Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Project-Based Homeschooling Q&A: Supplies & Environment

In the first post of this little impromptu non-series, I talked about how we got started with project-based homeschooling.  If you're new to project-based learning, I included some getting started links in that post as well.  Basically, I talked a lot about letting go, meandering, and flailing around until things look and feel right.  There isn't one right path.  There's your path.  There's your kids' paths.  There's my path.  They all look different.  That's why I'm writing these posts.  Not to show you the right way, but to show you our way and hopefully inspire you to find your own.

Today, I'm talking about setting up a project-based learning environment.  This is where it gets messy.  Yes, figuratively and literally.  My house is a mess.  I know we all say that, but seriously . . . I've seen some of your spaces.  Dude.  Your spaces are gorgeous.

I try not to let my mess or lack of space or natural lighting bother me too much.  Ok, it still bothers me, but I don't let it stop me.  That's the key.  Look at your mess.  Acknowledge your mess.  (It has feelings, too, you know.)  Tell your mess, "I hear you; I see you,"  and MOVE ON.  Clear a tiny space for five minutes today.  Throw five things in a giveaway bag tomorrow.  Baby step your way to a better environment, but don't wait for the perfect creative space to get started!

Clear off your kitchen table and put a mason jar of wildflowers on it, or make a pretty spring garland with paint chips to hang about your work space.  It might sound silly to pretty up a tiny space when the rest of the house feels like it's closing in on you, but it isn't silly at all.  Last year, I put some flowering herb cuttings in a jar on my table, and I swear it changed my whole outlook that summer.  I smiled every time I saw it.  Pretty soon, I was looking around to see what other spaces I could make pretty.  Then all the pretty things around me started magically inspiring me to create my own pretty things.  That's why focusing a little attention on your environment is worth the small investment of time.  It breeds creativity and inspiration.

Do something tiny today and build momentum.

Following are Deb's questions about setting up project spaces, supplies, and environment.
As always, we can continue the discussion in the comments, so feel free to ask your own questions.

1.  What kind of supplies do you have around?
See, THIS is where the mess is hard to tame.  We have lots of stuff, and our stuff looks a lot like trash.  I have bins and boxes filled with duct tape, toilet paper rolls, paper bags, cut up cardboard, and anything else you can think of.  Not to mention the standards: paper, craft scissors, paper punches, glue, markers, colored pencils, cotton balls, stamps, etc.  It doesn't make for a pin-worthy space. 
We're slowly building our supply of quality art supplies.  The good stuff.  I inherited my dad's collection of acrylic paints (seriously, you couldn't want for a particular color, unless it dried up) and some brushes, and lots of small canvases from my grandmother.  Last year we spent a lot of time experimenting with watercolors, so I have the little cases and tubes of that.  We have chalk and oil pastels, but the kids aren't really motivated to use those much yet.  I like to slowly add in a new medium, like once a month at the most, so they have time to really dig in and explore what is possible with it.  This year, we added nice drawing pencils, watercolor pencils, and modeling clay.

2.  Is your project area in a part of the house where they spend a lot of time anyway, so they naturally gravitate to it?
Yes.  My oldest has a desk that is all her own in their playroom, but she never uses it for projects.  She prefers to work at the dining room table, so I keep the regularly used art supplies (paper, pencils, sharpies, letter stamps, clay, & digital cameras) on a bookshelf right beside the table. We display project work on the piano (also near the dining table) or on a string hung on the wall in the same room. 
I keep most of the craft/junky/recycled stuff in the office.  A lot of it is out of reach still, from the days of having a little one running around, but I'm slowly rearranging things so they can access all of their materials without asking.    
It would be nice to have a dedicated project space where we could leave out WIPs, but I don't have that.  Yet.  I'm on the hunt for a table that will fit in my office and ideas to rearrange our stuff, and then we could have all of our supplies and our work space in the same room.  But.  I have a feeling everyone will gravitate back to the kitchen table anyway.  It just feels like where we're supposed to be, you know?

Next time I'll talk about documenting and keeping things moving along.  Again, if you have any questions about how we do things here, please ask.  I'll try to answer in the comments or add your question to a future post.

Part 1 - Project-Based Homeschooling Q&A: Getting Started
Part 2 - Project-Based Homeschooling Q&A: Supplies & Environment


  1. I feel like our whole house is their project space. We do have an art area, but it's not the sole project area. Lots gets done in the living room. I don't have a great method for displaying works in progress. But that's reality. I have my knitting supplies in one room, paint in another, and I use my sewing machine upstairs or downstairs, whatever makes sense. Nobody has the perfect space. You do the best you can with what you have and throw the excuses out the window. :-)

    1. I think a lot of us work that way. Although I would like to have an art table so we didn't have to eat on the couch when we need to leave things out on the table for a couple of days. Eh. We just call it picnic time.

      ---"You do the best you can with what you have and throw the excuses out the window."

      That. Exactly. :)

  2. This is great Michelle.
    I know what you mean about the supplies looking like trash! Lego took over our recycled supplies chest and now I am on the hunt again for something to contain the "mess" called supplies!
    Always fun to see how others organize their home/classroom/studio/dinning room/laboratory..... :-)

    1. Thanks, Dawn. I need a new system for the Legos and toy-type things, too. I'm going to spend some time this summer reorganizing. I think I say that every year. :)

  3. love love this

    “That's why focusing a little attention on your environment is worth the small investment of time. It breeds creativity and inspiration.” — yes!!!

  4. I got some new stools for the kids' art area yesterday, and it's amazing how excited they are to make it their own all of a sudden. I printed out some 40% off coupons to Hobby Lobby, and this afternoon, we are going to make the craft store circuit and stock up. I even see that Prismacolor pencils are on sale at Michael's, so who knows what will happen?

    I am loving this series, Michelle. It's very encouraging and it's giving me the little prompts I need to continue making it happen.

    1. Isn't it neat how one little thing can ignite them like that?

      I'm glad you like it, Deb. Hope you enjoyed the shopping!


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