Dare I say we’ve had a breakthrough?
When I was making my way through a big stack of books on homeschooling philosophies, many of them spoke to me on some level. I loved the idea of learning everything through great literature that came from Charlotte Mason. I loved the freedom and “world schooling” ideas that came with unschooling. I admired the eclectic learners who pieced together the perfect curriculum for their own children, different from anyone else’s. Unit studies looked fun—at least for me. I fell in love with the magic of Waldorf and its big community feel, while at the same time feeling strongly about Montessori’s allowance for the individual to carve their own path and not to be held back by age-level standards. Then, there’s a whole homeschooling philosophy based on board games—yes, board games!
And yet, not a single one of those jumped out at me as something that would work for all three of my very different children and, at the same time, let me keep my sanity. That’s why it came to me as a moment of joy—and a huge relief—to find Project-Based Homeschooling. Concretely, project-based homeschooling would mean that each of my children would explore a topic of their choice, as in depth as they wanted to, for as long as their interest held. Projects would be as diverse as writing and illustrating a book on the subject, building a model, creating artwork, doing a short film or a photography exhibit—just to name a few. Zahra might work on one project all year—or she might work on a new one each week. My job would be to facilitate their learning—providing them with the right materials to work with, helping them find information or experts who could answer their questions, guiding them to taking more and more responsibility for their own learning, with the goal being to create individuals who knew how to find and absorb new information and who maintained their love of learning.
Since Zahra spent the first week of her summer vacation researching and writing a book about snakes, along with some field work, and Noah spent a good amount of time making plans and building a teepee in the backyard, this philosophy seemed to fit with what we already loved to do in our spare time.
Today was the first day of Week 3 of our homeschooling adventure. Up until now, I have directed most of the learning. I try to make it fun, and they have always been willing participants. But I was watching, and I was waiting. I was gently suggesting that, should they think of something else they’d rather do, then they were free to explore it.
This Monday morning started like the previous ones: multiplication tables for Zahra, reading practice for Noah, story and sandpaper letter b for Leila, SQUILT when I couldn’t bear to listen to Noah haltingly grind out sounds anymore. After all that, the rain wasn’t going to stop them from going outside. I was at the piano when Zahra burst back through the door, her little sister in tow, to raid the supply bookshelf. And, woohoo, her first project was born!
Zahra wanted to be able to observe birds—more birds and in a prime location. She decided she would have to feed them, but she had to figure out how to do that in the rain without the food getting soggy. She tried a few different things before deciding she wanted to take the time to build a sturdier structure with a plastic roof. She also wanted to use a subdivided box to experiment with different kinds of food and see which ones the birds liked best.
I told her to sketch out her idea and she came back to me with an original drawing. I told her to figure out the measurements and to draw the feeder from different perspectives so that others would understand her plans. I also told her to draft a materials list. She excitedly got to work. We brainstormed the places where we would go looking for these—preferably free—materials.
Shortly after that, we left the house to have lunch with another homeschooling friend. Those hours are always time well spent, as we get to peek into someone else’s rhythms and draw inspiration from the paths they are pursuing. This particular friend is heavily following the Charlotte Mason pedagogy, which inspired me to choose Heidi as our next read-aloud book. Tonight, after just one chapter, the kids are as hooked on this book as they were on Harry Potter. Score!
I still have projects and plans of my own to do with them. There’s so much fun and bonding to be had when Saïd and I share our own interests and passions with our family. But I’m also thrilled that something clicked with Zahra this morning and that she had enough time and space to follow her inspiration. I’m excited about where her own interests will lead us and what adventures there are to be had while this unfolds.