Project-Based Learning

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!

  • play/skit/speech/storytelling
  • story/report/book report/article/newsletter
  • mobile/diorama/model
  • experiment/demonstration
  • scrapbook/poster/journal
  • 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
  • diorama
  • skit with siblings
  • scrapbook page
  • newspaper article
  • commercial

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.

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!

Project-Based Learning Resources

Check out this great project-based video training! You’ll learn all about project-based learning, as well as enjoy a lengthy Q&A time that covers an array of topics.

10 Comments

  1. What a great post, you are so creative. Thanks for sharing.
    Blessings
    Diane

  2. Thanks. I have gleaned quite a few good ideas from your blog over the past year. A question: How do you manage a unit a week? That sounds like an awful lot of planning and balancing.Are you doing upwards of 30 units a year? Could you go into that a little bit.

  3. cindykwest says:

    Oh my, Benita! I’m so sorry I’ve led you to believe I’m doing a unit a week. No, no, no! That would give me a heart attack! LOL

    I do approximately 6-10 units per year. Once in a while, a unit will last only a week. Most of the units last anywhere from 3-8 weeks. When I assign projects, the kids usually have a full week to complete those projects and have them ready for presentations.

    I’ll be sure to reiterate that when I do a follow-up post. Thanks so much for asking me to clarify! :o)

  4. Brittney@King Alfred Academy says:

    Thank you for writing a post about this. My boys LOVE doing projects and we usually end up doing quite a few together, but I have never tried having them do them on their own…I LOVE it! Giving them choices and clear expectations is key and I’ll have to remember that. A couple questions…what other subjects (math, science, grammar, ect.) do you still continue doing during project weeks? Do you assign “school time” or do they find time on their own to complete them?

    Thanks! Brittney :o)

  5. Brittney@King Alfred Academy says:

    PS…

    I also saw on another post which you linked above that you use Easy File Folder Reports from Evan Moor. What other resources similar to that would you recommend?

    Thanks again!

    Brittney

  6. Thank you for all the great info and project tips. My oldest is only seven and we’re just this year getting more into projects/presentations. I was wondering, though, do you do science and history units at one time, or do you do them at seperate times and switch between the two?. It just seems like a lot to cover at once, but what do you guys do?

  7. Thanks! I’m glad I pushed you to describe your projects based learning style. I like this so much and want to try it. I love how you’re trying to prepare your children for all types of assessments and life realities.

  8. Thank you, Cindy. This post was very helpful for me. I have been wondering how I was going to go forward with other subjects such as science, and now I have a lot of great ideas! I also want to tell you that I am very happy with my Animal Tracks Nature Explorers Unit that I purchased. I really appreciate how you have added a bit of music and art to the studies. My children LOVED Peter and the Wolf!

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