A Master Class in Project Based Learning

Followers of this blog will know that when we started home educating, our desire was to move towards a more autonomous learning experience for our boys. My eldest son in particular has always been a project-based learner, and we were keen to facilitate this type of self-directed learning, journeying alongside our children and helping to facilitate projects which they initiated, learning opportunities which arose from their own discoveries and from just living life together. Of course, this is a journey, hence my blog strapline - A Journey Into Autonomous Learning. There are times when I panic, and long to reach for a schedule which will somehow transform our seemingly chaotic learning into something more tidy and structured, over which I feel more control. But, again and again, I realise that the most successful times of learning, those when the boys are the most motivated and engaged are those when they are enabled to pursue their own interests and project work. Take this morning, for example ....

I suggested a day out somewhere, and I had a list of suitably interesting places ... Or perhaps some focused learning at home, by which I meant some bookwork directed by me, perhaps a chapter of the history or science books we are slowly working our way through? Neither of these suggestions was met with particular enthusiasm. My eldest son had his own agenda for the day, totally focused on his own self-initiated projects - in particular his vlog, which is his current obsession. My second son, who would happily go along with whatever I suggested, said, "Oh Mum, I want to work on the story I am illustrating. I need to get the next page done." And my third son, with an equally big sigh, said, "Mum, I'm halfway through my Lego model and I really want to work on that this morning." What to do? Well, all these projects are valuable and valued by the boys, so I decided just to let them get on with their own work. There followed a calm morning of relative quiet, everyone busily engaged in what they were doing. Later, my second and youngest sons decided the tadpoles we have acquired needed cleaning out, and spent a happy hour in the garden managing that operation. Then my second son wanted to bake a Victoria sponge cake, so he found the recipe and got on with that. He is the boy I feel is the least naturally inclined to initiating his own projects, so it is interesting to me to see the way he is developing the ability to steer his own learning.

When my eldest son was very small, he went to a nursery which followed the Reggio Emilia approach to learning. This program is "based on the principles of respect, responsibility, and community through exploration and discovery in a supportive and enriching environment based on the interests of the children through a self-guided curriculum." (Wikipedia) His experience there sparked my ongoing interest in this methodology. When he was fascinated by webbing, and would use wool and tape fastened to various points, pieces of furniture or fixtures around a room to make a web, the nursery facilitated rather than suppressing that interest, in fact valuing this learning experience as an early childhood schema to do with making connections. As his playmates scooted around and beneath his 'structures', the staff observed him, and every other child, and built the activities and materials on offer around the children's interests. It was an inspiring place, where every child seemed truly known and valued, and my boy was very happy there.

The Reggio Emilia philosophy underpins project-based learning, and my interest in this approach to children's learning and development, prompted me to sign up for Lori Pickert's PBH (Project Based Homeschooling) Master Class, which runs regularly at a cost. You can find more about it on her blog HERE. Although I have tried to implement this approach in our home for many years, I wanted some help to do it better, to feel I am truly understanding how I can be a better facilitator for my children's learning. I have also been thinking that, beyond home educating my own children, maybe this is something I can develop and offer to other children for whom the traditional school model is simply not working. I am now encouraging my husband to work through the course with me, as I think we both need to understand it to be able to create a family culture which values this kind of learning. I hope to share some insights from this learning journey with you in future posts.