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“What defined their [project] work was ownership. They directed and managed the project. They owned the work….[P]roject work is work that is chosen by children and done by children, with the help of attentive adults who are there to mentor, facilitate and support.” ~ Lori Pickert, Project-based Homeschooling
Did you see my post on starting a project group with other like-minded homeschoolers? Here it is, if you’d like to take a quick squiz. Today, I thought I’d run through how we (me and my two lovely friends) choose a topic for the children to explore more deeply in our Project Group.
The kids have just started learning about and tinkering around with woodworking tools. They have had one session together where we offered them hand drills and hammers (as the main tools), as well as:
- nails in two different sizes
- wood glue
- fabric scraps and scissors
- buttons and beads
- yarn and fishing line
- tree cookies in two different sizes, and
- wood off-cuts
When we are starting a new project, we usually offer this kind of open exploration, but how did we decide on woodworking?
display shelf for the children’s project work
What would you like to learn about?
When my children were younger (about 3-5yrs old) and I asked them this, they would often say a whole bunch of seemingly random ideas. I’m pretty sure they’d say the first thing that popped in their head. Or, they would stare at me blankly and not say anything.
At this age, they were too young for me to be asking them about their interests, but now that the kids are getting older (7 and 5), and have experience pursuing their own interests, they are able to tell me what they are interested in and these are usually genuine interests.
The kids in our project group are aged between 3 & 8; the older kids will usually just tell us what they want to learn but if the group was made up of younger – say, 3 to 5 year olds – you could still ask them, but I think you’ll probably get more insight into their interests through observation.
Choosing a topic through observation
When you are starting your group, and when you’re in-between projects, have a few open exploration/play sessions and take time to observe the kids. Observe their play, listen to their questions, take note of the books they choose to read and listen to their conversations – is there a theme there? Is there something there which you think the children would like to explore more deeply? Take notes and discuss these with the other parents in your group. Jot down a few possible topics but resist the urge to plan sessions and experiences in too much detail; that’s the kids’ job! I know it’s fun to plan (I LOVE IT!) but we have to resist, ok?!
Once you have decided on a topic, throw around a few ideas together of where the kids might take their project, what kind of materials they might need and what experiences they might enjoy. While you aren’t directing their project, since you know your children and know how they learn, you can anticipate the kinds of ideas they might have and the direction the project might take.
Then search around for ideas. I usually flick through Pinterest. I have a secret board on Pinterest where I save ideas. You can invite other people to collaborate on your Pinterest boards (they can add things they find too – you’ll see the option to add collaborators when you’re creating the board) or you can share different ideas in a private Facebook group, like we do. You can use these ideas later as the project unfolds to offer suggestions to the children or as inspiration for materials/prompts.
Often times we will start a new project with an open exploration of materials. In this case, we invited the children to tinker with tools, wood offcuts and other craft materials. You can see from the diversity in the children’s work, that we had no pre-planned project for them to complete, they were simply free to tinker.
This initial open exploration will usually show us whether the topic is a genuine interest of the children and something they are interested in pursuing more deeply, or it will show us whether we have missed the mark a little. Sometimes that happens and so we’ll have a one-off session with the children instead.
It’s important not to persist with a topic if the children are not genuinely interested; the project will not be theirs. It’s better to spend some more time observing the children and identifying an interest which they are truly excited about and motivated to learn more.
I hope that’s given you a little more of idea about choosing topics for your project group and, if you are still holding back a little, convinced you to step out and approach some friends about starting a project group of your own.
In my next post about our project group, I’ll run through how we prepare for a session.