Open thread Saturday

Published by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2008 at 02:44 PM

I thought we’d try having an open thread on Saturdays. So bring your questions, comments, observations, suggestions, tips, hints, anything you’ve got.

And have a great weekend!

(p.s. I answer nearly every comment posted to this blog, but if you don’t leave an e-mail address I can’t e-mail you a copy, so I hope you’re checking back!)


Comment by Mary on November 8, 2008 at 03:24 PM

Don't throw anything at me: We are not doing much of anything right now. I wouldn't say we're unschooling because I think that requires a lot more attentiveness to the little things than we've been doing. Making the adjustment from public school to homeschool and moving and working FT has just got us off to a slow start.

We've been discussing that after Christmas we'll start a project or two. My question for Lori or anyone else who wants to share is for a 10 year old just starting out, how do you recommend we start out? His two favorite subjects are rocketry and building.

He has a rocket kit he's played with some, and I know he's getting at least one for Christmas. We'll gather books on the subject to have around, and we'll keep him supplied with materials for rocket building.

He has legos, k'nex, blocks, and other building supplies. He likes to build with real wood, so we'll gather scrap lumber and we have tools. Maybe some architecture and building books.

How many opportunities should we provide? And since he's 10 and this is new to us, how much guidance should we give?

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2008 at 03:38 PM

mary, as if i would throw something at you. ;^) maybe an afghan and a pillow, and it would be a gentle toss.

re: unschooling -- i'm glad your version requires attentiveness. mine does too! there are plenty who are unschooling without it, though, i'm afraid.

transitions are hard. moving is traumatic. one of the great things about hs'ing is being able to power down during those times.

i think rockets and building are great interests to start feeding. year before last my about-to-turn-12yo did an electronics project. the first thing i did was set up a table for him to keep his stuff out all the time .. it did a lot to encourage him to work daily. i went out to the garage and gathered up every extra little organizational bin-type-thing i could find and he sorted his materials out. then i piled his electronics books on a stool next to his table. i think having a set of tools that stay in that space is important, too -- scissors, for example. if they have to hunt for anything, it's automatic discouragement. so he had his own scissors, tape, etc.

a bulletin board (or permission to tape/pin on the wall) would be great, too -- keeping his plans, pictures, etc. right next to his work area. i usually start the board out by pinning up a couple things (maybe a xerox of a rocket cutaway from one of his books) so he gets the idea that he can stick up things for reference.

after that, "what are you working on?", "what are you reading about?", "are there any materials you need?", and keeping track of everything (in a journal if that's what you choose) and you're off.

just gathering everything in one spot and making a dedicated space can do a lot. it's a provocation. it's respecting his interest and showing you value it. i'll be interested to hear how it goes!

re: how many opportunities to provide, i would start with something like this and definitely give it some time to get going before you suggest anything -- you might not need to suggest anything; he might take off on his own. i wouldn't worry about guidance until you see what's happening.

one thing, though -- i would try to keep it a bit narrow to start. you mention a lot of building materials. i would try putting together a work area and emphasizing the rocket side of it, then if it redefines itself as he works, fine. but if you make it too broad -- pull together *all* his building materials in one place, *all* the tools you have .. it might be too broad to get going. be open to where it's going to go, though -- start from the specific, grow outward.

Comment by Paula on November 8, 2008 at 04:05 PM

Hi, Thanks so much for the freedom that you offer here. I've been reading for about a month, so the answer to my question may be already be answered somewhere.

My daughter thrives with the project-base approach. She does, however, have so many interests that we tend to skip around alot and never really dig in. I'm not sure she is learning anything thoroughly. I also can't decide if I'm just hanging on to my preconceived notions of how she needs to learn. How much do you direct back to a project or just follow their lead to the next?

Thanks for any insight.

Comment by Sarah Jackson on November 8, 2008 at 04:42 PM

I'm still puzzling out art space organization. How are your art materials organized so that they're both easy to see and reasonably clutter free? I have large open shelves to use. We have watercolors, oils, papers, canvas, pencils, markers, stamps, stickers, clay. You get the idea. I need an orderly system that still encourages active use of the art supplies.

Still wrestling with the "will we homeschool" question, but that's probably for another day. I would love to hear what some other experiences have been with pulling their children out of public school to homeschool - especially in dealing with the fallout from aghast family members. :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2008 at 04:51 PM

hi paula, and thank you :^)

there is a real problem with trying to support too many interests. it's the digging down that is the essence of project-based learning. if you stay in the top layers, you aren't doing the real work of comparing/contrasting, identifying problems and finding solutions, uncovering and resolving contradictions, and becoming an expert in your topic.

it's not that you try to keep your children from having many, diverse interests (as if!). it's you who must try to identify an interest with a lot of potential -- lots of interest from your daughter, opportunities for field study, your own interest (it's easier to support a project that you enjoy), abundant resource materials, etc. -- and then begin supporting that inquiry.

don't be afraid that sticking with one topic for a long time will bore her; if she is interested and if she is learning, she will be moving along *within* the topic and doing deeper work.

just because she is interested in a dozen things and dips into all of them doesn't mean you change *your* focus. in many subtle ways you can encourage her to do deeper work in one area -- if that's when you pick up your notebook, if that is what you photograph, if that's what you remind her of (e.g., you said you wanted to find out about X; do you want to look for a book about that at the library today?), if that's what you put your focus on, it will act as a gentle form of gravity, drawing her back to that interest. your *attention* has tremendous power.

hope that helps!

Comment by Sarah on November 8, 2008 at 05:13 PM

Alright. Here's my doozy. First: The background.

My daughter Violet was diagnosed with autism when she was just shy of 2, which I understand is a bit on the young side. After much research, and taking into consideration her personality, we decided against occupational therapy or ABA and removed her from early intervention speech therapy. We let her develop language at her own pace (which at the age of 4 is now totally normal) and have closely observed her social development. She has always done everything a bit on the later side, including talking, walking, potty training, etc, but generally within the range of "normal". It seems at this point, some of the markers of autism are completely absent. She is extremely sensitive to voice inflection and facial expression, and she understands social cues quite normally. We just took her to a blogger event, and she was walking up to kids saying "Hi, my name's Vawlit, what's your name?" We made a determination to let Violet be Violet, and that is just what she's done. She does, however, maintain a few quirks (and who doesn't?). What drives me absolutely bonkers is this:

She is so ubersensitive to anything she perceives as pressure. Here's a for instance: Violet: Mermaids have strong tails like manatees Me: That's right they do. I love manatees. Do you know what manatees eat? Violet: Manatees eat sea plants. Me: They do! Violet eats plants vegetables. What kind of vegetables do you eat? And here began her breakdown. She immediately started to get agitated that I was asking her to think of something. She was wailing about carrots being too crunchy, and broccoli being to hot. And these are both things she eats, so I'm pretty sure it has nothing do with a sensory issue.

This is just one of a multitude of examples. I don't know if she doesn't like to feel like she's being "taught" something, or if she's just irritated that I'm not having an organic conversation with her, and I'm taking it in a weird direction. I just don't know. Same thing with Halloween. She would have a total fit if I asked her what she wanted to be. I quit asking, picked a costume for her, and she was happy as a clam. This particular personality trait has made me a little nervous about the "schooling" aspect of her life, as I'm nervous to ask her follow up questions, or introduce concepts she may be interested in, for fear of her feeling pressured, and thus shutting down with her trademark shut down phrase "It's just NUFFING!"

Comment by Deirdre on November 8, 2008 at 05:26 PM

I think it was this time last year that I first happened upon Camp Creek, and I'm sure my son has benefited as much as I have from it. Thank you, Lori!

The setting up space that Lori describes above is one of the best things that I've taken away from here. There are several posts---highlighted under Environment on the side---that I refer back to often for inspiration. I spent a lot of time last year trying to create that kind of space for my oldest, Aidan, but like Paula's daughter, he moves on to new interests quickly (as does his mother) so the space can become a dumping ground for abandoned projects and the current project often ends up spread out and on the floor.

I loved the recent suggestion to recycle abandoned projects and often just that suggestion has been enough to call forth all my son's former passion about it. Much more so than if I had asked "when are you going to finish this?" or made suggestions on how to proceed. The absence of any hint of pressure, at least for my boy I'm learning, is a great motivator.

I'm waiting until after the holidays before we each choose a project to focus on at home. I'm going to choose sewing, because I know *nothing* about and have always wanted to learn how. Right now my only plan is that we each (my 6 yr old, 3 yr old, and me) make a list of questions, things we want to know about our topics, and then see where that leads us.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2008 at 06:26 PM

sarah/poopsywoo - before i take this off in a completely wrong direction, do i assume correctly that you're planning to homeschool violet? if so, are you already hs'ing older children and what methods do you use?

Comment by Sarah on November 8, 2008 at 06:35 PM

Violet is my oldest. She will be homeschooled. I also have 2 1/2 year old. So the extent of my experience runs the toddler/preschool gamut, and that's about it. As far as methodology goes, I'm learning. And learning. And learning some more. I was homeschooled periodically as a kid, but it was a recreation of school at home, which isn't what I'm going for. At this point, I'm gleaning the minds that have gone before me.

Comment by Mary on November 8, 2008 at 06:36 PM

Thanks for your thoughts, Lori.

Laying out a space thing is a bit tricky, and one of my current projects. It's my goal to have his room set up with a space by Christmas (hence the after-Christmas start).

Part of the problem is that my husband and I both work for my parents' business and he goes to work with us most of the time. It's certainly atypical as far as workplaces and homeschooling goes. There are lots of advantages of our situation, but it makes some things trickier. There's a great space off my office that's set up kind of like a living room, and there's a TV and computer and stuff in there for hanging out. He has a variety of activities available, but no space to dedicate for a project.

I'll have to check with my parents, but there's room in the office next to me (where his dad and uncle are in cubicles) that perhaps he could dedicate to his rocket project. We could set up a large office desk there with plenty of workspace and storage so if it needs to be put away it could be, and some sort of bulletin board or magnet board or something should be manageable also if they'll let us use the space. It would restrict his project primarily to the time we're at work, although he could have a portable project box to take some things back and forth.

Then maybe at home we could have the building stuff available for play and not think of it as a project. And then do a little work on reading and math at home a few times a week to help him fill in some gaps so he can work more independently (something he's requested).

Does this sound like a reasonable plan?

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2008 at 06:47 PM

sarah/greenclogs - i'll shoot you to some places to see pretty reggio-style art materials organization. let's see ...

here are some shelves in our prek classroom -

if you pan down on this post you can see some more prek studio shelves -

darn. somewhere on here is a pic of the older kids' studio shelves - really nice. can't find it right now. i'll e-mail it to you.

i would link to examples online but i couldn't find any.

short answer --

i display art materials in baskets, wooden bowls and trays, pottery and bowls, tin cans, wooden boxes, etc. (as much natural material as possible)

i rotate natural materials through the studio (flowers, dried flowers, branches, pinecones, seedpods, stones, leaves, shells, etc.)

we have a good supply of recycled materials for constructing; a reasonable amt of these are kept out in a large basket; the rest are put away (they take up a LOT of room); they know they can go into the cabinet to get more, and i keep the basket refreshed with cool stuff.

easel and drawing table are always out & clear & ready to use. i have a hanging organizer on the wall that holds sketchpads, drawing pads, watercolor paper, tracing paper, and other papers.

i'll keep looking for more links...

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2008 at 07:01 PM

deirdre, that sounds fantastic. i love that you are going to work on your own project alongside the kids. my project is my book that i am continuously editing; we often sit at one large table all working companionably on our own things.

it is so true that "are you done with this?" works so much better than "when are you going to finish this?" !

i'm looking forward to hearing more about what happens with you guys and your projects after the holidays!

Comment by Stephanie on November 8, 2008 at 07:05 PM

Just commenting today.

Due to our circumstances, homeschooling/unschooling is not something we can do right now. The years we were able to are precious to me, and maybe one day we will again. In the meantime, it's a pleasure to visit sites like yours.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, your experiences, and your time!

Comment by Leisa on November 8, 2008 at 07:16 PM

As far as art organization (and aesthetic appeal in the studio) goes, we've used...

clear cylindrical plastic containers with screw on lids- for yarn, feathers, beans- really anything you have in larger quantities. If you have any high shelves, these work great because the child can still see what's inside.

baskets galore- for found materials, markers, paper leftovers, etc

divided... umm wooden platters- great for sorting smaller materials like beads and pebbles

cans- just plain old tin cans are perfect for pencils, brushes, water cups

for papers- office paper dividers work great and fit in regular sized shelves

various sizes of wooden boxes with sliding lids- found in the unfinished wood section at craft stores- we've used these to store charcoals, pastels, pencils, watercolors- some even have a little label slot

We've also done things like hanging a dowel rod and slid on rolls of tin foil, ribbon, anything in a roll

OH- btw- i'm Leisa- I was the studio teacher at Lori's school- back in the day:) Let me know if there is a specific material you are struggling with- we've tried just about everything.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2008 at 07:18 PM

sarah/poopsywoo - excellent.

from your manatees/vegetables conversation, it sounds like violet is extremely intelligent and knows exactly when you're controlling the situation and where you're trying to steer things - right?

since i advocate teaching as facilitating and supporting a child while they teach themselves, that should work well for you! ;^) she can be in control of what she's doing, where she's going, etc.

you may want to teach some subjects directly (e.g., math); that may be more of a struggle, but then, if you ease into it as she gets older, maybe she will be easier to work with. also, if she has control over a good deal of her learning, she may be more willing to accept that which she does not control.

i've written about this before -- kids are smart and they know when you are trying to control the situation, and in general, they don't like it! you can easily shut them down by stepping on their toes. it's a dance, and you the parent have to learn to follow as well as lead. i wrote about my own experiences with my own stubborn son here -

projects and the intractable child:

the relentless learner:

a nice thing about you beginning with her now, at 4.5, is that you can approach it from a more relaxed point of view -- you have plenty of time to perfect your technique!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2008 at 07:21 PM

stephanie, thank you so much. i really appreciate that.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2008 at 07:27 PM

thank you for posting, leisa!

we posted a lot of the same advice. :^P

one thing you can't forget about is display space -- you need a place to put children's work so they can see it, remember it, think about adding to it or extending it, reflect on it, etc.

that means both bulletin board type space for two-dimensional work and shelf space for three-dimensional work.

if they create and what they create disappears, they won't be digging in deeper.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2008 at 07:38 PM


i took my older son to work with me from the time he was born until he was three, and then i homeschooled both boys at my workplace for two years! so i know just where you're coming from!

the only thing about your plan that i think might be a problem is the needing to put things away. *ideally* he would have a space where projects in progress could stay out. maybe, if the cubicle area didn't work for that, he could have a small folding table (rectangle shape) in the living room type area and set that up as his space? i think ideally you want a space that is dedicated to project work 24/7. (not, in other words, the dining table - or something similar)

restricting his project work to only office hours shouldn't be a problem! in fact, it can work in your favor, because he can only work on it then - therefore he'll be more motivated to work on it when he can. it's a pavlovian effect - going to the office can turn his mind to rocketry! in this case, i really think a possible negative will turn out to be a positive.

Comment by Kerry on November 8, 2008 at 07:38 PM

Wow, this is great! Too bad I am supposed to be working on my master's thesis right now, I'd rather talk about this all day!
Two things:
I can add to the conversation that I have pulled my kids out of school to homeschool (someone was asking about that). My daughter only did kindergarten at school. My son went through fourth grade. For my son, it was a major adjustment. Mostly in terms of how he thought about learning - we had to get away from learning as a chore, and get back into the wonder of it. It took a loooong time for him. This is our second year, and I can honestly say we have hit our stride with it.
As for space, we have issues with that here. Lori, I love your recommendation of having a table and bulletin board, and keeping everything together for a project. I think that would really help me out here. We work in our dining room, for the most part. It can be hard for me to find the space to keep things left out. Right now we have an extra (very small) bedroom that we are just beginning to clean out. We have come up with so many potential uses for this room! However, if my husband doesn't do something soon, I just may claim it as a little studio!

Comment by Stacey on November 8, 2008 at 07:40 PM

I've noticed lately a lot of discussion about including "littles" with the older children in homeschooling. For those of us with just "littles" (under 3) do you have any suggestions in areas other than artwork, I feel confident with that.

Comment by Mary on November 8, 2008 at 07:46 PM

Thanks, Lori! The office I'm hoping he could use would be a big open corner of the room that is not being used at all. Scott wouldn't be in a cubicle, but the other people are. I'll talk to the boss this week, but I think he would be able to leave stuff out for the most part. Maybe just occasionally have to put it away. If we used the living room space, he would have to take it down and put it away a lot or be restricted to a very small desk. If I get the okay, I'll send you a pic of what the space looks like and maybe you could give further suggestions if that's alright with you.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2008 at 07:57 PM

leisa, my forever studio teacher (whether i have a school or not) is giving away a fabulous mini-quilt here:

go leave a comment & maybe you’ll be the lucky winner!

btw, leisa, no pressure, but lap-size for christmas .. i like the birdie .. just saying ..

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2008 at 08:10 PM

kerry - ha! this is much more fun than working. :^P

maybe if you tell your husband that it's for the *kids* and their *learning*, he'll understand! a dedicated space would be *wonderful*.

it not (boo), maybe we can brainstorm some ideas to ease the transitions/lessen the effect of cleaning up/putting away.

i would love to talk more about deschooling .. have you read freire? my own sons went to my private school before being hs'ed. although the curriculum was pretty much identical, there was still a real transition -- mostly because we had to switch from built-in collaboration to a new model of collaboration. no more classmates on hand to work with, etc.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2008 at 08:20 PM

stacey, yes, what is up with that? i blogged about the exact same phenomenon here -

as far as other-than-artwork, everything i advocate for older children applies to preschool-age children. we've done projects with children as young as two, children who not only couldn't read and write but who weren't really talking yet.

artwork is actually part of how they learn and express what they know (the hundred languages, in reggio terminology).

if children are *very* young (age 1) ... i actually have something i wrote for babies and toddlers around here some place ... ... ... okay, i can't find it. i'll look for it later.


i would work on laying the foundation for project work when they are between three and four. so .. making choices. no cookie-cutter crafts -- focus on open-ended exploration with real (nice quality) art materials. culture of work. display their art respectfully, showing that you truly value it. give them good materials and a dedicated space. go ahead and start documenting! get them used to having you treat their work seriously. if they are block building, take a photograph, then hang it up on a board next to their work table/desk -- respect all forms of work, not only drawings and paintings. if they are really into reading a book about crabs, get them more books about crabs. bring them a real crab to look at.

here's something i wrote about helping pre-readers research:

i have done observational drawing with late two's and early three's and had amazing results. label their drawings! i saw something the other day that said children don't draw with intention before the age of, i think they said six. that is completely false. children will sketch and tell you exactly what they drew - they may scatter the individual pieces across the page when they are younger, but they are still drawing from life and they can "read" their own sketches. visual note-taking.

oop .. i'm getting carried away. we can talk more!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2008 at 08:23 PM

mary, that sounds great! definitely the less he has to clean up, the better. and i'm not saying that because i want to encourage mess -- cleaning up is a negative transition. you're actually working against a child's natural inertia toward continuing to work. things out in the open inspire them to add, extend.

i look forward to seeing pics, but it sounds like a great way to go!

Comment by Sarah on November 8, 2008 at 08:33 PM

Thank you for those links. I feel like I'm peeking into Violet's future self! I genuinely feel calmer about the whole situation. I truly want to know my children, and facilitate their learning the way they need to learn, but my fancy pants mouth forgets that sometimes. Are you always so pithy and wise?

Comment by Leisa on November 8, 2008 at 08:33 PM

lap quilt noted!

Comment by Kerry on November 8, 2008 at 08:37 PM

I have never read Freire but have always wanted to. Is there something specific you would recommend?
It's hard getting school out of kids!
I am going to work on ideas for our little room tonight, maybe cook up a little proposal!
Right now I am reading about how corporations are advertising to kids in public schools, and it is really making me sick!

Comment by Angel on November 8, 2008 at 08:47 PM

Lori, I'm really enjoying your blog. It is a goldmine of information, and probably you have dealt with this before somewhere, but... what if there isn't any extra space? With 6 kids, we don't really have any "extra" space in the house, and with 4 age 5 and under, maintaining any kind of environment is a bit of a challenge. I love the idea of setting up a space dedicated to a child's project with bulletin board and table, but what if that isn't feasible? Right now we do most of our work in the dining room, which is where we also eat and put snowy clothes to dry in front of the woodstove. I would really like to squish an easel in there, but am not really sure how.

Comment by Sarah Jackson on November 8, 2008 at 09:05 PM

Thanks for the great suggestions! I have a collection of jars from Ikea in all shapes and sizes that I'll be using for pencils, brushes, buttons, etc. I need to find some good containers for the paper and then I think we'll be okay. They have 3 low shelves, so everything is easy to reach. Display space is a definite issue. I have a very open floor plan with hardly any wall space. I think I'll end up using the hallway to the bedrooms and make a large space for their art in each of their bedrooms. I don't even have wall space for the art we brought into the house, so finding room for anything new is a major issue.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2008 at 09:48 PM

sarah/poopsywoo, good! i'm glad you feel good about it. and yes, i am generally this pithy and wise. ;^)

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2008 at 09:56 PM

kerry, freire is wonderful, but when i said freire, i really was thinking about ivan illich - "deschooling society". you can actually read the full text online, although is there anything better than your own copy and a yellow highlighter?

one quote: “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.”

(there is a connection between illich & freire, but i'll leave that for you.)

and .. advertising in schools .. ugh .. i remember channel one. that’s a whole other topic!

Comment by Angel on November 8, 2008 at 09:57 PM

Ok, me again... I would love to hear your ideas for 1 year olds. I have a 14 month old who would probably like to be up doing artsy things with his older siblings but still is in the crayon-eating stage.

Another question, along the lines of finishing projects and bouncing around among many interests... do your children have only project going at a time, or do they have a few? If they only have one project, do they work on it every day? What kind of limits do you set? I have to admit that one of my concerns over the past year or so has been *finishing*; many of their projects just peter out, or there isn't much that they themselves have created, just books read, and/or a lot of photos that I've taken. They draw a lot, but very few of their drawings become finished pieces. They *do* enjoy art very much, which is what led me to investigate Reggio, but I really feel my lack of artistic experience sometimes... I'm not sure of what I might do to scaffold them or lead them to a higher/deeper level of skill (or experience.)

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2008 at 10:06 PM

angel, i hear you. i still wish you could have a dedicated space -- six kids can, after all, share one space just as students share a classroom in school. but if it’s just not doable, i would look for a wall space to make a vertical studio:

- shelves for art supplies and three-dimensional constructions that are in progress

- bulletin board-type display space for two-dimensional artwork *and* reference material

you can line baskets up along the floor under the bottom shelf (if they are wall hung) or on the bottom shelf (if they are stand-alone) and use them to store empty recyclables and other large items.

you can basically build your studio right up the wall -- and i'm thinking of a studio as not just an art-making space but a learning space, like a workshop or atelier.

this is completely doable; after all, we had large wooden tables in our art studio with 15 children working every day and the tables were clean at the end of the day.

when organizing materials, whether writing/bookmaking/artmaking/etc., as long as it is crystal clear where everything goes, make sure the children are responsible for putting things away when they're done. responsibility = independence. if they know where it goes, they can put it away themselves; if they know where it belongs, they can get it back out themselves.

once again, getting carried away, but does this help?

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2008 at 10:14 PM

sarah/greenclogs, great! i like in/out boxes for paper; you can stack the wire kind and keep things separate and organized. (usually organization is anathema to me, but in the studio i think it tends to attract children to using the materials.)

although space in their bedrooms for displaying artwork is nice, remember that if you want to encourage them to extend their work and/or do projects (if you end up going that direction ;^) then you will need to display material (1) where other people can see it (for collaboration, documentation, sharing, teaching others, etc.) and (2) where they can see it *while working* -- because that is what jump-starts extending their own work.

i like the idea of making a place for display in the hallway -- anything you do to show you value their work is going to encourage them to do more and care more.

my house has no wall space either; right now we are using a bulletin board that goes under the couch when we're not working!

Comment by Ali on November 8, 2008 at 10:41 PM

I am relieved to see that we are not alone in some of these same challenges. We are currently de-schooling and I am "experimenting" with my children--trying to define (if possible ) each of their learning styles so I know what direction to take. You'd think being a mom for 9 years I'd know all about my kids, but I am realizing that I don't! After nearly 2 months, I am seeing some of that spark come back into their learning--they are eager to learn new things and I love it!

Comment by Nancy on November 8, 2008 at 10:42 PM

Oh, oh, me, me . . . can I chime in on the art supply storage/display stuff? Just last month I completely re-did the kids' art space. My daughter has had her own art desk for years. But it was time to switch to a bigger space so my daughter (7) and her little brother (just turned 4) could easily work at the same time (at a space other than the kitchen table). We got a great big solid wood table for $1 and cut the legs significantly to bring it down to kid height. Then we took the adjacent closet, completely shelved it, and now all the art supplies live there in little, labeled baskets and boxes. Can you tell I'm a little in lurve with that closet? ;) Also random bits:

I found one of these at the thrift store. *Awesome* accessible storage container, I'll be looking for more:

And thoughts on art display from the ubiquitous Soulemama follow. I have ripped her off shamelessly. We have this above the kitchen table, with a big group of the kids' framed artwork above, which we rotate. The groovy clipboard:

We have this above the art desk, again with frames for kids' artwork above. The kids have claimed which frames are theirs, and one of my daughter's frames, for example, is especially for a drawing featuring the current season. The art clothesline:

This summer I really wanted more space for messy, big art projects. We have a tiny house, so I cleaned out/consolidated stuff in our backyard shed. We now use most of the shed for a big art desk with comfy adjacent seating. I need to take pictures out there. We turn on our little spot lamps in the shed, put some country music on the radio, and I chill out about piles of glue and muss, as I know it's not *in* the house. Stopping myself. I think this is all inspired by the amazing Saturday morning art classes I took as a child -- held in the enormous art "studio" (huge!) of the local college. OK, now I'm stopping. --Nancy in NC

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2008 at 10:47 PM

ha, angel, you managed to post a 2nd comment before i had your first one answered. :^P

re: 1yo’s, i think the key is giving them everything the older kids have, scaled to their requirements. so maybe not crayons if they are eating the crayons, but maybe sidewalk chalk and dark construction paper or a lap chalkboard. my younger son is 3 yrs younger than his brother, so i know what it’s like to have a not-yet-verbal 1yo explain to you vehemently that a Duplo is not the same thing as a Lego. :^P but as much as possible, give them the respect and their own materials and space.

one thing i have no tolerance for is small children ruining the older children’s work; i think by reinforcing that that will not be tolerated, they get the message both that you’re not kidding and that work is important. and the older kids know their work is important because you are protecting it.

do you try to put the 14mo at the table with his sibs, or do you have a place for him to work down low?

re: finishing/bouncing around, somewhere up above in this thread i think i was talking about this as well .. *they* will bounce around and have many interests. that is great. *you* can stick with supporting one interest.

think of how this works in a classroom -- you have 20 children who all have various interests. in order to corral them all to work on one cohesive project, do you need to identify one topic that resonates strongly with every child in the class? no way. it’s not even possible. hopefully you can tease out an interest that seems to have general appeal (and remember, projects quickly split off into different lines of inquiry, so there are many, many entry points for different children) *and* that a small group of 2 or 3 children has an intense interest in. those children's infectious engagement will spread among the others. that’s how you pull everyone into a single project.

a question teachers often ask is, what about the other kids’ interests? these boys are interested in trains, these girls are interested in dolls, these children are making a pet store... and again, you *can’t* support every interest. it’s just not possible. so pick something that seems promising and begin to give it your attention; put your focus on that. that doesn’t mean the kids aren’t allowed to have other interests; they can still play and draw and build and read about whatever they wish. but you are going to choose one thing to put your attention and focus on, one area that you will be attempting to facilitate a deeper learner.

to encourage your children to keep working on something, i would again suggest making a dedicated work space or studio, making a display space, documenting their work (a huge topic unto itself).

when they have made a drawing, ask them to tell you about it, ask them to tell the other kids about it. take notes about what they say. ask if they are finished or if there is something else they would like to add tomorrow. ask what they think they would like to do next. have the children make suggestions to each other. don’t be afraid to model asking good questions or making meaningful suggestions to get them on the right track. offer a range of materials so they can explore the same idea with different types of media.

okay, i’m going to hope this is enough to get you started -- what do you think?

Comment by Jennifer on November 8, 2008 at 10:48 PM

Lori, I have to tell you that I feel positively blessed to have found your site. My children thrive on hands on learning, and to be able to use it to my advantage as their teacher is huge. It's been a bit of a challenge for me to let go and let them take the lead, just because that's what I was familiar with. I come from a family full of public educators. lol

Anyways, we moved to a larger house in July and I'm still working on making it feel like home. I've posted a few photos on flickr (username jen.f) of our craft cabinet and some of the watercolor leaves project from awhile ago. I try to keep most things easily seen and accessible. For supplies that are on higher shelves, I like to use simple mason jars. For lower shelves, I use baskets, metal containers, etc. I have a 5 1/2-year-old, 3-year-old and 13-month-old. Sometimes everything ends up on the floor, but they're getting better.

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2008 at 10:57 PM

ali, that is wonderful -- good luck to you and your family as you keep on with it! :^)

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2008 at 11:05 PM

nancy, these comments can get reeeeallly long. ;^)

your new space sounds awesome! i want to see pics of the shed! :^D)

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 8, 2008 at 11:11 PM

jennifer, thank you so much. i’m going over to check out your pictures on flickr. did you join the camp creek flickr group?

we need to do a “show your studio/show your work space” thing on flickr. i want to see everyone’s space. :^)

Comment by Angel on November 9, 2008 at 12:27 AM

Yep, definitely enough to get me started! As far as the 14 mo old goes... if he were going to work with art supplies, I could either put him up at the big table in his high chair (it will scoot under the table with its tray removed) or I could have him work at a smaller, child-sized table. He likes to take stuff apart and put it back together, so I try to have containers, etc. for that purpose that he can work with in both places. Mostly right now when he works with the bigger kids, it's building with Duplos or wooden blocks, which they do on the floor. He's not actually the biggest threat to creations done on the floor; I have extremely active 3 yo twins, and they actually have far more toruble restraining themselves, but that's another story.

re: finding a project for everyone... I think this is why Reggio seems more doable to me with a large family than straight unschooling. Collaboration would certainly make things easier than everyone always doing his or her own thing *all* the time; it is nice to meet up sometimes. (We don't strictly unschool or strictly do Montessori or anything else, strictly, but it is a problem I encounter a lot: trying to support individual interests while also not going completely insane *or* going over to a completely teacher-directed sort of learning mode.)

There is a lot to think about in this thread; thanks!

Comment by Kerry on November 9, 2008 at 01:08 AM

Wow, this has really been an awesome thread! Thank you so much, Lori, for the space to chat and all of the wonderful ideas! I feel excited to try some new things with my space now. It looks like I will be able to have my new little room in a couple of months! But in the meantime, I will be trying some of the "vertical studio" ideas you suggest.

Comment by Deirdre on November 9, 2008 at 05:06 AM

Wow, came back to check in here and found this wealth of info/ideas.

Lori, now I want to see a photo of the hanging organizer for pads/paper. Pretty please?

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 9, 2008 at 02:46 PM

thank you, angel!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 9, 2008 at 02:47 PM

thank you, kerry, and good luck with your space! :^)

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 9, 2008 at 02:48 PM

hi deirdre :^) and i found a photo that shows the magazine rack-type organizer i use for pads and paper; it’s here:

this organizer is for pads and sketchbooks; we use in/out trays for loose paper!

Comment by Cordelia on November 9, 2008 at 08:31 PM

Trying to think about how to make the physical part of this happen in our temporary digs here in Barcelona will be fun, but I really would love to hear your thoughts on collaboration when kids are not in a school group. The give and take with peers is certainly the missing piece for us. What have you found works?

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 9, 2008 at 11:04 PM

cordelia, are you on flickr? i'd love to see some of your barcelona experience. :^)

i know you are having trouble finding peers, period. (jack is really into alliteration lately; i have to show him that one.) in a normal, home in the u.s.a. situation, i would say -- homeschool group, project group, neighbors, friends, cousins, siblings, co-op, scouts, 4-H, family, extended family, etc. etc. etc. although it's preferable to collaborate with other people working on the same project (even on a different facet of the same topic), the most important thing is to have people to show the work, discuss, answer questions, teach, demonstrate, take/not take suggestions, listen to comments, etc. etc. feedback is great. true collaboration -- working together toward the same goal -- is the ideal.

in your situation i would suggest an online project group; i just set up my first, and i'm hoping to organize more, helping hs'ing families find collaborators for their children. i realize this may not work for you, as you are just starting out with hs'ing.

how is your "socialization" situation there going?


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