Category Archives: planning

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.}

A Plan, of Sorts

[Insert your own metaphor here] The other day at the beach, it was so clear we had a great view of Block Island offshore. But this is rare.

As I described in the last post, I’m not one to plan the learning step by step. But I’m not unschooling, either. That’s where I thought I’d fall, when I started homeschooling way long ago. The reality, though, was that my oldest wanted and needed a bit more structure. He liked workbooks. (Me? They give me hives.) He liked seeing tangible progress of work completed. He was five. I adjusted. I even bought a complete curriculum for his first grade year, but I ended up changing and adding so much that I was going to take a completely different approach the next year, except then he began school.

This time around, with my younger son, I’ve gathered some books and I’m keeping it loose, with a very short list of items that need to be completed daily. Because three years of school has him convinced he hates math, I started him with Life of Fred over the summer. The addition in the early books is below his current ability, but those books have reinforced some items that just didn’t stick at school, such as telling time and the order of the days of the week and months of the year. My only math requirement to begin the year is a chapter of Fred a day. I know without a doubt that math will be included in all the other subjects we do, in his daily life, and in his project work. This child needs to see the practical use of something; he’s not going to learn anything just because somebody tells him to. (And I don’t think he will ever be asking for workbooks.)

My state doesn’t even require we teach history, just geography and civics. Perhaps this is why he apparently learned no history through second grade. (My older son had a completely different–and better, in my opinion–second grade experience at the same school with a different teacher, but that was before they revamped the second grade. He did learn history, though. We’d already covered many of the same topics in our first grade homeschool, but still.) Nevertheless, I asked him if he’d like to start at the beginning, in the ancient world. He’s very enthusiastic about learning more about the ancient Egyptians. I bought the first volume of Story of the World to help us tie everything together in historical context, something I was having a hard time doing myself with books that focused just on Egypt. I’m not using the activity books, though, since having somebody else decide what to do takes all the fun out of it! We’ll be supplementing and going more in depth with library books, the local art museum (which has a wonderful collection of ancient art), and whatever related projects my son decides he wants to pursue. We’ll move on when he’s ready.

He also asked to do chemistry experiments. We’ll be using Adventures with Atoms and Molecules, Amazing Kitchen Chemistry Projects You Can Build Yourself, and library resources (including a science dictionary for any terms that need to be looked up).

And finally, we’ll be incorporating project time.

I’m keeping the extras light. I think he needs to unwind from school and rediscover how much he likes learning things when he has a choice of what to learn. His knee-jerk response to anything schoolish is “I hate it” and “it’s boring.” After years of struggling to get him up and on a bus, I don’t plan on spending most of our homeschooling time trying to get him in a car on time. We have one co-op day, and I’m really excited to be part of a great group. We are planning on enrolling him in karate; we think this might be a very good fit for our intense, oppositional child. (Team sports? He can’t stand them.) And that’s about it, at least to start the year.

We will begin where we are and see what develops, maintaining flexibility at all times. That’s the main gist of any plan I’m making.