We started project-based unschooling with Gus was 3. That sounds so fancy, and it really wasn’t.
Let’s put it this way instead: When Gus was 3, he developed a passion for the Coast Guard, and I did my best to find books and activities that would answer the questions he was constantly throwing at me about rescue swimmers, winch lines, and shipping channels on the Great Lakes.
It’s called parenting, am I right?
There’s a plethora of information online about project-based homeschooling. Lori Pickert, who wrote the book and coined the term, runs a fantastic website and forum dedicated to educating and supporting PBH families. I highly recommend visiting her site and reading everything she’s ever written. Seriously, everything. (If that sounds overwhelming, start here).
My approach to project-based homeschooling is based on Pickert’s ideas. To use Gus’s Coast Guard project as an example, I:
A. Observed Gus at play, documenting his interests and activities. (I wrote in our learning record something like: Arranged wooden blocks on a tray to make ‘map for a deep water rescue.’ or Climbed on the couch and jumped off pretending he was ‘a Coast Guard rescue swimmer.’)
B. Organized Gus’s thoughts and displayed them in a prominent place. (We have an ongoing list of questions written on a large chalkboard in his bedroom. There is a bulletin board in the playroom where I hang Gus’s photos, drawings, and story dictations.)
C. Assisted Gus in his investigations and inquiries. This often takes the form of “strewing” certain items where Gus can find them (like library books on his current interests). It also could be a provocation, such as setting out open-ended materials based on an expressed interest or question (like real maps and a variety of drafting tools, for example). As Gus gets older, he’ll take on the investigative work himself (choosing his own projects, locating his own books, and so on).
D. Repeat A-C. Natural learning is non-linear. It’s messy. One question leads to another which leads to another.
The Coast Guard project started with one question, and it lasted for 10 months straight. Gus asked, “Are there tow-truck boats for stuck boats like there are tow trucks for stuck cars?”
“Yep,” I said. “I think the Coast Guard would help a stuck boat. Let’s see if we can find a youtube video…”
We read countless books about the Coast Guard. Gus learned everything about boats and helicopters; learned how to read maps; drew his own maps; learned how to tie sailor’s knots, including a Boline; learned left and right by first understanding port side and starboard side; practiced basic first aid; learned water safety; learned about the shipping industry of the Great Lakes; built and floated paper boats; built giant cardboard boats; met and interviewed a retired Coast Guard coxswain; toured a Coast Guard base and met a real rescue swimmer; watched documentaries about Coast Guard rescues; understood the mechanics behind a winch line; and so much more.
Want to learn more?