Category Archives: education

{PBL} Give a Goat Project

g's goat cards

Several years ago, blogger Teabird sent us her review copy of the book Give a Goat. I read it to the boys right away, and it now sits on one of our storybook shelves. Periodically my daughter chooses it as part of her bedtime stories. Not too long ago, after hearing it again, she decided she, too, would like to give a goat through Heifer International. We talked about different ways she, at age four, could earn some money, and she began earning quarters every time she helped set the table, fold laundry, or clean the bathroom sink. (Normally I don’t pay for routine helping-out-type chores, but she’s four. Her earning options are limited.) However, a goat costs $120. We brainstormed some more.

Eventually she decided she would like to make note cards with a drawing of a goat on them, so we Googled for images of goats and she picked some for me to print out. Then, she drew some pictures of goats, using her reference images. Finally, she picked out two of her drawings (a mama and a baby, she told me), and together, we turned them into stamps.

Her goats are smiling because they are happy. Of course! Next, she picked out colors of card stock and ink, and we set to work printing.

Here’s a closer look at the mama goat:

And the baby goat:

When the cards were dry, she counted out six envelopes to go with her bundles of six cards, I wrote out a tag to her specifications, she signed the tag, and we bundled the cards and envelopes with pretty ribbon.

g's goat cards (2)

She settled on $5 for a package of six cards, and we began by emailing family members. Her next step is to brainstorm other places that might agree to sell them as well. Meanwhile, her dad gave her all his dimes, nickels, and quarters for her Give a Goat bank, and she and her 8yo brother sorted the coins; then he counted, added them up, and let her know she had just over $10 towards her goal.

So much going on with this project. So much!

{PBL} Monster Book

Front cover of monster book.

Front cover of monster book.

Back in December, I posted about my 8yo’s monster project. Last week, after a couple illness-related delays, we brought a thumb drive full of files to Staples and came home with five copies of his book.

We both learned quite a bit during this project. He took his original idea through to completion–no small task, given how many monsters he ultimately included (12) and how long he’s been working on this. At times we both struggled to keep him moving forward. I was firm that he would finish the project, but somewhere there’s a line between mentoring and taking over, and I tried to be continually aware of that line.

Chupacabra page.

Chupacabra page in monster book.

I also tried to get any thoughts out of my head regarding how anybody else might describe a third-grade writing level. The series Become a Writing Mentor to Your Child at Wonderfarm helped with this, too. My son is moving at his own pace where writing is concerned. I know he brought home more “advanced” writing assignments from school last year, but I also know he required one of the teachers to sit and work with him one-on-one to produce them. The writing barely reflects his personality, and I suspect he had very little say on subject matter or style. Honestly, I’m happy he chose to do anything connected with writing. His book pages are mainly lists, with sentences here and there, but he did the research, took the notes, and chose what to include himself. He also drew all the pictures. The one I’ve included is one of my favorites, but truthfully, they are all pretty special and definitely reflect his personal style.

Beyond the planning, researching, writing, and drawing, he also learned how to use Publisher, looked over the printed pages to catch any mistakes (editing), and decided upon the page order in the book. After creating a made-up monster out of Model Magic, he decided to paint it and use a photo of it for the cover of the book, so he set up the shot and took it himself (top of post). He then decided he needed another shot for the back cover.

Back cover of monster book.

Back cover of monster book.

He used the back of the monster, of course! Once at Staples, he needed to make decisions about the cover stock and binding, as well as direct his brother and me as we collated the copies into the correct order.

Sorting monster book pages at Staples.

Sorting monster book pages at Staples.

He was incredibly excited to have five “published” copies of his book–one for each family member–in hand, and sat down to read it to me as soon as we got home. Yet, he downplayed his accomplishment. Plenty of people write books, he said. I tried to emphasize what he’d done–he made a plan, did the research, put it all together according to his own vision–this is huge.

My hope is that this book becomes a physical reminder that he can set a goal and then reach it. I want that for my kids, all of it. I want them to be able to set their own goals and feel capable of reaching them.

{PBL} Scattering

There have been some seemingly one-off random things going on this week, but you never know where things will lead. My 4yo has been interested in bones for a while now, although I’m not sure I even posted anything about that interest here. Recently she’s developed an interest in coyotes, too, but that’s not necessarily a separate interest. We visited the local NWR visitor’s center a week or two ago to look at the bones they have on display–they have many, out and available to touch, and among them are many skulls.

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Coyotes have skulls too, you know. And skeletons. She was delighted to make this connection between her projects. (Yes, she identifies them as such. As a never-schooled preschooler, she signed on to this style of learning with full joy, quickly realizing the gravity the word “project” bestows upon her interests.)

Here she is drawing and then painting a picture of a coyote, using some reference pictures.

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This is such authentic work she is doing. She is working hard there, choosing to try to draw a coyote, noticing its colors and how many ears and legs it has, and where they are. She asked me where its nose was, and I showed her the snout and we talked about how the shape of the snout is one of the ways a coyote is distinguished from other dogs, and she worked at getting it right, at the same time understanding that she could make as many paintings as she wanted to try and get the coyote to look the way she wanted to.

This all makes me happy, not because my child is doing this but because I have created the space in which my child knows she can do this. She is not being kept distracted with “age-appropriate” busywork but instead allowed to choose her own work.

Also this week, all three of the kids made light straws.

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Someone on Twitter–I can’t remember who, unfortunately–posted a link to an article about diy.org. I checked out the site and sent the link to my 11yo because I thought he might find it interesting. He decided he wanted to make Light Straws, so he bookmarked the video instructions and wrote a supply list. All of us went to Radio Shack and tried to figure out which LEDs were super bright if none of them said super bright, and realized he’d spelled “ohm” incorrectly, but we managed to find everything we needed. I helped the 4yo but he and his brother made their own while we watched the video. Don’t they look super cool? And once they were made, they tinkered with the design, deciding they’d like the switch to work differently.

Later that day, my 4yo looked up at one of our light bulbs and excitedly announced that inside, it had wires that looked like the ones that connected to the LED in her light straw. My 8yo, who is building a pretend machine out of various block-type toys, is explaining how the “wires” should connect. All these scattering activities and interests…they connect in such interesting ways.

This is Why

Heads, by N, age 8.

Heads, by N, age 8.

We began today with me reading Act III of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar out loud while I drank my morning coffee. We’ve been doing an act a day. Why Julius Caesar? Because we’re up to Ancient Rome in our history reading, we read about Caesar being assassinated, and I thought, Oh, we should read Julius Caesar. So I am. I have to explain some parts, of course, and make sure I’m clear on who’s talking, but the kids are getting it, and I really love reading it out loud. My oldest was home sick on Friday when we read Act II and he was pretty disappointed to realize he’d miss Act III today. And of course, I had to remind myself of the five-act dramatic arc so we could talk about it.

Later we took my daughter to her preschool gymnastics class, and after my son finished his math chapter, we spent the rest of our waiting time playing Uno. Back at home, I made lunch while my son worked on another page in his monster book, and after lunch we went downstairs so my daughter could work with model magic to make some bones (she’s been studying skeletons). I suggested my son might want to make some monsters out of model magic–why not?!

So we sat down there together, my daughter making bones, my son making monsters, and me making some sketches for an embroidery project. When I’d gotten as far as I could right then, I switched to doing some planning for a class I’m offering in the next co-op session. We were down there for about two hours–time just flew right by. My son began with a group of monster heads (you can see those above), then made a monster with such personality that we are talking about working together to make a stuffed version. I think we need a trip to the big fabric store so he can find just the material he has in mind.

At dinner, he filled his older brother in on what he’d missed in Act III, explaining with glee how Antony turned the crowd against the conspirators and how that crowd just agreed with whoever was speaking at the time, and Antony got to speak after Brutus (foolish Brutus!), and he kept on calling the conspirators “honorable men” but he didn’t really mean it.

What struck me most about this day (which is not at all how all our days go, by the way) was how consistently my younger son–the one I’m homeschooling–was the child I remembered from several years ago. The interesting, interested kid who looks at things from unlikely angles. Smiling. Relaxed. Agreeable. Out of respect for my kids, I don’t go into details when it comes to the challenging bits, but it’s been hard, this child’s unhappiness. It sucked all the air out of the family at times, leaving me gasping with anxiety. Is everything perfect now? Nope. Still have challenging bits. But mixed in with the challenging are more and more glimpses of this child. An afternoon like this reminds me how much I’ve missed him.

This is why I homeschool.

{PBL} Projects + School

One of V's scenes in his organic farming movie.

One of V’s scenes in his organic farming movie.

One of my biggest frustrations with school is how much time it takes up. My oldest chose to remain in school, and I haven’t managed to support him on any self-led projects on nights and weekends, which fly by so quickly. The school describes its curriculum as “project-based,” but their definition and implementation is somewhat different than mine. Recently, my son completed a school project on organic farming. The curriculum is pre-planned, and my son chose the topic from a pre-set list. The projects had certain requirements—for instance, each student had to interview someone local pertaining to their topic, asking at least five questions. Interviewing somebody is great—if the student decides that’s the best way to get information that otherwise is unavailable. But assigning an interview takes away so much of the learning process…What do I want to know? How can I find it out? What resources are available to me? Instead, it seems like somebody else decided fifth graders should interview “experts.”

Several weeks ago, my son and I had a conversation that went something like this:

Him: I think I want to make a movie for my project representation.

Me: That sounds cool. None of us have experience with that. Can Miss [x] mentor you as you figure out how to do that? [Because that is what is supposed to happen in project-based learning; the student has a mentor.]

Him: I don’t know. I think there’s a video camera I can borrow?

Me: That’s a start. Do you have an idea of how you want your movie to be?

Him: Well, I want to start with a scene of fields, you know, with the crops.

Me: Okay. It’s December, though. You won’t be able to film that here, unless you’re okay with, you know, dead-looking fields.

Him: But that’s not what I want.

Me: Could you draw a background for that, maybe? Or perhaps try stop-motion? I can show you some examples.

Him, beginning to sound frustrated: I don’t have a lot of time to figure all that out! Maybe I’ll just do a poster.

Me, after a long thinking pause: I can understand, given that you have a deadline for this, why you would want to do a poster. I won’t think less of you if you do. But it makes me sad that you have an idea and don’t feel you have the time or support at school to see it through. I’ll do whatever I can to mentor you, if you want to try a movie. I hope, if you don’t do a movie for this project, we can come back to it when you have more time to dig into it.

And we left it there, for the most part. It seemed my son had decided on a poster. He let me know the materials he’d need (my role in his homework is mainly procuring supplies when necessary). For Christmas, we gave him the book Unbored, which I’d hoped to look through myself, but I can’t get it out of his hands! After his first day back at school, he told me he was going to do a movie after all. Unbored has a chapter on stop-motion, he told me, and now he had a better idea of what he needed. Awesome, I said. Make a list, and a storyboard. A storyboard? “Draw out each scene—figure out what you want to show and say. Then you can figure out what props you need.”

And this he did, in detail. After looking at his storyboard, I pointed out that it didn’t seem stop-motion would work, but perhaps a series of photographs? He brainstormed props. I thought I remembered a Duplo farm set…we checked his sister’s LEGOS and yes, indeed, she has not only a bus and a mailman but a farmer with flowers, a chicken, a pig, and a tractor. He received her permission to borrow her farm LEGOS. He figured out solutions for his other scenes—he transformed a bottle of spray fixative into a pesticide bottle by drawing a new label. We added an acorn and butternut squash to the shopping list. He painted grains of rice black, to represent harmful insects on the plants. We lucked out with a sunny Sunday afternoon, he set up each scene in natural light, took multiple shots, and chose the best ones.

Shooting film for his movie.

Shooting film for his movie.

I’d have liked to set him loose to figure out Movie Maker on his own, but given the time constraints, I tried to figure out the basics ahead of time so I could help him. Together, we added his photos, edited the duration of each shot, and recorded his narration, which had to be matched to each scene just so. He typed up the title and credits, and we strung it all together. It is amazing. If this were a home-based project, more time would have been spent on figuring out the program and investigating different methods of movie making. It’s hard for me to accurately describe what I see as the difference in school projects and home projects, but I’ll try:

School is more interested in showing what was learned about the assigned topic. The movie is a means to prove he learned about organic farming.

I am just as interested in the learning going on to create the representation. Learning about a topic is one part of the learning; acquiring skills to share information in a chosen way is just as (if not more) important. He drew a storyboard, wrote a script, arranged his scenes, photographed them until he was satisfied. He had a vision and manifested it. He struggled with the computer program, worked through that, we figured it out, and he created a finished product which pleased him. All of this is more important to me than the facts he acquired about organic farming.

I still hope he returns to this interest when he has more time to dig into it for the sake of digging into it rather than as a means to fulfilling a school requirement. I will nudge, and I will mentor. And I am so glad he chose movie over poster after all.

Why Process Over Product? {Part Three}

(Part One, Part Two)

Part Three: Realizing a Vision

In Part Two, I said that if someone hasn’t had the opportunity to explore different media and materials to see what they do, he or she will have no idea how to achieve the desired goal. Learning new skills is both exciting on its own and a means to an end; sometimes it begins as one of those and progresses to the other. Do you want to re-create somebody else’s vision, or know how to express your own? I want to do the latter, and I want my kids to be able to do the latter, too. I learned embroidery because I wanted to embroider poetry on my jeans, but in the process it became another way for me to express myself, and while I embroidered some commercial patterns at the beginning, while I was learning, I can’t see doing that anymore, because I’d rather use embroidery as part of my own artwork.

Practicing embroidery

Practicing embroidery

My 8yo, who already knew embroidery’s properties so well from having watched me, and already knowing how to sew, decided to learn how to embroider so he could make his aunt a snowflake ornament, based on his own vision of the finished project. I helped him with the angles of the snowflake and transferred it onto the felt for him, but the idea was all his. And we didn’t have an example of “this is what your felt snowflake ornament should look like,” either. It was all his own thought process and design.

Following directions give us the skills to re-create somebody else’s vision. There is nothing essentially wrong with that. I have no problem with knitting a sweater somebody else designed if I like it and want to wear it. It saves me the trouble of doing the design work myself. But if I have an idea in my head, I appreciate having the ability to make it a reality, rather than trying to find somebody else’s vision that sort of approximates my own. Following directions is certainly a useful skill to have, and prevents any of us from having to re-invent the wheel. But exposure to process-based activity is essential to gain the skills and confidence to realize our own unique vision.

“Just messing around” with materials allows the space for accidents to happen, for unexpected results, for discoveries, and that is when we learn. If something unexpected happens when the goal is to re-create a predetermined end product, it can be perceived as a disaster. If it happens during a process-focused exploration of a material or technique, it is a delightful discovery, leading to knowledge that is filed away for future use. When and if we have an idea that requires that particular effect, we know how to obtain it. Process-based art is not pressure-filled. It is fun. It is play. It is essential, for children and adults.

We cannot expect children to be creative, original thinkers if we only present them with so-called “art activities” that involve following directions to reproduce an end product. They deserve (as we all do) the space and time to develop the confidence and skills to determine their own end product, and then figure out how to get there. When I said, “I’m going to knit a stocking,” having never knit before, nobody was around to tell me I couldn’t. When my child says, “I’m going to make a snowflake ornament out of felt and embroidery,” even though he’s never embroidered before, I’m not going to say, “You can’t do that.” I don’t even say, “Let’s look and see what patterns you can follow.” My response is: “Let’s practice embroidery so you know how to do it. Sketch out what you’re thinking. You can totally do this.”

The process of looking for an already-existing project that meets your criteria versus creating the project you have in your head is so very different. Children who only have experience in following directions to produce a version of somebody else’s vision may not ever make the leap into realizing they can create the steps to produce their own vision. It takes more work on the adult’s part to mentor a child’s individual vision. It is harder to have a room full of children interpreting new materials or techniques in different ways, rather than following directions all at the same time. I see my job as facilitator, and I am on my toes when we’re in the studio, especially if we’re doing something new. But this sort of mentoring is essential, because the ability to have an idea and realize that idea is essential. And one way to raise children who have the confidence and skills to not only realize their ideas but to have the idea in the first place is to provide plenty of exposure to process-based art.

Why Process Over Product? {Part Two}

(Part One)

Part Two: Knowing the Materials

When a child (or adult) has an idea and a specific end result in mind, if he or she hasn’t had the opportunity to explore different media and materials to see what they do, he or she will have no idea how to achieve the desired goal. I can’t stress this enough. It seems so basic, but I see so many people going about it backwards. Until we learn how to use various materials, we have no idea which one is best for the task at hand. If we have a vision in our mind but have a limited number of techniques from which to choose, we may never reach our vision.

When my children come into the studio with an idea, they have a vast array of materials from which to choose. They learned how to use these materials not by following step-by-step directions to reproduce a project designed by someone else, but by experimenting with the materials in a controlled way. Parameters are, I think, necessary when learning a new material or technique. I didn’t just give them watercolors and leave the room. We used, at different times, watercolors wet on wet, wet on dry, pan watercolors, liquid watercolors, watercolors from a tube. The different methods and materials yield different results, and we learned what they were by doing. In the same way, watercolors are different from acrylics and gouache and tempera. So when my kids say they want to do X and they need paint, I can now ask them, What kind of paint? And they will think about their desired end result and decide what they think they need.

The same thing is true of every material in our studio.

Non-representational creativity is often difficult for adults to understand. They think kids are just “messing around,” the painting is “random,” the activity is “aimless.” If it’s not a picture OF something, an adult often doesn’t see the point. Firstly, if the child is enjoying himself, is another point necessary? But beyond that, quite a bit is going on—or can be going on—when someone is “just messing around” with a material. The first thing I did when I bought new watercolor pencils was scribble with them and add water to see what happened. It would be frustrating to try to use a material for a specific end result if I didn’t know what the material could and couldn’t do.

Exploring tints and shades of blue.

Exploring tints and shades of blue.

In the same way, a child learns quite a lot while “smearing” paint around. He’s learning how paint moves, how much to put on the paintbrush to get different effects, what happens when wet paint touches. If it’s quality paint, he learns what happens when different colors mix. When my middle child was about five, he spent weeks investigating different paint colors, a couple at a time. He learned about tints and shades and secondary colors while he moved the paint around on large sheets of heavy paper that I’d pinned to the wall. Limiting the color palette meant that he could see what happened when just those two or three colors mixed. This is, again, about setting parameters to help a child learn about the materials in a useful, meaningful way.

During this time, he happened to be painting while an adult relative was over, and that adult stared at the non-representational paper that held all that exciting information about tints and shades, and instead of asking my son about it (and he would have eagerly explained what he’d done to get that range of color), she stared and stared until she found something that sort of looked like a flower and pointed it out. “You painted a flower.” No. But now, when he does want to paint a flower, or anything else, he is confident that he can mix any color he needs or wants, in a variety of paint types. In fact, like me, he’d rather have just the primaries, white, and black in his palette, and mix his own colors.

For more on this sort of sequential introduction of materials (as well as how to talk—and NOT talk—to children about what they’re doing), I highly recommend Susan Striker’s Young at Art.

Next: Part Three—Realizing a Vision.

Why Process Over Product? {Part One}

Part One: Discovery vs Following Directions

Lori Pickert, author of Project-Based Homeschooling, has a terrific forum area of her website, and currently it contains an active thread on process vs product art for children. If you’ve dug around on this blog of mine at all, you know I’m passionate about allowing children the opportunity to explore process-oriented, open-ended art. This series of posts grew out of the thoughts I shared in that thread; I encourage you to join Lori’s forums, if you haven’t already.

Playing with monotypes

Playing with monotypes

In process-oriented art, the DOING is what is important: the PROCESS of making, exploring, and discovering. Product-based art is focused on the end result. In an open-ended activity, we don’t know where we’re going to end up, while in a closed activity, the end result has been predetermined by someone else. My elementary school “art” classes were exercises in following directions, with the (teacher’s) stated goal being 30 projects that looked just like hers. Sadly, this is still true in many schools. There is no room for creativity there, for amazing discoveries and delights.

One example given in the forum thread as a possible support for product-based “art” experiences for children is that of a new knitter following patterns until she knows enough to design her own, the connection being that children learn skills by following directions rather than by process-based exploration. I taught myself to knit because I wanted to make something specific, a Christmas stocking for my first baby. I decided upon a specific skill, knitting, which I needed to learn, so I did. And yes, I followed the pattern for the stocking. Taking a class wasn’t a possibility, so I didn’t “learn” that a new knitter’s first project should be a scarf. There was nobody to tell me, “Oh no, you can’t start right off knitting a tube with four needles. New knitters don’t do that. You have to progress through this predetermined sequence of easy projects before you can attempt anything like that.”

I didn’t know what I didn’t know, so I figured I could do anything. That is the confidence I want for my children. I taught myself to knit in October and had a hand-knit Christmas stocking ready in time. Sure, I struggled, and the argument can be made that I persevered because I had a specific end product in mind. But—and this loops back into the goals of authentic project-based learning—I was committed to learning a new skill in order to realize my own vision and goal (and even with that first pattern, I changed it to suit me). The next item I knit was the sweater sampler from Jacqueline Fee’s Sweater Workshop. This project didn’t result in anything recognizable or a useful “thing,” but the process taught me a variety of skills. Then I either followed patterns, or not. Or I began with a pattern, but modified it to suit me, because I understood what I was doing.

I can tell you with much assurance that only following patterns doesn’t teach a knitter much except how to follow patterns. It is the same with any other skill. Only following somebody else’s directions only teaches you how to follow somebody else’s directions. If you don’t truly understand your materials and how they behave, you won’t recognize when the directions are wrong. Or if you do, you won’t be sure how to fix it. Learning how to design knitted items doesn’t come from knitting a whole lot of them, following directions slavishly. It comes from experimenting with different stitches and techniques, different weights and needles, and comparing the resulting fabrics. It comes from playing with the materials.

And that will be Part Two: Knowing the Materials.
Part Three: Realizing a Vision

{I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how important a mentor is, even for adult self-taught learners. My sister, an accomplished knitter, loaned me several of her books, including The Sweater Workshop and Knitting in Plain English. These are not pattern books. They are think-for-yourself knitting books, and I’m sure being exposed to that sort of philosophy right from the start helped shaped my attitude towards knitting and every handwork skill I added thereafter.}

{PBL} Monster Project

“…zero in on what interests your child and stay there as long as she is interested.”
–Lori Pickert, Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners

I feel I should begin this post with a discussion on how any and all topics are valid project material, but I’m struggling with it because I’m having a hard time understanding the position that there would be invalid topics. If I, an adult, am free to focus on what interests me without external judgment—without anyone telling me, “No, that’s frivolous, that’s a waste of time, go do something I’ve decided is meaningful,” then it seems obvious that my child have the same opportunity to pursue an interest without judgment. (Keep in mind that rarely is project work the sum total of all learning. In our homeschool, it is part of what we do. My son also has required work.) Part of why I homeschool is because I don’t give a fig about state standards. Whoever is writing those standards hasn’t met my kid. So, unlike a teacher in a public school, I am not concerned if topics of study fit into a pre-determined state-mandated box. We have no box.

So when I saw we’d come to an end of Egypt-as-project, and we’d moved forward into other areas of ancient history but nothing there was causing enough momentum to turn into project work, I turned my mind to my son’s interests. What had been occupying his attention lately? Monsters had been dominating his pretend play, and not nebulous in-the-closet monsters, but things like vampires, werewolves, and the like. The types of monsters that have appeared in stories and legends around the world, for years. “Would you like to find out more about these monsters?” I asked. “Would you like to do a project on them?”

A selection of books used so far in the monster project

A selection of books used so far in the monster project

Several months in, my son has a better understanding of what I mean when I say project, versus what his teachers in school meant, so he was excited about the idea. He decided, too, that he’d like to create a field-guide type book with the information he gathered. So far he’s read a huge stack of books, made a list of twenty monsters he wants to include, decided the information he wants to include, if possible, about each one, and completed two entries (Mothman and Vampires) using Microsoft Publisher and my assistance. He is researching, sorting through information, prioritizing and organizing, taking notes, and arranging the information, as well as drawing a picture of each monster to scan into the computer and drop into the page as a jpg file. I am reminding, prodding, helping him set (and stick to) his goals, and assisting him with the computer and with research and note-taking.

Reading is not a struggle for him, but writing sometimes is. I am doing quite a bit of scaffolding. There was so much information on vampires that I wrote down his notes as he dictated them to me. I told him note-taking involved reading information and putting it into his own words so he didn’t forget what he wanted to remember. That’s all it took—he read, formulated his own words, and dictated notes. The physical process of writing is still, at age 8, something that slows him down. I can see that he is processing the information, understanding it, and rephrasing it, and that’s more important to me than whether he is writing it down himself or not. Because he is interested in this topic and completely excited at the look of his finished work as it comes out of the printer, motivation is much higher for him to work through the challenging bits. This is a child who has told me outright, “I didn’t care if I did a good job in school because I didn’t care about what we were doing.” Mind you, this was part of a larger conversation in which I learned that he was feeling overwhelmed at the thought of starting his monster book because it was so important to him. We worked through that enough that he felt able to begin.

“Without [a child’s authentic interest], learning is like pushing a boulder uphill. With it, we’re pushing the boulder downhill.”
–Lori Pickert, Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners

My eight-year-old is interested in monsters. I’m rolling the boulder downhill.

Project Shelf

Inspired by Kate at An Everyday Story, I cleaned off an existing shelf in the living room in order to display some project creations.

I already talked about G’s map of Egypt and N’s cartouche and cat statuette, in the claywork post. I’m happy to report N’s cat stayed together just fine; we had to glue one paw back on. I haven’t talked about G’s mummy or the pyramid, which she created after the mummy, because that’s where mummies go. No matter the mummy and pyramid aren’t to scale; not the point. She cut out the base and triangles (using guides), let them dry, and then glued them together. It’s all a bit fragile, but it’s a pyramid. N also has plans to make a pyramid, but I needed to get more clay (which I did, over the weekend), and now I’ve commandeered the art table for a day or two to sew a Halloween costume. (We are challenged by needing to share project work space.)

The mummy was created early on in our project work, beginning in early September, and despite all good intentions I haven’t shared about it yet. When I told the kids my job was to make sure they had the materials necessary for their work, G jumped right on that. One morning she told me she had “a mummy in her head” and she would need paper, drinking straws, and paper towels. I provided these, and she asked for other items as the need arose.

Working on her mummy

She drew a sad face on her mummy. “He’s sad because he’s dead.”

(It’s hard to photograph white against white, and I used my phone for some of these.) When her mummy was complete, which took time as she worked out how she wanted the various pieces (including the straws; they’re in there too) to go together, she used the paper towel to represent linen wrappings.

During a later session, she painted and colored the squares that she then attached to both sides of the paper towel wrapping–you can see that in the first picture. This represents the paintings on the coffins.

Is this an artistically accurate modeling of an Egyptian mummy? Not at all. Does it demonstrate that this three-year-old understands what she’s been studying? Absolutely. I am blown away (again!) by the way in which she has translated her learning into her own project representation.

N’s planned pyramid will be too big to fit on the project shelf. We’ll have to come up with some other way to display it. My kids are used to seeing their creations displayed around our house and on our walls. I have many, many of their artworks (and my own) framed and hanging. They didn’t react in any particular way to seeing their project creations on the shelf, although my son did point out to his brother that I’d cleaned a shelf off just for them. I think they all consider the house their own gallery, as I have a high tolerance for random stuff taped to the walls–they do their own displaying, too. I think that’s a good thing.

There is a lot I’m not doing–dedicated display or bulletin boards for project materials in individual work spaces (which we don’t have) would be great. I’m not so good about scheduling in blocks of project time on multiple days per week. But I’m doing what I can, and as is often the case, it turns out that that is enough until I can do more.