When I started trying to teach the Engineer I did a lot of research and I learned about lapbooks.  I thought they were a great hands-on idea and I wanted to try doing lapbooks with the Engineer.  It didn’t quite work out the way I thought it would – all the mini books were too finicky for his fine-motor challenged hands, and the flap-books are just irritating for us.

Still, I really liked the idea of doing something that he could pull off the shelf and review easily, something that was a bit crafty and involved cutting and glueing.  So I adapted things and we called them projects.  I should note: most of the project we do are things the Engineer has asked to learn about.  Which is why our project books are filled with weird things like electricity, ice cream, moths, and how stairs are made.

Months later, I found out that I was following a homeschooling practice that I didn’t even know about.  Project based learning is a concept from the Reggio Emilia Approach, and Project Based Homeschooling (PBH – no, not PBJ, that’s a food!) is a term Lori Pickert started.  Lori is an awesome communicator and I recommend checking out her blog if you’re interested in PBH.

What stands out is the viewpoint that kids are smart and capable enough to learn about things that interest them.

How different that is from traditional school!  In traditional school and even many homeschool curriculums, the focus is on what the child needs to know.  PBH gives kids freedom with some structure, which works better for us than unschooling.  Unschooling at this age is simply not practical for us.  The Engineer would love it, but reading and math would be completely left behind in favor of playing with Legos and building robots.


With all that said, we’re not conforming precisely to the PBH concepts.  I love this post by Mama of Letters because it demonstrates that you need to do what works for you and your kid.  I think we’re a closer fit to Mama of Letters’ style than pure PBH.  PBH is more of a learning mindset than a formula, so I think a little wiggle room is ok.

To summarize the concept: child-led learning, following their interests and standing back to let them lead.  Think mentor, not educator.  It’s tough!  It’s hard to make a space for the kids to own and work in, and it’s even more difficult to let them make mistakes so that they can learn.

I often feel like I’m not providing what the Engineer needs to fully PBH, but every so often he’ll surprise me and find something to just go crazy with.

His latest big project was a water system.  He dreamed up a wonderful, complex system with “pipes big enough to walk through!” that went through our entire house.  He was crushed when I suggested using straws instead, so I asked other PBH parents for ideas on how to promote his ideas in a realistic way.  Based on their suggestions the Engineer worked on designing a system on paper, and then we went shopping at the local hardware store for ideas.  We came home with plastic tubing and connectors and I found him a hand-pump online that fit in the budget.

It’s not as huge as our house, but he’s immensely proud of it.  He wanted to bring it to the Maker Faire in DC recently and show it off!

water system

Note: the sprinkler is a soda bottle, with holes drilled into the lid and tubing glued into the base.  Lots and lots of hot glue! (which is why I was so involved with that piece.)


Let’s Talk: Project Based Learning