project-based homeschooling

project-based homeschooling: the choice



The seasons have changed. Not due to a tilting of our continent away from the Sun, but due to more travels around it. It seems like just three weeks ago that I was pondering how to put together the best treasure baskets for baby Finny. Now, closing in on four-and-a-half rotations around the Sun, he's way beyond the treasure basket. Heck, the whole world is his treasure basket. 

Lately, I've found myself wondering how best to support this curious fellow as he opens his mind to the world-at-large in a more conscious, thoughtful way. Right now, we've decided that it's best for him not to follow a specific homeschooling curriculum, or to be in a public, Waldorf or Montessori school. (Best for us, too, because it really has to be a "what is best for the family" kind of decision.)

Public schooling can be a wonderful option for some families. So can private school. We do not take for granted how fortunate we are to have the choice between homeschooling and traditional schooling, as we can live off of one income. For the past few years, he has been attending a beautiful Waldorf-based home nursery a few mornings a week. I love it. They play outside. A lot. They care for animals. They bake. They celebrate many seasonal festivals. But the truth is that our days go much more smoothly, and the boys settle into their own projects and interests more easily, if we don't have to be out the door first thing in the morning. So, although we already informally homeschool the boys, we have made the decision to begin in earnest this winter, after baby girl is born.



We have a long history, as a couple, with homeschooling. Patrick was homeschooled for a while. I grew up playing with my homeschooled neighbors. In some ways, it is comfortable territory. In some ways, as I began to look at the possibility of starting imminently down the homeschooling path, it seemed daunting and completely overwhelming.

We have a strong, all-inclusive (secular and religious) homeschooling community in the Durham/Chapel Hill area. I'm already plugged in, as one of my dearest friends is a seasoned homeschooling mom. My friend is extroverted and excels at orchestrating amazing lessons for her own kids as well as others (Engineering classes? Current events gatherings? Geography co-op? She's quite amazing.) Me? I'm a homebody and an introvert, and my strength isn't putting together lesson plans. Plus, I'm pretty laid-back when it comes to learning. I believe that it will happen naturally. However, I'm uncomfortable with zero structure, so full-bore unschooling isn't for us, either. I began to wonder where we fit on the homeschooling spectrum. Is there a place for me? For a family like ours?

I used to think that I needed to become comfortable with following a familiar learning philosophy (Montessori or Waldorf). To ease my load of lesson planning from scratch, I sought out curricula of different kinds, thinking that I needed to have something set for math, reading, history, science, etc. The search for curricula to guide us down the homeschooling path started to become a case of too-much-information (and, when faced with paying for said curricula year after year, it started to look less economical.)

Then Finn developed a very deep and wide passion for geology, evolution and dinosaur fossils. And, eureka! I slapped my forehead, dusted off my Montessori training and followed the needs and interests of my own child, learning through a good deal of trial and error how to best mentor him as I guide him on his path of becoming a life-long learner.  As an enthusiastic autodidact who happens to be married to another one (who is currently spending his evening leisure time studying number theory and cryptography) this path makes so much sense for our family. We love our projects. We consider learning to be fun. Yes, even math. Especially math.

So it's not surprising that we've been drawn to project-based homeschooling. It fits us well. Patrick and I are currently enrolled in a PBH Master Class with Lori Pickert of Camp Creek Blog. I could go into a whole bunch of educational and spiritual philosophy as to why I love this learning path, for children and adults alike. But that's another post. For now, I feel excited to begin. I'm very much a novice who will be learning as much as my own kids, no doubt. 

What will our days look like? They will likely start out with some kind of circle - some singing or movement thanks to Lavender's Blue, followed by an entire morning of project time. We'll see how it all evolves. 


A few inspirational project-based homeschooling resources:

The Simple Mom Podcast "Reasons to Homeschool" in which Tsh and Jamie share their different approaches to homeschooling. Tsh's family is into classical education a la "The Well-Trained Mind," while Jamie's family espouses a more project-based approach. 

David Albert - It's always good to search out well-seasoned homeschooling mentors, not just others with children the age of your own or perhaps a few years ahead of yours. 

The book "Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners". Obviously.

Project-Based Homeschooling, the blog. A wealth of information, motivation, and practical advice. 

imagine childhood book review + giveaway


That book up there? It's amazing. Of course, I knew it would be - I've been a loyal visitor the Imagine Childhood blog and a supporter of their store for many years now.

What author Sarah Olmsted has crafted is a deep, relaxing breath in the form of a book . It's an invitation to experience the wonder of nature in a creative way. An invitation to notice. An invitation to experience a forest, a creek, a pond - through the eyes of a child and alongside your child.


The activities in Imagine Childhood, I would say, are geared toward families with young children or older children who are able to read and craft on their own. None require a developed skill set - the sewing projects are very simple, the woodworking projects extremely basic - so anyone can jump right in. Everything can be made with little and big hands working side by side.



The boys eagerly chose to work on the mud house project, and it was a delight to work alongside them. I cut the wood forms and they did most everything else - from oiling down the sides of the wood (even the oustide of the form - unneccesary for the house, but somehow perfect work for Finn, as you can see above.) Finn made design decisions (such as choosing to hammer a door frame together rather than using a bigger block. I just followed their lead. Come to think of it, Imagine Childhood and my other favorite, Project-Based Homeschooling, are perfect companion books.


Lachlan really got into the mud part after his nap. (Do you see him nearly falling over in one of the above pictures, unable to give in to sleep with the excitement of the mud house construction?) Hold on - I have to go give him a smooch this minute - ok, I'm back!


And here is our mud house thus far, still drying. Come to think of it, it had a very generous watering in the last few days, first by eager boys who love to go around watering this and that, then by nature herself, in the form of a rainy day. I'm not sure if it will ever dry properly without splitting, but the experience itself was quite worthwhile regardless. There is a town of mud houses being planned, as well as many other projects from Imagine Childhood.

Building this with the boys made me remember one of my first blog posts, back when I was living in rural Mexico and building a cob wall to protect our garden. It wasn't surprising that building with mud attracted the neighborhood children; there's something so simple, functional, and rewarding about it.


Cob wall

Roost Books has generously offered to give away two copies of Imagine Childhood to my readers, and Sarah has chipped in a $25 gift certificate to the Imagine Childhood Shop. Three opportunities to win! Leave a comment to enter. I'll pick a winner on Saturday, December 1st.

Good luck!

Comments are now closed - congratulations to Gwenn, Joy and Milena!