I’ve had lots of questions about the projects we complete as part of our homeschool life. I’ve even presented a workshop specifically concerning this topic, as well as including it as a topic in my most popular workshop “Creative Homeschooling”.
I’ve been wanting to write a blog post about incorporating projects into your homeschool for quite some time, but Jimmie finally gave me the kick in the pants I needed when commenting on my post about our Presidents of the United States study. So for Jimmie and everyone else who ever wondered, here are the basics about adding projects to homeschooling… :o)
Why add projects?
- They encourage independent learning.
- They require creative and critical thinking.
- They require writing and research.
- They allow for choices.
- They allow for meaningful, hands-on experiences.
- They allow for varied learning styles to be met.
- They encourage real learning about a subject that isn’t simply memorized for a test and then forgotten.
Our methods of learning are continually changing – mostly because I want my children to experience all forms of learning and not become “stuck” when they’re required to do something later in life in a different way than they’ve learned. For example, if I only gave paper and pencil tests for every subject throughout their entire homeschool career, they would probably struggle when asked to complete a project at some point that requires creative thinking, the ability to put together a nice visual product and speak about it. On the other hand, if I never gave paper and pencil tests, this wouldn’t prepare them adequately for possible future tasks either. I hope this makes sense. I’m continually changing the approach so they’ll be prepared to handle whatever task is thrown their way!
Even more so, though, I feel like projects have helped my children understand and retain information greatly – as compared to simply learning about a topic and regurgitating the info back to me on a test. Why? Because they become part of the learning through their projects! In order to complete the project, they have to “know their stuff” about the topic AND put it together in an organized, thoughtful, expressive way. Besides this, we expect our children to present their projects – to further embed the learning and to become comfortable with verbalizing themselves. Believe me, just because they can put together a super project, doesn’t mean they can automatically speak about it. This is a separate skill to be learned, but just as important.
What are projects?
Projects can really be anything!
- story/report/book report/article/newsletter
- art/craft/cooking/other handicraft
How do I add projects to our learning?
This is a doozy, so I think I’ll break it down into a couple of areas:
When? By the time my children are seven, they’re introduced to the world of projects. I always complete the first projects alongside them. Once I see they’re capable of completing a thorough project without my help, I’ll be available as a resource for questions or ideas. By the time they’re in 5th grade (hopefully earlier), they’re expected to complete projects on their own with very little direction from me.
If you’re starting projects when your children are older, I suggest still working along side them at first and giving very clear expectations for final outcomes until they are able to complete a thorough project on their own.
When I say give very clear expectations, this is a little misleading. I typically give my children expectations that are open-ended. In other words, “I expect your diorama to show at least five important aspects of Native American life. I also expect that all surfaces with be covered and several 3-D models will be present.” This gives them a direction without me telling them exactly what to include and how to include it. Clear as mud?
Where? Most of the time, projects are interjected into our unit studies – which happen to be science and history related. A typical unit plan might be to learn about a topic together over the course of a week or more (depending on the subject.) At the end of the unit, I decide how many projects that unit warrants. For instance, if the unit was really long, I’ll expect five or more projects to be completed. If the unit was really short, one might be enough. They have a length of time to complete the projects, we set a date for presentations and the presentations become the finale of the unit.
I will usually come up with a list of several project choices from which my children can choose. I try to vary the learning styles required in the project list so my son who doesn’t prefer too much writing can find projects to suit his needs. Here’s a sample list of project choices I might offer if I expect them to complete THREE projects:
- file folder report
- skit with siblings
- scrapbook page
- newspaper article
In this list, all will require some reading, research and writing, but can you see how they allow for a variety of learning styles – writing, speaking, organizing, crafting, acting, etc?
We have also completed language arts projects such as bound poetry books and math projects such as grocery story price comparison charts. Remember that most any project is going to involve reading, research and writing – so language arts is always included!
As for grading, well, we don’t give many grades around here. We do talk about what was really good about the projects and what could be improved next time. Through my gentle direction, my children have quickly learned how to critique their work. (If not handled with care and lots of encouragement, this could turn into self-bashing. Don’t let them do that to themselves!)
If I’ve noticed that one of my children really needs to improve a certain part of their projects, I will simply include that more specifically in my instructions to them next time around. For example, one of my children was not very thorough in his/her research and writing during our past unit. When the next project time rolls around, I’ll be sure he/she chooses a project with plenty of writing and make it very clear how much of each I expect. You see, project time allows for choices, but mom’s still the boss! :o)
I sure hope this has been helpful and not muddied the water! Please ask whatever questions you may have and I’ll write a second post if I need to clarify anything.
You might find the following posts helpful in seeing some of the projects we’ve completed in the past.
- Presidents of the United States
- US Geography
- Slavery and Civil War
- Westward Expansion
- American Revolution
- Native Americans
- Kentucky History
Just in case you ever wondered, one of the things Melissa and I have included in the NaturExplorers units is project-based learning. Each unit gives several ideas for hands-on, writing/research and other projects you can assign!