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.

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Our Trip To Ipswich: Part One – Light Play!

Last Thursday, Squirm and I went on a BIG adventure to the Ipswich Art Gallery. To put into perspective how BIG this was – we’re talking about a nearly 2 hour journey on a train with a nearly one year old . . .

Big Light Play Adventure: Adventures of a Subversive Reader

There was a very good reason for taking such a big trip, though. The Ipswich Art Gallery had two amazing displays on – Light Play, which offered opportunities for children to explore and play with light, colours and reflection and The Wonder of Learning which was a brilliant demonstration of the learning going on in the early childhood centres in Reggio Emilio. I’m going to talk more about the latter exhibition in another post and concentrate on Light Play here.

After getting terribly lost on the very short and quite simple walk from the train station to the art gallery, we made our way to the special baby and toddler session of Light Play. This was especially put on for children between the ages of 6 months and 3 years, with lots of understanding about strollers and children putting things in mouths. Imagine a room full of different, cool light materials and a bunch of really small children – tonnes and tonnes of fun.

There were about 6 different areas of the exhibition, and Squirm and I spent a bit of time at each one.

1. Over Head Projectors

There were a row of overhead projectors lined up facing the wall, each one with a bucket of ‘stuff’ sitting behind it. The ‘stuff’ included coloured see through items but also regular household items (computer bits, metal washing scrubbers, toys) and were roughly separated by colours. The children then could put them on and off the overhead projectors, and explore moving them and the pictures they created on the wall. A lot of the older children were fascinated by the pictures on the wall – the way they were changeable, but they could get up there and touch the wall and play with the shadows. For Squirm, it was more about the light and the items (and which ones he could fit in his mouth)

Big Light Play Adventure: Adventures of a Subversive Reader

2. Small circular light tables

There were four different light tables set up. Unlike the overhead projectors there was a smaller range of items, but in more colours. So one table had coloured plastic transparent glasses and coloured plastic transparent measuring spoons, and these could be manipulated and stacked to play with colour. This wasn’t terribly interesting to Squirm, or the other smaller children, though a lot of adults seemed to really enjoyed it 🙂

Big Light Play Adventure: Adventures of a Subversive Reader

3. Mirror Triangles

These were seriously cool – big triangle shapes ‘tunnels’ which had mirrors on all three of the inside walls. All of the children seemed to enjoy crawling and walking inside them and exploring their own reflections.

Big Light Play Adventure: Adventures of a Subversive Reader

4. Light Sculptures

This was my favourite thing, but probably more aimed at an older audience. On a line of wire, different items and combinations of items were hung and torches (flashlights) were provided to explore the sculptures. By aiming the torches in different ways, holding them closer and further away, moving the sculptures, the shadows on the wall were almost dancing in different ways. It was lovely and completely repeatable in a home environment.

5. The Reflection Corner

This was a perfect area for the smallest visitors and also served as a nice chill out kind of area. Using mirrors almost as a divider from the rest of the space, it was filled with reflective cardboard, reflective material, mirrors, CDs, torches and glow sticks. Squirm really loved the glow stick and spent some good time interacting with the mirrors.

Big Light Play Adventure: Adventures of a Subversive Reader Big Light Play Adventure: Adventures of a Subversive Reader

6. Webcam and Light Box

This was a popular one with all of the children. A big, low light table was set up, with all sorts of amazing mirrors and see through things in different colours. Also on the table was a small webcam which was projecting onto the blank wall nearby. There were so many different ways that the children could interact with the table – stacking, moving, manipulating, reflecting, patterning – then playing with the webcam to discover what designs they could make. The best ones involved the mirrors, especially when a young boy decided to see if he could move the camera from the table and use mirrors and a glow stick to create an image for the projection.

Big Light Play Adventure: Adventures of a Subversive Reader Big Light Play Adventure: Adventures of a Subversive Reader

The exhibit was amazing and I think it’s around until 25th August. If you’re in the area, it’s totally worth making the trip to go and see it.