Project journal — parent’s

Published by Lori Pickert on October 14, 2008 at 02:15 PM

I use my project journal to keep track of

  • what the boys are doing each day
  • books they’ve read
  • movies they’ve seen
  • sites they’ve visited online
  • their conversations
  • letters and e-mails they’ve sent
  • photos of them working
  • photos they’ve taken
  • their sketches, models, and constructions
  • their questions
  • their plans
  • their requests — for materials, field work, etc.
  • and so on...

I use a digital camera and print out my photos on regular copy paper to glue in my journal. I also display these on bulletin boards dedicated to their ongoing projects, and I print copies of anything they want to put in their own journals.

I highlight their questions in my journal, so I can remind them later of things they wanted to investigate.

I also highlight things I want to remember to do — get them materials they asked for, make copies of some sketches for their project board, etc.

(I am not this well organized in, well, any other aspect of my life. But I know from experience that if I don’t write things down as they happen, I will quickly lose track of their plans and questions and wonderings. They speed along so steadfastly that if I’m not coming along behind with a basket to collect all of their future plans — the things they have thought of, but haven’t done yet — many of them will be lost forever.)

My journal is an important tool for me. My part in our learning relationship is to support them in their investigation, and that requires a lot of me — I have to pay attention to what’s happening every day. I have to be quiet and see what they are saying, doing, and planning, without my interference. I have to respond faithfully when they ask for things — whether it’s wire, tape, help looking up something online, or a trip to the natural history museum. I need to keep track of all those lines of inquiry they mark as a path they want to follow later, when they have more time, so they can focus on what they are doing right now.

Your journal can also be a powerful assessment tool, if that is something you need or want to do. And it is a powerful reminder of what your children can accomplish simply following their own trail of questions.

A project journal should not be simply a diary of what happened, however — focusing on the past. To be a useful tool, you must constantly review and reflect. Your role isn’t a passive one, trailing along behind your children, dutifully taking notes. Their project journals will be primarily about their topic — say, bees — but your project journal is primarily about your topic — your children and how they learn. Therefore, it isn’t a dead record of the past, but a living documentation that stretches from the past into the future.

Also see: Inside my project journal

In the studio: Works in progress

Published by Lori Pickert on January 10, 2008 at 10:11 PM


Wonderful reader Jill asks:

How do you corral the projects?? Do you let them sit out for an indefinite amount of time? When do the projects get thrown away, if ever? I want to encourage creativity, but it bugs me to have all the "pieces" spread out all over the place if making something takes longer than 5 minutes.

As Jill has already discovered, the only thing more beautiful than a basket of garbage is a room full of pieces of garbage taped to other pieces of garbage.

Of course, your child knows that the macaroni box taped to four soup cans is a turtle (or a lunar rover, or a brontosaurus, or a fax machine), and maybe even you know that (if s/he told you), but to everyone else, well, it's a look, yes, but maybe not the look you were going for.

How do you corral the projects? In the classroom, we had shelf space for ongoing projects, and we interspersed shelves filled with beautifully displayed art supplies with shelves filled with garbage, i mean ongoing projects.

At home, I have ongoing projects on top of the bookshelves, scattered across the table, and on the floor. SIGH.


At school, we dealt with ongoing work by sticking a Post-It note on it recording what it was (according to the maker) and their plans for it ("I will paint it", "Add eyes and nose", "Add Steering Wheel", etc.). We would reference those notes when reminding the child of the work they had planned to do and also when asking them if they were finished yet.

At home, with my two students, I don't usually have to put a Post-It on anything, but I do write down in my notebook anything they have planned so I can remind them later and also so I can make sure I get whatever they need from me to finish their project.

(I could never keep track of anything if I didn't have a designated homeschool journal/notebook.)

Do you let them sit out for an indefinite amount of time? Yes. The amount of time I let them sit out is definitely indefinite.

Let's talk ideal situation. Ideally, you are writing down what they are doing along with their requests for additional materials ("I need green and brown paint for the turtle's shell", "I need another soup can for my rover", "I need something silver for the top", etc.), their plans (see above), and their questions ("What goes on top of the rover?", "What does a turtle's tail look like?", "I need to look at the seatbelt in our car"). You use that information to keep things rolling:

"You said you wanted to see what was on top of the rover. Let's look on the internet."

"The green and brown paint you asked for is in the art studio. WEAR A SMOCK."

"Do you want to go look at the seatbelt in the car today?"

and etc. So, things are moving along. A project is done when the child says it is done. However, if it hangs around, the child may decide they want to do something more to it, which is a very good thing. In the classroom, children will copy each other's creations, which is an excellent thing. Child #1 makes something, child #2 copies it and adds something interesting, then child #1 goes back and wants to add it to his as well. It's all about extending the work. If you have more than one child, and they are close enough in age, maybe you can enjoy the same effect.


When do the projects get thrown away, if ever? Basically, things hang around until I'm sure the child is good and completely done with them or until I am convinced they have been completely abandoned or because I am in a bad mood and want the room to be clean.

(Guaranteed, if you throw something away, the child will ask for it the next day.)

(Buy black garbage bags for cleaning the studio. There is nothing like the face of a child who just found his or her beloved art project in the trash.)

I want to encourage creativity, but it bugs me to have all the "pieces" spread out all over the place if making something takes longer than 5 minutes. Ah, I feel for you, Jill. Rome wasn't built in a day, however, and neither is a lunar rover made from a macaroni box. It all takes time, and you just have to figure out a way to lessen the effects of helping your child become incredibly intelligent, creative, and expressive.

paint-turtle.jpgDesignate one shelf for ongoing projects. Make room for two or three things per child and that's it. If they want to make something new, they have to finish their old thing first.

Work with them, however, and facilitate their work by paying attention to what they say they want to do and supporting them (by reminding them of their plans, by giving them requested materials) so they can reach their goal. I repeat, it is all about extending the work. The more often they work on one particular thing, the deeper and more layered the knowledge will be.

When they are finished, help celebrate what they have accomplished. Take pictures of it. Show it to people: family members, friends, delivery people. Make a big deal about it; show them how impressed you are. (Don't be fake about it, though. Be sincere.) Kids see what is important to you and they want to impress you. Your attention is a powerful motivator.

In the studio: Storing recyclables

Published by Lori Pickert on January 9, 2008 at 02:57 PM


Deidre is doing a series of posts about her top things of 2007, and last week she mentioned that she was feeling some guilt about something I'd written:

"I have a friend who saves every paper towel roll, etc., for her boys' craft closet, and when she told me that, I did feel a pang of guilt. Then I read Camp Creek Press's post about creating a kid-friendly studio and felt even more guilt . Of course I also read Peter Walsh's It's All Too Much last year, so I've found a compromise. I've given Aidan some space, where he can "collect" all the household found objects he wants for his creations---until the designated space is filled. Then you gotta use some before you add more. Because space is limited, even if buttons are not:-)"


This made me laugh, because don't I know exactly what you mean, Deirdre! Frankly, all organization in the studio is a study in compromise, but recyclables are the worst. You may remember this picture.

It is easy to make most art supplies look beautiful: a clay mug filled with colored pencils, paint jars lined up in the sunshine, a wooden bowl filled with buttons. Ah, lovely.

It is much harder to make a pile of recycling look good. Also, it takes up an enormous amount of space in a classroom, where you are trying to keep enough materials on hand for more than a dozen children at a time. We solved that problem by filling an entire closet with recyclables on shelves.

In your home studio, you can keep less on hand at any one time. Honestly, any time you feel you are getting low on materials, you just have to save for a few days before you have a good pile going again. Unfortunately, it doesn't take much time at all to accumulate this much packaging.

The cabinet pictured up above is a holding area in the kitchen; we throw everything in there first. Later, we sort it out and carry it to the studio, where we try (I emphasize try) to keep it corralled in a couple of attractive baskets that, nevertheless, then look like attractive baskets filled with garbage.


You can try to hide these materials inside cabinets, but out of sight, out of mind, and if your child can't see them s/he probably won't make anything with them. This may put a gleam in your eye, thinking about opening the cabinet doors only on rainy Sundays, but I have to stand tall and represent for the kids: better to keep things out and visible for frequent making.

You can try to nest materials; I know I do. In fact, I would say I excel at recycling tetris. I know exactly which brownie mix box fits into which macaroni box which then fits into the ... you get the idea. And small things like bottle tops and cupcake papers can be thrown into a very large clear plastic jar, the better to see what's available and keep things from spilling across the floor.

Kids digging enthusiastically for a robot foot or a bulldozer part, however, will probably not adequately recognize or appreciate the methodical way you packed the materials to fit in the least amount of space. And so it expands and contracts. If you crave organization (and don't we all crave it? even if we never achieve it?), this may make you slightly insane.

In conclusion, it's not easy to keep just the right amount of things on hand. Variety is good — a variety of materials to choose from and a variety of activities that are available every day. Old macaroni boxes and egg cartons aren't particularly attractive, but they can inspire beautiful work.


The art of organization

Published by Lori Pickert on September 2, 2007 at 03:55 PM


Don't worry, I'm not going to pretend I can cover the topic of organization in just one post.

After all, "Real Simple" talks about it in pretty much every issue.

However, we're getting ready to gear up for the school year, we need to organize our classrooms, and parents have many of the same concerns at home. (In fact, more and more bedrooms and play rooms are drawing inspiration from classrooms.)

I am not one of those people who keep only the things which I feel to be beautiful or know to be useful (paraphrasing William Morris). My closets and drawers are crowded with the less attractive, the downright ugly, the obscure, and the "maybe some day".

At home (see above), we had a major organizing shift this year in the play room. I purchased a couple dozen of the clear bins shown, which have permanently attached lids that, when open, hang neatly at the bin's sides like a hinged open door. These were purchased at Wal-Mart when they were on clearance, and I made a second trip to get more. Bless the person who thought of the permanently attached lid.


Clear bins and containers are so nice for showcasing their contents. If a child can't see into it (e.g., open baskets and trays on a low shelf), clear containers allow them to see what materials are available.

With limited storage, it always helps to go up ... clear containers on high shelves mean materials that aren't needed everyday are still in sight, so children don't forget what you have. High shelves are also a nice way to display completed projects.

paintcan.jpgOne of my favorite finds for organizing pens, pencils, markers, paintbrushes, etc, is paint cans. The paint store sells them (new, unused) in different sizes, about 88 cents for the quart size. These are a natural material, sturdy, and .. bonus .. magnetic -- so you use magnets or magnetic labels on them.

Martha Stewart uses paint cans turned on their sides to make excellent cubbies. It's not hard to imagine these repurposed as student mailboxes in the classroom (drawings can be rolled!).

More organizational inspiration for today:

Colanders instead of baskets

Pegboard desk (Martha Stewart Kids)

Baskets, chalkboards, and cork boards (Pottery Barn Kids)

Slat shelves