Open thread

Published by Lori Pickert on January 30, 2009 at 04:08 PM

School has an inherent tendency to infantilize children by placing them in a position of having to do as they are told, to occupy themselves with work dictated by someone else and that, moreover, has no intrinsic value — schoolwork is done only because the designer of a curriculum decided that doing the work would shape the doer into a desirable form. I find this offensive, in part because I remember how much I objected as a child to being placed in that situation, but mainly because I am convinced that the best learning takes place when the learner takes charge. — Seymour Papert

A well-motivated student who does not labor under a specific handicap often needs no further human assistance than can be provided by someone who can demonstrate on demand how to do what the learner wants to learn to do. — Ivan Illich


Comment by mommyknows on January 30, 2009 at 04:45 PM

I would love to home school, but not sure if I have what it takes. Patience is not one of my virtues.

I've have decided to teach the kids latin at home and learn along with them. A mini-practice run of sorts. I've also started a daily art/alphabet session with my three year old.

I love your blog!

Comment by barbara brown on January 30, 2009 at 05:27 PM

i could not agree with your post more.
i am so glad i came across your blog. i really like it.

Comment by Jen R. (aaron-n... on January 30, 2009 at 05:31 PM

How do I keep my 4.5 year old and 2.5 year old busy doing something constructive instead of destroying my house when I have something else I need to be doing? For example, say I'm cleaning the house or taking the dog outside to go potty (I never leave them inside for long) or going potty myself! How can I motivate them to do something constructive - playing with their blocks, books, or other toys - instead of grabbing a chair and pouring flour all over my counters and floor? (Then of course refusing to clean it up without much screaming, crying, and tantrums?)

My son (4.5) tells me that he hates his playroom and he doesn't want to play. I asked him why, and he said he wants a fireplace in his playroom. (!!!)

If I sound frantic and frazzled, it's probably because I am. I love my kids and I keep a good eye on them, but sometimes a woman just has to go number two!

Comment by melanie on January 30, 2009 at 05:35 PM

While I agree in the sense that 'the best learning takes place when the learner takes charge', and I really want to move our focus in homeschooling more towards fostering an independance and curiosity towards learning, I am struggling with how to fit in the basic skills that are so important like math and reading and grammar.

How do you merge these two thingS? I feel that it is important to learn how to add subtract, multiply and divide and gain a good sense of numbers. Sometimes this just does take work. Even if they don't want to do the work, I still expect it from them, because it's freeing to learn to master our own willpower and do things even when we don't want to. Does that make sense?

I feel like i am straddling two differing viewpoints and am trying to figure out how it will all work together.

Comment by amy on January 30, 2009 at 05:44 PM

When I think of all the time I wasted in school as a child, sitting there quietly as I was supposed to do when I finished the work, waiting for everyone else to finish, it still drives me nuts. The only acceptable activity was to read quietly. I still remember wishing I could bring my crochet to school (I didn't know how to knit then, but I had a crazy crochet period, making doll blankets) to fill that time. Think what could be accomplished by children who are forced to waste time because they already understand the work! We only get so many minutes on this earth, for crying out loud.

Comment by Laura on January 30, 2009 at 06:23 PM

Oh boy, this is a big one! I am afraid that it is only too true in many schools that children are indeed "infantilized" and asked to do endless amounts of meaningless busywork. I began my career as an elementary school teacher, but I was so discouraged by the way public schools approach learning, that I ended up making a transition to early childhood education, where many more options exist (for example, in reggio-inspired schools and those using emergent curriculum).

I believe that the goal of school should be to encourage the creativity and thirst for learning that is naturally present in all children. When you grow up, many of the "facts" we all supposedly "learned" in school fly right out the window. However, if you try to remember something you were passionate about as a kid (let's say horses, for instance), I bet you have retained an awful lot of information about that subject that was so captivating to you.

I wish that the public schools here in the States would adopt a different model. As it is, if you can't afford private school, and you are not able to homeschool, you really have no other option.

Comment by Sarah Jackson on January 30, 2009 at 08:19 PM

I'm responding to Melanie and her questions about the basics.

What we do to hit the basics (and I'm new at this, but it seems to be working) is that we incorporate the skills into her project work. For example, she's planning a farm that she would like to own someday. Well, she'd like it now but it's not happening now. So, she has to price out the land, figure out what crops and lifestock she wants, find out how much they cost, etc. and then make up a budget for starting the farm. She's also investigating how much she could sell her crops for, so we look at the farmer's market for pricing. You get the idea. There's a LOT of math in her project, as well as reading for the research. She writes because she wants to and she also writes up her finding for the project. We go over the math and the writing and I explain techniques and rules and grammar as they come up. Does that make sense?

I'm sure that when we get to higher orders of math, I'll end up reaching for something curriculum based, but right now it's not necessary. I don't think it ever will be for the other subjects. There is too much original source material to work from for me to be interested in a prefab curriculum.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 30, 2009 at 10:53 PM

thank you, kim, and good luck with your practice run! :^)

thank you, barbara. :^)

jen, lol, i hear your pain! :^) we talked about this a little in last week’s open thread, i think. i think it’s a gradual process teaching children to play on their own, and it helps to start with you in the same room.

i think it’s pretty common that children hate to go play off by themselves in another room; they really want to stay near you. you might try a few baskets in your main living area holding blocks, books, a few toys (you can rotate their contents from their playroom). of course, make them responsible for putting things back in the baskets when they’re done. ;^) if they feel more relaxed because you’re nearby or within sight, they may be able to concentrate on entertaining themselves, and it’s a win-win.

here’s a link to last week’s open thread and some more ideas about helping children play play themselves --

good luck, and let me know how it goes! and maybe others will chime in with suggestions. :^)

melanie, remember that project learning doesn’t have to comprise your entire curriculum. you can either make time to pursue projects in addition to teaching other subjects directly, or you can teach as many basic skills within the project as you can incorporate meaningfully (not forcibly), then teach the others separately.

you can use your state’s learning standards as a guideline, document your childrens’ project work and which standards they’ve met, and then teach the remainder directly. that’s what we did for students at my private school.

rather than seeing these things as two differing viewpoints, try to think of them as being complementary -- one gives children a foundation of basic knowledge, and the other gives them the chance to use those basic skills in a meaningful way while developing learning and thinking dispositions and habits. rather than fighting one another, they really work in concert to make a more powerful learner. :^)

amy, i agree -- school can be difficult for a lot of different reasons, but it was difficult for me mainly because i was so incredibly bored. one of the main reasons we homeschool is because we think children are just as deserving of whole, meaningful lives as adults.

laura, it‘s funny -- rather than taking advantage of the gifts children already have -- their curiosity, their creativity, their intense interests, their love of connecting with each other and adults -- schools apply themselves mostly to working against those things -- controlling children rather than working with their natural gifts. there are teachers and schools, in the u.s. and other countries, who work *with* children and achieve amazing things.

sarah, what you describe is a perfect example of integrating basic skills naturally and meaningfully with project work. and even when children get older and you can’t pull everything they need to learn (say, in mathematics) under the umbrella of the project, the project still gives you a place to use basic skills in a real-world application. it really demonstrates to children that there is a reason to learn those basic skills -- so they can do the things they want to do.

Comment by Christina on January 31, 2009 at 01:47 AM

re: Incorporating the "basics" into project work.

This was (and sometimes still is) a concern of mine as well. I love what Lori says about projects allowing us to use basic skills in a natural and meaningful way. While I don't have a lot of experience (we just started our first project this month), I have already seen the fruits of this approach. My 5-year-old daughter chose to do her first project on birds, and we've been able to incorporate much of her "basic skills" into the actual project. She absolutely hates writing at this stage of development. But she especially hates it when it is contrived and meaningless. Since starting her project on birds, she decided she wanted to make a "bird book." She chose a list of about 20 birds and has systematically found pictures of them, colored them, and then researched them in bird books. Then she writes (her idea!) three facts she deems important about each one. Writing has become a non-issue. Instead of writing for writing's sake, she writes to convey meaningful information, which in turn, makes writing meaningful to her. It's been immensely encouraging to see this change take place.

We've just started out with this one project, to get our feet wet, so to speak, but we are definitiely sold. I'm amazed at how many things you can incorporate into just one project.

I should admit that we do use a curriculum for math, mainly due to my limited experience with anything math-like, and my insecurity as a first-time homeschooler :) But I've found that we have been able to incorporate nearly all the math topics presented into the project--in much more hands on and creative ways. I continue to be amazed!

Comment by melanie on January 31, 2009 at 02:58 AM

Thank you for that perspective! I'm so glad you said that these two approaches are not contradictory and they can work together!!! It's as if I needed to give myself the permission to not be a purist all the time. So many times I've hopped on the bandwagon from one 'technique' or 'philosophy' only to jump off feeling like I was a failure a few months down the road because I wasn't doing it all perfectly.

What a breath of fresh air!!

Sarah, I can see what you are saying, and I know that this does happen... in fact my 3rd grader spontaneously started to write a chapter book this week after I spoke with them a bit about projects... it turned into a great lesson on spelling and capitalization, and sentence structure. And, she ate it all up, because it was relevant to what she wanted to do.

.. I do need to trust a little bit more that this will continue to happen... but I do still feel a strong pull towards structure in some areas of their education.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 31, 2009 at 05:05 AM

christina, that is wonderful — thank you so much for sharing.

it really isn’t difficult to integrate basic skills, especially with young children — and your point about your daughter *wanting* to write and *initiating* writing because it’s her idea and is meaningful to her — project learning doesn’t just show children why basic skills are important, it eliminates a lot of wrestling parents do when they try to make their children do work that isn’t interesting or meaningful to them. why not take advantage of their interest and their self-motivation? your story is a perfect example of that.

you shouldn’t feel you have to “admit” using a curriculum for math — projects work with any method of homeschooling, from unschooling to classical and everything in between. if you use a curriculum, you can still use projects to use those skills in a meaningful, real-world way, as you point out. :^)

melanie, i absolutely would encourage you forget about being a purist. explore these ideas, experiment with them, and see what works for you. as i said to christina, project learning works with any method of homeschooling; it’s all about giving children the chance to develop thinking and learning skills, discover and develop their own interests, apply their basic skills in a meaningful way.

rather than worrying about replacing all structure, i would suggest you make a space for projects and then see if their project work eliminates the need for any of their structured work. it usually does — which means you are covering the same material, but also adding those additional benefits of self-directed learning.

Comment by Adrienne on January 31, 2009 at 12:32 PM

Great quotations. We just had an incident yesterday, where my dad offered to pay to sent Sylvia (4.5yo) to the local nature center preschool for a couple of days a week. He had gone to a presentation at work discussion the work they are doing, and was so impressed with their efforts to participate in No Child Left Inside. He and my mom were really trying to push me to send her, for the nature activities and the ever-present socialization. They don't see that there are other trade-offs (assuming that those goals are themselves achieved). Of course, they are in denial that we plan on homeschooling, and keep asking about our plans. :)

I appreciate seeing the rousing support for folding almost everything into the projects. As an unschooler at heart, I love being able to give them as many tools as I possibly can.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 31, 2009 at 01:47 PM

adrienne, aw. well, adults are often more comfortable with the idea of packaged learning opportunities! :^)

when i was running my school, we used to be invited to a “special event” in the community each year in which the preschool children would do a large-motor activity, listen to a story read aloud, and then do a follow-directions craft (that was usually hastily gluing pieces together that had been prepared by adults). this was billed as being so much fun for the kids, but it didn’t even meet the standards of their everyday schedule at school, where they were always read aloud to, played on the playground however they wished (large motor!), and did authentic art in a beautiful studio. and also, this one-off activity would disrupt their schedule and their project work and send everyone into a tizzy for the day.

another example -- i was once chastised by a parent for not hosting a party for some minor holiday during the year. she thought a party would be “special” and “fun for the kids” (note a mindset that a normal school day wasn’t fun!), whereas we saw it as disruptive of their work and their peaceful schedule *without adding anything*. a special snack? they had a great snack everyday. games? they played games every day.

not that i’m dissing the nature center (i love nature centers!) but you have to examine these one-off activities and little camps that are offered in the community. they sometimes offer activities that not only aren’t up to the standards of your normal day, but are worse and act directly against what you are trying to accomplish (say, coloring pages instead of drawing and painting!). each program should be examined to see if it is offering something worthwhile that fits in with your philosophy.

as to socialization aspects, again, children who have relationships with their family, their neighbors, their friends, their church, their community, etc., don’t need “extra” socialization. and if the children won’t be working collaboratively, there is little point to calling it an opportunity to socialize.

re: folding everything into projects — that’s really the point of projects! :^) interdisciplinary, allowing children to layer a lot of different kinds of experiences, and *meaningful*. if something has to be forced, it should be taught separately. and so much can be integrated meaningfully (everything connects .. truly), there is no point to trying to force anything. just as with the one-off “special events” and “activities” — there’s no reason to add them unless they really *add* something. imho. ;^)

Comment by Aimee on January 31, 2009 at 02:31 PM

Wanted to chime in on basic skills work. One of the things I am seeing is that my daughter is learning skills in lots of different ways, not just in her project , but also small work she just does on her own. Recently (she is 4) she has become interested in writing dates when she works in her journal. I was working beside her in my own journal and was writing "numbers," as she put them. I explained that I liked knowing when I wrote or drew something and I also liked to write a title. So now she dates and titles her journal entries, because it seemed important to her.

I feel like one of the most important things I am doing right now is to protect open time, which goes to other thing everyone is talking about: cool things happening in community. There is so much offered and I am trying to really weed out things that go against what we are doing at home, like Lori said (like coloring pages), but also not get too busy with even good stuff that takes us from our time at home which is so valuable. We go back and forth every week in seems, too much home, too much out. We are still working on our own balance.
By the way in an earlier open thread, I asked about good chapter books for my 4 year old and we are having so much fun reading suggestions! Thanks everyone!

Comment by Adrienne on January 31, 2009 at 02:52 PM

Lori-- Thanks for the validation. I'll add those points to my mental "rebuttal" file. :)

Jen R.-- Finding activities to fill specific times is something I struggle with. The main issue right now is when I am fixing dinner (i.e. the Witching hour), when all heck seems to break loose. In our situation I've been trying to see about planning ahead (gasp!) and getting as much prep work done in the morning when they are more amenable to working by themselves. But I also need to take a look at what needs aren't being fulfilled earlier in the day and trying to deal with those before I ask them to do something on their own.

(but right now we have temporary access to the tv, so when all else fails, which it often does, I tend to revert to that. The novelty alone is enough to keep them occupied, but it is second best and when we move in a couple of months, it won't even be an option. If it were liable to become a permanent solution, I wouldn't have tried it. But I'm okay with it short term.)

Can your kids help, or "help" with the cleaning? It tends to depend on the kid, but my 2yo loves to help clean and will wipe everything within reach with a paper towel (which I have to regularly squirt with windex for her). Maybe have special toys that only come out for "distraction" times. There are a couple of books, The Toddler Busy Book & The Preschooler Busy Book, that have lots of great little activities that can be used to keep them entertained. The author has some specific ideas for times like cleaning or making dinner.

And it's been only this year (my kids are also 4.5yo and 2.5yo) that I've been able to go potty by myself, usually. Of course last month my oldest was escorting my into the bathroom and asked "Mommy, why do you have a big butt?" That's a teachable moment for post-partum metabolism, right?

Comment by Juliann on January 31, 2009 at 03:16 PM

I am so happy to read these posts and encourage you all to pursue this authentic path to learning. As a school based educator who is trying very hard to honor and value creativity, curiosity, relationships, and independence in learning, I am faced with far too many parents who want us to accelerate the academic learning oportunities and dismiss the importance of building up the child's confidence in his or her ability to do the work they need to do in learning.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 31, 2009 at 04:28 PM

aimee, re: your daughter integrating basic skills in her own work, one thing i often think is that this way of working with children flips things around, lets them see the benefit of basic skills, allows them to use what they know in their own way. the difference between your journaling beside her and her being genuinely interested in why you were dating and titling your entries, then her making her own decision to date and title her work .. that is miles away from the typical “here is your assignment .. now do this, and do it this way.”

so much of this work is about attitude! the attitude of the adult who is saying, hey, the world is full of all this cool, interesting stuff, and i love to learn about it and i love to learn about it with you. the attitude of an adult who *trusts* that a child will be naturally drawn to working and doing challenging work. the attitude of a child who sees adults as helping her find and do interesting things in the world vs. adults as forcing her to do boring tasks that are meaningless. and so on...

your point about *even activities that are good disrupt the routine* is so true. at school, we really worked to keep distractions and disruptions to a minimum, because we had worked very hard to make a normal day that was a balance of every great thing .. and we knew that the more days in a row we had without disruption, the richer the interactions would be, the richer the work, etc. i agree with you that with as much great stuff as there is available, you really have to be choosy about what to include in your balanced week!

adrienne, glad to help. ;^) lol re: your teachable moment.

juliann, i feel we have caused the problem with the parents by putting all the emphasis on testing, competition, gifted programs, etc. it’s another case of “we treasure what we measure” — the measurement we give parents re: their child’s success in school is a report card with letter grades. we need to do more complete assessments that take habits of mind and learning dispositions into account, so parents will start to care about their child’s ability to articulate their ideas in a group, ask for help when it’s needed, work independently and collaboratively, etc. etc. we need to give them the language to recognize, appreciate, and ask for these things. imho. ;^)

Comment by Lisa on January 31, 2009 at 05:13 PM

I think for many boys it also tends to accelerate the development of aggression to adult levels. Powerless to control any aspect of their lives they act out in any way they can to break up the monotony. Many of my son's friends [and my son] have been like this for years now. They take pride in being "unacademic" because school is so stupid. They won't read ANYTHING because they cannot enjoy either the depressing "relevant" literature or just choose anything that would interest them. They reject being labeled and put thru meaningless hoops. So, they grow a deviant culture all their own--sometimes wildly creative [underground comics, videos etc] or sometimes socially deviant--(reckless, risk-taking encompassing skate culture, drugs, cutting etc) for a thrill to break the monotony.

So, that said, why is my son still in public school and not home with his sister doing homeschool? He needs to develop his masculine world in ways he chooses. Oddly, this means proving he's "man enough" to get thru school! Just as making the football or other team was the be-all, end-all in my day, in his it's ruling the skatepark, mastering the video games, having the edgy-ist persona. It's when this crosses the line to crime, drugs etc that the problems begin. Being man enough to "walk the line" is the thing. In 6th-7th grades many boys seemed to get lost across that line. 8th grade is seeing some maturity creep in.

I hate that he won't read, but rejoice in his increasing awareness of the political and cultural world around him. I share his excitement when something worth knowing is actually presented in one of his classrooms or when I project is actually able to suck him in and get him to enjoy it. I like it when he gets his gut full of electronic anything and pulls out pastels and a sketch pad to create. I barely contain my joy when something in our homeschool catches his eye or he actually asks me to read to him. Savor it, I tell myself. He'll go back to the jungle tomorrow.

It's a very different world from his sister's at home, but I am at peace with it. He is a man in the making and has a single Mom. I trust God to help him as "Father to the Fatherless" and am grateful that he also, occasionally, gets a decent man who can command his respect at school [very infrequently--most male teachers he sees thru]. I respect his need to make HIS choices.

Comment by Alison Kerr on January 31, 2009 at 05:30 PM

"A well-motivated student who does not labor under a specific handicap..."

Do you have any specific observations or recommendations on how project based learning works for kids with neurological differences? I'm thinking of things like autism spectrum, attention deficit, visual, motor, or auditory processing differences.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 31, 2009 at 06:31 PM

lisa, i hear what you’re saying but it still paints a pretty bleak picture!

that attitude you describe in your first paragraph — where boys take pride in being unacademic, not reading — i see that all the time. it’s one of the things i think proj learning achieves — in the paolo freire sense, you communicate to kids that these tools and abilities are for *them*, for them to do whatever they want with. so they can still be completely themselves, not fitting in, but embrace learning because it helps them achieve what they want.

alison, not project-based learning per se, but i think that what every child needs is to be met *exactly where they are* -- parents or educators who are willing to meet them where they are in each subject, in each area, and give them what they need to move forward. it’s what gifted kids need; it’s what ADD kids need; it’s what everyone needs. it’s what school’s job should be, but so often isn’t.

project-based learning is *allowing children to use their basic skills to do real-world work that is meaningful to them*. i really can’t see how that isn’t valuable for any child. once we define what we think they need to learn, how can we not make a space for them to get experience really using it?

Comment by Lisa on January 31, 2009 at 07:51 PM

Yes, bleak, but not hopeless!

Comment by Christie on January 31, 2009 at 09:29 PM

So I decided before reading the post that I wasn't going to read this week's open thread. Too much going on and I don't need to spend my time reading on the computer. But, oh, now that I've read the post... I must make time to come back and read the conversation. I can't wait. Excellent thoughts and just what my family needs to ruminate on right on.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 1, 2009 at 12:50 AM

lisa, good!! :^)

christie, lolol, don’t try to resist the open thread! the open thread cannot be resisted! ;^)

Comment by kort on February 1, 2009 at 01:25 AM


i really agree with you about outside activities sometimes being a distraction. for us, for me, the routine and rhythm of our days is so important. but then there is the ever-present socialization. just this morning i was reading The Hundred Languages of Children . this quote from Loris Malaguzzi, about the beginnings of Reggio Emilia, came to mind.

"The children understood sooner than we had expected that their adventure in life could flow between two agreeable and comfortable places--home and the center. In both they could express their previously overlooked desire to be and mature with peers and to find in them points of reference, understanding, surprises, affective ties, and merriment that could dispel shadows and uneasiness."

"their previously overlooked desire" i just can't get that phrase out of my head. am i overlooking my daughter's desire to be with her peers? how might we create opportunities for real, meaningful work and collaboration to happen between children? and what about for ourselves?

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 1, 2009 at 02:25 AM

lovely quote, kort. meaningful, to me, means not one-off activities but places where children can form real, collaborative relationships.

Comment by Ali on February 1, 2009 at 10:07 AM

I think I've had one of those eureka moments. I've been reading these blog for a while now, merrily nodding along and even commenting occasionally. I agree passionately with everything you write but somehow missed the point that I could apply it to our own homeschool setting.

I homeschool with a friend 4 mornings a week and we have been structuring everything down to the minute. Just recently the girls have started to get really stressed so we've agreed to have a break to step back and see what's going on. Well, all we've managed to do is create a school at home with all the pressures we were trying to avoid!

And then I started to write down ideas for things to do during the break and I wrote that my daughter loves trying on her brother's clothes, so then I thought we could spend a morning doing that (and sorting out the old ones) and then I realised that I could be chatting about clothes and bodies and making clothes and recycling clothes and anything else that comes up. I realised that finally I would be listening to her already existing interests rather than soemthing \I thought she would enjoy such as a new way of painting.

I listen to her a lot out of homeschool hours but not during so things are going to really change - the tricky part will be catering to 2 preschoolers when we meet back up with her friend. Any ideas?

Anyway - I couldn't have come to this point without this blog even though it's taken a while so thank you.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 1, 2009 at 01:28 PM

ali, wonderful -- thank you so much for sharing. :^)

the point you make is perfect -- it’s about stepping back from control, *even when that control is all about trying to choose something you think they will enjoy* and instead allowing them to direct where they want to go. if you listen to her ideas about how she would like to progress with this project .. :^)

good luck, and let me know how it goes!

Comment by Alison Kerr on February 1, 2009 at 04:29 PM

"project-based learning is *allowing children to use their basic skills to do real-world work that is meaningful to them*. i really can’t see how that isn’t valuable for any child. once we define what we think they need to learn, how can we not make a space for them to get experience really using it?"

Just to clarify, I wasn't trying to suggest that using basic skills would not be valuable for some learners. What was I trying to say? I'm not entirely sure. It seems to me that what kids with learning differences are challenged by is their lack of basic skills. Let's try another question.

Do you see project based learning being successful for a child who lacks basic skills? Have you seen it work as a way to encourage and grow basic skills, or do you think there need to be certain basic skills in place first? If so, what do you think they are?

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 1, 2009 at 06:23 PM

project-based homeschooling encourages children to develop basic skills because it connects them to the child's interests, goals, and motives. the need for basic skills arises naturally from project work -- the need to read, write, compare, contrast, communicate, collaborate, compute, etc.

since i have done project learning with children as young as two, no, i don't think basic skills need to be place beforehand. ;^) for older children, project work tends to reveal areas in which they are weak, and the motivation to improve is built into the process. children, like adults, learn best when deeply engaged and self-motivated, and when they see a clear reason for acquiring skills.

Comment by Aimee on February 1, 2009 at 09:44 PM

Suggestions for Ali, about catering to two preschoolers:
Giving them open ended materials, like paper, markers, paints, scissors, etc and a table and some open ended toys like blocks, etc and time to use them and then just watch what they do and be available to help if needed, like Lori says (which I love!), ask, "what do you need?" If they are painting ask, "do you need more paper?" etc. And it is ok, in my opinon, for them to choose soemthing else, lilke dressups, or a pretending game or looking at books. I don't think they need to do the same thing at the same time either. When we have friends over sometimes they do the same thing sometimes not. Usually in one morning time, they will pretend together, then one will settle at the art table and work, which sometiems brings the other, sometiems not. I am happy either way. I also have a snack out and they just help themselves mostly. Ages we have over at our house: 3-5 usually
Hope that helps.

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 1, 2009 at 10:29 PM

more suggestions for preschool children .. my post "the youngest learners":

and aimee, re: open-ended play choices, absolutely! dress-up / dramatic play / pretend play / puppets / musical instruments / light table / toys / blocks / sensory table...

Comment by Dawn on February 2, 2009 at 03:40 AM

Busy weekend... just got caught up! Once again a great open thread filled with lots of wonderful information and ideas.
I just wanted to comment about Alison's inquiry about special needs kids.
My daughter has no diagnosis but in many ways she is not your textbook child. She has really taken to project based learning. I think the most important thing for me was to let go of my preconcived ideas of were she "should be" and let her be were she is. This has ment that I do more for her in some areas... write for her when she is beyond frustrated... even though I know she can do the writing herself. But if I help and we can move on to another area of the project then I do it. Her writing is still progressing just not as fast as some might think "it should"... will she be writing well by the time she is 8 or 10 years old? YES! It is just a time frame. She is, in my mind, creative in thought beyond her years and I have to hold myself back from expecting her to be at that "beyond" place in other areas... writing esp!

I worked with high school students that fit into the special needs category... ADD to Down Sydrome to aspergers In all cases they, just like any other students had to be met at their level... I can say that if I were to get any of them talking about the things they like best they moved beyond anything I saw them do with the "class assignments"... project based learning is just that. Taking something they are already intrested in and letting them run with it. Using that motivation to foster the basic skills they will need to learn more about what they love... are intrested in!
Wonderful process!
I just thought of a great example: I had a student who had suffered a stroke when she was in 5th grade. She lost some hearing (almost all in her left ear), was legally blind, suffered physical paralysis, and had a very difficult time focusing and following class discussions... until we came to the project were students were to plan a wedding! She was all over it. Her project was amazingly detailed. She did tons of research, went out into the community to gather information and talk with retailers. I talked with her mother throughout the very long assignment and she was thrilled to see her daughter excited about a school project again (she was an honor student before the stroke). She had always loved weddings and the idea of getting married someday... For her project based learning in all of her subject areas would have made such a huge difference. Oh, and when she got married she used her project to help her plan the "real" wedding!
Sorry so long. Just so very important for these students too!
Thanks Lori for this great space to share! .. feel free to edit this long one!

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 2, 2009 at 04:48 AM

beautifully said, dawn.

what i said up above about meeting students where they are -- we’re really talking about meeting them in two ways. one, at their skill level. two, at the place where they are interested in learning.

dawn, your point about how one child can be ahead in one area and behind in another (and “normal” in yet another) is so true.

the point i was trying to make to alison was the same point i would try to make to parents who would ask the same question -- but is this method good for gifted children? is it good for children with delays? is it good for my child with ADD? my child on the autism spectrum? etc. the answer: we are going to assess your child and then work with them *exactly where they are in each area* .. we will meet them, they won’t have to struggle to slow down or speed up to match the rest of the class. all children can plug into project work; it is self-leveling. how can this not be the best we can offer all children? what more *could* we offer than to meet them where they are and help them grow?

beautiful story, dawn! thank you so much.

Comment by Helen on February 2, 2009 at 09:33 PM

Thanks for this Lori. Now if I can just tattoo these quotes to my hand and always be reminded when I slip and 'get in the way'. I still have some de-schooling to do on my part..

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 2, 2009 at 10:33 PM

thank you, helen. hey, as long as we’re on the right path.

It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop. — Confucius


Comment by Lori Pickert on February 3, 2009 at 08:15 PM
Comment by nicole on February 4, 2009 at 12:15 AM

thank you for sharing this wonderful quote, lori. I'm actually reading Deschooling Society right now, though this also reminds me a lot of another book ben and I are both reading: The Underground History of American Education by john taylor gatto.


Comment by Lori Pickert on February 4, 2009 at 01:25 AM

nicole, my copy of deschooling society is tattered and drenched in highlighter and underlines. ;^) same for gatto’s underground history! great books.

Comment by greenchickadee on February 5, 2009 at 05:58 PM

Ok, way back up there Sarah gave this amazing example that really gave me some tangibility to the idea of student-led learning! Thank you SO much! I get this stuff, I do, but putting it into practice is where I'm at a loss. I know what I WANT to do, but examples like Sarah make it more of a reality for me.

Do any of you have recommendations for your favorite books on reggio style for the 'lay person'. I'm not a "teacher" (which has been a benefit in home school for sure!) I'm a nurse by trade, but I also don't really think like the trained "teacher" types do. I need some books that are very basic and filled with practical thoughts and examples and ideas. Anyone?

Thanks Lori for pulling all these wise minds together here!

Comment by Lori Pickert on February 5, 2009 at 06:33 PM

i think the most popular book with lay people is louise caldwell’s “bringing reggio home”. i think there is *lots* of great stuff in “the hundred languages”, but it is unfortunately interleaved with a lot of not-so-great stuff, so you have to be willing to flip through and look for the gold.

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