Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Getting Started with Project-Based Homeschooling

At the beginning of our school year, I decided that I wanted to set some clear goals for learning. After a lot of thought,  I finally settled on: focus, persistence, asking questions, solving problems, and self-motivation. A few weeks into the year, we realized that the way we had been schooling wasn't working. The sprouts were distracted, bored, and annoyed with any sort of paperwork that I assigned. Even the projects I planned were often hit-or-miss. Anything that I gave them to do with a specific end product in mind resulted in disappointment and frustration.

So, I decided to step back. I retreated to stacks of books and internet forums. I chatted a lot with my husband and other homeschooling friends. I finally settled into reading Lori Pickert's Project-Based Homeschooling, and I had an epiphany. Workbooks, guided writing, and parent-led projects were not going to meet ANY of our learning goals for this year.

But Project-Based Homeschooling hits ALL of them.

I wasn't in a good space at the time to drop everything and switch to PBH, but I did start incorporating some open-ended Project Time into our day. Once I tied up some loose ends, we were able to incorporate still more Project Time. I tried to hang on to some of our routine school work those first few weeks, but it quickly became apparent that the more my sprouts directed their own learning, the less they wanted anything to do with what I was planning.

It's been hard for me to take, especially as a trained teacher. But I believe in my kids, and if they need a few weeks to immerse themselves in projects, then I can support that. Honestly, the holidays are huge distraction anyway, so I know they will learn a lot more by doing their own thing that they can fully focus on. Once the holidays are over, we can re-evaluate our school day and see what needs to be done.

A glimpse at our project space (formerly known as the dining room).

In the meantime, I will probably be just as busy as the sprouts. One of the great things about Project-Based Homeschooling is that I'm not entirely out of the picture; my job just looks a lot different. Here are a few things I have been working on to facilitate the sprouts' project work:

1) Provide an organized, well-stocked work space

This "job" came pretty easily, since I have always worked to make art supplies, craft materials, and learning tools accessible to the sprouts. It's a bit tricky to fit everything in our dining room where we have our project space, However, I really like having our work space centrally located and integrated heavily with our regular life.

2) Document their learning

This one is a little trickier since I don't have the patience to write long, detailed records each day, but I'm not entirely sure that's necessary. Instead, I have continued my habit of taking anecdotal notes and photographing the sprouts' work into a dedicated "project notebook" that I make visible to them. I also keep a book list, quotes, and other snippets of ideas in my notebook for later reference.

3) Practice what I preach

Modeling is a powerful yet under-utilized tool in education. I once read that "children will do as you do before they do as you say," and this is especially true with PBH. In this spirit, I have actually started my own project-- learning to crochet. I have tried to make my learning steps (goal-setting, research, practice, mistakes, more practice, more goal setting) visible to the sprouts. I like to think that the more I learn and self-motivate in their presence, the more they will pick up on those habits as well.

4) Be a good listener

One of the practices I wanted to implement when we started PBH is conferencing. I was used to having conferences with parents and conferences with students in the classroom, but it never really occurred to me to have conferences with my own kids. I think I just kind of assumed that I was present enough to already know what they would say. To some extent that was true, but I was really taking away their agency by making that assumption. We have had two sets of conferences now (one at a time, at the local bakery, just for fun) and the sprouts are thriving on the undivided attention and opportunity to communicate their needs. We get to talk about what is and is not working, how they want me (if they want me) to assist with projects, and set goals for what they want to do. Knowing that I'm listening, focused, and taking notes has been really meaningful to the sprouts.

5) Give them time

We are still working to make Project Time a part of our everyday life, but it's not always going to happen on my schedule. Even though we didn't plan Project Time specifically over the Thanksgiving holiday, we often found the sprouts working on their projects anyway. My husband remarked on how First Sprout was up and working on her projects first thing in the morning a few times. As a planner, this can be challenging for me. I want to be present during their projects, but I know that it's really important for them to be independent and work on their own time tables. So, I am working on finding a balance of setting aside specific Project Time for me to be present and available to help. Then the sprouts always have the opportunity to work on their projects independently and spontaneously, knowing that I maybe be busy doing something else and unable to help. The important thing is that they have the time to think their own thoughts, to dream their own dreams, to plan their own plans.

Overall, I have really been enjoying Project-Based Homeschooling, even if it has meant changing the way we do things. In some ways, it feels a lot more like summer when the sprouts were much more self-directed. It will be interesting to see how it goes as we gain more experience and more learning into the process. It's important to me that they know it is a process, and we will make mistakes. But we can learn just as much (if not more) from the mistakes as we will from the successes.

Until next time,

Happy Learning!


  1. awesome! so glad they are loving it!!

  2. I am going to give this a try! It sounds like the perfect fit for us now, and I appreciate your honesty about what was challenging for you in this method, because I will have the same reactions. It will help to know they are coming so I can be prepared to change the way I perceive them. ( I keep trying to sign in as myself, but can't seem to get it to work. It's Jen F.