This post is PART 2 of my “how-to” series on Long Term Projects. In this post, I will be sharing all about continuing long term project work. That is, branching off the original starting topic of a project to expand and apply knowledge in other areas. This piece of project work is critical in order to scaffold and extend learning for your child in a way that is applicable, meaningful, and well rounded. PART 1 covers everything on how to prepare for and start a project with children, and should be read first! For Part 1, read our Spring Planting Project Post.
Project Work as a Vehicle for Traditional Learning
What I have found most often confuses teachers in doing long term project work is that the project can seem to become redundant for the teacher or the child loses interest or focus. The teacher asks themselves, “what now?” Alternatively, the other issue that often arises is that the project fun seems to be “getting in the way” of the academic learning that needs to take place simultaneously.
The big picture that is missing in each of these scenarios is that the project topic should not become a rigid wall that the child and teacher or parent must operate within. The project topic should be used as an illustration, through which to illustrate many academic learning concepts. For example, our Spring Planting Preschool Project has NOT, under ANY circumstance, been solely about planting spring vegetables in our backyard garden. We have utilized this area of interest as a starting point to reach so many learning areas in a natural way!
We have counted seeds, arranged seeds and plants in even rows, have identified shape and size in both our garden layout and our plants, and have used scissors and glue to cut and paste a variety of shapes in a pretend garden creation.
Ember also helped her dad measure, cut, and plan for shade and fencing in the garden.
In the beginning planning of our garden project we worked a lot on list making and shopping. Counting items off a list has become a favorite activity of Ember’s before and during our shopping trips. She has also developed an interest in coins and dollars, and I expect these interests will gradually move toward math lessons in buying, selling, and counting money as she gains more knowledge.
The biggest opportunity for language development in young children is simply meaningful conversation. Ember has always been talked to and engaged in adult conversations since she was born, becoming really articulate and perceptive as a result. In our garden project, we have talked through each step of our learning together. She has been given the opportunity to express her ideas during our work, and I have shared with her logical and detailed answers to her questions that come up. She has had regular exposure to new vocabulary words as we learn, and identifies letters (visually) and sounds (audibly) when using new learning materials provided for different activities during projects. For example, we practiced the letter sound “S” a lot when learning about what soil was, and its differences from plain dirt. “S” has been difficult for her to pronounce, but soil learning was a good starting motivation for practice here!
Practical Life & Care for Nature
Ember has learned how to do a number of things around the home as a result of her personal investment in this project. She has grown confidence in digging, weeding, and planting in the garden.
Her favorites though, by far, are raking and watering….
Ember waters the garden every evening with incredible diligence. She also enjoys washing and preparing vegetables, and is very proud to show off her clipping and flower arranging skills!
In doing a number of tasks, she asks why we do things the way we do them, and she has observed how to cultivate patience and care for things more vulnerable than she is. She enjoys nurturing and maintaining things, including her tadpole fairy garden!
This care has really extended itself to caring for her mama during her late pregnancy, which has been such a blessing to watch.
The garden project has given us ample opportunity to dive into science as well. Like, SO MUCH! We have studied the parts of plants and their corresponding lifecycles! We learned the purpose of seeds, stems, peels, roots, and fruit flesh! (For an amazing, homemade FELT apple lifecycle lesson, check out our Springtime Preschool Activities post!) Plant lifecycle studies also brought us to exploration of animal lifecycles such as insects and frogs.
Exposure to insect lifecycles, largely through literature (we take a library trip every few weeks to foster our project learning), has fueled conversations about where insects live, what they do, and which insects are good or bad for our garden. Ember has become fascinated with the body parts of insects, frog embryos, as well as the purpose of pollen and nectar!
We even allocated a tadpole which we are caring for daily and patiently awaiting his transformation to frog!
If I weren’t very pregnant, we would have gone out to explore a natural tadpole habitat, which would have been a whole separate branch off of our project. Em wants a pond in our garden, but that’s another story. But, I am very, very pregnant, which is why we “allocated” our tadpole on amazon this time around!
Obviously, the garden project has given us a million vehicles for exploring color, scent, taste, texture, density, even sound! We love to cook together, and have most enjoyed harvesting lettuce and prepping salads in the kitchen. We have noted that our garden lettuce is a deeper green and has more flavor than lettuce purchased at the store.
We have talked about warm and cool colors of plants when we planned for sun vs. shade gardening, and Ember has expressed much delight in blues and purples. She is very interested in the purple eggplant, too, and is curious why she can have eggplant even though she is allergic to eggs!
Our study of the soil has also been a catalyst for broad learning as well. What started as a love of muddy puddles has turned into learning about different layers of earth, and properties of soil such as sand, clay, and rocks. We have appreciated the textures of each, and have explored how each thing reacts with and absorbs water. She has also taken a keen interest in digging earthworms, although she does not like to touch them and has recently denounced anything “squishy” in texture.
As you can see, learning areas are vast for any long term project work, and can be seemingly endless if allowed to flow. After all, everything under the sun is connected! Below is a shot of the same Project Work Brainstorm from my Part 1 post, but orange highlight has been added in to show which learning areas we have touched on since Part 1 of our project was published on the blog.
Hopefully, you get the idea through my examples that long term project work doesn’t need to be, and SHOULDN’T BE, little neatly packaged, weekly themes. Project learning should flow on a continuum, just as the real world does. It is ok for young minds to wander, and for one concept to spark interest in another. Questions and “offshoots” shouldn’t be perceived as a child losing focus, but instead making connections and taking ownership of their knowledge! This should be encouraged!
As projects move and evolve over time, you may leave the original topic altogether, or have multiple projects happening simultaneously. There’s also a TON of trial and error! Your projects won’t always work as envisioned or planned, and that’s a learning experience too. We had a number of seedlings die when we initiated the move from indoor to outdoor, and it gave us an opportunity to talk about plant shock and sun exposure! What is important is to be present and available to experiment, discover, and seek answers with your child, so that they have guidance and partnership throughout their discoveries.
I am not encouraging flightiness, lack of commitment, or leaving projects unfinished without coming to answers and solutions. I am simply saying that the learning scope and timeline should be flexible and adaptive. There is always time to return to a topic when it becomes relevant again. Making those long term connections is what contributes to a working understanding for young minds.
Please note: My examples here are geared toward the preschool age (my daughter just turned 3). However, these same concepts for a project can be simplified or expanded to meet the individual age and developmental need of any child.
For mixed age learning, such as siblings at home, an older sibling can take more complicated aspects of a project, while the younger sibling(s) can work on more simple aspects of the same project, and then join forces to document and reflect on work but that’s another topic completely.
I truly hope that you, homeschool mom, homeschool dad, teacher, relative, or learning enthusiast, have found this information helpful to you! I have so much more theory on project work that I’d love to share. Drop a comment below if interested and I’d be happy to share my resources!
Stay tuned for PART 3 of my long term project work series, which will cover project work documentation and reflection, coming Summer 2019 (post baby).