Project(ish)-Based Learning at Home

Let me preface this with the fact that I am by no means an expert on project-based learning (although I did my student teaching with an AMAZING master teacher who was), and that what we did last summer is more of a hybrid of project/literature-based.  What it was, though, was fun, and a great way to add some structure and intention to our days without feeling like we were having to force "learning."

Here is how we got started!

First, I turned to my never-ending wish list of picture books for inspiration.  From there, I made a loose list of themes.

You can see that my brainstorming process is not entirely linear, but as I went through, I focused on four things:
  1. A picture biography (my favorite genre) for someone in the field that we wanted to study.
  2. A craft or activity
  3. A field trip
  4. Whatever I already had around the house that fit the theme (puzzles, books, blocks, coloring books, etc)
My amazing friend Melanie used a weekly structure of: Make It Monday, Travel Tuesday, Wet and Watch Wednesday, Thankful Thursday, Friday Funday, and since we do most of our field trips together, I used that as my jumping off point.  It also helped me to use a monthly view calendar to plan out our 8ish weeks, since we had a vacation, a birthday adventure, and a recital in there. 

I picked a theme for each week based on what else was going on, when we could do certain field trips, etc, but for me, the key was FLEXIBILITY.  We only ended up spending a full week on a couple of the themes, but having those ideas in place and ready to go was so helpful to keep us from settling into a slump.  It also worked as a great way to rotate out under-used toys!

So what themes were the most successful for us? The ones that the girls really leaned into.  For example, we were going to study sharks, but after our trip to Connecticut and picking up 1000 Things Under the Sea, it was clear that the girls were interested in ocean life in general.  We also happened to have a massive piece of cardboard just begging to be turned into something cool, so I hopped on Pinterest for ideas, and use this and this as inspiration to create our own ocean zones.  The girls used 1000 Things Under the Sea to select and draw and color animals, cut them out, and glue them on the appropriate level.  I let them make their own selections, and helped them research if we couldn't tell the appropriate zone from the book, using aquarium websites.  This took us the better part of a week, and the girls were so proud of their creation.  We had already planned an end-of-summer trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, so we actually revisited it again for a second week as that trip approached, and used it to create a Scavenger Hunt for our trip.  I had picture biographies lined up of Jacques Cousteau and Eugenie Clark, but never ended up ordering them because we had plenty else going on with our theme.

The other theme that was a major success was a combination of two: fashion and photography.  We read biographies of Coco Chanel, Ann Cole Lowe, and Bill Cunningham (this was a case where I went a little wild with my wishlist ;)   I had given the girls two of our old, old iPhones for our vacation and allowed them to take pictures, which they thought was the absolute coolest.  After we read the books, I had them sketch their own fashion designs for their American Girl dolls, and then I took them to JoAnn's to pick fabric.

I did the actual construction, but made them show me how they wanted it to look and help brainstorm how to make that happen.  Then, we hopped on our bikes and rode around the neighborhood looking for photo locations.

After they set up all of their photos, we arranged them in Word to create a magazine, and I asked them to write the captions to go with each photo (I typed for them as they narrated, and edited as needed).  We printed copies on cardstock, and they were so excited to see what they created - see the theme here?

Both major successes involved creating a significant project that they were interested in and proud of.  Even though things did not follow my initial plan, leaving room for flexibility allowed them to follow their interests and build ownership in what they created.  It never felt like I was forcing them, but I also felt like they did a ton of learning.

A few other themes we explored -
  • Dinosaurs - I bought these "eggs" and let them hatch their dinosaurs, and we watched a lot of Dino Dana LOL

I hope this helps if you're feeling super antsy about the idea of "homeschool" with subjects, structure, schedules, etc.  You can work reading and writing into anything, and you could absolutely get some math in there too, although we didn't focus on it last summer.  Anything with data is a great opportunity for math - charts, tables, graphs, counting, etc!

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