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Project-based unschooling

post #1 of 42
Thread Starter 

I welcome contributions from those who do not consider themselves unschoolers or even unschooling-inspired. I just started this thread here because this sub-forum feels more like "home" to me, and a previous discussion about Project-Based Homeschooling started here.


Today dd10 and I had our annual brainstorming session to begin formulating a Learning Plan for the year. We're required to table a Learning Plan due to our (voluntary) enrolment in a school-district based homeschooling support program. The program provides funding, support and resources, and we like the people who are involved, so we're happy to do this. Plus we find the Learning Plan process to be a useful exercise for us, as it makes sure we discuss priorities for time, energy and finances, and provides a venue for communication about learning desires and needs.


So anyway, we went out for lunch and started talking. Because her siblings are at school, and because last year she chose to make use of some course-like structure, our discussion started out with "got any ideas for science?" and "I think this is what I want to do for math...." and such. Very school-like and subject-oriented. I let her ramble on with ideas, and we wrote some good stuff down to research further.


And then, when she kind of petered out with ideas, I said "There's this thing called Project-based Homeschooling, and it has nothing to do with subjects. It's just about things you're interested in, and you decide what those are, and how you want to learn about them. And my job is to set aside time to help you along with your project, whether every day or once or twice a week. What about that?"


Then I gave her an example: if a kid wanted to learn to bake. Their project might include researching things on YouTube and keeping a board on Pinterest, and making grocery lists and practicing baking techniques, learning how to photograph food, keeping a blog, or creating a recipe scrapbook, holding a bake sale... or whatever they wanted!


Her eyes lit up. 


"I already know how to bake all sorts of stuff," she said, "but ... survival skills. And meal preparation, like, three-course dinners. And I'll probably have a couple of other ideas too. I love this!"


We talked about how this is different from "just living life and following interests." Because, see, last spring she mentioned a few times that she wanted to learn some wilderness survival skills. And how much had actually happened? Not much. We built a snare. We did a few little hikes. We did a long mountain bike ride. That's all -- nothing very focused. Neither she nor I had made time for more. Other stuff got in the way, or we forgot. PBH is different because we will plan to make time for this specifically. And we will also make an effort to ask ourselves the question "How can this thread of learning be enhanced or extended or otherwise enriched?" More intentionality of time and subject matter.


She's my kid who likes organizing and circumscribing her learning (this is why she was getting boxed into a subject-by-subject orientation). So yeah, I think this is probably right up her alley. It's a more holistic, interest-based way of getting that framework of organization. Not sure how it will all play out, but it feels like we're off to a good start.


Anyone else using Project-Based Homeschooling ideas at this point? Thinking about it? Thoughts? Experiences?



post #2 of 42

I'm interested in learning more about it.  DD1 definitely has some of the same leanings your youngest has, and I find I can pull her out of a rut by working with her more deliberately.  Until this point, she liked the ideas, but "not now".  These days, not only does she seem a little deeper in her ruts, but also more willing to step up and do something with me.  She has also been enjoying the step-by-step progress of working on Girl Scout badges.  


So, I will definitely be exploring this style for her (dd2 is still fully revved up in full-unschooling mode).  I think it can satisfy some of her more structured leanings without making me change to much from the unschooling mindset I am so comfortable in.


And subscribing to this thread, by the way, which is mainly why I'm posting.

post #3 of 42

I've been doing this with my 4.5 year old for a little less than a year (with 2.5 year old along for the ride), and it's been wonderful for us. In our house the "projects" don't really look like what a school would call "projects" with some nicely-laid-out clear end point you could show off to the grandparents. But that's not what they're supposed to be. It's kind of a long rambling exploration of an interest, with dedicated adult support and a time structure. Lately, it's been a lot of flying paper airplanes around the house and dropping balloons off the bunk bed and talking about thrust and lift and airflow. Before this it was months and months of learning about prehistoric creatures.


What I've found most helpful is the structure it gives ME as a parent to be a more effective mentor. Things like setting aside the time, writing down the questions and plans my son had last time, reminding him of what he was doing, asking what he wants to do next, nudging him to solve his own problems... With these tools, I've been impressed at how sophisticated an understanding he's been able to arrive at in his project interests (for a 4 year old), and how it's been all driven by him.


Of course, my kids are very little, and I think it would look different for an older child. Probably less for the parent to do, if they can read/write/look things up on their own.


If you want a more experienced source, Project-Based Homeschooling has it's own website and forum, and Lori (the author of the book) is quite responsive to people's questions.

post #4 of 42

Holy, epic post - sorry!!!


I'm a big fan of PBH - and of Lori's! I think it is pretty unschooling friendly, though there are elements of it that sometimes alert my unschooling radar, heh. :) But with all things, you take what works and leave the rest, right? Anyhow, def don't want to debate that aspect, whoops. Moving on... I am thinking of doing Lori's masterclass - even though I have the book and have bugged her heaps for advice via email and the forums (and have received it!)!


We started heading in that direction when my oldest seemed at loose ends more often than not. He's never been good at playing by himself and though is very shy is also very social. He would still be happiest playing with friends all day! He has had his own 'projects' though since forever, though massive amounts of time can end up between them where he is back to being at loose ends and he never would be considered a poster child for unschooling! For a long time, he'd reject any suggestions from me, and only wanted me to play how he wanted to play (which I did, a lot, but not always!), but the last year or two is open to my ideas - the problem for me is he seems to go along with some of this I think because he feels pressure from me, despite my every intention to not pressure him! He has always been very tuned into me! (Not a good thing!!) I don't want him doing something or learning something because he feels he needs to get some sort of approval from me.


Anyhow, I stumbled on PBH a few years ago and liked what I read, but it didn't seem to fit well for us at the time. But I kept going back to Lori's blog - even if it wasn't a perfect fit there was still lots of great ideas to learn from! (Like her art posts!) And now PBH seems a better fit for us, if for nothing else than a way to fill his time. I know that sounds bad! I'll try to explain. I think one of the joys of homeschooling/unschooling is the chance to have the time to pursue one's interests, to go down rabbit holes of exploration, to spend days reading or playing the wii or whatever catches your fancy. We have a friend who will be spending 12 hours a week next week doing one sport. 12 hours! I'm not big on lots of organized activities but the thing is, when you don't have school filling your time, you really could have 12 hours a week (easily!) to spend on one thing. That's the joy. But for my kid? It isn't - he struggles filling his time. We have tried being super busy out of the house, we have tried staying home a lot and the middle road seems to work for us, but it still gives him a lot of free time. And I want him to have free time! To pursue his interests. But he needs help with that. So - enter PBH.


Yes, you can of course help your kids pursue his interests without PBH. Isn't that unschooling, afterall? But I get distracted easily, so thinking in PBH terms keeps me focused. We also have had an ongoing issue of him not feeling like he is learning anything and we've tried various things to help with that (even me 'assigning' work for him to do every week which he loved at first until we both got bored of it, heh), but so far PBH seems to help the most with this. He sees it as learning. A few weeks ago I was working in the hsing report we send the DoE every year and he was wondering what I put in it, so I mentioned a few things and also his 'projects' that he worked on last year. He really seemed pleased, like it was something he'd accomplished.


Now I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that. You know, learning happens all the time, everywhere, etc etc! I don't like separating out learning activities from other things, work from play, etc. It doesn't sit well with me - and also leads me quickly into school mode - but he seems to need it at this point.


Related to that - and I think this is where I struggle with it in relation to unschooling - I have a hard time separating his interests and hobbies and play from project work. He did three 'official' projects last year: water, greek mythology and cartooning. The water one was odd - it was our first attempt and I think he picked it because he thought it seemed like something a person would study in school - but he did seem to enjoy working on it, more or less. The other two were (are) big passions of his and really seemed more proper unschooling than PBH because I really didn't need to do anything other than help him as requested (which obviously PBH wants you to do too!). He asked if they could be his projects, so projects they were! And there was a project feel to them, if I think back, that is different to now - he is still interested in both areas, but not so much (though I suspect both will come back in full force at some point, especially as he is rereading Percy Jackson at the moment!).

But I guess I wonder why his piano interest isn't a project. Or maybe it is? I get confused on this! He started piano lessons last year and has gone from not being able to play really anything at all, not being able to read music etc to playing Royal Conservatory Grade 1 or 2 level. He loves it. And he plays with it - takes songs and changes them about, likes to play Fur Elise in a jazzy way, talks about various instruments, watches videos on YouTube... how is this less than 'project worthy' but also why does it matter if it's a project or not when he's obviously loving it, being supporting in it, and all is well?


See it's when I start thinking about it like this that my brain starts to hurt. Heh.


I think PBH formalizes a lot of what unschoolers do anyhow - or at least, on our best days, heh - and for some people that structure can be a good thing and for other people it isn't. I know the goal of PBH - motivated, self-directed learners - is where I'm at, and overall it's been great for us. I tend to over analyze things though. :)


(As possibly evident by this massively long post - sorry!! Shoot, I should be in bed - good night!)

post #5 of 42

I love PBH, but have not quite made the leap from reading about it and falling in love with the method to actually doing much with it.  LOL  Although, it's not really for me to do much with...I think the issue might be that dd hasn't quite yet found what she wants to do with it.  Anyway, I love reading about how others are using the book and it's ideas so I am subscribing for now. :)

post #6 of 42

I just discovered PBH this summer and I plan to implement it this fall. We've been unschooling all along, but last year introduced some required (by me) "sit-down work" for math. I'm still an unschooler at heart but my kids need a bit more structure. And me, I am really bad at not getting done the things I want to get done, as in working with the kids on things they ask me about or say they want to do or learn more about. So the scheduling aspect of PBH plus the applied skills of mentoring really appeal to me. 


I have had conversations with the kids explaining what it is and so far they seem interested. DD and I are going to start out with sewing. She has been asking me for some time to teach her, and we've bought a couple of patterns she picked out, fabric and notions for them. We did this months ago and just never got around to starting them! See? I need to schedule, lol. DS has been showing an interest in stars and constellations lately so I think we'll start with that. 


Anyways, it's not really a project in the PBH sense of the word if she just sews, but I believe it will be a good launching point and the main goal for me in the beginning is get the kids used to the routine of it and myself, too. I'm pretty sure it won't take them long to realize the possibilities.

post #7 of 42
I suspect my daughter will be a fan. She likes having time set aside to do stuff with me....projects are her sort of thing! I think that's why she likes workbooks and crafts so much....because it means me sitting down and working WITH her....and I know it's hard having a little brother and not always getting the focus you'd like.

Anyway, I want to order the book as soon as we get paid.
post #8 of 42
We're big fans of PBH and have been doing it for about 18 months or so after setting up a project space with quality tools and art supplies and paying attention to my eldests natural interests, which began with snails and has since moved towards slugs, insects, snakes, and natural science in general.
I blog about it a lot, as a way to track E's project.
Could go on and on, but will just sub for now.
post #9 of 42
Thread Starter 

Our "homeschool year" begins today, now that the older kids are back at university / high school. But dd has got a bit of a head start on things and is busy with her projects. Here's what she's done so far:


Outdoor survival skills:

learned some knots, lots of research about survival kits, practicing hammock-tent set-up, did a partly-laden backpack hike, some route-planning for another hike, learned to use bear spray


Meal preparation:

has prepared one meal start-to-finish (lemon-rosemary-garlic roasted chicken, caesar salad, home-made croutons and dressing, basmati rice, brownies with espresso frosting). Started a recipe scrapbook, started Pinterest boards related to various types of recipes.


So far she likes having "doing some work on one of my projects" as a clear activity choice when she's bored. She's done one blog post for her portfolio with photos and description of the meal she cooked and what she learned. I'm not pushing the documentation, but she wanted to be able to do something with the impressive photos of the meal laid out on the table.


Anyone else got specific projects underway? How are things going?



post #10 of 42

I had a long talk with DS last night and he's decided to start a video podcast series on video games. We'll get him set up with a YouTube channel, and I will be his "assistant", filming him using the iPad and helping him edit the clips in iMovie. He's still deciding on the subject matter - it will either be "fun facts about video games", "a history of video games", or some game reviews but since so many are doing that last one he says he probably won't choose that one. I think it's a great project and I'm so looking forward to helping him with it. 


I still need to talk to DD about hers, but we'll be starting off with some sewing projects that we bought the materials and notions for last year but never got around to actually doing (!). From there she may continue with sewing or come up with another project idea. 

post #11 of 42

We started doing Project Time this week. DD is doing sewing. I showed her how to use my machine, she practiced some basic stitches, moving the pressor foot up and down, needle up and down, changing thread and bobbins, etc. We cut some fabric for her project: an Enderman (Minecraft character) pillowcase. It was really fun for me! She enjoyed it as well. So happy we are off to a great start!


With DS he decided to hold off on the video stuff. He chose to assemble a project from Pixel Papercraft. This site allows you to print out foldable patterns that you cut, fold, and stick together to make 3-D things, like characters from Minecraft, etc. He chose to assemble a board game. Some of the pieces were already assembled from when he worked on this with his OT before summer. We picked up where they left off. It is great fine motor work for him to cut out the shapes - he has some fine motor delays. He even managed to fold and tape one of the larger pieces together, very impressive feat for him! I don't know where this is all going to go but I'm excited to just see how this evolves and where it leads. 


It was a very joyful feeling to share this time with my kids and I'm proud I was able to make it happen (I'm usually bad with that sort of thing).

post #12 of 42

apologies guys, I posted on the wrong thread! Taken it down :-)

Edited by Fillyjonk - 9/13/13 at 10:44pm
post #13 of 42
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Fillyjonk View Post

apologies guys, I posted on the wrong thread! Taken it down :-)


Is it going back up somewhere?

post #14 of 42

lol no just deleted it. Didn't mean to crash your thread :). Sorry about that. ,

post #15 of 42

ah, this might be where we belong :) We are anticipating a move to homeschooling at the mid-year but I'm doing a bunch of geeking out about it right now and dreaming and figuring as we psyche ourselves up for the switch. 


My dh and i are both totally into child-led learning and more unschooling, but radical unschooling is not for us. And I like projects- I love the Outward Bound Expeditionary learning model (there is actually a middle school in a city about 1.5 hours from us that is all Exp. Learning based. It's so cool), and I see it as a great blend of child-interest with some guidance and mentoring to take their interest to the next level (whatever that might be). My kids are both pretty creative, esp my dd who sews and does lots of 3D building and dabbles in baking, etc... but she also tends to be a bit flighty. I could see being totally open ended leading to lots of half finished projects, or multiples of the same simple project. Now, I know there may be arguments for - 'she'll go deeper when she's ready' and I don't doubt that. But project based seems like a nice framework for enabling that depth naturally. 


any resources- books or websites- to suggest? tia- 

post #16 of 42
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by moominmamma View Post
Outdoor survival skills:


Well, we're taking the leap: we're going backpacking this week. We'll spend four days and three nights hiking and camping along this trail (note: we're not doing the whole traverse from west to east, as we have neither the time nor the transportation to make it work: just in and out from the west side). We had hoped to go last week when the weather was glorious and warm. But it was not to be: other family members needed us here for various reasons, and it was just as well, because the alternator on our van died mid-week, and I would not have relished that happening at a remote trailhead! So now we're facing a weather forecast of "cloudy with rain" but at least not too cold ... night-time lows shouldn't go lower than the mid-to-high 40's (in Fahrenheit, or 7-8 Celsius). 


We've got some very cool new equipment. For the past year we've been gradually repairing, upgrading and replacing our worn-out camping equipment from 25 years ago. I'm still using my old pack, but we bought the kids their own packs, and we bought camping hammocks since old lightweight tent no longer fits our family, and a new campstove and water filtration system. We're thrilled with the stove in particular. It's a Biolite, which uses twigs rather than fossil fuels, is hot and efficient ... and it charges anything that plugs into USB using a thermo-electric generator. In our case it'll recharge our flashlight. It's pretty dark here by 7 pm so I imagine we'll use it a fair bit. Dd has used the stove several times and is pretty slick at starting it up and getting a hot burn.


Packs will be heavy, probably 30% of our body weight. We may not hike too far each day, or we may push ourselves the first and last day but set up a base camp and stay put for the in-between days. Dd is busy making a list of everything we need to take. I have my own list for comparison: we'll see how she does at thinking everything through.



post #17 of 42

any resources- books or websites- to suggest? tia- 




And I think our little unschooling forum here on MDC is a pretty darned good place, too.  Very accepting of unschooling as a spectrum rather than one ideal,  very accepting of other styles that are unschooling-inspired but not quite unschooling, and relatively unswayed by charismatic personalities marketing their own ideals of unschooling.  


DD1 has expressed an interest in a project titled "whatever doesn't include my sister."  :p  I like how she is starting in an open-ended place (ahem!)  Full of potential!


I m finally reading through Lori's book.  I am still at the "soak it in" phase, which is nice since this is "house cleanup month".  I'm pleased that I've had many of the ideas she writes about already, but I like the way she fleshes those ideas out, and helps make it workable.  I needed a little push like this.  For example, I needed more reasons to not interrupt the girls.  I'm terrible about expressing my thoughts out loud.  Making our library visits more deliberate and thoughtful.  DD2 really thrives on my random ways, but not so sure about dd1.  What I'm reading is, in my own words, keep my focus on the here and now.  Or at least shut up enough to not pull them out of their concentration, unless I have to.


October is the date I've set to take off on hsing with more focus.  Still unschooling, it's really about my  own focus providing balance and a sound footing.  Don't know if any of that makes sense.  

post #18 of 42

Hey!  I'm glad I stumbled upon this thread.  We just started project based homeschooling this fall too!


My son (age 9) started out with a baking fancy cakes project.  He has a book with some beautiful pictures and it inspired him.  He made pavlova, red velvet cake, checkerboard cake, lime-marshmallow-meringue cake and carrot cake.  I tried to stay out of his way as much as I could while he was baking (meaning, I tried to keep any comments I might be feeling to an absolute minimum, so that he could learn via his own process and mistakes.)  But he started to realize that I was doing this, and it slightly miffed him - "Mama!  I can tell that you know something that you aren't telling me!"  So I realized that he wanted me to tell him if he was making some terrible mistake that would ruin the whole cake, and I started to say a little bit more.  For example, I told him that he needed to grease and flour the pan and put waxed paper in it otherwise the cake would stick....His cakes were really yummy, very sugary, beautiful and he gained two pounds during his experience. (Which I was happy about since he's always been a skinny little thing.)  He enjoyed sharing his cakes with all of our late summer family guests who were very appreciative.  We put up a bulletin board which contained photos, shopping lists, recipes, etc.


In the last few days, he visited a friend who had a model railway set, and he wants to do that instead, and make the cakes on the weekend.  This is fine, but after the cake experience, I realized that we need to place some spending limits on projects.  (It was getting a little expensive to buy all of the special shortenings, sugars, colorings, and piping bags for the cakes.)  So he spent his own money this time on a starter model train set.  I told him that we would pay for the supplies for him to make a table to put it on.  I figure he can make the scenery with things that we have around the house and the craft supplies we already have.  So that is his next adventure!


My seven year old daughter chose "goats" as her first project.  She is working on training some goats at a local farm to pull a cart.  The farm is sponsoring the project, so they are paying for the supplies (like halters, harnesses, and hopefully the parts for the goat cart that she wants to make.)  She is having a wonderful time making goat treats, playing with the goats, trimming their hooves, drawing them, reading books about them etc.  So far, the training is a bit rough - the goats seem mostly interested in eating the foliage around the path.  But we're working on it!  Her goal is to have a goat trained by Halloween and ride in a cart with the goat pulling it while she wears her "King of Cats" costume and hands out treats to children at the farm haunted house.  I really hope it works out for her.....I hope she won't be too sad and disappointed if she can't make that goal.


How do other people deal with issues of high project costs and overly challenging goals set by a child?

post #19 of 42
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by dovey View Post

How do other people deal with issues of high project costs 


So far I've been lucky: dd is busy cooking meals that we would have to pay for anyway, and accruing survival/camping equipment that we had already planned on buying.


However, I think that if/when projects ideas pop up that are likely to have escalating costs not already accounted for in the family budget, I'd sit down with my kids and talk about what a reasonable budget would be for the project and how they'd like to allocate the funds ... or whether they'd can envision any way of making the project self-supporting.



post #20 of 42
For example, I told him that he needed to grease and flour the pan and put waxed paper in it otherwise the cake would stick


wow - really?  I thought you could do either one or the other of these. you do both?  maybe that is why mine stick (!)  but what is the point of greasing and flouring if you are going to put wax paper anyway?  forgive my ignorance, i don't bake very often and am used to chiselling my productions out anyway ... 

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