So, yesterday we talked about the work/fun conundrum and the direct approach to jump-starting inquiry and investigation.
Hey Bart, do you want to research polar bears? Uh, no thanks.
If your child has been project learning for years, she will probably jump on the chance to research a topic that interests her. But we’re just getting started, and “research”, “study”, “investigate” ... these words send up a red flag for a child who is wary of being tricked into, say, writing a 10-page research paper.
So, let’s think about using provocations to spark further investigation.
(This idea works with young children as well.)
You have taken the time to listen and observe and reflect, documenting in your journal, and you think you’ve identified a topic that your child seems interested in, one that would support further study.
What are some things that you could bring to the party to both recognize and respect your child’s interest and also extend it?
• A book (not a dozen books, now — leave room for your child to take over)
• A field guide
• A movie
• A clip on youtube
• A magazine article
• A newspaper article
• A tv show
• A personal story from your family’s past
Try to start small. Let’s say you’ve discovered your child has an interest in hawks. Don’t schedule a visit to the raptor center the next day. Try to hold back the big guns until later.
Don’t be in a rush. Ideas need time to grow. Don’t be disappointed if you slide a book onto your child’s nightstand and he doesn’t immediately respond.
Starting a project is like building a campfire. Your child’s interest is the spark. You want to add kindling. You don’t want to drop a giant log on that spark; you’ll just extinguish it. Tiny twigs, that’s what you want. A bit of dry straw.
When the fire gets going, you will be feeding it steadily, but preferably at your child’s request — they will ask for something, and you will provide it.
(But remember — they need to learn that they can lead and request; taking on the role of teaching themselves is a transition. We’ll talk more about this in a later post.)
If you have a young child (say, age three to five), you can focus primarily on art materials. Say their grandparents have brought them some seashells from vacation. Your child loves the shells and is entranced with them. In a few days, those shells will be old news and they’ll move onto something else. The shells will sit on a windowsill and slowly become dust covered. But what if you sat those shells out on a tray with a magnifying glass, a notebook, and colored pencils? What if you set them out with some clay? What if you had a big beautiful field guide to shells? As they work, you jot down any questions or confusions they express. You model wondering aloud, “I wonder if Grandma knows what lived in this shell?” And now you have a project under way.
Art materials might be a good jump start for an older child as well, depending on the subject matter and the child’s interests. But let’s imagine a very meticulous eight-year-old boy who in general shies away from art and is extremely active and curious. He has watched his father fix the dishwasher and seemed extremely interested in the tools and the process. What if you said to him, “I cleared off that table and we found you some extra tools. I was going to throw this broken toaster away, but I thought you might want to take it apart instead.” (Note, no one said “research electronics”.) Then simply leave, and stop talking. It might take days for him to get started. Eight-year-old boys can be as skittish as a raccoon. Or, he might get started immediately — you never know. (Note: It’s always safest to cut the power cord off of any appliance that you put on the take-apart table.)
One lesson of the hundred languages is that there are many, many entry points to any subject. There are enough diverse ways to bite into a subject that any child, no matter their natural temperaments or inclinations, can find a spot. The process of thinking this over ourselves is *our* project work — puzzling out how we might feed that spark.