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What Is Project-Based Learning?

Do you you unschool, but find your older children need more structure or perhaps your unschooling doesn’t feel like it’s meeting their needs anymore? Does your unschooled child not feel like they’re learning enough?

 This is where a more deliberate project-based style can be a perfect fit.

Unschooling is a lifestyle; it is an intricate dance of providing just the right amount of social interaction, stimulation, experiences, materials, resources and relaxation. Whilst trying to achieve all of this the parent also has a home to run, meals to prepare, pets to walk and care for, family and friends to see, perhaps a business to attend to and so on.

It is easy to see how the unschooling train can derail.

When I started out home educating my own children, I knew I wanted them to have play-based early years. I think we did that part expertly, and it flowed well into them discovering their passions, learning to read, beginning to write and so forth. It was all very natural and organic. Then something changed; my daughter wanted more structure at about age 9 and I struggled to understand exactly what I needed to do to help facilitate that need.

I had a child who wanted more formal, structured learning, preferably with other children, but who did not really want to be taught. We already had many of the elements of project-based learning happening, but it was far from a fine art. We began experimenting with a Waldorf Curriculum, but somehow life just kept getting in the way!

Our unschooling didn’t feel like it was working anymore. A curriculum was not the way forward for us either. We still wanted learning to be interest led, to move at the child’s own developmental pace, to be mentored and facilitated. Project-based learning was our way forward.

Project based learning is about using strategies to help your children direct and manage their own learning. But how?

Here are 3 key elements to show you how to take a project-based approach to your child’s learning journey:

  1. The important idea with this style of learning is to remember that at all times, the child should own their work. You can start with directly asking your children what they want to learn about, but children cannot always articulate their thoughts that precisely. The best way is to observe your children over time; look for clues in their play and in the things they say to each other and to you. Be a detective! Keep a journal to record what you discover from your observations.

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I tend to write freely about our day and then create a short bullet pointed list at the end for ideas to action, these might include: questions they have asked; groups they want to try out; materials they have asked for; or my own thoughts on suggestions I could make based on observing their interests over time.

2. Make the environment your child’s teacher. Ensure materials are within their reach and they have a good range of resources to experiment and work with (they do not need to be expensive). Try to make the project area clear of junk and organised (note to self!) If possible give your children a dedicated workspace. Use bulletin boards to display their works in progress, sketches, notes, questions and so forth. Display their finished projects on shelving, walls, in portfolio’s or more formally in project books if that’s what they want. Children, especially as they get older, like to know they are learning.

3. Dedicate your time and support. It sounds silly to suggest giving your children your time when you home educate and are with them all day! The reality though, is that life can take over sometimes. Being a totally disorganised kind of person myself, I find the idea of timetabling project sessions really helpful. It’s not that projects and learning don’t happen at other times (seriously I know that learning and life are intertwined), it’s simply a guarantee to my children that I will have the materials they need and the time to help without any other distractions during those ‘blocks of time’.

Sometimes ‘projects’ might be one-off experiences, but I think the beauty of this style of working means you have all the tools to challenge your child to work deeply at times and extend their ideas.

Your children’s projects can be done on their own at home, with siblings or wider family, with a bunch of friends or within the community. Projects can also be 2D, 3D,indoor, outdoor, verbal, written, performed or even whilst riding on the back of a horse!

Stop thinking of ‘projects’ as something which must be recorded in a book.

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Here is a great website to help you get loads more information about how project-based  learning can work: http://project-based-homeschooling.com/about

Project-based learning can be for anyone. An unschooler might use this style of working full-time, whereas a more traditional home educating family might carve out a chunk of time each week for projects. Even a school going child can benefit! My own daughter has just recently entered the school system at age 10, and we still use a project-based style at home because I feel now more than ever, she needs to remember her own learning goals.

Project-based learning is about your children being valued, respected and celebrated as learners.

My final thought on this is actually the most important aspect. Project-based learning is not just for children, it’s for you too! Get involved! What do you want to do with your time? Now is absolutely the time to follow your passions. So dust off that guitar, pull out that canvas, write that book. When your child does project work, you can too.

 

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Become a Global Guardian

This term we have taken on a new subscription to ‘Global Guardians Project’, a monthly learning capsule which takes you all around the world. It is a perfect blend of inspiration and ideas for action regarding world sustainability issues and animal conservation. It is aimed at children aged 4-8 years, but I use it as a starting point to explore certain topics in more depth depending on what areas my own kids find interesting. We don’t tend to use their art ideas, instead finding projects to suit the ages of my own children who are 10 and 9.

You can find further information about the ‘Global Guardian Project’ by visiting their website: http://globalguardianproject.com/

Alongside the actual learning capsules, I have set up a ‘real-life’ group for my children, so that they can share their knowledge and complete engaging art projects on global themes with other children. The idea was two-fold, to give my daughter the social learning experience she wants, and to explore animal conservation which is deeply important to my son.

To begin, we downloaded the capsule on ‘Oceans‘. We learnt about the complex eco-system of our oceans, focusing on sea turtles and their particular plight. Although my children are pretty aware about the impact of rubbish, they were surprised to learn how much of it ends up in our oceans. We discussed the impact of plastic on marine life, which of course they found sad and shocking.

Taking action with my children felt like a really important part of this project. I wanted them to feel empowered and to know that they could make a difference. So this September we spent a day volunteering with the Marine Conservation Society and completed a beach clean at Warsash. Photos coming soon!

We are also taking part in The Last Straw, which sets the challenge to request ‘no straw’ in restaurants etc and also to share the challenge with others, which is why I’m telling you all about it!

In our ‘real-life’ group session on oceans we had a go at 2 types of printing: mono printing & collagraphs. The mono printing using glass didn’t work brilliantly on the day, but children are very forgiving and most used the materials to do their own kind of artwork. The collagraphs were very successful and definitely an activity I would recommend.

The idea is to use collage materials stuck onto a strip of card which give ocean textures. You then paint over the top with sea colours and print on paper or fabric. Our best prints were made on calico. One child in the group took theirs home and sewed a sea turtle on top, it was beautiful. You can also block or mono print sealife on top of the finished print for added effect.

 

The second learning capsule was focused on Brazil and the Amazon. We began our group session with a ‘sharing’ time and I was blown away by the amazing art and poetry some of the children had completed at home following the session last month on ‘Oceans’. Some children had some great books and knowledge to share on the Amazon too. I shared a beautiful book of photography with the group, which I totally recommend: ‘Rainforest’ by Lewis Blackwell.

We also looked at Henri Rousseau’s jungle paintings and recreated selected areas of his paintings in oil pastels. I set up a ‘free’ table too with some ideas and various materials and the children could then create how they wanted.

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Our group challenge this month was to research palm oil and attempt to be better consumers by eradicating 5 items containing palm oil from our shopping list. When we got home and looked in our cupboards, we couldn’t find anything containing palm oil, so we are doing OK on that front already.

Next month the focus is on Rwanda, I can’t wait for this one personally, it is such an interesting country and the focus will be on the plight of mountain gorilla’s, which should be really fascinating.

I’ve been thinking about the ‘Global Guardians Project’ a lot recently, and I honestly cannot think of a more important issue for young children to learn about. The Earth’s future is in our hands, and also in theirs. I think we all hear so much about endangered animals and the awful state of our world, but the difference with this particular project is that it focuses on the beauty that is all around us and the small actions we can all easily do to make a difference.

We ARE nature! Nature is our true home.

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Family Traditions Part one: Poetry

Random reciting of poetry is somewhat a tradition in my family. My Grandpa Popsie, used to sing, recite quotes and poetry to myself and my sisters. It gave him such joy, and his face would light up as we listened eagerly. He’d pick the same favourites to recite aloud from memory and it was comforting. I miss Popsie and the comfort blanket of his poetic words. One evening at bedtime all those years ago, I recorded his singing and poetry on cassette, which I still have, but can’t quite bear to hear now that he has passed away.

My Dad has taken on the mantle for my own children. He will turn up on our doorstep and recite limericks and poetry, all created by him. Sometimes he wakes in the night with poetry whirring round his head, or thinks up crazy rhymes as he walks the 20 minute journey to our house.

Here is Dad’s latest offering, which he wrote in 15 minutes in the middle of the night this week, especially for L and T. ‘Big Brown Bear’ is his alter ego, a persona he acquired when the kids and their cousins were just toddlers. He used to switch into ‘Big Brown Bear’, which the kids would find both scary and utterly thrilling. This particular poem is based on the ‘spy’ games L and T play, following him halfway home, ducking and diving behind parked cars and lampposts, trying desperately not to be seen.

The Stealthy Trackers

 If you follow in the paw prints of the big brown bear,

You have to use much guile and take great care,

Be as nimble as a newt, as quiet as a mouse,

When you follow his tracks from house to house.

 

If you walk in the shadow of a big brown bear,

You have to glide like a ghost and sprint like a hare:

You need the strength of a lion and the eyes of a cat,

And the ultrasonic senses of a vampire bat.

 

So heed this warning from one, who knows,

Be on your mettle; be on your toes,

For if he turns and catches you there,

You’ll feel the force of the big, brown bear.

 

Robert Esau

 28/06/2016

Dad is a big part of my children’s home ed life, and I love the enthusiasm for life, the knowledge, the jokes and of course the poetry that he brings into our home.

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Learning by heART 2

If you’ve read my first ‘Learning by Heart’ post you will have seen some examples of my children’s artwork. Both projects were done with some adult ‘scaffolding’. The modroc models were inspired by a lovely friend of ours, who made the most amazing volcanic landscapes with her children. The prehistoric pop art prints were carried out in a group learning session.

My kids loved the experience of new materials and techniques that I introduced to them. They were also really proud of the outcome. They had spent a lot of time on their models and it was great fun. It was really valuable learning.

However, both my kids do all kinds of creative things on their own, under the steam of their own motivations and this provides equally valuable learning opportunities, actually I’m going to go further and say better learning opportunities.

If I were to show you my son’s creations this week, I wonder how impressed you would be?

Here’s one of them. It’s a kind of outdoor oven, made from a cake box (see the smudge of cake icing!). He wanted to find out if he could melt a piece of chocolate using heat from the sun. He is waiting for a hot day to try it out, but typically the sun went into hiding this week.

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No adult interfered with the process at any point. From the idea to the execution, it was all T’s work (ok maybe Curious George helped inspire the idea). Many of us have this strange notion that ‘real’ learning can only be achieved if an adult is involved in the process. We are also really stuck on this idea that learning is all about the polished final outcome, whereas actually the process itself is where all the real learning takes place.

What looks like junk to anyone else, is seen as an opportunity by my son. If a package comes through our door, you would likely hear him say ‘Ooooo, I wonder what I could make with that?’ whilst holding the empty box or envelope aloft.

Most of it may look at first glance like the type of thing an adult might fob off with a cursory, ‘O’h that’s lovely dear’, and then quietly relegate it to the recycling bin. Whereas this is the real deal in my opinion, the activities we should be encouraging, giving time to, helping with (only when asked!) and finding ways to extend.

So that is why his solar oven will take pride of place, right next to his aardvark habitat.