Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Project-Based Homeschooling: Finishing

Occasionally I hear people asking how they will know when a project ends.  They notice their kids circling back to the same topics/ideas/work, and they want to know when they can wrap the whole thing up and move on to something else.  It's a normal response, given that's how most of us were taught and trained to teach.  But real learning doesn't open and close like planned, themed units.  To make the most of project-based learning, we have to adjust our expectations.

Personally, I like it better when projects don't end for a long time or when they continuously morph into new manifestations and approaches to the same interest.  That's how I know we've hit a deep, rich vein.

Don't get me wrong, I see the value in sticking with something to its hard-fought conclusion.  That's an important skill or character trait. I dig tenacity.  But not every project has a clear beginning and ending.

If were to write a novel, of course that story would need a defined beginning and ending.  But the process by which I write it might not be so clearly boxed in.  I might write a draft, take a break, work on something else for a while, then circle back to rewrite that story with some fresh perspective.  I might even go through that process a couple of times.  Maybe for years.  At some point, I would decide the story was done, and I would consider myself finished with that particular project.  Even projects with a nice, clear beginning and end don't always fit within an expected timetable.  They're twisty suckers.

Consider also that many projects have much fuzzier boundaries.  A broad project topic might not have a clearly defined ending.  If your child shows an interest in rocks & minerals, like mine, they might grow crystals.  When they're done growing, that activity is done, but is the child done learning about rocks?  Probably not.  You might buy a field guide and start a rock collection.  They'll probably take the field guide with them on the next hike or camping trip.  And years later they might still be adding to that collection, and they might even circle back to learn about some new category of rocks.  Or they might visit a new museum.  Then, that little rock book they wrote as a kid?  One day they might rewrite it and expand it into a full-blown field guide of their own.  You can't dictate an ending for an interest.  And deep interests lead to more and more projects that swirl around.

cleaning rock specimens

My 9yo has been pretty enamored with foxes for a couple of years now.  She reads about them, collects stuffed and plastic ones, and writes stories about them.  Currently, she's working on a fox encyclopedia.  She gathered all the books she's read, put notes on index cards, gathered photos and drew pictures, and now she's typing it all.  Over the next few weeks we'll work on formatting and I'll teach her how to use different software to create a finished product she's happy with.  We'll print it and bind it and put it on our bookshelf for everyone to enjoy.

While the fox encyclopedia project might be finished (one day*), her interest in foxes will not disappear.  Nor will her desire to gather rocks, write stories, or learn how to do new things in Minecraft.  These are ongoing interests.  They might never have an official ending, and I'm perfectly fine with that.

Happy 4th of July!
- from Francine the fox

Update:  I wrote this a couple of weeks ago and it sat (accidentally) in a draft folder.  Whoops.  The encyclopedia is finished!  More on that soon.  :)


  1. Our take:
    For animations, the end of a project is the upload. But even then there may be a second version later. It makes for a good end point though, so that we can walk away from it feeling like the project has not-failed.
    Gamedev projects are much more ongoing. Small games can be uploaded but the 'real thing' is a seriously long term project/s.

    1. Each project is different, and it's so important to recognize that.

  2. it’s hard (impossible?) to say when a project has ended — and in my experience, kids (especially younger kids) can resist it mightily. my younger son used to list his projects for the year and he would start with whatever newer thing he was doing (which still might be months old) and then tack on the projects from the previous years — because he never considered them *done* or *over*.

    i think that complete ownership of his interests — folding them into his *identity*, not just his schedule — is impossible to overvalue.

    “You can't dictate an ending for an interest.” — exactly!!! :)

    1. --- "i think that complete ownership of his interests — folding them into his *identity*, not just his schedule — is impossible to overvalue."

      Yes! Love that.

  3. My son loves cooking and baking. This morning he told me he wants to harvest his own wild yeast.

    I told him to knock himself out, and gave him all my bread books (including the ones I find overwhelming). I anticipate this going on for ever.

    1. HA! You guys have fun with that wild yeast project. hehe

      Ooh . . . definitely feed that project. He'll be making dinner for you in no time!


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