Learning How To Start

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In her blog this week Lori Pickert has quoted one of my favourite paragraphs from her book, Project-Based Homeschooling:

“Many adults, let alone children, stall in the information-gathering stage of a project.  They keep collecting inspiration and ideas without ever moving forward to the point of making something of their own.  Forget about finishing – they can’t start.”

Lori’s post is actually about the difference between good and bad persistence, and in particular how “you’re not teaching the kids persistence forcing them to complete something *you* want them to do.”  But the quote about not being able to start totally resonated with me (in quite an uncomfortable way!) when I first read it in her book, and one of the many beautiful and unexpected benefits I’m getting out of project-based homeschooling is that my kids – unhampered by years of formal schooling – are showing me how to start!

Since I’ve let go of trying to control every aspect of the learning process, something magical has happened around here. My kids are learning so much more!  Cordie (8) has always been an independent self-starter, so it’s in Jasper (7) that I’m noticing the biggest changes.   We have lots of creating space around our home but it wasn’t until I read Project-Based Homeschooling that it occurred to me that Jasper didn’t have his own desk space in our main living area. We have a large craft desk but that has pretty much been colonised by his prolifically-creative big sister, whereas Jasper had made his own a tiny table housing our desktop computer and – guess what – he wanted to spend all his time on the computer!

As part of our reorganization  he has his own desk and – wow! – is he using it. He’s initiated and completed more creative and science mini-projects this week than I would probably have got round to doing in a month (term??)! All thanks to that little space of his own and the magical power of “project-time”. I think the highlight of my week was when he sighed contentedly in the bath one evening and told me, “when I grow up I want to be a scientist (and a quadrillionaire)” – the millionaire/quadrillionaire bit always comes up, but this was the first time I’d heard Jasper talk about wanting to do anything apart from design/test computer games.  Not that I have anything against him working in games, but it made my heart sing to think that he’s beginning to like science (anything!) as much as he enjoys computer games!

Here’s what my children have taught me this week about “starting”: don’t over-think, over-plan, wait for the perfect moment or worry about the mess – just do it!  And when you do, you learn heaps, have stacks of fun, and – when you’re surfing a wave of  authentic, happy enthusiasm – the preparation and clearing up doesn’t take nearly as long as you thought it would.  🙂

project based homeschooling at navigating by joy

Project-Based Learning: Electricity and Magnetism

electricity project at navigating by joy homeschooling blog

Project-based homeschooling in our newly reorganised space has got off to a great start, with all three of us learning a lot! Today I’ll talk about what Cordie (8) has been doing in her project time.

Cordie’s Electricity and Magnetism Project

Cordie immediately knew she wanted to do her first project on electricity and magnetism. Over the summer she read a few books I’d strewed around (in response to her expressed interest) – including  The Magic School Bus and the Electric Field Trip, Thomas A Edison – Young inventor, and How Benjamin Franklin Stole the Lightening.  By September she was ready to get hands-on!

electricity_books_original at navigating by joy homeschool blog

Klutz Electricity and Magnetism Kit

Klutz Battery Science at navigating by joy homeschooling blogWhen we set up her new project desk the first thing Cordie did was decorate it with a picture of Ben Franklin. 🙂  Next she got out our Klutz Electricity and Magnetism kit (which she had last played with a year ago) and experimented with connecting the wires to make the light bulb glow and the buzzer sound.

klutz electricity and magnetism kit navigating by joy homeschool

Then she ran up to her bedroom and used the bulb and wires to illuminate her upstairs landing of her dolls’ house.

dolls house illuminations at navigating by joy homeschool blog

Spot the crimescene

She loved the effect of this, and talked about how she’d like to light up the whole house, but thought it would be inconvenient to have the lights on all the time.  I was very proud of myself for not leaping in with suggestions about switches! Instead I smiled, nodded interestedly, and made notes in my project journal. I’ve included a photo of the lit up house in the photo collage I put up on her pin board, to act as a visual reminder.

Snap Circuits

Primary-Plus2-box-200w at navigating by joy homeschool blogNext Cordie wanted to browse Amazon for electricity kits.  She found this one (which I was happy to invest in on the basis it goes right through to KS3 (the end of middle school)).

Electricty Kit at navigating by joy homeschooling blog

This was the perfect next step – having played with the Klutz kit she understood that circuit components contain metal wires that have to be connected, but the relative ease of being able to snap the the Primary Electricity kit parts together meant she could make more complex circuits without the fiddliness of ensuring the wires were properly connected.   Knowing that there are no loose connections prompts a young scientist to look for other explanations as to why a circuit isn’t working!

Cordie’s spent most of her project sessions since then methodically assembling the components of the kit, following instructions in the accompanying manual.  I’ve sat quietly beside her as she worked, lending a hand on request to snap together tricky parts or to read aloud from the manual while she does the assembling.

Collaboration

I learned from Project-Based Homeschooling that collaboration is an important part of project work, and this has happened naturally so far. It first happened at home as Jasper (7) watched Cordie put together circuits and asked if he could play with the kit too.  They spent hours over the following days putting together and discussing circuits.  (During those few days I had to bulk buy 2 Amp fuses, much to the consternation of the nice elderly gentleman in the local electrical shop, who looked at me with concern and asked  nervously, “Is it the same appliance that keeps on breaking?”)

electricity project at navigating by joy homeschooling blog

Mad Scientist in the background

Cordie also discovered that a friend at our home ed group is interested in circuits too, in particular robotics circuits, and they’ve agreed to take their kits along next time, to explore together.

How Project-Based Learning Feels

Obviously a lot of learning is happening during these project sessions, which lifts the heart of any homeschooling mum, but there’s so much more to it.  I’m absolutely loving observing Cordie’s natural learning process in a way that wasn’t possible when I thought my role was to actively direct the process.  A few times she’s said she’s worried I’m bored (sitting quietly, doing as she asks) and each time I’ve given her a genuine reassurance that I’m really enjoying just being there beside her.  I sense that she’s beginning to relax a little now and trust that this is the real deal, that I’m not about to pounce and take over her project, or wander off bored and do my own thing. And that trust and sense of ease is carrying over into the rest of our homeschooling life.

Jasper has been using his project-time quite differently, but with equally pleasing results. I’ll talk more about that next time.

How to Organize Homeschool Supplies to Encourage Project-Based Learning

How to organize homeschool resources at navigatingbyjoy homeschool blog

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)

how to organize resources for project based homeschooling at navigatingbyjoy homeschool blog

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. 🙂

Project-Based Homeschooling

project based homeschooling at navigatingbyjoy homeschooling blog

Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners by Lori Pickert is a rare book that both inspired me to make changes in the way I homeschool and gave me the practical means to make them.

I’ve long enjoyed Lori’s  Camp Creek Blog (now Project-Based Homeschooing) and loved the idea of seeing my children happily immersed in projects of their own design, but I never took any action on it beyond occasionally prodding them with a “Wouldn’t it be fun to do a project? What would you like to do a project on?”  Strangely, my 7 and 8 year olds never ran with that approach.

Lori’s book has made it all much clearer and helped me see where I’ve been going wrong in the past.

How I Explained Project-Based Homeschooling to my 8 Year Old

I made these notes to help me explain Project-Based Homeschooling to my daughter Cordie (8 years old):

Who does what in a project? You lead the way and have all the ideas, I do what you ask to support you. This could mean buying materials, helping you find a book, helping you find something online, talking through ideas together, reading something aloud, helping you find software, planning a field trip etc. Or me just sitting next to you making notes as you talk to help you remember your ideas.
How long is a project? It can be as short or as long as you want it to be. From one day to a year! You get to decide when it’s done. Between projects you’ll be able to use our project time to explore our  materials or do whatever you want.
How do you choose a project topic? It can be on anything at all you’re interested in, and whatever particular aspect of that you want. For example, if you did electricity and magnetism, you might start finding out about it generally, then find one aspect or one person you want to find out more about, and you might go down that path for a while – whatever you want.
There are three main parts of a project: finding out about the subject, finding a way to share it with other people, and actually sharing it. Sharing it might mean by means of a picture (in paint, pencil, charcoal, watercolour pencil – whatever you like), a three-dimensional piece of art (in clay, wire, junk, pipe cleaners, wood, sand etc) or using photographs, video or computer software, or you might make a little book about it, or write a play and perform it with costumes or puppets… or any combination of different ways.  When you’re ready, we can share it with our family, invite friends over, take it to our homeschool group etc.
Working with other people: As well as sharing what you create with other people eg by inviting them over to see an exhibition of your project work, we can invite people to join us at other stages – for example, if we are doing a particular piece of art, or going on a field trip. Sharing and discussing ideas with friends and family often leads to new ideas!
When do we do project work? We will set special times in the week when I will be 100% available to you to support you doing project work – if you want to do it.  If you choose to spend project time reading, playing or anything else while you think about your project, that’s ok too.
What if you don’t know what topic to start with? You can take as much thinking time as you need. One way of using project time until you come up with a project idea is to explore our materials eg experiment with charcoal, paint or modelling materials.

3 Reasons I Love Project-Based Homeschooling

There are many reasons why I absolutely love the idea of project-based homeschooling.  Here are just three.

Children Own their Projects

I love that each child “owns” his project – he decides the subject, how to do it, how to share it, and when it’s complete. The adult’s role is to mentor and support in whatever way the child requests. This is going to be a learning experience for me – my natural way is to either take over, or leave them to it – but the practical point I learned from the book is to schedule blocks of time when I am able to give 100% of my attention to each child to support, facilitate and mentor them in their project.

Project Work is Authentic

When I was at school I used to cringe at assignments that asked me to “write a pretend newspaper article about …” or “design a poster pretending you are…”.  What the child writes or creates in this kind of project-work is different.  As Lori says in the book:

“In authentic project work, the representations aren’t pretend. They’re real.  …  Your child makes something genuine according to his own ideas and plans.  He  builds something because he wants or needs it.  He does real work for a real purpose.”

I’m all for pretend play and encouraging kids to use their imaginations.  But for kids to do their best work, to learn and to love the process, the ideas have to come from inside them, they can’t be contrived.

Children Learn Real-World Skills

As well as learning about the subject of their project, children doing project-based learning are acquiring life skills that will serve them in the real world.  They are learning where and how to find what they want to know, using real, twenty-first century resources.  They’re learning how to put together what they have learned in meaningful ways, and they’re learning how to present their ideas in ways that make a contribution to others.

You’re Learning Too

Beginning something new takes courage and commitment.   I love that Lori reminds us (homeschooling parents) to treat ourselves in the same loving way as we do our children.  She jokes of the attitude of school adminstrators she has met,

“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.” [my italics – that really made me laugh! I think I have a mini-school adminstrator on my shoulder.]

Instead, Lori reminds us,

“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.”

Ahhh, sigh of relief.  I don’t have to get it all 100% right immediately. I can risk beginning this!

My Library Thing

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