Play or Project Work?

I’ve been thinking a lot about project work and unschooling and relaxed homeschooling…about my children learning…about killing that with too much of my “to do”…about retention and memory and what’s really important.  Some of this is natural for the time of year…coming up on a new school year. How to proceed? More planning or less? How much did they retain from last year? What worked and what didn’t? Some of this is coming out of our frustration with a four-year old boy and potty training issues. Some of this is coming out of reading new posts at Camp Creek Blog (especially this one on hands-on learning) and rereading back posts that I had printed off and saved in my collective education journal. My husband would say I’m just thinking about it because I’m nerdy that way and it’s what I like to do in my free time. (Who doesn’t like to sit down and read a stack of articles, magazines, printed posts, and books on the pedagogy of education? Doesn’t everyone do that to relax in the evening?) But, whatever the case, it is on my brain and I am revisiting thoughts I had last year and wondering if I can even begin to implement them this year.

Lily being inspired by Curious George.

Galileo, watch out!

When thinking about how to implement project work, I get caught up in the details and seem to have a really hard time letting go of control (an issue I have in numerous life areas). Or I try it and it seems to fail (have a theory that is more about me and not them). But then there are days like this one where it just pops up unexpectedly (which, if reading Camp Creek right, is the whole point of project work). I see a deep interest developing. Because it wasn’t part of “school” I allow them freedom in exploring and brainstorming ideas and things flow. This week, as I was more cognizant of it, I allowed for some of my “to do” to be let go of and their “want to do” added in. It made for less stress, math and reading was still accomplished and everyone seemed to enjoy school more. This is what I want more of. Less of me…more of them.

This week it is firefighters, which happened on a whim of dress up play and an innocent question from me before heading to the library. We found just a couple of books and one sparked a for-serious interest. It has been a week of deep-interest playing, constant question asking, and the desire to make this world real. I’ve had to stretch my imagination and pull out the recycle bin several times in order to conjure up the wishlist.  But I see thirsts being quenched and I see project work being played out. I am trying very hard to stay out of the way, facilitate when needed and just observe and document (hence this post). These moments keep me from giving up on this particular learning style.

"Firefightmen" is the theme this week.

Homemade oxygen tank

Firefighter Jane

Fire Extinguisher

Walkie Talkie Radios

Of course, when these moments do pop up they seem more like play. My own doubts sway me to disbelieve that these moments can really become deep vessels of learning experiences because they seem to happen more with my littles (4-6 age group) then with my older. I need to contemplate on this…I need white space to think and wonder if it is me and my approach that is inhibiting the older child or if I am just not giving it enough time.

THE Recycle box...the one I am constantly questioning my own sanity over.

Our house after project work.

I will try and continue this discussion over the next few weeks as I am contemplating.

9 thoughts on “Play or Project Work?

  1. love seeing your kids’ work! :^)

    i think older children sometimes feel more self-conscious about their “play”, whereas younger children just naturally combine learning and play.

    some adults (parents *and* teachers) automatically discount anything that looks too much like play (i.e., fun) .. they can’t possibly be learning if they are enjoying themselves and “just goofing around”.

    but that play can be the doorway into “serious” learning.

    learning how to help children navigate from their interests and play into research and investigation, then returning back to play and creating, then back to fact-finding and interviewing experts .. and on and on .. is a learned skill. but the only way to learn it is to do it, make mistakes, fail, step over the line, kill a question or an interest, then come back and try again.

    a good project orbits around the child’s interest, moving from play to work to playful creation to serious research, and so on.

    sometimes it doesn’t LOOK like serious learning to someone on the outside but YOU know, because you were witness to the whole thing, exactly what that play and playful creation represents in terms of learning and knowledge and skills acquisition. the ability to keep centered when assailed by outside (as well as inner) doubts is also a learned skill.

    could this comment be rambling on any more? ;^)

    and i *totally* like to spend my evenings reading about pedagogy. :^)

    • Thank you for the feedback…so needed that! The inner doubts are what plagues the most (although, if I am truthful, are probably much more influenced by the “what others think” conundrum that I am constantly battling as a homeschooling, stay-at-home mom). Your site is such a source of calm for me…bringing me back to the center and making me stop, pause, reflect on what I truly think versus how I’ve been acting. Thank you for being there as a source of inspiration and pedagogy in the fun, real sense!

  2. thank you so much! you have seriously made my day! :^)

    i meant to say up above, where adults tend to separate play and “serious” learning, small children don’t. if older children do, that’s our fault. we need to learn to respect play! i should write a post about that. :^)

    thank you again!

    • You are right…it is my own fault that my oldest sees school as work and play as separate, despite my wanting to have avoided that by homeschooling in the first place. That would make a great post…especially on how to bring them back into play. Maybe I need to look more carefully at what his “play” is and how that incorporates into learning.

  3. hey, i wasn’t putting the blame on you .. just we adults and educators all together. :^)

    i have a great quote about this on the blog but of course i can’t find it now.

    children seem to absorb our feelings about things (even .. especially? .. when we try to hide them) .. and society’s views .. and they start differentiating so early between “play” and “work”, between things little kids do and big kids, even between what boys do and what girls do. it’s frustrating when they seem to pick this stuff up from the atmosphere.

    we used to allow the older children to come down occasionally into the preschool area of my school, and they would play with such abandon .. things they hadn’t done in years, like dress-up and blocks .. musical instruments .. they really threw themselves into it with such joy! maybe because the entire environment was set up for play, so it was natural to play there.

    • Oh I know you weren’t blaming *smile*. Your words are always encouraging! But, you are right, that is frustrating about them picking that up. And inevitable, I guess, when we are training them up that we need to do chores (i.e. work) to get things done in order for life to happen (ex. dishes for dinners, laundry for clothes to wear) before we have time to play. It is difficult, as a parent and educator, to make education separate from that. In some ways, I leave so much up to my kids and see them flourish and learn and educate themselves, especially in the area of science. In other ways I am afraid to let go. So I fear they are getting a mixed message. I will have to ponder that this week…how to let more play into our days. I think it may have to do with what you termed “slow learning” (love that phrase!), which I just remembered when I linked to your article on slow reading!

  4. This really is such a lovely, inspiring and thought provoking post. Play is such a beautiful and powerful thing…

    I’m passing a ‘blog award’ on to you!

    • Thank you! I got your award and was honored! I’m glad my doubts and working-out thoughts can be food for thought for others as well! Loved looking at your listing of blogs, especially The Forest Room. Love getting new ideas and fresh perspectives!

  5. thank you, amy. i do want to encourage. 🙂

    i love using the term “slow learning” because it parallels the slow food movement in so many ways .. the good stuff is worth waiting for!

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