My last post was about how Lori Pickert’s book Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners inspired me to make changes in the way we homeschool and showed me how to make those changes. One thing I learned was the importance of creating a physical environment that encourages project-based learning. For example, how learning materials are organised.
Who Controls the Best Resources?
I’m not naturally the tidiest, most organised person (anyone who’s visited our home will agree!), but I used to pride myself on the fact that our “school supplies” were neatly stored in categorized tubs behind closed cupboard doors – ready to be brought out, “Hey Presto!” style, by me (wearing my magician’s hat), when I had a wonderful about how to use them. (Or, more often, to languish in the cupboard, never to see the light of day, while I browsed Pinterest and the blogosphere for more wonderful ideas. Ahem.)
I guess giving the kids access to the best tools only while they were working on what I wanted them to do was a form of bribery. They had plenty of coloured pencils to make pictures of their own ideas, but the Prismacolors were special – they were reserved for when the children were executing my ideas, for when they were pleasing me.
Wow, have my eyes been opened to these subtle but insidious ways we exert control over our children’s learning process! What message was I giving them about the value of their own ideas in comparison with mine? (Don’t think I’m being too hard on myself, by the way – I’m laughing as I write this – partially in relief at having had this epiphany sooner rather than later!)
Direct Access to Materials
In Project-Based Homeschooling, Lori talks about the importance of children having sight of and easy access to all the materials they might be inspired to create with. Cordie (8) and I had great fun one weekend liberating our resources from their cupboard “prisons”. Prismacolor pencils, Caran D’Ache watercolour crayons, fancy papers, Crayola Model Magic, paintbrushes, canvases, film canisters, a collection of corks and balsa wood, charcoals, dozens of different kinds of paper, glues and tapes… all my “secret supplies”… were merrily piled up in the middle of the room (“go free, bronze acrylic paint! Go free, watercolours!”) before being re-homed in transparent (Ikea) storage containers in full view and easy reach around the room. (OH it felt good! :-D)
Clean Up Time
Another suggestion Lori makes is that, as well as being able to get materials out, children should know how to put them away and clean up after themselves afterwards. As well as honouring and supporting children’s independence, this also makes it more likely – in the long run – that I’ll let them go ahead with messy projects. Yes, it means taking the time to show them how to wash out the paint palettes and brushes, and maybe putting up with less than perfect cleaning up for a while, but it’s just too tempting to put off teaching these important skills in favour of the easier (in the short term) “Oh I’ll just do it myself!” (This is one I’m going to have to practise!)
I’m loving watching the children exploring our newly re-organised project space. 🙂