Open thread

Published by Lori Pickert on March 13, 2009 at 02:48 PM


If the next generation is to face the future with zest and self-confidence, we must educate them to be original as well as competent. — Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi


Comment by Lori Pickert on March 13, 2009 at 06:28 PM

re: being original, jack and i both loved this speech by dav pilkey, author of the captain underpants books — hilarious and inspirational:

it’s a speech given to a room filled with teachers at a scholastic event; he shares his experiences as a boy who loved to write stories and draw comic books and who got in trouble at school every day:

“When I was asked to give a speech … and told what it was about — our most cherished and fond memories of our favorite teachers — i was thinking, gosh, I don’t have either of those…”

seen at

Comment by estea on March 13, 2009 at 07:07 PM

wow, that boy could have been my husband ;)

what a great quote - off to watch vid.

Comment by Brynn on March 13, 2009 at 07:25 PM

Yes! This gets at the heart of why our educational choices for out children are so important. Let us please not tread the same path. Let us please foster creativity and flexibility so that our future leaders may see the world (and its problems and blessings) in a different paradigm!

Comment by Amy on March 13, 2009 at 08:55 PM

Since it's open thread & all, I'm still stuck on the last post. I just got a chance to read the rest of the comments. I was struck by the commenter who said they focus on two things throughout the year and add in others. I often worry, am I doing enough? We do story work and math most every day, along with recorder practice. We read extra books, I try to bake and do some sort of craft weekly (when I can). We get to museums and so on. Yet I worry, enough science? enough history? And really, my "officially" homeschooled kid is 7. I keep trying to tell myself to calm down already.

I think about my mother-in-law. I provided her first grandchild, and it seemed like she wanted to do all those Grandmother Things right away, and she'd suggest activities that, really, the kid (and then kids) were just too young to appreciate. I'd get frustrated--couldn't she SEE that? The kids aren't going anywhere, and we didn't have to do all those great-sounding things at age two. I try to remind myself of that when it comes to homeschooling. They're not going anywhere (unless, of course, we decide to school 'em, but other than that, they're not). We have time. No rush.

Anyway, that's my story today. Back to cooking dinner...

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 13, 2009 at 09:03 PM

brynn, bravo! i am doing the one-woman wave. ;^)

on an entirely different subject, wanted to share these awesome tins that megan made --

the 9yo and i are working on a special new drawing area for him. we are moving the drafting table from the art studio up to his room and finagling a pegboard to hold his tools. so much fun. megan’s tins started me off on a whole reverie about making him some special new pencil and pen holders. it’s that spring cleaning/organizing/remodeling fever!

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 13, 2009 at 10:39 PM

amy, i wasn’t sure what cathy meant by “focus” .. whether she meant those were the things they *always* did, plus they added in other things or whether she meant that was where they concentrated their energies. we are more like the former. we always do math. we always do projects. if we feel some particular area isn’t being addressed (and i’ve written here before about how we look at two-year chunks of time to assess that), then we plan some reading and/or focused mini-projects to cover that area.

i agree completely re: remaining calm and having plenty of time. the more i let the boys dig into their chosen projects, the more learning they do. when we are relaxed about schedules, they tend to spend months on a project that may be mostly science or mostly language arts, but always ties into other subject areas. then they start on something new and the balance changes. in the end, they’ve achieved much more in each area than if we’d chopped everything up into sortable bits.

Comment by Stefani on March 13, 2009 at 11:16 PM

Hey Lori!
Just wanted to pop in and thank you (again) for all your inspiration. I don't know if you know this, but I hear you whispering to me all the time. :-) Um, that sounds a little stalkerish.

You know what I mean, right?

Anyhow, I was really struck this week by how interested my kids are in doing things that they see me doing. If I"m reading a book or looking at a website or nature journaling, painting, whatever, they want in - but if I ask them to do it... instant eye rolling.

I noticed too, out on our walks this week, how much more interested they are in learning when I'm speaking to them as I would any adult friend that went walking with me, rather than in that "teacher" tone that I sometimes lapse into.

As open and nurturing as I think our schooling environment is, I still have to remind myself to learn with them, not AT them. You know?

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 14, 2009 at 01:36 AM

thank you, stef. i hope whatever i’m whispering is helping. ;^)

i think children are drawn to work that adults are doing because it is real work with real purpose. too many times, adults create artificial projects for children to do rather than helping children find their own meaningful work. when they are drawn to what we do, it’s not just the activity that attracts them, it’s our interest, passion, involvement, and etc. what i’m always blathering on here about is helping them connect with their own work — so they can have their own interest, passion, engagement, etc. so much more than a cute craft or a one-off science experiment.

re: “teacher” tone .. it can be challenging for adults to step back and allow children to direct and manage their own learning. to become their co-conspirators, their mentors, their learning partners, rather than their authority figures, their lecturers, etc. but who really enjoys being lectured to? children much prefer learning from what vygotsky called a “more capable peer” — and that can be a slightly more advanced child or an adult who is willing to, exactly as you say, learn with them.

Comment by Elise on March 14, 2009 at 02:43 AM

When I read that quote the first thing I thought of was teacher education here in the states. It seems like a focus on competence, rather than originality is one of the largest problems our public schools face. Wouldn't it create an educational revolution if teacher training programs taught and championed Reggio-based methods? Sigh... Could we all write letters to President Obama?

As I've written somewhere before, I fully support home schooling but I also feel a strong desire and obligation to do whatever I can to benefit kids out there that aren't blessed with parents who are able to home school. But I also know we've got to do the think globally, act locally thing too - can't save the world if I can't slow down and start at home, right?

Comment by Maritza on March 14, 2009 at 04:13 AM

I am getting so many ideas from your blog. I especially like the tips I am getting on how to provoke more learning in my children, as I read thru the project based approach posts. I want to be good at asking questions, not just generating ideas for them. My son is in K in our local public school, and it's a wonderful school. I keep wishing homeschooling had worked out for us, but it didn't so I have to let it go for now. :) But I am committed to keeping an environment that encourages deeper learning & not learning to the test type of thing that happens to kids. I want to develop my son's fascination with maps into an ongoing project-based learning thing, and luckily I've been able to learn a little bit from his uninterested reactions when I've gotten too "mommy is gonna force this thing" kind of attitude. He's responded so much better to the spontaneous intro. of ideas about how to learn about maps etc, but I do want to cultivate more about him learning how to learn that you've been discussing here.

My big hope is that even though we are not homeschooling at this time, that he will have room in his experience over the next many years to still have a fresh and personal engagement with learning, and that it won't get drowned out in the busyness of schoolwork.

Well, just throwing that out there- and thanks for provoking some learning over here in my neck of the woods. Take care.

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 14, 2009 at 04:35 AM

elise, oh, i agree. and there are school systems that use the reggio approach -- chicago commons is one -- and many private schools. i have trained over a hundred early childhood teachers in my state in the reggio approach; there are educators and administrators who are very passionate about it. but oh, the wheels do grind slowly. and there is a lot of double-talk by certain educators who say on the one hand how *wonderful* reggio-inspired methods are and on the other hand how sad that it is *impossible* to recreate these results in the united states. which is a bunch of baloney.

homeschooling absolutely does not mean that you don’t support public schools. that would be like saying because you ride the subway you aren’t in favor of roads. people often do *think* that if you homeschool you’ve washed your hands of the public schools, though. i’ve heard from some of them. personally, i went to public school, i volunteered as an adult at a public school, i started a private school and ran that for several years, and now i homeschool. if only i could have shoehorned a charter in there somewhere, i’d feel really well-rounded. and i vehemently support better pubilc schooling for all children.

the purpose of this blog isn’t to champion homeschooling, after all; it’s to champion a certain kind of learning that i believe children need and deserve — and it’s something i’ve done both in school and out.

if you write to president obama, i want to read the letter! ;^)

maritza, thank you so much! it sounds like you are making a good start. let me know how it’s going!

Comment by Elise on March 14, 2009 at 06:15 AM

Hi Lori - feeling a little foot in mouth here - I didn't mean to imply that you didn't support public schools. Like you said, 'the wheels grind slowly' and I think I was just feeling frustrated about that today... One thing I really enjoy about this blog is that there's a nice mix of parents/educators who may or may not homeschool, but the focus is on learning in any setting.

I'm not communicating very well today, so no letters to Obama tonight :)

Comment by Dawn on March 14, 2009 at 07:10 AM

"educate them to be original..." This was intresting to me. Educate originality. We have really come this far... so disconnected from orignial thought that we have to educate it back into the natural system. Yes, I think so. At least work a lot harder on not squelching it!

I often have to stop myself before I say or do something to squelch that originality. Like I know she is going to be unhappy if she cleans out her whole room and the only thing left is "dinosaur stuff"? As happend yesterday! I was so close to putting my foot down and forcing her to keep all this stuff that she had put out into the hall... then I stopped to take a closer look. Yup! Most if it was stuff she never played with...never used. Some got boxed up for donation, some got stored (because Grandma made it special), some got passed on to little brother... we made a few compromises. To me her room looks bare, empty! She loves it. Maybe it was the space she needed to relax and think? She is original! I always have to stop and think!

Love what Stefani had to say about kids wanting to do what you do. This definitly applies to my little man... not so much to the little lady of the house!

Once again thanks for the thoughts!

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 14, 2009 at 01:53 PM

ha, sorry, elise! i didn’t think you were saying that at all! just affirming. :^)

tone = conversational, in agreement, and mumbled around a mouthful of cookie. ;^)

dawn, it’s funny, i really hadn’t picked up on that in the quote, but you are so right! but what is education except a set of goals .. so if we need to *allow* children to be original, if we want to *encourage* them, i suppose we should state it. exactly as you say: don’t squelch it!

did anyone watch that video i linked to in the first comment? because i want to reference it in every reply i’ve made this weekend. :^) not squelching originality goes right along with what dav pilkey says happened to him in school. (hint: they tried very hard to squelch.)

it *is* really hard to not react to some things they do with an automatic no; good on you for seeing that she was making good decisions about her room. sometimes my parental “no” reflex is a little too hair-trigger. :^P i have to stop and do exactly as you did — think through it to see that there’s substance behind what they are doing.

thank you!

Comment by Sarah Jackson on March 14, 2009 at 03:21 PM

We toured an amazing charter school on Thursday that demonstrated just this concept. It's an arts-focused middle and high school. The lobby of the building is dedicated to a wide variety of work by the students and faculty, and the energy of so many different people coming together to explore their own capabilities was palpable when we walked in. I looked around, and thought "now this is what you get if you let kids be who they are and encourage their creativity!" I've found two of these charter schools in the last couple of months - one performing arts only and one both visual and performing.

We also went into a high school English class to observe. The teacher talked about his philosophy of encouraging kids to write! write! write! and when asked about standardized tests, he said that mattered to him was that his students are able to connect their reading to the moral questions it raises and to what is going on in the world, and communicate those connections to others. And this is a school where 95% of the kids pass the state testing. They're doing it without teaching to the test.

Of course it leaves me wondering what could happen in our local public school if they were given the freedom to work with kids in a way that encouraged their originality and not just their competence.

Comment by Christina on March 14, 2009 at 05:12 PM

Oh, what a great video that was! I finally took a moment to watch. Funny and tender and so telling.

Last year when I made the decision to homeschool, I realized I had to tell family and friends and start dealing with their reactions. My brother was one of the first people I told (remember the philosophy professor from weeks past). His response? "That's FANTASTIC!" As it turns out, he had a miserable school experience, much like Pilkey, something I never really knew since he's always been smart enough to work the system and fly under the radar. I DO remember, however, when he failed reading in fourth grade, and my mom had to assure his teacher that most likely he was just bored, having recently finished the Lord of the Rings trilogy for the second time. Luckily for us, home was a haven too.

Comment by trish on March 14, 2009 at 05:36 PM

just watched the video......and felt like crying through my laughter. while it was very funny, it was also a bittersweet story, that left me wondering how many children out there end up failing instead of perservering. i would guess that for every dave pilkey there are quite a few children that wither under similar circumstances. maybe the difference was his mom. maybe he has an indomitable spirit. whatever the reason, i'm glad he IS a success story.

the quote from MC was interesting - i wonder if originality can happen without some degree of competency? it seems to me that without some basic competency/skill refinement that originality is hard to come by. if a child (or adult, for that matter) is attempting to just master basic skills, it is much harder for creativeness or originality to blossom until those basic skills become effortless.

just recently, we experienced this first hand. the girl wanted to play a song she had made up in her head on the piano. small problem - she doesn't know how to play. it was a frustrating experience for both of us - she had an original song she had created, but not the knowledge she needed to be able to actually play it. we eventually found a solution that worked, but it was very much not what she had in mind when she started. she did realize that learning how the piano works would make it possible for her to play her own songs n the future, so we have a new "project". now if i can just figure out if learning to play the piano counts as a project, or needs to be a formal lesson. agghh....

educating for originality as well as do you educate originality? allow the freedom to explore, the space to think and foster the desire to learn? give them the basic skills they need to think originally and creatively? i think so, but there must be more......and how does this fit into project based learning (of which i'm just starting to learn about)?

so off i go to think some more......

thanks for such a great place to think out loud, lori!

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 14, 2009 at 06:44 PM

sarah, that sounds like a terrific school; what is the process for applying? what criteria do they use to select students?

supposedly obama is pro-charter and wants to figure out their success stories.

christina, ah, i’m so glad you watched it; i loved it, too! interesting about your brother the professor. how did the rest of your family take the news?

trish, interesting point re: basic skills/originality. i have to say i think originality can blossom without basic skills, but if you don’t have basic skills, can you be successful with that originality? i don’t think it’s an either-or situation — MC says original “as well as” competent. i’m just afraid the educational process we’ve ended up with cares mostly about standardization and not much about originality.

re: how originality fits in with project-based learning, as i envision them, projects foster originality in several ways --

-- project topics are chosen based on personal interests

-- abundant choices of media are available for children to express their ideas in an original way

-- opportunity is created for children to explore and develop their particular talents and interests

-- when working collaboratively, children are encouraged to recognize the different strengths of each member of the group and what each person has to contribute — and different children can explore different lines of inquiry that are particularly interesting to them, while sharing what their peers are learning

and that’s just a start! i think project-based learning, at least as i envision it, celebrates individualism and allows each person to develop their best self.

thank you, trish, for your thoughts!

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 14, 2009 at 06:57 PM

sarah, that sounds like a terrific school; what is the process for applying? what criteria do they use to select students?

supposedly obama is pro-charter and wants to figure out their success stories.

christina, ah, i’m so glad you watched it; i loved it, too! interesting about your brother the professor. how did the rest of your family take the news?

trish, interesting point re: basic skills/originality. i have to say i think originality can blossom without basic skills, but if you don’t have basic skills, can you be successful with that originality? i don’t think it’s an either-or situation — MC says original “as well as” competent. i’m just afraid the educational process we’ve ended up with cares mostly about standardization and not much about originality.

re: how originality fits in with project-based learning, as i envision them, projects foster originality in several ways --

-- project topics are chosen based on personal interests

-- abundant choices of media are available for children to express their ideas in an original way

-- opportunity is created for children to explore and develop their particular talents and interests

-- when working collaboratively, children are encouraged to recognize the different strengths of each member of the group and what each person has to contribute — and different children can explore different lines of inquiry that are particularly interesting to them, while sharing what their peers are learning

and that’s just a start! i think project-based learning, at least as i envision it, celebrates individualism and allows each person to develop their best self.

thank you, trish, for your thoughts!

Comment by christie on March 14, 2009 at 08:22 PM

Please pass the cookies this way....

Anyone else have difficulty keeping the journalling up? I can put some effort into it for about three days max, then it gets piled under random project and is forgotten about for 3 weeks. I feel like the observing is where I really need to be working at this point, because my daughter resists any sort of input from me.

I think I've finally come to terms with that, though, and I am busily planing seeds about project work and digging deeper and asking questions about how her interest in various topics is coming along. I pleased with the way things are coming in my interactions with my daughter, but I not doing so well in the journalling. it seems so simple. Just write *something* a couple times or at least once a day, but it isn't happening.

By the way, the talk recently about just putting materials out for kids to discover has been fantastic for us this week. I'm putting random stuff out every other day or so with no ideas of how these items might be used together, but my daughter comes up with something every time and she's jazzed about having invested something.

Comment by Sarah Jackson on March 14, 2009 at 08:36 PM

The school requires an essay about their educational goals, 2 letters of recommendation that address both their academic and their artistic readiness/enthusiasm, and an in-person interview. They want to make sure they're not getting students who think art school is a place to slack off. It's a true college prep program so they want kids who are committed to both their creative and their academic growth.

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 14, 2009 at 09:41 PM

christie, i just went through this. we had a week of spring break and all routine went out the window. then the next week was the bumpy reentry week where we still weren’t on a routine. are we the only people who take so long to get back into our normal lives?

anyway, i wasn’t journaling because i had gotten out of the habit, and then i found myself thinking *they aren’t doing anything* .. but when i really started thinking about it, i realized that they *were* doing things, but i hadn’t noticed. my journaling is my pause to stop and really see what they are doing .. if i don’t journal, i don’t see.

i’ve read over and over again that it takes 21 days to make a new habit. i keep this in mind when i want to change my life a little or a lot. and when i get off-kilter, it at least reminds me that it’s going to take a little effort to get back on the rails.

here’s a good article with some tips for building a new habit:

fantastic about the provocations — excellent to hear! :^)

Comment by Jenni on March 14, 2009 at 11:50 PM

Your quote immediately reminded me of my two children. They are so similar yet so different. They cannot learn the same concept in the same way because their means of learning vary. My daughter has a creative, unusual way of reaching every answer and every milestone. I admit, I do not work this way. It is with a great amount of effort and patience that I bite my tongue and let her do things her way. In the end it always works out. I don't know why I worry.

My son picks things up before they are out of my mouth, the story is finished, etc. The answer occurs to him long before many adults would understand. Yet he's complex in his own way. He's a solitary worker and on the occasion he doesn't understand something he wants to figure it out on his own. This sometimes means tears but again, he works it out in the end.

Comment by amy on March 15, 2009 at 03:21 AM

Hi. I'm new here but have been reading for awhile. Do you have any tips on how to make the transition into projects? I have a 7 y.o. and 4 y.o. I feel like my 7 y.o. has been doing projects but on a smaller scale, not as in depth. She's very self-directed and self-motivated and works hardest when it is her own doing.... moans and groans if I say to do it. I've been reading your approach for awhile and love it, it really speaks to me, it's been what I've always wanted to do with h.s. ing but I have gotten bogged down in chopping things up a bit and setting the agenda a bit. I guess I'm trying to figure out what to do to "start." I did read the starting section but I'm still a bit confused. Have her choose a subject to focus on and then tell her she can do anything she wants based on that subject? Get her a notebook or binder to keep everything related to that project in so she "gets" the focus? Do you set an hour or 2 a day that is "project time?" just to make sure something is getting done toward it? I imagine if you do that, they work on it still at other times just because they're enjoying themselves. I guess I feel like I need a little structure to it, but am trying to figure out how to do that without making it feel "forced." I want my daughter to read most every day, write something most every day and I guess I feel like she can do it in the context of her project. Do you ask your kids to keep a written record of what they're doing for their project? Or do they just get plenty of writing practice through whatever they do in their project? And the project can include any type of task? You don't necessarily look for a "finished project" but just let them flow with it? Just trying to figure out how we'll go about it and maybe overthinking it... thanks if you have any advice...

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 15, 2009 at 03:42 AM

jenni, you really turned that quote inside-out for me. i was only thinking about educating to be original in terms of helping children retain and develop their individuality. but it also needs to respect that children are unique and meet them where they are. i read a lot about this — gardner’s theories of multiple intelligences, for example — but i don’t see it in action in a typical classroom.

and, of course, if we’re homeschooling we have to figure out how to meet each of our children where they are. just when you think you have the first one figured out, the next one comes along with their own completely different set of requirements. ;^)

hi amy, and thank you. those are a lot of questions. :^) i promise i’ll write a meaty comment tomorrow!

Comment by Maritza on March 15, 2009 at 05:28 AM

to amy from above with all the questions & to Lori who plans on answering with a meaty answer :) thank you! I am looking forward to reading. I am just getting started, too. And Lori I am wondering how on earth you organize yourself to help us random folks out when I'm sure you're busy with your family, but however you do it, it's great! Thanks!

Today I took my son to the library and he asked the librarian for her best books on maps, and he's a quiet boy, so it was quite a milestone for him. All I had to do was say- "Do you know who in our community can answer so many questions for you because she can tell you what books to read?" When he learned it's the Librarian at the Library, he said he wanted to "Go to the Library today." And we did! I don't know how he made maps his thing, but come to think of it, I have a painting of a map (that I painted) hanging in my dining room, so I guess it's in the genes.

I love that my child's learning is making me learn more, too- he got a big kick out of tutoring me in the US states (I couldn't place Missouri on the map but he could), and in fact I now realize that's just one more way for him to reinforce & experience the process of learning- by helping poor old mom to acquire the knowledge that his 5 year old brain has mastered. ha ha

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 15, 2009 at 03:58 PM

maritza, beautiful story about your boy talking to the librarian. this is one of the reasons why assessing this kind of learning is difficult. how much importance do you place on a child achieving a slow but sure confidence in negotiating the world and communicating with all sorts of other people? i put tremendous importance on it. when you work closely with your children every day, you know exactly what each achievement means, so you can fully appreciate it. but we’re used to assessing basic skills and memorized information (that is soon forgotten), not dispositions. education can have a lot of flash and little substance; it’s important to focus on the substance.

*allowing* your child to teach you is so lovely — some parents struggle with this. they feel like allowing their child to get ahead of them is ceding some of their authority .. rather than sharing some of their ability.

amy! i don’t think you’re over-thinking; i think you’re just doing good thinking.

re: setting the agenda — you *can* set aside certain times for project work. make sure she has all the materials and space she needs. giving her a notebook is great; encourage her to put her notes, questions, plans, drawings, etc., in it. also give her a vertical wall space to display sketches, drawings, paintings, posters, ephemera.

remember, if you have certain time set aside for project work, to allow time for reading, making, talking, planning, even just thinking.

you can let her choose her subject to study, or you can suss out what you think is a deep interest that warrants more investigation.

re: reading and writing something most every day, that may happen during their project (almost certainly will) unless your child is a resistant reader/writer .. then it’s up to you to decide what you require — free reading x minutes a day, journaling, etc. but i would encourage you not to make any project-related work mandatory — make sure it’s outside the project. inside the project, your child should be practicing exercising their own choices, learning to direct and manage their own learning. negotiating work that will be done is fine, especially as your child gets older, but that is dependent upon their becoming proficient at directing their own learning, and your recognition that they have become proficient.

i hope this helps!

Comment by Cathy T on March 15, 2009 at 10:35 PM

Hey Lori and Amy - Sorry to be confusing about the word "focus" in the last post. Sometimes it is hard for me to focus on writing a coherent post with all that is going on here with my little ones (but I so need this forum!). Um, I meant that the kids have two subjects that this year we have decided they must do on a regular basis - so, math 4 times a week, fifing 4 times a week, and a chemistry/biology class that meets weekly and has assigned homework (maybe 20 minutes worth each week). Each year or maybe even within the year, these focal subjects may change - hence switching out math for computer programming. Other than those three obligations they focus (or channel??) all their energies on what they are interested in - though we do set up some boundaries sometimes once we decide what the project might be. Maybe boundaries isn't the right word - goals, focal points - though these are fluid over time. Projects, yes, that last a week or three or over months. Like you Lori, I do reassess what I want the kids to learn two or three times a year, even if it is just to say "we'll work on THAT skill later next year...." I stress out at times, Amy, that my kids aren't doing enough, but then when I write my progress note - or if I actually did journal and looked at that! - I can see that they are learning in spite of me!

Our town requires us to either have the kids tested at the end of the year, send in samples of work, or parents (or someone else for that matter) to write a progress note. I choose to write a note each year sharing each child's accomplishments. Then over the summer i write a pretty generic "Here is what we will do next year" note. I ever say how we'll accomplish our goals, just what they are, using state standards usually, but not always.

As for being original, I love that post. I personally don't like the Captain Underpants books but my kids went through a short phase where they did read some of them. I'd read the first chapter aloud but that was all - the rest was up to them. The Paperboy was a good book that I enjoyed time and time again with them. But the best news is how Dav was true to himself and believed in himself. That is what I want my kids to be and that is why I have sent the link to the site for my kids to watch and react to.

Comment by Christina on March 16, 2009 at 12:44 AM

So much information to digest! I really enjoy getting glimpses into everyone's day to day and year to year learning routines (or non-routines, as the case may be). I continue to gather ideas as we muddle our way through.

re: Amy's queries about transitioning into project work: For us it hasn't been much of a transition, since my kids are 5 and 3, but we didn't start project-work until half-way through the year. We spent Christmas vacation talking about it together (with my 5-year-old), discussing project work, brainstorming topics, until she finally settled on one. We still do many things "outside" the project, and allow other things to be incorporated into the project. She does reading unrelated to the project every day, as well as math. But both of those get used in the project also.

We started out the year focusing on "Habitats," and we are still working on that (Side note: I remember reading something in a recent post by Lori about the difference between "interest-driven unit studies" and "project-based learning" and I thought, "Ahh, those are exactly the two things I'm doing, and yes, they are different :) However, I've seen that even said "interest-driven unit" has begun to transition into a semi-project. Yes, I chose the topic (mainly based on my kids' general interest), but I have left off creating activities and find myself allowing the kids to decide their own course of action each day. I still suggest lots of things, but the more I let them choose, the more creative and opinionated they become.

I don't know if I will ever be able to allow my children to completely take their education into their own hands . . . I don't know if I want to. We may always have a mix of mom-driven studies and child-driven project work. I guess I'll just have to see how things play out, how much control I can give up, and what works best with each child. Such an adventure!

re: My family's reaction to our decision to homeschool? I've been really fortunate. We've had lots of support, even from family I'd expected to get grief from. And nearly all of my family are educators . . . go figure.

Comment by mary on March 16, 2009 at 01:00 AM

Just a quick thanks for the post about letting kids ask the librarian for information.
We had some questions arise around here and I asked the girls where we might find some information. Both of them talked about the library. We headed off and they both asked the librarian their questions and we talked about how to find the books. Maddie (4) wanted all of them on her topic, Annie (6) chose a few. It was so great to stand back and watch them interact with the very patient librarian. I probably would have pointed them to the books in the past. Maddie has mentioned a few different things she would like to ask the librarian next time. It's amazing how my taking one simple step back can put the power of learning into their own hands. I can't wait to see what happens the next time we go.

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 16, 2009 at 02:31 PM

cathy, thank you -- i was pretty sure i knew what you meant! ;^)

christina, you are describing exactly what i talk about here — a negotiated curriculum. i think a common misconception of people who browse into this site have is that i am advocating for children to have a 100% educational diet of projects, when actually i am advocating that children have *some* element of their education in which to manage their own learning. for some people that is going to look much like unschooling; for others, it won’t. thank you for sharing your version! :^)

i’m glad your family has been so supportive. among my friends and acquaintances, those who are educators seem to have the strongest reactions, both positive and negative. interesting.

mary, thank you so much for sharing that story! :^) such a simple thing, but it has such a powerful effect. that makes my day — thank you.

Comment by christie on March 17, 2009 at 12:00 AM

Mary - how great to get such a good response.

My daughter and I caught our librarian in the middle of something else today, and she wasn't very enthusiastic about listening to my quiet daughter try to find the words to describe the book she wanted. I ended up translating for her, and my daughter is totally unconvinced about the superhero properties of some librarians. Darn.

My daughter seemed to spend all her enthusiasm for her topic on brainstorming her ideas. After a really great conversation, she didn't really want to pick any of her ideas to pursue. I coaxed her into the library, and then that flopped.

Why does this seem so fragile?

My daughter doesn't really want to dig deeper into any topic. She just wants to listen to books on tape in her room all day making pipe cleaner figures or collages.

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 17, 2009 at 12:50 AM

christie, what a bummer. was it a children’s librarian? i usually find them to be the most patient and .. i don’t know, what? willing to *do their job*? .. but i have certainly had local experience with some librarians who are the antithesis of what they are supposed to be.

what a beautiful way to describe this early process — fragile. and what you’re working toward is feeling that it is robust. it’s not really the process, you know. the process *is* robust. it’s our ability to play it out, like learning how to play a musical instrument. *we* are the fragile part — our uncertainty, our fear of embarrassment, our dislike of making mistakes.

when i’ve worked with teachers, i just keep encouraging and encouraging and they keep groping around until we have that *one good moment*. then i can lay off and leave them alone, because their confidence comes right up. even when you have only had one *small* taste of success, you know (1) it exists and (2) you can find it again. then it’s just a matter of trying to have as many of those moments as possible.

i would encourage *you* :^) to do some quiet thinking and observing and look at those ideas she’s come up with. imagine where they might go. think of some other things one might do other than go to the library. see if you can come up with an opportunity you might create. maybe she’ll start making pipe cleaner models of her project topic. ;^) or maybe there are project books on tape!

if you can’t motivate her to move beyond the idea stage, then try putting together a couple of opportunities for her and see what happens. try to get the hoop rolling, but let go as soon as you can.

Comment by amy on March 17, 2009 at 03:42 AM

just wanted to say thank you, lori, for responding to all my questions. i know i had alot!! you and everybody else did help me sort through a bit how i might incorporate the projects into our day.
i'm sure we'll continue to work on math and i'll continue to require some sort of reading or writing if it's not getting done just through the projects. as long as there's good books around and if there's a good story or poem in her head, that's not too hard to do.
i know what you mean about the combination of child-led and teacher-driven. i've always felt i need to just make sure there are certain things we're sticking to and structured with but i guess i feel lately like she is sometimes rushing through her work to just get it done and be done for the day. i've always thought it would be amazing for kids to have a goal they're passionate about and really learn to see it through, to do basically what you're talking about. (i feel like that this could have such an influence on their adult lives. i think if i had that type of education it would have greatly affected my life!) This desire to follow through with all those great ideas is why we started homeschooling this year b/c i felt like she was starting to lose someof her passion and ability to do that with the tight schedule school put us on. anyway, i thank you for this website and for helping us all out with encouragement. i feel like this is going to get me back on track with the kind of learning i've wanted to do.thanks!

Comment by Cordelia on March 17, 2009 at 11:32 AM

Christie, Lori,
I love the way your ideas and words came together to weave something beautiful . The concept of the fragility and the ephemeral quality of moments being a function of our focus on the moments, the picture of a process that seems fragile because our confidence itself is a fragile thing (and, so, something we need to nurture) all rings so true. Thanks for thinking out loud for us.

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 17, 2009 at 03:10 PM

amy, thank you. there are a lot of different ways of doing this, and i hesitate to say “do it this way” because i am afraid people will read it and think there’s a recipe to follow. i hope you know what i mean.

you can try different things and see what works for you, and if it doesn’t work as well as you’d like, you can try something else. but throughout, it’s about being very purposeful — thinking about what you’re trying to achieve and how you might try to there there, making deliberate choices, then reflecting on your progress and what you might do next.

i always think of this vea vecchi quote: “Our research is really an adventure, often exciting and diverting, and how can I give advice about going on an adventure?”

cordelia, thank you!

Comment by christie on March 17, 2009 at 08:58 PM

Thanks for the encouragement. It is so easy to forget about the successes. But you're right, they do exist, and they will happen again.

One of the things I have been working on is how to show her the work of others. Sometimes I am concerned that she insists on reinventing the wheel all the time because she refuses to consider the ideas of others.

Yesterday I happened across a project where the crafter sewed a zipper on two soda bottle bottoms to make a clam shell coin purse. A couple of weeks ago my daughter was making boxes with lids that opened in a similar way (using fabulous amounts of tape). So I showed her the project and off to the store we went to get water bottles. She used tape to attach a zipper and make something similar, but now where the exciting part come in, she's trying to figure out what to do with the tops.

I am sure it seems like a fairly simple story, but for us it is a huge leap, because at least at this moment she isn't limited to only ideas she thinks up. She is taking an idea someone else had, adapting it to suit her, and then running off in a different direction. I'm thrilled. I'll bet we'll be buying more water bottles a couple of days from now.

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 17, 2009 at 11:59 PM

christie, it may seem like a fairly simple story to some, but as an old hat at this, i understand.

sharing ideas and collaborating is very important and, by the way, genius for you to show her what this crafter had done. other ways you might introduce opportunities for collaborating/sharing ideas -- inviting friends over to construct things together, setting up a project group (could be as small as just you and one other child), starting an online project group (sharing work on a shared blog; i like to use tumblr for this), having her bring and show work to family/friends/church group/homeschool co-op/brownies/etc.

and that is just sharing/collaborating with peers; of course, you’ve already explored one way to introduce the work of adults. you can also visit art studios, exhibitions, museums, businesses in the community, etc.

thank you so much for sharing this story!

Comment by Kathy on March 18, 2009 at 08:31 PM

I just found your blog and I'm really enjoying it! On my way to view more of it. Have a great day!

Comment by Lori Pickert on March 20, 2009 at 02:38 PM

thank you, kathy! :^)

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