Open thread!

Published by Lori Pickert on August 4, 2012 at 08:17 AM

We’re here and we’re chatting, so if you have something to share, jump in!


Comment by akari on August 4, 2012 at 12:05 AM

I am interested in getting better at working on project time from the sibling/fairness perspective with my boys 6 and 4. They often seem to both want my attention at the same time and at times in competition. I try to keep them from talking to me at the same time but I don't feel that I am always 'fair' in how I give attention. What my older one is dealing with always seems new and interesting, mostly because I have not yet encountered that age. He is always the one breaking new grounds. I know I expect that and I find myself genuinely interested. But with my younger one I'm not sure how to Really give him attention. It's not that everything he does is boring because it is a repeat of his brother, but their pace is so different, and I consistently find myself impatient with the younger son (and myself) for not being able to get in sync and communicate easily. I realize that it is easier when my older son is not around for me to match the speed of my younger one. Intellectually I know that i need to downshift each time I communicate to my younger son for us to really connect. I'm still not able to do it when all three of us are together. It is even worse when my husband is around! Because then I have three different modes to match and juggle. I hope to get better before my boys are both older that they are pretty much matched in processing speed. Learning to quickly shift gears seems to me a valuable skill to acquire. I would add though that this is usually not too much of an issue when they are working on a project together as they work very well together. It is when they each have something different they are working on that this particular issue comes up.
I look forward to hearing any thoughts!

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 4, 2012 at 08:33 AM

are you usually with both boys together or do you have time to work with each of them one-on-one?

i wonder if you could encourage your 4yo to ask his brother questions or solicit his help sometimes. his older brother would probably enjoy that — to a point! ;o)

They often seem to both want my attention at the same time and at times in competition.

if they are both clamoring for your attention, you can’t give either of them the attention they need. tell them that, then make a system so you can give each of them some focused attention while the other occupies himself.

my friend emily used to put a sign on her desk in front of her that said “closed” when she wanted to work one-on-one with students. all the children knew that they couldn’t interrupt her when she was busy doing conferences. when she was finished, she would flip the sign to “open” and a flood of children would rush in. ;o)

the trade-off for a child who has to not interrupt is, of course, that he is going to get his turn having your entire focused attention.

i would try having them share with each other as well as you at the beginning and end of the time you’ve devoted to projects, and then say “i’m going to work with your brother now, and then i’ll help you.” you don’t have to spend the entire time divided between the two of them — just some amount of time. then if they fight for your attention, i think you have to shrug and say you can’t hear so you can’t help. ;o)

Comment by akari on August 7, 2012 at 02:47 PM

Lori, I tend not to have time alone with them but your image of shrugging and saying I can't hear so I can't help was immensely helpful. I drew picture of all of us in conversation, with conversations being like throwing and catching a ball. The object of this game is not to drop the ball. If I have balls thrown at me from all directions, I end up not catching any of it, so I explained. I am also now shifting the image of what I have for my younger so that he can grow into being an older child who can take turns and wait. I realized I still had him stuck in my mind as more of a baby and so I was treating him that way. Thank you for sharing your wisdom! akari

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 7, 2012 at 02:52 PM

you are very welcome. :)

Comment by julie f. on August 4, 2012 at 03:31 PM

I have 3 boys (8, 5 and 2) and am homeschooling them. I recently read your book and really want to begin using projects as our main focus this homeschool year. My 8 year old is REALLY into Lego sets. His mind is pretty much always on something that Lego has put out, Lego Star Wars, Ninjago, Lord of the Rings, etc. If he has computer time he is looking at the Lego website. He is pretty much always looking for time to get on the computer and look at something Lego. He looks imaginary play but it is always based on one of the Lego themes. He is either playing with the toys or acting the stories (or his own based on the characters) out. When at the library, he always looks for those type of books. I pick out other books for him to read and leave them laying around for him to read. He will read them and enjoy them but when we hit the library again he is focused on these Lego/Star Wars stories. I really want to steer him away to other interests. I feel like if I open up a "project time" and ask him what he wants to do it will definitely be based on this. Should I go with this, at least at first? I would love for him to choose a project based on nature, science or literature but if we did this, I would be pushing it in the beginning.
Do you have any suggestions on how to begin?

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 4, 2012 at 05:12 PM


maybe he would want to use his project time to dig even deeper into LEGO, but if you want him to move on to something else, that might be exactly what he needs to do — work on it deeply enough to satisfy himself. as nonintuitive as it seems, supporting him to really LEGO out might get you where you want to go faster than trying to distract him away from it. :)

a child who has had the opportunity to really dig into the thing that sets his imagination on fire is more likely to explore outward. a child whose deep interest has been stifled or denied is *less* likely to become an avid learner in any area. he shuts down because learning isn’t about what he wants; it's about what someone else wants. he disengages.

as aesthetically attractive as science and nature and literature are, the topic isn’t really the point. projects are about meta-learning: learning how to learn. and a deep interest is the rich vein of gold every parent is trying to locate and mine. it doesn’t matter that it’s LEGO instead of seashells or Shakespeare. we just want to help him figure out how to work with his interest in a deeply intellectual way. the fact that he really cares about it is what gives the work its meaning. it’s the magical ingredient that imbues his work with self-motivation.

if you are feeling LEGO-tired, you might say .. ugh. it’s plastic, it’s primary-colored, it’s consumerism in a little plastic block. it’s movie tie-ins and licensed characters. and they hurt like blue blazes when you step on them in the dark.

on the other hand, LEGO is the ultimate open-ended toy. even the kits that come with instructions are open-ended, because they beg to be modified, extended, and improved upon. you can play with them a million different ways, and use them to act out a million different stories. when you go online, you can find a billion MOCs (“my own creation”) invented by kids and adults. there’s a huge community of other people (boys and girls, kids and teens and adults) who love LEGO and love to talk about it and share what they’ve made. LEGO is connected with storytelling, comics, stop-motion animation, and robotics. it easily incorporates math, writing, and science. and you’ll most likely have no problem finding other kids to collaborate with.

it can be hard to let your child really burrow down into an interest that doesn’t thrill you. and i get your hesitation, thinking, “man .. i know he’s just going to want to do a project on LEGO!” ;o)  i would just say .. instead of being annoyed that he’s going to start right in with something you’re already tired of, you could be happy that he already has a deep interest with so much project potential. some parents start out with nothing but a furrow on their brow, worried that their child has NO interests at all. :)

you could try saying “anything but LEGO!,” but i recommend you give it a shot. since he’s so fired up about it, you can start right off with what he wants to learn, what he wants to do, what his goals are, who he wants to share his work with… you might find that the quality (and maybe ease) of his work relate directly to how self-chosen it is. it’s worth a shot! let me know how it goes in either case. :) and please check out the forum if you haven’t already; we’ll support you as you get your feet wet.

Comment by akari on August 7, 2012 at 02:37 PM

I have experienced something similar with my older son 5 then, with another type of building block called LaQ. I also talked to Lori about my concern then and decided to dive into it deeper with him. I got a FB fan page built so that friends and family can see what he is building also. As I was posting many photos, his younger brother began building with him more and we even received a comment from LaQ USA with an ask to post one of the 'collaboration in action' videos on their page! After close to two years, he still loves building with it and he is coming up with more originals and making things off of tiny photographs on LaQ catalogues. He is learning to think, imagine, theorize and build three dimensionally and the special interest seems to be in how a given structure is held together. He does gymnastics and when I explain how much more efficient and stable a straight up and down handstand is than a bent one, he totally gets it. I share this with many thanks to inspiration from Lori.

I also wanted to ask if you have looked into First Robotics. There are national lego leagues for younger kids. I have lead a group and found out how interesting gears and mechanical connections can be.

All the best,

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 7, 2012 at 02:53 PM

akari, thank you so much for sharing this!

Comment by jacinda on August 5, 2012 at 02:25 PM

This reminds me of myself and my daughter a couple of years back and our "first project." Ruby wanted to do fashion and make up. Read UGHH in capital letters here. I personally rage against both- the whole young girl striving to look older, girls being overly interested in what they look like yada, yada, yada. But I knew I needed to honour her interest. I tell you it was hard but I decided to remain light and playful ("fake it till you make it" I figured.) The project didn't last long (phew for me :-), I relaxed when we starting making some lotions, we bumbled around - we were figuring out how to do this whole project thing. What I learnt is to respect her interests, the importance of her playing with her own ideas and me keeping my place as co-creator and not as "the one who knows what she should be learning." I also learnt about how she learns - that the fashion and make-up was deeply entwined with her dressing up and role playing, her exploring characters and story. Now I look back at this first project with fondness - in the end it had so little to do with the content and so much about the dynamics of how we do learning here at our place.

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 5, 2012 at 03:10 PM


“the importance of her playing with her own ideas and me keeping my place as co-creator” — it can be hard! :)

thank you, jacinda, this is such a great example of a topic turning out to be better than you would have guessed/anticipated. the connection with role-playing and exploring characters/story vs. a girly obsession with looks. and because you were willing to give it a try, you got to see where she took her interest.

“in the end it had so little to do with the content and so much about the dynamics of how we do learning” — i think the focus on content comes from an experience of education where content is the most important thing .. because the underlying learning stays the same from topic to topic. we strip the content away to pay more attention to the learning. when those magic moments happen during a project, they’re not about the content (did you know X about stars or frogs?) — they’re about the learning (she made that connection — he made that idea happen).

it’s so good to share success stories — i think it will be very encouraging to parents just starting out. thank you so much. xo

Comment by Julie fairchild on August 6, 2012 at 07:18 PM

Thanks so much, Lori and Jacinda. Your words are so encouraging. It actually makes me a bit relieved. I think my concern comes primarily from the fear that Lego doesnt fit into "traditional" schooling. I am continually reminded that traditional education is not necessarily the best education but it can be so hard to step out of that box. I am relieved to think of how happy he will be to have me delve I to Legos WITH him. Thanks so much!

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 6, 2012 at 07:43 PM


you are so very welcome! :)

and re: “traditional” schooling, think about hard it is to fire up 30 kids about studying something in which they may have little to no interest. you want them to give their all, to use all their imagination and creativity, to challenge themselves and push harder to acquire more skills and more knowledge .. but you’re trying to light a fire with wet wood. it’s so much easier when your child is already on fire to learn because he’s in the driver’s seat, pursuing something that authentically engages him.

Comment by jacinda on August 6, 2012 at 10:28 PM

Great to hear the "wet wood" analogy...I use it often when discussing "school education." Julie, it's great to be part of this conversation.

Comment by Tracey on August 7, 2012 at 12:58 PM

You mentioned in the book beginning projects with preschoolers as young as 2. What does that look like?

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 7, 2012 at 03:06 PM


children mature at different speeds between 2 and 3. i’ve worked with children who were turning 3 and barely talking, and i’ve worked with 2-year-olds who were indistinguishable from a 3-year-old. you’d never be able to pick out later, when they were older, which were which. there is simply a very wide variation of normal.

i put together a set of program objectives for an infant/toddler program that fed into a preschool attempting to launch a reggio-inspired program. the main objective was to prepare the children to thrive in a project-based, reggio-inspired classroom when they were older. so, underscore the same values: independence (allowing them to clean up after themselves, even though it takes longer), choice (avoiding limited-choice fill-in-the-blank crafts; offering a range of open-ended playthings rather than directing play according to a schedule), authentic art (steering away from coloring books, not showing samples of what projects should end up looking like), and etc.

if you have older children who are doing projects, younger children can hang out at the edges of that work and participate as much as they wish, at the level they’re capable of. they may not appear to be listening carefully; they may not appear to be paying close attention. but then they will make representations that incorporate what they heard and understood. they may copy an older sibling’s work. this is all good stuff .. they are playing at project work the same way an infant babbles when they begin to talk.

for a two-year-old without older children around, i would simply offer rich, open-ended play experiences and feed their interests *at a level appropriate for their age*. so, if their favorite book is about alligators, when you’re at the library you might ask them if they want to look for other alligator books. you might make copies of pages of that book and cut out characters and leave them in the studio with a glue stick and a blank book (simply paper folded and stapled together). display the book when you bring the clay out, to provoke ideas. (but don’t suggest.) if they draw and tell you it’s an alligator, ask them to tell them about their drawing; if they “write” a story, ask them to read it to you and then write down what they say. but none of this should come with any pressure. you’re simply creating the circumstances that will allow them to become independent learners as they’re ready. and you’re introducing important ideas, like

- you can learn more about what interests you

- you can make your own decisions and have your own ideas

- you can clean up your own mess (make it possible, make it easy)

and etc.

i hope this helps!

Comment by Tracey on August 7, 2012 at 03:28 PM

It really does! Thanks!

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 7, 2012 at 03:35 PM

great! you’re very welcome. :)

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