Over the past six weeks I have been doing some schooling along with my children, taking Lori Pickert’s Project Based Homeschooling master class. This class has been such a great experience- helping me to see our homeschool days in a new light, and to continue this constant process of reshaping our homeschool style to best fit my ever-growing and changing little learners.
There have been so many realizations as I’ve worked through the readings and discussions, but the first one came within days of beginning the first assignment to take notes on my kid’s interests, activities, conversations etc through the day. I can’t say I’ve been doing a terrific job at remembering to do this, but the bits I have managed, have really helped me see the forest for the trees.
Before taking the class I had been really drawn to the idea of project-based work for my kids, but I felt pretty stuck with how to help them deepen their learning. I imagined projects would involve kids naturally doing their own research, constructing their own scientific studies or creating hand-lettered novels about their passions. I couldn’t quite see how their natural interests (lego, skiing, cardboard sword construction etc,) could become the great learning adventure I imagined project-based homeschoolers embarked on.
I knew there had to be a way- (the history of nordic skiing? how lego is made? a study on ancient sword making techniques?) but it wasn’t obvious and I had the uneasy feeling that I could kill those interests of theirs quite quickly if I shone the light on too brightly or got too teacher-ish on them, so I was reluctant to jump in.
But writing down what they were actually talking about and spending their time doing opened my eyes to a whole lot of learning that was going on under my nose. There were several things they kept discussing and coming back to that looked quite a bit like project material Starr’s interests in electricity and robotics, or his baking and cooking passion, or Ocean’s ongoing artistic explorations (of battles between All the Creatures Known and Unknown. Pirate sharks. Mice Knights. Ninjas and Storm Troopers. Superheros and strong men. Alien octopus. You name it, they have battled it out on his pages.)
And also his interest in Ancient Greece.
Earlier this summer when we started to nail down a few plans for our trip to Europe next summer, I took out a couple of books from the library about Ancient Greece. Ocean poured over them, and though he isn’t reading fluently on his own yet, it was clear that the books were exciting to him, and he had us read him portions. He then set to work making himself a Greek warrior costume entirely from cardboard and tape! (Love this kid.)
So maybe it should have been obvious to me that this was the start of a project, but to put it in context- this boy is a tidal wave of creative energy that rolls through our house every day, leaving mounds of cardboard scraps and snipped paper in his wake. There are more cardboard swords in this house than I could ever count, and enough toilet-paper-roll-and-electrical-tape nunchuks to arm a horde of baby martial artists. So the costume didn’t stand out as it might have otherwise. Though those cardboard sandals were pretty cute.)
I did however, continue fueling his interest in Ancient Greece by playing some library audiobooks of Greek Myths in the car, and downloading Atticus the Storyteller onto the ipod, which he listened to over and over.
And then there was the Greek Myths sticker book I mentioned, which he worked on intensely, chatting with passion about the myths and Gods and heroes. He had a lot of questions about the costumes and weaponry and battles of the time, and started drawing battle scenes of Greek warriors.
After being asked to take notes on what my kids were up to though, it was clear we were onto something. An interest! One that I could actually understand and help support! Not to mention being an interest that ties in nicely to this trip we are planning…
Another of the ideas I’ve taken from the PBH class is to include kids in the documenting process by creating a journal that the homeschool parent works on with their child. So for Ocean I put together a notebook of the notes I had written, pictures I had taken on my phone that I printed out, colouring pages he had asked me to print out and photos of that inspirational sticker book.
I even happened upon a notebook with a Pegasus on it! Oh how the stationary-nerd in me swooned when I found it!
He was thrilled with the book and it inspired him to really dive into the project and to start viewing it differently- this is his project now. Since putting together the book, he has been making art work to add to it, and requesting more books from the library and asking me to photograph the things he’s working on- like lego centaurs and a pattern block version of Jason and the Argonauts.
I am treading lightly- I sense that if I start providing too many resources for him or over-encouraging him he could run out of steam fast. But I am finding that with gentle nudging- asking what he is working on or if he still has more he wants to work on with something or if he wants me to read anything for him, that he is slowly building more and more knowledge of this subject.
And I am learning more and more about how to support my children’s interests and how to start to see the projects and interests that are right under my nose.