Open thread Saturday

Published by Lori Pickert on December 6, 2008 at 01:05 PM

If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. — Wayne Dyer

Welcome to the open thread. Enjoy the conversation.


Comment by Lori Pickert on December 6, 2008 at 02:29 PM

A couple of readers have already provided me with their questions/comments for today’s open thread. If you are ever not available on a Saturday and still want to throw something in here, just e-mail me during the week!

I’m moving kind of slow this morning, but we’ll get things going in a bit, after I have some breakfast. ;^)

Comment by renee @ FIMBY on December 6, 2008 at 03:21 PM

this photo looks familiar. My kids are always constructing stuff with cardboard, tubes, lego, sticks, clay, marbles, pinecones, fabric, tupperware, um.. you name it. I love it!

Comment by Candy Cook on December 6, 2008 at 03:41 PM

I wrote a long post.. but, rather than give any explanation.. I'll just ask. What do you suggest for seemingly 'stagnant' periods? When, either the child seems uninterested in much, or the parent is just having a difficult time recognizing the interests - or a combination of the two?

Comment by Mary on December 6, 2008 at 04:17 PM

Hi Lori! I've been out of town the last few Saturdays, but reading through the comments afterward has still been very educational.

We're getting things arranged to have a project space for our son at work (my parents' business) where we are for most of the day. We have the okay, so we'll need to start moving stuff around this week or next. I'm feeling good about it. I was thinking that rockets would be a good project to start with, and he was asking for rocket supplies this week, so I'm glad to know we're thinking in the same direction. Today I'll send the grandparents a few suggestions for Christmas gifts to aid in this.

I don't have any questions today. Just wanted to update.

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 6, 2008 at 04:19 PM

hi renee — yes, we are recyclers and upcyclers. :^)

here’s a blog post a wrote about it awhile back:

Comment by Queen of Carrots on December 6, 2008 at 04:49 PM

What about using the computer with preschoolers? To explain, mine (3 and 4) seem to have a particular interest in African animals lately, so I've been taking them to Earth Album and letting them select pictures, then pasting them into a slideshow and letting them type the names.

They love this, but it seems like they should be doing something more hands-on at this age. However, this is easier and neater and something more like what they see me doing. (I'm not a hands-on person, myself.) And the 3yo especially is still murder with scissors and glue.

Does it matter how they interact with an idea? How do you get them interested in project activities that are outside their normal experience, especially when they are too young to read? Just setting out a provocation doesn't seem like enough if they don't even have a notion of where they could go with it.

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 6, 2008 at 04:55 PM

hi candy :^)

well, first i would throw out the word ‘stagnant’ and select something with more of an optimistic, appreciative flavor. ;^)

there is an ebb and flow, a normal growing cycle to learning, and there is a benefit to quiet periods.

it’s perfectly reasonable to be “between projects” .. in order to develop a new interest, after all, you need to read books, browse ideas, expose yourself to new things.

don’t even get me started on the benefits of boredom — and how so many children today are cheated out of it because they never have any down time.

we let fields lie fallow in order to get better crops .. in the same way, we need to accept that we need time to soak in new information and new thoughts — like nutrients for our brain — time to build up some interest and excitement about something new, so we can enthusiastically begin to explore that interest.

so .. what *i* suggest for stagnant periods is a cleansing of the palette, so to speak — cleaning out and reorganizing your learning space and/or studio, making some empty spots again on the walls and on the tables, checking out a bunch of new books from the library on various subjects, visiting the museum, taking some field trips. but most of all, just having some open, unscheduled time to do nothing .. think new thoughts .. let the well refill.

the quiet times are like preparing the garden for a new season .. cutting back, clearing away, preparing the soil for new seeds. don’t feel bad that you’re not at a particular productive time — relax and enjoy the quiet, and be confident that new ideas will grow, especially if you’ve made a place for them to thrive.

Comment by Kerry on December 6, 2008 at 05:28 PM

Something I've been wondering is...when the children (in Italy) leave the Reggio early childhood programs, what does elementary education look like for them? Do they continue to use a similar philosophy? I've just been wondering about the kinds of things these kids do when they are older, but can't really find any info about that!

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 6, 2008 at 05:34 PM

mary, thanks for the update! i hope you can show me a picture when you get his space set up. :^D)

my advice in setting forth with this project is .. leave room (in your mind) for it to go in different directions .. start a project journal and keep notes, so you can read back and see how different lines of inquiry are developing.

i’m excited to hear about your project as it develops!

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 6, 2008 at 05:46 PM

Q.o.C., great questions.

Does it matter how that interact with an idea? Yes .. in the sense that we should be trying to give them as many *different* ways to interact with that idea as possible.

So .. using the computer and internet as a tool to research? Great. But they should also have books. And hopefully hands-on learning experiences. And field work. And experts to talk with. And etc.

Making slide shows on the computer? Great. But they should also be making books, doing drawings, painting, collaging, expressing themselves three-dimensionally in clay and with recycled materials.

“Just setting out a provocation doesn’t seem like enough if they don’t even have a notion of where they could go with it.” But .. a provocation isn’t the same thing as instituting an activity, just with less instruction and pressure. It truly is just a really interesting juxtaposition that engages children and inspires them to work .. they don’t have to work with the provocation in a way that you thought they might, if you see what I mean.

Always think about extending .. that’s exactly what you *are* thinking about now — mm, they are doing this interesting work, now .. how can we *extend* it? How can we make it .. wider? deeper? longer? more complex?

LOL re: being murder with scissors and glue — maybe get a glue stick? ;^) But I would definitely make available not only books, but torn-out magazine pages and xeroxed book pages that they can cut and collage and draw/paint on, etc. I would pull out bocks and building materials and see if they start constructing something project-related, then support that work as it develops. I would give them recycled materials (boxes, lids, tubes, buttons, etc.) and tape and paint.

Any time something good is happening, you want to not only do as much with it as possible, but you want to spread the goodness around and help them work in as many different ways as possible. Help them to keep re-expressing in different ways.

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 6, 2008 at 05:51 PM

hi kerry :^)

when children leave the early childhood programs in Reggio Emilia they go to traditional schools.

when we developed our Reggio-inspired program for children in K-3rd grade, it was therefore our own unique take on carrying those ideas and principles into working with older children.

applying Reggio-inspired concepts to homeschooling is already a big leap — it’s not so hard to then extend it to older children. :^)

Comment by Amy on December 6, 2008 at 06:17 PM

I've been wondering how I might make the transition to project-based learning for my older son.

I understand the concept just fine, and I've been reading your entries as I can (in between baby wrangling and so on), but how do I encourage the shift in my son? And how do I figure out a topic? Do I just straight-out ask him, or make suggestions based on what he's been asking?

Right now he thinks of school work as separate from the rest of what we do (even though I know he's learning all the time) and that's partly my fault. Last year (his kindergarten year) we had a more unschooling approach, but I felt we both needed more structure. Well, mainly he seemed to be wanting more predictability, and I didn't want the stress of planning everything as we went along. So we decided upon Enki, because it emphasizes rhythms, but I'm supplementing anyway and I've pretty much abandoned the rhythm component because we have a new baby. Right now we're using a combination of Enki for much of the language arts stuff and some of the math, and Singapore math to supplement math because both boys love workbooks (I have no idea why — possibly because they've never associated worksheets with drudgery; it's just fun).

So my long-winded question is how do I transition into projects? I want my kids to feel ownership of their own learning, and right now I'm in charge, but last year the unschooling method seemed to stress Vaughan out — he wanted to feel like "now we are doing school" with specific "lessons," almost. He seems to like having specific things to do — that gives him a sense of accomplishment.

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 6, 2008 at 06:19 PM

hi amy, and thanks for the great comment/question.

how to transition into project-based learning...

first, project-based learning is an approach, not a method .. you could take a project-based approach to any method of homeschooling. for example, some charlotte mason blogs have nature study lessons with specific directions to follow, expected outcomes, etc. you could easily teach those same lessons in an open-ended, project-based way.

similarly, you might be using a classical trivium curriculum. you could easily incorporate projects while still teaching much of your subject matter in a traditional manner.

or, if you are an unschooler, projects might be your entire curriculum.

basically, project-based learning works with any homeschooling method or philosophy.

that aside, how to introduce using projects...

you might begin by doing a mini-project on a subject that you know is of interest to him, simply to introduce him to the idea of projects. it sounds like he wants to understand what’s going on and what’s expected of him — you could certainly set up times of the day or week when you would specifically work on his project. you could ease into this while still doing your other curricula some of the time. the goal, of course, is to have him get his feeling of accomplishment from his project work.

you could ask him what he wants to study, but from what you’ve written i wonder if that might stress him out, especially since he’s not sure what it means before he starts. you could document to discover his interests, but with a new baby, that might be too much stress for you. :^)

the idea of a “mini-project” is to choose something narrower than you would choose for an open-ended project that might last many months, then you go through all the same steps of doing project work. at the end (and you are shooting for something that might last 4-8 weeks, possibly longer depending on how things go), you will both have more of an idea of what it means to do a project. at that point, he might want to choose the next topic to work on.

to reiterate — project-based learning is an approach that you can (and should feel free to) adapt to your own needs, preferences, and philosophies. it is infinitely malleable. if you are convinced that you want your child to own the learning process and have the chance to actively apply his basic skills, then you simply need to figure out how to incorporate project learning with what you already do. later, if you find that this type of learning actually meets more of your educational goals than you had expected, you can always dedicate more of your schedule to projects.

e-mail — or better yet, start a thread in the project-based learning forum — if you want to brainstorm some good mini-project topics! :^)

Comment by Amy on December 6, 2008 at 06:45 PM

more specifics about documentation, please. I know you posted the method you use a few weeks ago - post-its, then translating to a notebook. Short of holding that book in my hands and flipping through it, can you give me a little more of a peek into how to start this process - how often do you document, do you share the docuemntation with him/souse, etc, is it all observational or do you draw conclusions as well - really, what is its service? He's 3 but I want to start now so as to get myself into the habit, and I think it will be a joy to reflect back on...

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 6, 2008 at 07:13 PM

hi amy,

how to start — listen, watch, take photos, silently observe, collect discarded bits of work.

keep track of questions, confusions, plans, requests for materials or field trips, excitement, what happens, what you think *might* happen, your own ideas for possible field work/extensions/developments.

do i share my notebook with him? not deliberately; it’s my own work. but if he wants to look, i certainly would let him. do i share my *documentation* with him? definitely yes — hanging photographs, displaying work, reminding him of plans, reminding him of unanswered questions, etc.

re: drawing conclusions — again, definitely yes — my project journal is a *tool*, and i use it to keep track of what’s happening and then *reflect* on my notes so i can both appreciate what is being accomplished and ponder how i can support the work i want to encourage.

what is its service? to provide you with a way to manage all the things that happen .. so it doesn’t all just flow away from you and be forgotten. to give you the opportunity to learn from the past and apply it to the future. to help you learn about how your child learns and how you can support his learning.

three is old enough for project work and definitely an age that will provide plenty of material for documenting! :^)

remember — there are two types of documentation — the verb: the act of observing and taking photographs and writing notes and etc. — and the noun: the finished display that attempts to both show what has been learned and help the audience understand all that happened. so, documentation is both the act of photographing a field trip and the bulletin board the displays photographs of the field trip alongside observational drawings that were done on the field trip, with captions carefully written out to explain what the children were drawing and what they said about what they were doing.

i’ll write more about this in the blog & provide some various illustrations to give some more ideas .. but in the meantime, think of documenting as paying attention/keeping track/a tool for reflection .. and documentation as the chance to share the work — with the child, with family, with friends, with the community.

Comment by Stacey on December 6, 2008 at 08:20 PM


While my son is still young I have noticed that using the observation techniques that you talk about here works well with him, not just in terms of education but also discipline. By understanding what he is interested in and what frustrates him I have been able to avoid more conflicts. The idea of parent as researcher really goes further than being part of an educational model it is a way of parenting. Just thought I'd share.

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 6, 2008 at 08:34 PM

stacey, i agree completely. :^) what is “education”? to me, it is helping our children, supporting them, while they do the work of becoming strong, capable individuals. is that also parenting? i think it is. :^)

Comment by Andie on December 6, 2008 at 10:02 PM

I've always taught using the Montessori method (I teach preschoolers primarily, but I also homeschool my 9 year old), but this year I've moved into using the Reggio method too (as well as a little Waldorf and Charlotte Mason). My question is about the art. The children are all drawn to the art materials, and most of the spend the entire time working on open-ended art projects. At first, I thought it was so exciting and I really appreciated how they were expressing their learning in an artistic way. However, now, six weeks later, most of the students are still using art the entire time. I don't want to stop art altogether or cold turkey, but I would like to see them choosing some of the other materials, at least occassionally. But I feel that then I'm going asking the child's lead. Any suggestions?


Comment by Angel on December 6, 2008 at 11:05 PM

Hi, Lori!

How much time do you spend working on projects in a typical day - at various ages? For instance, say at age 3ish, 5ish, and then elementary?In reading about Reggio, I run across statements like, "this project isn't the only thing kids do in a day," but they don't elaborate on what else the kids do... dress-ups, I'm assuming, since dress-ups are talked about a lot, but... what else? What if a child doesn't feel like working on a project on a certain day?

(related to this, in Reggio schools where small groups often do projects according to interest, what are the kids who aren't interested in the project doing? Are they in small groups doing different projects?)

Oh, and I would love to sign up for your forums... and I'd like to give the study project a shot as well. :-) Thanks for the advice about clay, too; 25 lbs of the air dry clay (they were out of the high fire clay, which was cheaper for 50 lbs and what I wanted) was definitely not that much, but boy did my kids' eyes get wide when they saw that huge block! LOL They had to open the box that second (at 6 pm, right before dinner) and work on it.

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 6, 2008 at 11:06 PM

hi andie,

i think you should let them keep working on art. i wouldn’t force them to another area of the classroom or to another activity. eventually they *will* branch out; they are working so much there because the work is so engaging.

you could certainly try introducing the art materials into the other areas of your classroom, e.g., clipboards and pencils in the block area, recyclables and tape in the block area, squares of cloth and sewing supplies in the dramatic play area, painting materials on the nature table, etc.

you could also clear a large area for open-ended dramatic play and construction — separate from, and in addition to, the house center if you have one. give the children a chance to work very large, with large boxes that will fit two or three children, and see where they take that work.

i don’t know how strictly you teach montessori, so maybe you could give me more details about the way your room is set up. are you going to allow the children to collaborate on projects together?

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 6, 2008 at 11:21 PM

hi angel :^)

there is no set formula.

in our Reggio-inspired preschool, children were free to do whatever they wished at all times, and their choices included working in the art studio, dramatic play, music, reading, blocks & building, puppets, science, etc. the amount of time they worked on the project was completely up to them. virtually every child chose to do project work every day, but the time and effort they spent varied from day to day.

for elementary, children had work they needed to do in different curriculum areas, but they chose when to do the work (within reason). they had blocks of free time and blocks of project time. in the afternoons they could freely move between their classroom and a full art studio.

at home, my sons work on their projects when they want to. some days they do a lot of work; some days they don’t do any. but most days they choose to work on their projects — after all, it’s something they have completely control over and in which they have a strong interest! :^)

re: “what are the kids who aren’t interested in the project doing” — there are many different and wonderful activities for children to choose from every day, and they can draw and paint and build anything they wish; they don’t have to work on something project-related. they just usually choose to. *children want to connect as much as adults do.* when one child or a few children have a very strong interest, it naturally attracts the other children. each child or small group latches on to something that particularly engages them, and soon everyone is sharing and exchanging information and ideas, and a large-group project is under way.

our classroom was set up in such a way that teachers could work directly with a single child or a small group and give them a lot of individual attention while other children worked independently. i encourage homeschooling parents to set up their learning spaces similarly. if a child can get the materials they need, use them, and put them away by himself, then not only does he feel great, but your hands are free to do something else.

i will send you a forum key, then please put your name on the study group list. :^)

the clay work you are doing looks fantastic, and i want to share it with the community here soon. :^)

did i answer your questions? let me know if you want to discuss something further!

Comment by Ali on December 7, 2008 at 12:11 PM

I know I'm late again (I seem to always be out on Saturdays) - I wanted to add a couple of things to the conversations.

I had another eureka moment this morning. Since flying to Poland last June my 2.5 yr old daughter has been interested in planes. I haven't really paid much attention to this (she's also fascinated by lambs and swimming which we seem to focus on more) but thanks to the fact that I'm now using more documentation and therefore thinking about her interests more, I realised what she was actually saying all the time 'Where have we landed to?'. This is normally at meals when she is pretending to do up her straps on the plane. We normally say Poland or Africa (she's quite interested in Africa - another point I never make the most of) and then get back to our meal. This morning I actually paid attention and got the children's picture atlas out and suggested she chose. She said she'd like to land where there were bears, so we found some bears on a page in Canada, pretended to land and get off the plane. We then pointed at all the things in the living room we could 'see'. E.g. 'Look there's a grizzly bear, it's got more fur than that black bear near the curtain'. We then read the bits in the book about wheat farming and so on. Then she wanted to get back ont he plane and fly somewhere else, which we did. Eventually we stopped in Africa where we saw a picture of a Ndebele house she was interested in. I searched high and low for info on it and finally came and put the computer on. I then printed off some pics and info for me to learn to tell her about next time it comes up.

Sorry to go on but |I'm now getting to my point. I'm trying to think of the best ways to encourage this kind of role play. I want her to be the one to bring it up each time. Should I leave the atlas out to prompt her? Maybe I should ask if her seatbelt is done up when we're having meals? I don't want to go into overdrive and kill the fun with loads of info - it's quite scary to try to do it at the right balance.

Just writing this comment has helped me to think even more deeply about it all. Documentation has really made a difference to how I parent and educate. The only difficult thing is the practicality of printing off photos and writing the stuff up for them as the printer is in my daughter's room attached to the pc and the homeschooling photos are ont he laptop downstairs - goodness knows how I'm going to sort this one out!

One other thing. David Albert suggests giving presents or celebrating at the beginning of new interests (like taking up a new class or something) rather than giving awards for acheivement. I like the idea of celebrating a new project and all getting excited about it together but I'm guessing this is mostly for older children.

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 7, 2008 at 04:02 PM

ali, i think you’re doing a lovely job of modeling imaginative play. i wouldn’t press her on it, but let her grow into it naturally. leave her the space to fill in her own way, in her own time.

“Just writing this comment has helped me to think even more deeply about it all.” -- YES. when you went back over your journal and had the epiphany about the planes, that was the reflecting! then coming back here to talk it over is the collaborating! it’s a whole process that doesn’t work if one only takes notes — you have to do more with those notes! (you gave me the shivers!)

do you have a friend or relative that you could e-mail the pictures to who could simply print them out large in black and white? that would do the trick.

re: having a celebration .. mm. my immediate thought is that i am always working toward the child having ownership of the process. i want to avoid anything that takes it out of their hands. i want them to understand that it belongs to them. i almost feel like having a party kind of intrudes on their interest, if you know what i mean? i will have to think more about this.

thank you SO much for sharing your experiences and your successes as well as the things you are pondering!

Comment by Ali on December 7, 2008 at 04:57 PM

Yes you're right, more observing and documenting, less controlling! Earlier we were doing some stickers in a book and she wanted to put a sticker of a cat on her face as a plaster and I resisted the urge to say 'That's not what we do with stickers'! As a result I ended up with a milk truck on my face! But it was lovely to let go of 'teaching' and become more of a participant in her play. I became somebody who could add to what she wanted to do without dictating the way she should do it.

As well as my diary I am now trying to put a photo with an explanation onto A4 card for us to look at and discuss if she wants to. I am then going to file all then cards together so that we can look back and discuss things and also show family.

Friday was my son's first birthday and I've printed off some photos to put into a collage for us to all chat about. I'm beginning to see how this can help us to make sense of all parts of life, not just the cognitive and factual stuff but also the more emotional stuff.

This site has been a brilliant find for me and I've loved reading everyone's comments and knowing that we are all learning and growing together. Lori, you're really helping me to think things through and make sense of my ideas. Thank you and sorry for always commenting a day too late!

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