Open thread: Motivation

Published by Lori Pickert on January 23, 2009 at 05:10 PM

Educators’ understandable focus on cognition has sometimes had the unfortunate consequence of minimizing awareness of other equally important factors. Probably the most crucial is motivation.

If one is motivated to learn, one is likely to work hard, to be persistent, to be stimulated rather than discouraged by obstacles, and to continue to learn even when not pressed to do so, for the sheer pleasure of quenching curiosity or stretching one’s faculties in unfamiliar directions. — Howard Gardner


Comment by Brynn on January 23, 2009 at 08:26 PM

Ah, yes. This is just what I thought as my son learned to ride his bike the other day. He took some tough falls, got up, dusted himself off and went right back at it. If the desire, HIS desire, to ride that bike had not been present, the falls would have felt insurmountable.

Comment by Cathy T on January 23, 2009 at 09:26 PM

I love this quote and it is so true with homeschooling. My oldest son is 14 and has always loved trains. We have used trains to help him learn throughout his life, be it counting freight or passenger train cars as they pass by, making scenery for one of his many layouts (learning about scale, cost of supplies, realistic vs. fantasia backdrops, how to paint big and small surfaces, how to use an air-brush, etc.), researching and writing about trains both fiction and non-fiction, learning how to speak intelligently with others about trains and modeling trains, and so forth.... I could go on and on.

But the point is that because he is internally driven to learn about trains and to model trains on his layout, he has read many books, learned geography more than "required" of him, spoken to older, knowledgeable sources to find out more information, and he decided on his own to write a monthly train "magazine/blog" about trains to share his excitement and knowledge with others both older and younger with him. His knowledge is his and he owns it; I do not know a lot about trains and that is ok with him. All I do is help him find the resources he needs and drive him from train shows, stations, and good train observational spots.

I know not where this obsession will take him, for it truly can be an obsession, but I feel that he would never have learned all that he has if I had required any of it.

Tomorrow I am off to the largest yearly train show in our area but I will check in on Sunday to see what others have written about Lori's quote! I do so love these open threads.

Comment by Kelly on January 23, 2009 at 11:16 PM

I am actually having difficulty with motivation right son who is almost five (and an only child) is going through a phase of inertia! If he is left on his own for even a short period of time he does, quite literally, nothing. He seems to be seeking attention every waking hour and while I would love to be engaged in play or work or learning or just being with him all the time, it is neither realistic nor good for either of us. Any hints on how to direct him to busy himself while I do an 'errand' or two (I don't even mean big stuff but merely changing the sheets on the bed or preparing dinner or something)around my house?

As an aside, we have been taking afternoon nature walks and we have been collecting seed pods, etc. I would show you our display but I don't have a blog and I have no idea how to show you. Anyway, yesterday we watched a woodpecker through an open window (you need to hear, too, inspite of the frigid temperatures) and we are thoroughly enjoying your Meadow.


Comment by jen on January 24, 2009 at 12:19 AM

"...for the sheer pleasure of quenching curiosity or stretching one’s faculties in unfamiliar directions."

That's it! I just wrote a post about one of the reasons that I homeschool; I wish that my post had been half as eloquent as this quote.

I think about Benjamin Franklin, George Washington Carver, and so many others that have done great things for the world. They were not driven by red stars or report cards. I can only guess that they were not necessarily even driven by making a living. They were driven by interest, by curiosity, surely by something deeper than most children experience in school.

Comment by Adrienne on January 24, 2009 at 02:48 AM

I think the issue of being motivated by oneself, rather than the external goals that are so often put in place by school (and society as a whole), is one of the main reasons that we want our kids to learn at home, where we can focus on that self-motivation and help nurture it.

A couple of weeks ago, Lori, you suggested observational drawing as a good method to help my daughter keep progressing with her drawing skills. She and I have been doing a drawing every couple of days (aiming for every day, but we seem to be a bit wide of the mark so far) with some really interesting results.

She is very determined to do things her own way, in this just like everything else, and isn't amenable to anything beyond a gentle nudge. So when we sit down to draw, I try to talk with her about what we see, encourage her to trace her finger around the outline of the object, talk about how we can see some parts of the object but not others, etc. And then she will do her own drawing in her own way, occasionally explaining that she is drawing parts she can't see, or that she is drawing everything, or something she imagines, or the object in some imaginary situation. Basically letting me know that she is doing it _her_ way, not mine. (It occurs to me as I write this that I should find some Picasso pictures to show her. She might like some of the ones with the bizarre perspectives.)

And her observational drawings still look pretty random. But yesterday, she drew her first drawing of a person, her dad. She took a lot of time to draw his hair, bringing each line right up to the outline of his head, but staying inside the head. I don't think she has ever done such a detailed drawing of a person. And today she did one of herself, which included the whites of her eyes, and either eyelashes or eyebrows, and teeth. We had a really nice conversation about what all the parts were in her drawing, and she explained everything to me, which helped it make sense to _me_, as well. I think that even though the ob. drawings aren't going as I would expect, they are definitely impacting her drawing as a whole and something that provide a lot of benefit for both of us. :) I'm so excited to see her moving forward in this area!

And on a side note, because I think I'm having some wacky e-mail issues, I was wondering if the discussion/study group has already started, or if there are any openings in that as yet. If it's off and running, I really hope that there are other opportunities; our start is a little rocky and unsteady and I think a more formal study might help me feel more secure about what I'm doing.

Thank so much for the blog: I don't comment often, but I have been going through the archives and have found so much to digest. I really enjoy and appreciate all the information you put out.

Comment by Theresa on January 24, 2009 at 05:52 AM

Ah, good ol' Gardner. He really gets it, doesn't he?

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 24, 2009 at 02:43 PM

brynn -- yes, and you have to wonder why anyone *would* press themselves so hard to learn something unless they wanted it for themselves. the answer seems to always be, trying to please someone else. children who are in sports because of their parents, pursuing music because of their parents, pressing themselves to excel in high school because of their parents .. what happens when the parents’ expectations are fulfilled? and they are left with someone else’s idea of a good life?

cathy, your example about the trains is exactly what this quote means to me vis-a-vis project-based learning. there are teachers and adults who are shocked by what kids can learn -- and how “easily” they learn -- when they are interested! and it isn’t that the work is easier; the work is usually much more challenging -- it’s just that their self-motivation carries them over the bumps, rather than having to be always pushed and prodded by someone else.

a lot of adults seem nervous when children develop an “obsession” like this -- a deep interest that continues to fascinate over a long period of time. so, so many times i have had parents and teachers talk about children’s short attention spans (especially preschool-age children), and then when i say, “but what about his interest in trains? her interest in robots? his interest in dinosaurs?” then they say, “oh, well, not *that* -- *that* they go on and on about *too much*.” there is just no pleasing some people! ;^) if you are bored by something trivial, you have a short attention span; if you are deeply interested and can stick with something for a long time, you need to be diverted. sigh.

the fact that you allow your son to *have* this “obsession” and plumb it deeply over years is a powerful gift.

patricia, i loved your son’s story, and again, it’s one of those “extraordinary opportunities” that malcolm gladwell talked about -- like cathy’s son with his trains. adults often seem to find it difficult to accede to a child’s wishes .. as though they think it’s our job to make them give up what they enjoy and buckle down and “work” .. and i think that comes from the incorrect idea that work can’t be pleasurable (which i’ve written about so much here ;^). parents who give their children these opportunities -- like you have, like cathy has -- don’t just allow their child to explore their talents and interests, don’t *just* make learning easier and more enjoyable, they also allow them to learn a deeper lesson about what it feels like to work hard at something that really matters to you.

kelly, when i first started reading your question i was going to be a champion for doing nothing. :^) hey, doing nothing is great! brains need time to relax and think! but then i see the problem isn’t that he’s doing nothing happily, it’s that he’s waiting for you to engage with him.

learning how to entertain yourself is a skill you have to learn over time, and if you have been blessed with parents who engage with you a lot or with siblings who are always there to play with, sometimes that skill doesn’t come along as much as we’d like.

my own advice would be to make sure that he has toys and materials he can work with on his own (legos, art materials .. whatever interests him) and then start very small -- say, ten minutes -- and set a time of the day when he will play on his own. “quiet time”, maybe. it sounds like he will make an effort to wait you out. ;^) but it would definitely be less traumatic to start small and then stretch out the time than to give him a big chunk of time to fill, if he’s not use to playing alone. while he is having his quiet time, you can read or do something very boring ;^) and gently keep redirecting him that you can’t play with him right now but you’ll do something together after quiet time.

that’s *my* suggestion; maybe someone else wants to chime in. :^)

i definitely want to see your pictures! you can save copies that are 500 pixels across and e-mail them to me at lori (at) campcreek press [dot] come. or you can join flickr ( which is free, upload them there, and then add them to the heywood’s meadow flickr group. :^) let me know if you join flickr and i will friend you and help you out!

jen, great examples! i love that turn of phrase, too -- i think we’ve gotten away from the “sheer pleasure” of learning for quite some time.

adrienne, lol, your daughter sounds awesome. “see, i’m drawing the things i *can’t* see...” lol. it sounds, like with her amazingly detailed drawing of a person, that she *is* absorbing what you are saying but simply choosing to use it how she wishes.

when she is a little older, maybe, i would suggest doing an observational sketch for 10 minutes and then free drawing after that, so she might be more amenable to drawing purely observationally, knowing she can immediately afterward do a more expressive, personal drawing.

re: study group, don’t worry! i got about 200 e-mails (seriously) and i’ve had to work my way through them. the study group will start in february, and regular contributors here will be allowed to participate; hopefully we can have a later group for some of the “new” people who are very interested. :^) be patient with me; i’m notoriously slow. ;^)

and i agree, if you are just starting out, this may be very helpful to you! :^)

theresa, he really does. ;^)

Comment by Amy on January 24, 2009 at 04:25 PM

I'm starting to feel like a drone since I so across-the-board agree with the sentiments here.
one thing going on for me this week is the very acute awareness of how I can support his interests - specifically, those that I don't love - I'm talking about brandishing swords (sticks, baseball bats, etc), kung fu stances, etc - I realized this week I really shut down with him when he is doing this stuff because I have been "afraid" of fostering violence in him (I know, I know, that this is not how a psychopath is born, but it isn't always logical with kids, right?)...and a lot of my discussion and introspection this week has been about supporting HIM, not my "mother approved" interests...really working on removing my mental barriers and keeping consistent with our family values while giving him parity and embracing all of him. (I preach it but sometimes I realize that I am not doing the best job practicing it)
So I think that I will be taking him to the Japanese sword master exhibition at the library next week (my initial response was : he would love that but no way, I'll be getting menaced every 15 minutes with a makeshift sword....) and signing him up for the karate lessons he has shown interest in. And working with my feelings about it all...y'all may be hearing from me!!!!

Comment by Lisa on January 24, 2009 at 05:22 PM

I think motivation is often coupled with the enthusiasm of those around you. Example: my kids both hated science and social studies in school. I LOVE history [haven't a clue what "social studies" is!] My daughter has taken-off with history and is starting to pull bits and pieces together on her own at last [age 13]. My son complains almost daily of the boredom he experiences in those classes and compares them with the "fun" we had in homeschool in 2005-2006 with history and hands-on science. He also recalls that at his "worst" school they did "at least" have a full-time science lab teacher who did "cool stuff" with them. I have also noticed that, like me back in public school as a kid, I did my best work with the most demanding teachers. They combined high standards with a true LOVE of their subject. Finding success and learning "how to learn" there gave me confidence to go on and learn about things I wanted to know. Motivation comes, too, from real desire to learn or solve a problem. My son will try and try to make something, looking at all angles, drawing pieces or whatever to get it right. In "desperation" he reaches for the internet, the phone or "last choice" a book. His motivation is to avoid damaging his "macho image" by failing.
I think too often the only motivation we find for learning is to "get on to the next ________" Motivation from within separates the leaders from the led.

Comment by Christina on January 24, 2009 at 05:27 PM

Kelly, I agree *deeply* with the idea of "quiet time." I've had the same worries as you (my kids are 5 and 3) over the last couple of years . . . that they are not independent enough, that they *need* me to engage them all the time, that they rely on my ideas, crafts, activities too much. I've come to realize that 1) they are still quite young and, in fact, still need a lot of direction and guidance, as they are still learning how to direct their own activities and bring their own ideas to fruition; 2) despite all the things I just said, they CAN do a lot of things on their own and WANT to, and when I give them the space, materials, and time to do so, they surprise me with their ideas and creativity; 3) I need a "quiet time" for my own sanity; and 4) they need a "quiet time" to work and play by themselves.

Which leads me into my own question. I'm having a difficult time defining boundaries with my daughter's project (our first). How much do I help, and how much do I leave to her? I've been trying my hardest to just let her do this on her own, an idea that she seems to like a lot. But then she gets to a point where she doesn't quite know what to do, or at least she *feels* stumped. At times like this, I try to direct her to her project journal to look for unfinished ideas, or questions she's had. But I also find that I'll give her some suggestions of things that I'VE thought of that might be interesting or fun. Aack. Am I cheating? Is it OK to interject my own ideas and suggestions? Or am I stifling her own ideas when I suggest my own? I'm having a hard time finding the line.

Finally, I'm glad you mentioned something about the study group. I was starting to worry I'd missed it completely (despite my two emails Lori . . . oops . . . just delete one of those :)

Comment by jen on January 24, 2009 at 05:32 PM

Kelly, We actually had a little of this a while ago, and I realized that one of the things that was happening around our house was that my kids never see me do pleasurable things on my own. When they are awake, I am always helping them with things, working around the house, etc. It took me a long time to figure out how to fit it in (and I still don't always), but I try now to do things I enjoy in their presence. It might taking ten minutes, telling the kids that I will be reading (or blogging), and then telling them that they need to find something they enjoy doing (that I don't have to help with). I have also worked at helping them find things they can do on their own.

This may not be your issue at all, but I thought I would just share what I have been doing to work on this "issue."


Comment by Dawn on January 24, 2009 at 06:15 PM

As I listened to Fionna give her dolls a tour of her "planetarium" (which I posted about on the blog) I was thinking about how much she knows. And she was so matter of fact about it... "And you can see that these are the inner planets..."
She has really run with the whole space project and has some very thoughtful ideas about the concepts of space, earth, aliens.... So much more so than if I had said... "We are going to learn about the solar system now!"

As an adult I have had to learn about things that may not have been of my choosing or the timing not of my choosing. I know she is going to face the same but for now keeping the love of learning about new things alive... that is the most important thing. Being internally motivated is such an important factor in learning, develping self-esteem and her self-concept, now is the time to develop those aspects of learning and there contribution to her self knowledge.

Thanks for another great thought provoking quote!

Comment by Alison Kerr on January 24, 2009 at 10:51 PM

Kelly, I'd like to chime in on kids occupying themselves, not that I have a solution or anything, just an observation. I'm sure Lori's suggestion is the best. It seems to me this is a big personality thing. I have experience of a kid who has always been capable of self-occupying and a kid who is almost a teen and still can't (unless it's video games, TV, talking, or a book). But then I'm not happy working by myself either unless I have a book or paper in my hand, or someone to chat with nearby. So, take Lori's suggestion but don't expect miracles. One question. Does your son love to be hugged and snuggled? If so, here are some things that might work:
1) being wrapped in a blanket while looking at a book
2) playing with clay while listening to music or a story on tape/CD
3) anything that uses major muscle groups while you are nearby, like swinging, bouncing, obstacle course, whacking with a stick, or moving or throwing heavy items - don't expect him to be quiet while doing these though

I hope that some of these will work for you.

Comment by Kelly on January 24, 2009 at 11:31 PM

Lori, Christina, and Jen,
Thanks so much for your helpful comments. Today I think I accidentally did what you suggested...I got caught up in my art journal and Ben watched and talked with me about it for a little bit but then he found his lego and tinker toys (he always uses them in combination to make improvements to his Thomas railway...trains seem to be another theme here!) and worked independently but in close proximity (which is something I love). Anyway, it was wonderful and restorative and hopefully I will be able to make it a daily practice or at the very least a regular practice.
And, Lisa, thanks for the reminder (at least that is what it is for me) that I need to show him my own interests and show him that I like to become absorbed in those pursuits as often as possible so that he can see and learn by what I am doing.

Comment by Cathy T on January 25, 2009 at 12:42 AM

I've been thinking about quiet time and kids engaging themselves... I have two older kids and two younger kids; I've got to work all over again to teach the younger ones to play by themselves. And to teach the older kids to Leave The Little Ones Alone when they are happy and busy.... Harder to do than you'd expect since I want the older kids to engage with them too!

I'm trying to think back on what worked last time (10 years ago?!). One thought might be to put on quiet music and read a book to yourself as your children play nearby. Or write a letter and have paper where your children can write near you.

One of my sons loved to listen to books on tape or stories on tape - Jim Weiss was a favorite here. Boomerang! cds were also a huge hit as my kids grew just a tad older - say 8 years on.... The boys would sit and listen to the tapes while they played. They were great to listen to before bed although the Boomerang! then gave us questions to pursue long past bedtime! Sometimes I started stories on tape as we ate snacks; when snacktime was over they stayed at the table, listening, and drew or did puzzles while I cleaned the kitchen or wrote a letter. But I learned not to leave the room...

I learned that to help my kids engage, sometimes I had to really be physically close to them but doing my own thing. IF and when I got up to do laundry, they'd follow me and the spell would be broken.

Comment by Adrienne on January 25, 2009 at 02:45 AM

Lori--200 emails about the study group, oh my! (But how wonderful that you have that kind of traffic and interest!) I commend you for wading through all of them (two of them are mine: sorry for the clogging).

We'll probably play around with moving the object after doing one observational drawing so we could do another one from a different angle, maybe on the same sheet of paper, to show what she couldn't see before... She might get a kick out of that, or she might think it is a ridiculous thing to do--hard to tell beforehand. :)

Dawn--So many people will use the inevitability of learning something you care nothing about as reason to marginalize children's interests and force them to follow an external study schedule. I suspect that having already established the practice of internal motivation, a child faced with an unpleasant subject would be better able to see how buckling down to this task would permit him or her to reach other goals. Yes, calculus is a tricky subject, but by golly does that advanced physics class sound great, so I'll endure the one to get to the other. But it's hard to get to that point is you have never had the opportunity to find your own motivation and pursue your own agenda.

I've always been drawn to unschooling, as a way to really nurture my kids' intrinsic motivation. However, contrary to Jen's problem, I tend to get too wrapped up in my own projects and I suspect that without more structure for _me_, I wouldn't be able to provide the behind the scenes guidance that unschooling requires. (Let's just say that no one would be able to accuse me of not demonstrating the pleasures of reading. Fiction is absolutely banned, with ever decreasing amounts of non-fiction and internet allowed.) :) Particularly now, at the pre-school age, I see the art/project focus to be a great way to provide that structure to me, while allowing my girls to follow their own interests. (And I'll mention again how much I appreciate the community here in illustrating what it looks like to use an artistic, project-based approach to education!)

Comment by JudyJz on January 25, 2009 at 03:14 AM

I will use this topic of motivation to throw in my plea for help :) I have been pouring over your blog and trying to learn all that I can! My main problem has been that my 7yr old son does not seem to be motivated at all to learn on his own. (Which I am sure is because I have directed much of his learning in the past.) I had tried to ask him a few questions to see what small project he might want to do to get our feet wet with this method. We decided on learning more about gears - as he was in the midst of K'Nex and Legos and when he mentioned it I thought for sure that it would be the perfect 'fun' thing that wouldn't seem like school at all. We got as far as getting the books from the library which he is reading some. But then what? Perhaps I am wrong - but I would assume there is a next step? After days of him doing absolutely nothing but avoiding doing anything during the whole morning which I set aside as project time, I suggested he build the different kinds of gears and then maybe he could teach Daddy about them - but so far nothing.

I think I have completely squelched his desire for learning despite the fact that one of the whole reasons we decided to homeschool was so he could learn to LOVE to learn. Instead he says he hates school and does whatever he can to get out of doing school for the day. If letting him build with Legos and teaching Daddy isn't motivating him and showing him that school can be fun then I don't know what is (he loves Legos!) I tried sitting with him and brainstorming all the possibilities … drawing, writing, building with the recycled stuff, painting, sculpting in clay or playdoh, reading, talking, listening, experimenting, observing, etc, etc…

Now I am going on and on and am probably making no sense LOL. I love the concept of project learning and just need help getting started I suppose. I guess my question is: Is it ok to expect that they would do more than just read about a topic? I would suspect that if all he wants to do is read – then it isn’t the right choice as the start of a project? (especially since there isn’t that much to read about gears.) Wouldn’t he need to show/demonstrate in some way – any way – writing, drawing, telling, etc… some way to show he has learned something? I know reading is great and don't mind letting him read alot – but I can’t just let him read all day every day and meet our schooling requirements. Thanks for listening.

Comment by Nancy on January 25, 2009 at 03:30 AM

Not sure whether a question or comment will appear here . . . it seems that as much as I'm enamored with project learning, it's been slow to emerge here, mostly due to me. I just haven't persevered and focused. Two thoughts on this: one is that our life and learning are pretty good. But there's always room for more good, right? :) Perhaps I just marinate in new ideas for a long time before I take flight? The second thought bounces off a great line from a knitting book I was reading today -- something along the lines of, "When I don't have enough time for knitting, I realize that I'm not living right. Same goes for sleep." I wonder if not having "enough" to incorporate project learning (or other new ideas/initiatives) points to something deeper? Feel free to tell me if this just isn't coherent enough for response. I'm in musing mode . . . and I really think I need to you take a trip south and hold my hand already, Lori. My kids are a LOT of fun to "work" with. --Nancy in NC

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 25, 2009 at 05:12 AM

amy, you aren’t a drone -- i love hearing your thoughts! :^)

i do really think that working this way with children is very powerful and does seep into the rest of family life -- once you get into the habit of stepping back, you see things more objectively, not from that immediate emotional response place. i think it is fantastic that you have moved around to being open to support his interests that at first you weren’t sure about!

lisa, i think you are so right about that -- it’s not the motivation itself that the teacher (or other passionate person) transmits to the student, it’s the interest! and the motivation comes from the interest! when teachers (or adults .. or other kids) have genuine excitement about something, it sparks interest in others .. and with interest comes an authentic desire to work.

christina, re: how much to help and how much to leave your daughter alone .. aha! there’s the rub. ;^) i cannot overemphasize that this is simply something you have to get a feel for over time. the best way to recognize the sweet spot of perfect (not really achievable ;^) balance is by making mistakes in both directions .. so don’t be afraid of making mistakes. my favorite metaphor here is hoop rolling -- as the hoop rolls along the ground, you want to leave it alone till it begins to wobble, then give it just enough push to keep going. but it doesn’t come immediately or easily .. i can only tell you that the longer you do it, the more confident you start to feel (even as, of course, you still occasionally make mistakes ;^).

re: interjecting your own ideas .. again, of course you want to make sure that she is operating mostly from her own ideas, but with young children or children just getting into project work, you also want to model having ideas. you know that if it’s simply a bunch of your ideas that she works on, that’s not project work. so i think you will *feel* when it’s okay and maybe when you’ve stepped over the line. at the same time, you will probably never get away with not ever voicing an idea of your own -- either your child will stall and need a little goose, or your child later on will be zooming along so well that you feel it’s perfectly safe to share an idea (because you’re sure it won’t derail them), or -- my favorite -- you just get so caught up in a cool project that you have to share your own cool idea. :^)

when you say you’re “having a hard time finding the line” -- *that* is completely normal; the line is hard to find! even for experienced teachers, trust me. :^) and even when you start to feel really confident as time goes on, you still fall to one side or the other. the important thing is to strive for the line .. and be very accepting of imperfection. :^)

jen, what a beautiful point! of course our children should see us doing things purely for pleasure -- our own personal work -- whether it is writing or crafting or gardening or talking to friends, *whatever* it is -- because that is something we want to encourage them to find for themselves! :^)

dawn, i’m so happy about fionna’s project. :^) we did a space project with 3- and 4-year-olds and -- just as you said -- if it had been a planned “theme” or “unit”, we never, ever would have imagined how much those children could learn or would be interested. it would have been dumbed down to an adult’s idea of what a preschool brain could handle/memorize about space, and that’s it. whereas they went so deep and so broad with what they learned. really amazing.

you know, you are right that all of us have to sometimes learn things that we don’t really care about or at a time we wouldn’t have chosen -- but education seems to have assigned that type of learning the first, top priority, and this other kind of learning -- the kind we enjoy -- last priority! when we decide to flip that and make interest-led learning #1, it’s not like we are thinking there is a magical way to get through life without ever learning something you aren’t fascinated by; we’re simply recognizing that *this* kind of learning teaches you most of the important lessons you will need in life and make it much easier to do that *other* kind of learning anyway! :^)

thank you!

alison, thank you for the suggestions! :^)

kelly, i’m glad you already had a good experience; it sounds like it won’t be a difficult thing to transition to. :^) i loved lisa’s point, too!

cathy, great suggestions! thank you!

adrienne, i want to see some of your daughter’s drawings! :^)

judy, i suspect that what is happening with your son is -- just as you guess -- that he is suspicious of the whole project thing and thinks it’s going to be yet more “school” that he isn’t enjoying. you might want to read these posts of mine, where i discuss something similar with my own son (who has been learning with projects since age 4! ;^)

it is absolutely okay to expect them to do more than just read about a topic; the point of project learning is to do hands-on learning and come at a subject from several different angles.

i suspect also that you may need to cut yourself some slack and start a little more slowly and build from there. he needs to figure out what project learning really is .. he needs to become confident about the fact that he is in charge. maybe you can start over and let him choose whatever topic he wants. (if he’s willing to choose something! ;^) he needs to test the waters and see that it is really about your supporting him vs. your having a different set of demands/expectations.

let me ask you a question -- are you introducing a project as part of your curriculum and doing other things also? because yes .. you should expect that he is going to show what he knows by writing a book, making a construction, building models, making a film, writing a play, etc. etc. etc.

muse away, nancy. ;^) it sounds like you answered your own question right at the beginning .. project learning really does require a lot from you -- your focus, your attention, your journaling, your guidance, your mentoring. when things are going well and kids are learning, it’s easy to let that slide. ;^) maybe you are just marinating! or maybe things are going pretty well and you have other things going on. you tell me! :^)

Comment by Aimee on January 25, 2009 at 04:57 PM

Kelly, I can relate to your son wanting lots of time from you. I have two children, my daughter 4.5 really needs lots from me, always has even as a baby, while my son only 16 months, already spends long chunks doing stuff on his own. It is quite amazing the difference. With Annabelle I try to spend some time with her that she is completely in charge of, (usually she wants to pretend something), or set her up beside me while I do something, try to show her me exploring my own interests, and give her time to practice being own her on, all things previous people said and sometimes it works and sometimes I can't wait for bedtime so I have some time on my own. I think it is just who she is: a person who likes to be with other people. What I have been trying to do more of, so I can get stuff done, like dinner, is to have her help. She has really grown to love to cook and she is proud by all she can do in the kitchen. I think I am trying to still work in some time for myself, but I think (hope) it will come more as both my children get older.

The quote from the post is wonderful and I have been thinking about it a lot. I wrote about it in blog this week and my question is:
So Annabelle has been working on her flower project since the fall and she has done lots, with some provocations I have set up and some things she has explored on her own, but sometimes it seems that, though she loves flowers and finds them beautiful, she doesn't have the passion that I think she would have if we had picked something else. So when do I move away from this and pick something different to support her with? In some ways it will continue becuase we will do some gardening and she is excited about planting both food and flowers, and I think she will conitnue to draw, pick, photograph flowers, etc. I am thinking more about my role. I am not sure what we would do next, would need to observe, think, journal, etc about it, but I do think there could be something else we could embark on that would be very exciting for her and fuel her passion a little more.

The other thing I am thinking about is how to go about switching my focus, especially her display board. She is the kind of kid who has a hard time saying good-bye to things, even though we would be keeping it, just in a portfolio under her bed. She hates it when we take her work down from the walls. So any suggestions about that? Any rituals when moving from one project to another? I don't want her to think she is DONE with flowers only that we are letting in some room for something else.

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 25, 2009 at 06:31 PM

aimee, thank you so much for sharing about annabelle’s flower project!

re: moving away from one project and beginning another .. this doesn’t have to be a big, traumatic break. a child never really has to stop studying or learning about something they love. she will continue to love flowers and probably learn omre about them as you plant your garden, etc.

however, *you* can move your focus from supporting an investigation of flowers to something else. when do you choose something different to support? when one project seems to have run its course, *you* turn *your* focus away from that project topic (while the child continues on on their own) and you begin to observe and document and reflect back through your notes, looking for something new to support.

[ as you gain even more experience, you will find that you don’t need to define a project from the outset; you may choose something that seems to be a recurring theme and decide to focus some attention there just to see where it goes. and if it seems to go off in a promising direction, the project may reveal itself in time. (i always say it’s dangerous to name a project early since you never know where it will go! :^) ]

re: her bulletin board .. sometimes clearing away project materials is the most challenging part of project work! :^) children become attached to even very large constructions and don’t want to get rid of them .. EVER. lol

i would suggest asking annabelle if she would like to use the materials on her board to make a special book .. a book she could take with her to show family and friends, something portable. make it a big deal, and treat it as something very special (which it is). you might buy a special binder to hold everything (and let her choose it at the store). as you put each item into the book/portfolio, have her tell you about it and transcribe her words, adding them. let her make new drawings/paintings/collages/etc. if she is moved to, and include those as well. print out photos of her taken during the project to include (you can print them out on regular printer paper at large sizes). make sure you mention how fun it will be to make a new board, too!

this is a chance for annabelle to refect on everything she did and learned during this project and a chance for her to then share it with others. she can take this book out and show it to friends and family members, and you can give it a place of prominence in the house -- another way to encourage work in the future.

then .. don’t be in a huge hurry to choose something new. take your time making her book/portfolio, then take some time to observe and document -- the more time you take, usually the better the next project choice is. you are looking to discover interests she may not even be ready to articulate -- or she may ask to study something new, you never know! :^)

thank you so much for sharing your experience here; i know it is very helpful to other people just starting out with project-based homeschooling!

Comment by Aimee on January 25, 2009 at 08:42 PM

Oh, a book! Right, I hadn't thought about it, but making a book would be so fun, plus she is in a book making, journaling mood right now, so I think it would be easy for her and fun for us to do together. I have done this before at the preschool at the end of a project, but I love the idea of Ananbelle and I working on it together.

I see you have a flickr spot for Heywood's Meadow (others to post), but do you have a "project" page on Flickr? Still trying to figure out flickr and have things I want to post.

Thanks, Aimee

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 26, 2009 at 04:30 AM

aimee, there is a camp creek group -- i would love it if we shared project work there. :^)

Comment by Lynn on January 26, 2009 at 08:02 PM

Hello Lori!
just to say thanks for all the info you posted on taking a field trip with the kids on the forum for me. Sorry I havent replied...I read it on the morning of the trip & have been soooo busy since then :0
Right, off to relax & do some knitting!
oh, any news on the club & study, yet (sorry to pester!)

Comment by Mary on January 27, 2009 at 07:03 PM

Thanks, Lori, for all your inspiration and guidance on project-based learning. We're still working on his space, but his desk is set up and available for him every day and he is so proud of it. Taking the time to set it up started the ball rolling for him. He saw that we thought his interests were important enough to make room for, and his interests are growing by leaps and bounds. He's having fun exploring lots of things with his newfound sense or purpose, but I think his project is going to be building. The other day he was looking at kits for growing crystals (which is cool but not something he's ever shown interest in before), and gently steered him toward some physics-oriented materials that go along with some of the things he's been doing recently. I said, "that's really interesting. oh, look at this physics set here! it goes along with this and this that you already have and already play with".

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