Upskilling: Project-based learning

In a burst of COVID-19 lockdown energy I decided to raid our Book Closet and read, re-read, learn and re-learn from some of my home education pedagogical inspirations.

Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners” written by Lori Pickert was the first book I picked up.

Like many of the books I have read over the past decade, “Project-Based Homeschooling” is full of practical advice. The “how to” is intertwined with the “why you should”.

One of the things that I like about this particular book is that project-based learning isn’t touted at the “only” way to home educate. Ms Pickert outlines all of the very excellent reasons why it should be part of a child’s learning experience, possibly making up the majority of their learning, but she doesn’t do so in a way that generates a feeling of pedagogical “tribalism”.
I appreciated that tone from the outset.

Here are the key points that I took away from my re-reading of this book.

  • Children should be given the opportunity to self-choose, self-direct and self-manage their own interest projects.
  • Our job is not to “teach” them, but to observe, support, give our attention to their work and mentor them.
  • We should align our daily habits, our routines and our values so that we can create a family culture that reflects the importance of the child’s project work. (And our own projects too!)

As Ms Pickert says:
“Make the space. Make the time. Gather the materials. Prioritize the experience. Commit.” p.39

Re-reading this book has been timely for me as Miss Oh has been working on a substantial passion project with one of her friends. She has been asking me for support with this, so I wanted to revisit the encouraging information about mentoring a child’s project before I began to help.
It is extremely important that I reduce the chance of any “foot in mouth” issues on my part that might lead to her becoming discouraged.

One of the simplest, and most important, ideas that we are implementing is that of regular “Project Time”. Miss and Master Oh have each chosen a day when they will get my full attention for their chosen project.
My responsibility, in my own words, is to show up and shut up.
Reflective listening, guiding them with questions, helping them note their ideas and then sitting back and watching what they come up with.
It sounds simple when it’s written down but, depending on your temperament, it can be incredibly difficult to do in practice.

But just like the Oh Waily kids, I need to practice my mentoring skills, learn from my mistakes and figure out what to try next when I mess up. That takes care of the ‘modelling’ aspect of this type of learning.

“This is how we master a skill, a tool, a material, a technique – through play, through practice, through making and fixing mistakes.” p. 37

Some other big ideas that I’ll be doing my best to implement include:

  • Let them make mistakes and then let them solve their own problems.
    Don’t “rescue” them, but don’t abandon them either. This is the point where you mentor problem solving.
  • Encourage them to do their own research.
    Don’t “help” in order to save them time, thereby robbing them of an opportunity for some great learning.
  • Encourage them to do “Fieldwork”.
    i.e. use community resources, visit with or contact experts, etc.
  • Model resilience when they hit frustration points.
    Use this simple, calm and reassuring response from the book: “Now we know what doesn’t work. What should we try next?”
    I love this so much because it gently directs back in to problem-solving mode without drama and links to the last idea…
  • Project calm acceptance that mistakes are inevitable.
    Then encourage them to understand that the response to mistakes is to try to find a solution in order to move forward.

There is a lot more to this book than I have distilled here, and a lot of very specific suggestions about what you can do to promote a great learning experience for your children. There’s more detail on why you should seriously consider incorporating this approach in to your home education toolkit and what benefits your children will gain. They are significant.

If you are interested in learning about how to implement this sort of child-led learning, then this book is a good guide. And if the following quote, one of my favourites, appeals to you then this might be a book that would sit well on your shelves.

“With a slow pace, an open and inquiring mindset, and calm acceptance that problems are inevitable, we set the tone for a thoughtful approach to meaningful work. We begin to create a family culture that values interests, intellect, perseverance, resilience, and sharing.”


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