project-based homeschooling

Project-based homeschooling curriculum

Published by Lori Pickert on August 10, 2012 at 07:52 AM

This time of year, many homeschooling parents are cracking open their catalogs to order what they hope will be the perfect homeschool curriculum. They hope that they can plan a perfect year, with the perfect blend of all the elements of a good education. They aren’t just limiting themselves to books and kits; they’re also scanning Pinterest for ideas for their learning space. They’re juggling a million different ideas and they’re maybe breaking into a light sweat.

Many people land here searching for “project-based homeschooling curriculum.”

I know what they’re really looking for. It’s not a box or a binder that has a map and a plan and a rubric inside. They’re hoping for a glimpse of what happens inside that idea called “project-based homeschooling.” They’re looking to peek through the window and get a feeling for what a typical project looks like or a typical day. They wonder what will happen if they explore down this path.

They rub their sleeve at the frost on the glass and squint and aren’t sure what they see, because they’re not entirely sure what they’re looking for. It sounds good. But what is it really like?

The project-based homeschooling curriculum doesn’t come in a box or a binder. It doesn’t look like a knitted sweater you can take out of the box and pull over your head. It looks like a pair of knitting needles with conspicuously missing yarn. You pick up those needles and wonder if you’ll really be warm in December.

The project-based homeschooling curriculum is built slowly, by hand. The materials are gathered along the way. The gathering and the building are the curriculum. The process is the curriculum.

They say that cutting wood warms you twice: once when you split it with your axe and again when you bask by your fire. In the same way, project-based homeschooling is twice the learning. You learn about your project and along the way you learn how to learn. Instead of dumping it out of a box, you have to go out and build it from scratch. It warms you twice.

Reggio educator Vea Vecchi said, “I hesitate to give advice. Our research is really an adventure, often exciting and diverting, and how can I give advice about going on an adventure?”

So, people landing here looking for the project-based homeschooling curriculum, that’s all I can offer you. The certainty of challenging, engaging work — and the promise of adventure.

To learn more about project-based homeschooling and get started on your adventure, check out the 10 steps to getting started with PBH.

If you are wondering how PBH can be combined with a regular curriculum, project-based homeschooling can be combined with ANY homeschooling approach from classical to unschooling. From the book:

“This book posits a simple idea — that children need the opportunity to direct and manage their own learning — and then suggests ways that we adults can help them do that.”

“Whether you’re a Latin-loving classicist or a relaxed unschooler or somewhere in-between — the point of project-based homeschooling is to devote some time to helping your child direct and manage his own learning.”

“If you follow a more traditional curriculum, you'll need to set aside special time reserved for project work.”

“If you're a more eclectic homeschooler, project learning could be the main focus of your curriculum, possibly meeting most of your learning goals.”

“If you unschool, you probably have plenty of free time for exploration, but remember to make a deliberate and purposeful effort to support your child to dig deeply into her interests and challenge herself to extend her ideas.”

To read about how my family uses a negotiated curriculum, click here.


You have to keep up the rhythm

Published by Lori Pickert on August 2, 2012 at 04:27 PM

As long as I can run a certain distance, that’s all I care about. Sometimes I run fast when I feel like it, but if I increase the pace I shorten the amount of time I run, the point being to let the exhilaration I feel at the end of each run carry over to the next day. This is the same sort of tack I find necessary when writing a novel. I stop every day right at the point where I feel I can write more. Do that, and the next day’s work goes surprisingly smoothly. I think Ernest Hemingway did something like that. To keep on going, you have to keep up the rhythm. This is the important thing for long-term projects. Once you set the pace, the rest will follow. The problem is getting the flywheel ot spin at a set speed — and to get to that point takes as much concentration and effort as you can manage. — Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

Why do we have to protect time for doing supported independent work? So we can make it possible for our children to do deeper, more sustained investigations.

How long do you have to do it? How many hours a day? Every day or a few times a week? This quote from Murakami addresses the heart of the issue: to do any kind of long-term project, you have to dedicate enough time and revisit the work often enough to keep up the rhythm. You have to end one session excited about what you will do next time. Then you have to come back before you forget what you were excited about.

“[T]o get to that point takes as much concentration and effort as you can manage” — but if you can put in the effort and make the time, you can help your child get into the habit of doing meaningful work.

A license to pursue your dreams

Published by Lori Pickert on July 24, 2012 at 08:30 AM

Marissa Mayer’s 9 Principles of Innovation, from this article:

1. Innovation, not instant perfection.

    2. Ideas come from everywhere.

      3. A license to pursue your dreams.

        4. Morph projects, don’t kill them.

          5. Share as much information as you can.

            6. Users, Users, Users.

              7. Data is apolitical.

                8. Creativity loves constraints.

                  9. You’re brilliant? We’re hiring.

                    As usual, much of this relates to project-based homeschooling.


                      It starts with something meaningful to accomplish

                      Published by Lori Pickert on July 22, 2012 at 11:49 AM

                      The secret is creating the conditions for inner work life — the conditions that foster positive emotions, strong internal motivation, and favorable perceptions of colleagues and the work itself. Great inner work life is about the work, not the accoutrements. It starts with giving people something meaningful to accomplish… It requires … clear goals, autonomy, help, and resources — what people need to make real progress in their daily work. And it depends on showing respect for ideas and the people who create them.The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity

                      Protected time

                      Published by Lori Pickert on July 21, 2012 at 01:15 PM

                      motyl's lupou - creative commons - martin vidner

                      More thoughts on dedicated time for project work

                      [T]here’s some really good research coming out of Harvard that shows that people whose job is to somehow add value, to be creative or to produce, need a cocoon of time for sustained effort where they are going to get something done. … I structure my day so I have protected time. — Daniel Goleman

                      Not only does dedicated time support the work children already want to do, it makes that work more likely to happen.

                      Collaboration vs. competition

                      Published by Lori Pickert on July 18, 2012 at 06:51 AM

                      We often point to competition as a tool to bring out the best in people. ...

                      The problem with competition is that it takes away the requirement to set your own path, to invent your own method, to find a new way. ...

                      Competing with yourself is more difficult, requires more bravery and leads to more insight. — Competition as a crutch, Seth Godin

                      I remember the first class I took — in college — that didn’t pit students against one another but instead asked them to help each other. It was a journalism class, and it was a revelation: that learning could be about improving yourself and the work and helping someone else improve as well. The class was full of positive feelings and energy — we all wanted each other to win, and we helped each other win. I thought, Is this what it’s like when you get out of school? People help each other?
                      Competition doesn’t only take away the requirement to set your own path, it makes it a virtual impossibility. You can’t focus on creativity, solving problems, and your own interests if you’re playing someone else’s game according to someone else’s preset rules. That means we squelch new ideas before they can even happen.
                      When we frame competition as a tool to bring out the best in people, we forget that people achieve the most not when they’re in competition with each other, but when they’re in competition with themselves. If the only person you’re trying to best is yourself, then everyone you meet is a potential teammate. If we’re not in competition with each other, then I want you to win as much as I want to achieve my goals. I can help you and help myself because no one has to be the loser.
                      Collaboration requires us to work side by side rather than head to head, and the other guy’s loss is no longer our gain. How much of our society’s life view is formed by those early years when we’re told there can only be a few at the top and in order for someone to win, someone else has to lose?


                      From the forum: Project work with a 3-year-old

                      Published by Lori Pickert on July 16, 2012 at 08:23 AM

                      “I've got an only child, just 3... I'm wondering about how to approach project work for her. My inclination is that she is too young to "formalize" it but maybe I'm underestimating — or misunderstanding exactly how to approach project work!”

                      It is definitely not too young. Our Reggio-inspired preschool did long-term projects with three- and four-year-olds, and the youngest students came in on their third birthdays. :)

                      The “formalizing” it is, remember, only on YOUR end. You are formalizing your approach to creating circumstances under which she can learn how to direct and manage her own learning, work independently, have her own ideas, and etc. She is already doing all of these things, but you can help her in a myriad of ways: by how you set up her environment, choosing open-ended toys and materials, paying attention to her interests so you can help her stay with one subject longer, and etc.


                      “She plays with her lego animals, her feltboard animals, recently her stuffed animals as well. I've done all this to follow up her interests, rather than as a formal "project." Would it look different as a project? I don't know.”

                      The difference would be in your deciding to focus on exploring her questions, how you can help her investigate them deeply over time, how you can help her remember her questions and plans, and etc. The “formality” of project work, again, is our applying deliberate focus to a series of questions: How does my child learn? What are her interests? How can I help her learn to direct and manage her own learning? How can I help her remember her questions and her plans? How can I help her acquire thinking and learning habits? and etc.

                      For example, she is playing with lego animals and feltboard animals — how would you apply project-oriented focus to that play? You could take photographs of her playing and hang them up. You could have her tell you a story and transcribe it, then read it back to her. If she talks aloud to herself while she plays, you could record her and play it back for her. (Or use video for the same purpose — young children are fascinated by seeing themselves in this way.) You could listen to her play and talk about animals and see if you can tease out any questions she has. You can supply her with art materials so she can draw and paint animals — it helps to put these making materials directly alongside her toys and her books. You can give her clean recyclables so she can make props to go along with her animals. Listen for her asking questions, and listen for her saying “I want...” Give her materials so she can extend her play. — read more

                      Read more in the forum

                      The forum exists to give additional support and answer your specific questions about project-based homeschooling. Join the conversation!

                      Book sale: paperback 28% off on Amazon

                      Published by Lori Pickert on July 16, 2012 at 06:35 AM

                      The great and powerful Oz, I mean Amazon, has put my book on sale for 28% off: Order Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners for only $9.68. (U.S. version only so far, unfortunately.)

                      I had nothing to do with this price markdown and had no idea it would happen — and I have no idea how long it will last! But now would be a great time to get the book at a bargain price, buy it for a friend, or buy it for your library. Please pass the word along!

                      Edited to add: The book is now also on sale at Barnes & Noble.

                      I got an interesting e-mail from a reader who said (I have her permission to repeat her statement here):

                      I’m slightly uncomfortable with the idea of setting “project time” — it feels like I’m forcing it when it should happen naturally.

                      Are you forcing things when you dedicate regular time to working on projects? It depends on how you use that time.

                      When you set aside blocks of time to do project work, remember:

                      — It’s work your child wants to do. Dedicating time to it means you are supporting it. You are supporting her and her ideas, her goals. Everything you gift with time and attention has a better chance to flourish.

                      — You aren’t forcing her to do anything: she can spend that project time doing whatever she likes. You are creating possibilities. If anything, you are forcing yourself: to focus, to pay attention, to offer dedicated support. From the book:

                      If you do set aside scheduled time for working on projects, children should never be forced to work on their project during that time. It should simply be an option; it should be a time when you're available and able to give your child your full attention, when materials are ready, when plans are recalled and possibilities are discussed. Coercing or forcing a child to do project work removes the most important criteria — that it is self-chosen. During project time, a child might work on something else, read, create art, play, or simply think. Over time, however, scheduled project time tends to draw children to their work … because you are ready, available, interested, focused … because his space and his materials are ready … because he has built a habit of returning regularly to his work … because he is reminded of his plans and his excitement … because he enjoys it. — Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners

                      — By setting aside those blocks of time, you are making it more likely that she will be able to do the work she wants to do. You are helping her turn her ideas into reality. From the book:

                      If project work is left to simply happen when it happens, it may not happen at all. Your focus and attention create a gentle gravity that pulls your child back to his work. And remember: it’s work he wants to do. Setting aside time for project work is a way of honoring it and making sure it happens.ibid.

                      Can you force a child to learn? You can set them down with a workbook or a table of multiplication facts and require them to work. You cannot, however, force them to retain. You can’t force them to understand. You can’t force them to grasp when it’s appropriate to apply the information that’s been lobbed at them. All authentic learning comes when a child is fully engaged, intellectually and emotionally. Dedicating some of your time to helping them explore their own ideas gives them the chance to experience that authentic learning.

                      Project work is self-chosen, self-motivated work. You aren’t forcing your child to learn — you’re creating the circumstances in which authentic learning can happen.

                      “We’re creative all day long. We have to have an appointment to have that work out on the page.” — Mary Oliver

                      Video games can actually give you ideas

                      Published by Lori Pickert on July 3, 2012 at 10:14 AM

                      This is a guest post written by my 12-year-old son Jack.


                      People who think video games are pointless and useless are misguided. 


                      Video games can be fun and useful and can actually give you ideas. My mom has written about this a little already — what you consume, you produce


                      Also, they give you a sense of accomplishment. If you’ve just gotten past an eagle warrior using the silver sword of destruction without using any health or something, it boosts your confidence and sense of self-worth. Anyone who watches a kid play a video game doesn’t see him coasting along. You can see him come to some sort of obstacle and spend enormous amounts of time trying to get past it, doing endless repetitive things that would clearly not be ‘fun’ to anyone else. Everyone does something that gives them a sense of accomplishment that would be incredibly tedious or arduous to anyone else. Cooking, cleaning, climbing Everest, running a marathon. 


                      Also, they can hone your mind. Mind puzzles are pretty much in any game you lay your hands on.


                      Also, games are just enjoyable to some. You shouldn’t keep your children from having fun. If you keep them from their source of enjoyment and try to force books on them, what are they going say about their childhood to their children? 


                      It’s not one or the other they can like video games, television, books, and playing outside. Many people think television is just a book except you don’t use your imagination. I don’t think so. I think they are completely different entertainment forms. 


                      Video games are different still. Games make me use my imagination. Let me relate a story to you. 


                      I had been playing a video game called Oblivion: Elder Scrolls IV. It’s a fantasy themed game. After I had been playing for a while, I decided I would write a fantasy themed book. So I started it. After a while, I realized I wanted to improve my writing, so I checked out a ton of writing books from the library and read them. 


                      You see, a video game sparked an idea for a project that ended up with me improving my skills. Without that video game, none of that would ever have happened. I might have become a drifter or a construction worker or something, but instead I learned how to write better. Oblivion led to my largest writing project ever, a 30,000 word novella. I just need to finish editing it and it’ll be done. Thank you, video games!



                      See also:

                      The Sliver, or How to stop fighting about screen time