Project Based Learning: Beginning a Year of Exploration

Now that Squirm has turned 2, we’re starting to explore the world of project-based homeschooling (PBH). That’s a name which feels really heavy and loaded, especially when it’s used in regards to a 2 years old, but basically it’s about committing time and resources to explore a child’s interest and helping them find ways to investigate, create and share what they know.

At 2, Squirm isn’t ready to develop a full on project like some older children do. At the moment we’re at a pure exploration stage – we’re exploring his interests (things which move), we’re exploring different ways of playing and we’re exploring different mediums of creating.

This has been surprisingly easy to organise – I bought a fabric cube for keeping things together, plus a range of art supplies (as well as ones we already had) and different kinds of paper. The most important thing we got was a journal – just an art journal – which Squirm has fallen in love with.

It was the journal which taught me my first lesson about PBH.

As a teacher, one of the hardest challenges for me was letting go of control. There are definitely times when control is essential in a classroom. But there are also times when it’s ok to let the children take control – and when I did, there were often some amazing results. But it’s easy to fall back into the old habits, and when I presented the journal to Squirm, I had definite ideas about how it was going to ‘work’.

Squirm had his own ideas.

I glued in a photo of him building a tower out of blocks. He loved seeing that in the book and talked about it and drew next to it. But then he saw some pictures of vehicles which I’d printed and cut out for him to play with. And he wanted them in his journal too. And not just on the next page, but the next 6 pages. And he’d like to use the glue stick himself.

And after a bit of panicking (he’s not following ‘the plan’!), I remembered that it was his journal, not mine. That something which he had control over would mean more to him than something which I kept under strict control. So I let go.

So far, Squirm has drawn, added stickers, glued in pictures, asked me to glue in pictures, drawn on the pictures, added colour to old drawings, skipped pages and generally had a brilliant time. I add dates and notes where I can, and participate if he asks me too (mostly with sticking), but it’s his creation. And you can see him trying out different things when he draws – he moved from scribbles, to spirals, to trying to make shapes in a couple of days. He went back and looked at old pages and added to them. He spent time just looking through the journal.

It’s going to be a challenge to curb my teacher-control impulses – but I can definitely see the benefits of doing so. And I think this is going to be a fun year.

PBH 2014_08_121 PBH 2014_08_122 PBH 2014_08_123 PBH 2014_08_124

Adventures in Play Dough: The First Try

Adventures in Play Dough: Adventures of a Subversive Reader

One of my fond memories from my own childhood is my mother making play dough for us. She must have cooked it, since I remember it it being warm when we played with it. It always had a nice, heavy feel in our hands, and the possibilities of a fresh ball of play dough seemed endless.

Squirm and I have just had our very first experience making and playing with play dough. After our experience with paint and other art, I knew we needed to go slow when I introduced it. I also knew that we needed to make sure it was non toxic – more than likely it would go in the mouth.

As it turned out, Squirm didn’t try to taste it at all, which really surprised me. He didn’t really want to interact with it, except when I put little shapes of play dough on the brick he was exploring. There he moved it, pressing his fingers into it and explored it a little more. We’ll play with it over the next couple of days to get him more used to it – but for a dollar or so of materials, I’m not real worried if he doesn’t get that into it.

Making the Play Dough

I started off using this recipe. (I didn’t want the bother of cooking play dough this time, so non cook was the best option) Since I wasn’t sure how it would turn out or how Squirm would react to it, I halved most the recipe, but added a little more than half the oil. I also used hot water. When I was adding the water, I added a little bit at a time to try and get the best mix. Having some extra flour around would be good in case you use too much water, though.

The best tip I have is to put the spoon down once you start adding water and knead it together by hand. You can get a much better feel for the play dough that way and you’re more likely to get what you want.

I also held off on adding the food colour. When I had the play dough to the consistency I wanted, I divided it into four small balls. I then put a couple of drops of yellow colouring in the middle of one, and that was what we played with today. When we came back inside I coloured the others for later play.

Adventures in Play Dough: Adventures of a Subversive Reader Adventures in Play Dough: Adventures of a Subversive Reader

When we came back in I did notice the dough left out on the bench was a little dry. It moistened up as soon as I started playing with it, and it might keep better now that I have it in a container. I’ll keep an eye on it over the next couple of days and report back.

This really is a nice way to start playing with play dough. I’ll be very interested to see if Squirm becomes more interactive with it over the week, as well as if he’ll keep up his record of putting everything in his mouth . . . I bet the salt of the play dough will be a bit of a shock!