What is Project-Based Homeschooling?
Project-based homeschooling combines your child’s genuine interests with long-term, deep, complex learning. It is the part of your curriculum when you mentor your child to help him learn how to direct and manage his own learning.
PBH works with any homeschooling method, and it can be a way to unschool. It is the essential portion of your child’s learning life when you devote time to helping him do his own self-chosen, self-motivated work.
You create a space dedicated to doing meaningful work, set up to both attract your child and allow him to work independently.
You offer him an interesting variety of high-quality materials and tools.
You build blocks of time into your routine for project-related learning, making, and doing — time when you are available to support and mentor.
You become a trusted resource who will take him where he needs to go and help him meet his own goals.
He provides the interest and the ideas, so his work is self-motivated. You help him keep track of his plans, intentions, and questions.
From the book:
Allowing children to learn about what interests them is good, but helping them do it in a meaningful, rigorous way is better. Freedom and choice are good, but a life steeped in thinking, learning, and doing is better. It’s not enough to say, “Go, do whatever you like.” To help children become skilled thinkers and learners, to help them become people who make and do, we need a life centered around those experiences. We need to show them how to accomplish the things they want to do. We need to help them prepare the life they want. — Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners
Projects are self-chosen, self-managed work done by children with the help of attentive adults who mentor, facilitate, and support.
Go here: How to Start.
It can be a way to unschool, but PBH works with any homeschooling philosophy or approach. It is the part of your learning life that helps your child learn to manage and direct their own learning, explore their own authentic interests, and develop their talents.
From the book:
Surprisingly often, people will champion self-directed learning for children but not allow those children's parents the same freedom and respect. It’s their way or the highway, and you had better start doing it the right way (their way) right away. Your kids should learn at their own pace, follow their interests, and you should trust that they’ll eventually learn everything they need to know. You, on the other hand, should get with the program, right now, 100%, or else. You don’t need to have your own opinions or ideas; ours will suffice. There’s no time to experiment and see if these ideas work for you; take it on faith or you’re part of the problem.
If your child deserves to learn at his own pace and have his own ideas, so do you. Whatever you champion for your child, make sure you also give to yourself: the right to follow your own path, work at your own pace, follow your own interests, make mistakes, and try again. Whatever you want for your children, you are far more likely to help them achieve it if you live it yourself.
The freedom that we have to create a life that works for us, our children, and our families is priceless. We should never trade it for a handful of magic beans — a purist approach that comes with a set of pregummed labels, a rule book an inch thick, and threat of eviction from the tribe if you deviate from the center of the path. As you explore new ideas — in this book and elsewhere — about how children learn and how we can help them learn, I hope you keep a firm grip on your own opinions and values. You can build a life customized to your beliefs and priorities. Don’t settle for off-the-rack.
The philosophy of project-based homeschooling — this particular approach to helping children become strong thinkers, learners, and doers — is dependent upon the interest and the enthusiastic participation and leadership of the learners themselves, the children. The ideas in this book are offered to you in the same spirit: follow your interests, build something new, and make it your own. — Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners
This is not a purist approach. The forum is friendly, welcoming, and supportive. PBH works with every type of homeschooling — self-directed learning can be one element of your approach rather than your entire curriculum. However you learn, whatever your experience, we support one another and cheer one another on.
PBH is self-selective for nice people. No one here is a purist, so no one is ever going to shame you for not doing things the “right” way. We believe in starting where you are, helping others when you can, and supporting one another.
Children can begin learning this way when they are two or three and continue through to adulthood. There is no age limit in either direction.
Ideally, children would begin when they are very young, but PBH can be started at any age — including adult. It is never too late to discover your meaningful work and start doing as much of it as possible. It’s never too late to become a self-directed learner.
If you follow your state’s learning standards, you can check off any requirements fulfilled by your child’s project work, then teach the rest directly. This way, PBH isn’t something you do in addition to the rest of your curriculum — it takes the place of some of your curriculum.
PBH works with any homeschooling philosophy or approach — it’s just the essential part of your learning life that you dedicate to helping your child learn to direct and manage his own learning — and learn about what interests him most.
PBH is a way for your child to use skills authentically, and that in turn shows children what education is for: doing important things that matter to you.
I write about how we do twice-yearly learning conferences with our sons here.
My teen sons design their own curriculum. They seek out mentors. They make plans for ambitious projects and figure out how to meet their own goals. They create community when they need or want it. They investigate their interests, develop their talents, and explore how they might making a living in the future.
Young children immerse themselves in their interests and play, create, build, make, share. Older children do all of the same things but in an age-appropriate way. They create blogs, films, books, screenplays, ’zines, posters. They form clubs and classes. They get in touch with experts and mentors. A teen who has experience building curriculum from scratch is prepared to learn anything he needs to accomplish his goals.
Absolutely. PBH is just a strategy for helping your child take charge of their own learning and explore his own interests deeply and meaningfully. This is a way to learn and a way to live and it works no matter what else you are doing.
At age 22, right after graduating from college, I started a publishing-services company — copyediting, proofreading, design, typesetting, digital printing, and etc. I owned that company for over 20 years.
In 2000, I opened a small private school with a project-based, Reggio-inspired curriculum. I have no degree in education. (I used to joke that I had no background in education; it was all foreground.) Self-directed learning is my life. Everything I’ve done, I’ve taught myself how to do.
During those years, I also worked as an educational consultant specializing in Reggio-inspired methods. I presented and keynoted at conferences, I held workshops, and I trained over 100 early childhood teachers in my state.
I began homeschooling my sons when they were 4 and 7. They are now teenagers and have always learned through long-term, self-directed projects.
I love authentic art. I have taught art classes for children age 2 through high school.
I wrote and published Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners in 2012.
Basically, my background is a lifetime of self-directed learning, writing, making, doing, sharing, and mentoring.
Reggio-inspired learning is based on an emergent-curriculum approach that began in Reggio Emilia, Italy, after World War II. Its principles include authentic art, long-term projects, aesthetic spaces, environment as the third teacher [link], and an image of the child as strong and capable of managing his own learning.
You can learn more on our Reggio resources page.
Making is an important part of PBH and children should have access to a wide variety of authentic art materials. But other forms of making are just as important: dramatic (pretend) play, writing, storytelling, blogging, programming, designing, building, and so on.
Authentic art is individual, expressive, and creative. Many children are mostly limited to crafts and follow-the-directions projects that substitute for real art at home and/or at school. Those children miss out on the intellectual and educational benefits that come from creating authentic art.
Art is a language children can use to learn about the world — through observational drawing, painting, sculpting, model-making, and more. It’s also a language they can use to express their thoughts, feelings, and ideas; ask questions; and explore theories about how the world works.
Authentic art encourages children to take the time to examine something very closely so they can represent it well. That deep looking inspires the curiosity that leads to engaged learning. Art opens the door to science, math, reading, and writing. Authentic art requires and develops a child’s ability to think.
Children can become fluent in the language of art — and therefore fluent in communicating — if their time is not wasted with follow-the-directions, cookie-cutter projects. Authentic art gives children the most value for their time — developing their creativity, problem-solving, and critical-thinking skills.
I’ve written more in this post: Abilities vs. activities: Why children need authentic art.
Reggio educators have two teachers per class; they say “the environment is the third teacher” because it plays such an important part in the children’s learning.
Your space can either support or hinder your goals for your children’s learning life. Every choice you make with your space sends a message. It’s important to make sure that message aligns with your goals and values.
Some posts about environment:
Absolutely. We have people doing PBH in tiny apartments, on sailboats, and in RVs! You can do PBH in any size space. The principles of PBH are much more important than the location.
Check out these threads in the forum:
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 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
In a nutshell:
- Respect the fact that they want to be involved and copy what their older siblings are doing. As much as possible, give them something similar and age-appropriate to work on/with.
- Display project and art materials so that older children can reach and use them independently but where toddlers cannot reach them. Try to display toddler-appropriate toys/materials where they can be reached — e.g., blocks in an open basket.
- Teach children from the earliest ages to respect one another’s work — no drawing on someone else’s paper or touching their work without permission.
- Try two levels of workspace — tall table for older children, low table for young children.
- Offer special materials/toys that are only available during project time to hold young siblings’ attention.
- As much as possible, offer your toddler an age-appropriate version of what your older children are using.
Some posts about respecting the youngest learners:
Check out these threads in the forum:
The best way to increase the odds that your child will live a certain way is to live that way yourself. The best way to raise readers is to read. The best way to raise doers is to do.
The best way to raise active, engaged learners is to be an active, engaged learner. — Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners
Check out the PBH for Grown-Ups series for support in finding and doing your own meaningful work.
If you join the forum, we do a monthly thread where we set our small goals for the month and cheer each other on.
- Read more about the book, including testimonials: Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners
- Check out our How to Start section.
- Check out our collection of PBH Resources. [link to come]