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Project-Based Homeschooling Mentoring Self-Directed Learners by Lori McWilliam Pickert was the book of the month for the March 2016 Montessori on a Budget (MOAB) book club.  This is my review of the book. *Note: I bought my own copy.

Project-Based HomeschoolingThe basic premise of the book about using project based learning at home is that an investigative attitude is essential for work and lessons. This is not a “recipe book” but a collection of strategies for children to manage their own learning with the adult as a guide on the side.  In my gifted education master’s degree classes we learned to be guides on the side, not sages on the stage for child-centered learning.  Lecture learning is adult centered and boring for children who are passive learners in that model. However, in homeschools project based learning can be a lifestyle and therefore effect lasting change that is difficult to maintain in schools.

Project-Based Homeschooling

The best feature of project based homeschooling is that the materials can be left out (organized, but readily available) and near the main family living areas.  At school, we had to put everything away each day and then pull it all out again which made for less than spontaneous learning opportunities.  The children would ask, “Can’t you leave this here?” and as much as I wanted to, it was not possible.  At home the answer is yes! The author explains how to keep the learning accessible yet not overtake study areas, and when and how to finally wrap up the long projects.

Does project based homeschooling mean children can do anything they want? No, there is space for lessons and guidance.  It is a question asking model, with children asking questions such as, “How can I learn about this topic?” Parents provide answers and work in lessons as the children expresses interest.  It does not mean just anything goes, and not all the learning is immediately turned over to the children. It works in multi-age settings, too. Incidentally, the question asking model with multi-age learners is also a component of Destination Imagination problem solving.

The author discusses how in some cases schools can effect dramatic changes that help education, but these are mostly based on one person’s personality. If the leader leaves the institution, the changes end. They are dependent on one person’s leadership. She reviews usual professional development and how the children’s learning improvements are discussed, but teachers are not given opportunities to learn using the methods themselves. The new ideas are often one-size-fits-all curriculum.  The teachers are taught by a sage on the stage. This approach cannot effect the quick and effective changes possible in a homeschool setting.

The author states many children do not realize education is for them! They feel it is “being done” to them and they have to put up with classes. Project based learning at home is dependent on the interest and participation of the children, so they are engaged and care about lessons. The learning can be sustained. The power struggles over lessons are fewer as the child is trying to solve a problem or question and wants to know the answers.

All parents are really responsible for a child’s learning, whether or not they attend school. 

I feel this is really true and we certainly learned things outside of schools hours.  This doesn’t only mean scheduled activities and lessons, but helping a child learn about his or her educational interests.

The skills learned in projects are transferrable to future learning, and helps prepare children to become lifelong learners. They never have to stop learning this way. It prepares children to live lives of learning.

The book has many suggestions about documenting work, taking notes on what the children are learning, and when to take photographs along the way.  Suggestions about how to encourage children when they might be stuck or frustrated are provided, tips on working with teens, and checklists of ideas for projects are included. For instance, appropriate field trips that are pertinent to the area of study can reenergize the project. Kinds of materials to buy are included with suggestions about saving money. Ideas about when to be playful, dramatic, and celebrating final outcomes are discussed.

Children need support to learn, think, and do. The idea is to focus on helping the child make his or her ideas happen. Beginning with small steps, this book will help families who are interested in using this educational method.