if she was painting butterflies over and over, for example, you could introduce new materials: pastels and paper, easel, painting on fabric, watercolors, tempera, clay, wire, collage...

very young children (age 3, say) are capable of doing rich and complex project work. over time, *you* will become more adept at supporting her work to help it be complex. i would say the biggest difference between younger and older children doing project work is that the older they get, the more confident they are in expressing their ideas and confronting any problems. they really take charge of the process because they are familiar with everything that *can* be done with an interesting subject. but even the youngest children can make amazing intellectual connections and create beautiful, resonant representations of their learning.

i think the most important thing is to look at it as a long-term project of your own ;^) -- it won't happen overnight, it will take time, and you will be more and more confident as you get more and more experience. you are learning how your child learns and how you can better support that learning.

re: how long projects last - the key is to not force her to move on but let her stay with a topic a long time *if she chooses*. often, adults are in a hurry to move on to something else, feeling like children are learning more if they are touching on many different subjects. but she might be finished with something in a few weeks. in the book i talk about how to figure out if a project is truly "done". again, she is setting the pace but you are encouraging her to stay with ideas longer. it's a balance where you mentor rather than control, and your goal is to help her really dig into her ideas.

thank YOU for your great blog posts & your great comments!

Comment by Dawn Suzette on November 19, 2011 at 09:50 PM

Without them change has no rudder.... I love that part.

As far as the comments go...
It has taken me awhile but I have finally let go of the idea that I need to see a product from their projects. I focus more on our disscussions and the process I see them using. I think this has helped me with my own projects. I used to be focused on the product of my hobbies... sewing, knitting, etc... now I enjoy the process so much more. It does not feel like a chore (ironing, cutting, pulling out stitches when I make a mistake) but part of the process to be learned from and enjoyed.

Thanks Lori!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 20, 2011 at 12:01 AM

mm, i agree with you so much — not just hobbies for me, but also housework. cooking, doing dishes, working outside .. if you focus on the process and enjoying it, it stops feeling like a chore. at least to me. :)

i think the *product* from project-based homeschooling is the learner himself (or herself ;) -- that's what we're really building.

i love the quote because there are so many things that inspire us, but none of them matter if we don't put the effort into making them real.

Comment by Stacey on November 20, 2011 at 05:46 PM

{This is a little disjointed}

"[V]isions, no matter how grand, need to be acted upon to become real." I'd add that as a parent we need to let go to see where kids will take this because they are naturally motivated towards doing.

Reading a lot of these comments got me thinking about where I was about a year ago. What I found that was that as soon as I let go of any ideas of what we were going to do and just listened things shifted. My son is five, we just spent the last six weeks on domes, we even built a geodesic dome out of straws. Now that we're domed out we are at an in between time, and it's sort of beautiful to watch him looking for something new to connect with. Now that he's tasted delving into something he's excited for the next "adventure".

I've also let go of setting times for projects and art. The studio is always open and all of our learning time is going into projects. The theme of buildings and architecture is pretty consistent, and that's led to his interest in understanding numbers so that he can make "real" plans. Who knows where all this will go.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 20, 2011 at 06:47 PM

stacey, absolutely. you know, re: this quote, i was thinking about the fact that inspiration only gets us so far — and i mean, us, the adults — and we need to actually put effort into making our ideas *happen*.

and you're right — with our children, we can't attempt to steer their boat. at least, not if we're interested in helping them direct and manage their own learning.

"Now that he's tasted delving into something he's excited for the next "adventure"." THIS. this is what i have experienced again and again — children who have the experience of working deeply on something that matters to them are excited to learn, excited by the world, and dive right back down into their next interest.

re: setting times for project work, this isn't necessary for us, either, because it's simply the way we live. it's what we're used to — both adults and kids. for people just starting out, who are trying to introduce new habits, i think it can be very useful.

it sounds like you are doing beautifully. yay. :)

Comment by Stacey on November 20, 2011 at 07:21 PM

"it sounds like you are doing beautifully. yay. :) "

Well I've gotten a lots of inspiration from the discussions here.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 20, 2011 at 09:05 PM

that is great to hear. :) you've shared a lot of inspiration in return — thank you!

Comment by Jacinda on November 20, 2011 at 09:16 PM

Ok so help me out here...I have been following this wonderful blog for a while now - we have the journals that I write notes in and they have always had materials available 24/7 in a room that is theirs. But my eldest who is 8 is really almost always only really interested in playing imaginary games with or without her younger sister. The theme of he play is whatever comes up on the day. We have explored within this context; suggesting different dress-ups, offeing different spaces to explore in and possible props to make. Here's my issue - there has never been content that she is interested to explore deeply - no "domes" or "amphibians" or "butterflies." What I understand to be her real love is social relationships which she does most days with people she meets in her life, and in this she is "expert".
We bumble along it seems, following other interests (Little House series, baking, a bit of this and a bit of that) but imaginary play is where she will always be drawn to most.
Am I missing something?

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 21, 2011 at 12:25 AM

hi jacinda. :)

right off the top of my head, i think i would feed her love of imaginary play. does she have costumes? is she making them herself? are they already constructed or does she use fabric squares & etc.? does she sew?

is she playing in the room where the art materials are? are there dramatic play structures, generic or specific? (e.g., play furniture, cardboard boxes, fabric) you could get her building props and sets, creating costumes and accessories, etc.

you could introduce a camera, a videocamera. you could provide a typewriter, blank books. does she have friends over to participate in this play? if you film them, they might move toward a planned skit or play. if you point a videocamera at children, they almost always go off into a huddle to plan what they want to do next. you could also give them a tape recorder. if she's uninterested in writing down the stories she's playing, she might be interested in dictating some to you and having you write them down, then you could read them together.

"The theme of he play is whatever comes up on the day." this is where i would be looking at trying to get her to stay with one idea longer. all of the above ideas lead in that direction. if she builds sets, props, makes costumes, etc., then she'll be reusing them. if you videotape her and/or her siblings/friends, they'll be thinking of what to do next - and you can encourage/suggest she make a written or sketched plan. if her dramatic play has a theme, that can be explored in books to get more ideas for props, sets, costumes, accessories, etc.

a child who is super social will usually be very drawn toward sharing her work with others. so, finding ways to capture her dramatic play so she can show it to family members, friends, peers, in person or even online (e-mails, a personal blog) can encourage her to do more. she might warm quickly to the idea of sharing her dramatic play with others, inviting friends over to make costumes and plan a play or making a large dramatic play setting.

dramatic play is an art in and of itself, but it easily touches many others arts - writing, storytelling, sewing, designing, building, constructing, planning. and all of those require collaboration (if she's working with friends or peers - and hopefully she'll have some opportunity to do that at some point) and problem-solving.

if she is interested in a particular theme, that can be explored more deeply through books, films, websites, etc. but in the meantime, theatre, sewing, embroidery, beading, prop construction, clay, set-building, photography, videography - all of these things tie directly to dramatic play.

i think adults - and i don't mean YOU, jacinda, but just throwing this out there for anyone else who's listening in - tend to have a pullback from whatever their child has a real passion for. they feel like, well, my child just LOVES this thing, so that's taken care of, and i should try to guide them to do other things, for balance. again, i am NOT saying that is you in this situation, jacinda. but in general, it can be really useful - and educational - to instead dig even deeper into whatever your child is passionate about/obsessed with. because by going deeper, we actually branch out more into all the things that touch on that passion. this is, of course, making me think about the recent discussion here on the blog about children's love of video games. this is something a lot of adults just kick aside as unworthy of any more attention. if they dug into it instead, they might discovery what's really good and useful there and how it attaches to a lot of other good and useful things.

back to YOU, jacinda. :) i hope these suggestions and ideas are helpful. what do you think?

Comment by Janet on November 21, 2011 at 03:03 AM

Lori, this post is especially meaningful for me because last week my vision of child-led ed for my son finally took sail. Although I've been reading about various homeschooling ideas for a few years, and my husband and I were seriously considering it in the last few months, our five year old son is the one who said, Can we just do it already? So here we are afloat (for now) and enjoying the posts and comments so much. Thank you.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 21, 2011 at 03:08 AM

yay! congratulations! :)

Comment by Jacinda on November 22, 2011 at 09:20 AM

Thanks for such a detailed's just the reassurance I needed! We do all of this in fits and starts but the video-recording has been an idea for a while but one we haven't given wind to as we haven't got it's time to go looking. Also your response has given us renewed impetus to get going on her blog.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 22, 2011 at 01:51 PM

jacinda, i'm glad it helped. :) let me know how it goes!

Post new comment