Using the Project Approach for Learning at Home

tea party layout

I know that many of you reading this are likely having a similar experience to mine: You are dutifully guiding your elementary-school child/children through their online schoolwork, helping them navigate both the new technology and the age-old math word problems about cookies being divided among friends. You feel good about supporting your child in the completion of their “opinion writing” assignment, and get a kick out of the videos that your child and his/her classmates are making for each other about their favorite toys and favorite food. Maybe, like me, you also have a preschooler–so you are balancing online elementary school with online preschool and online ballet (are you ALSO learning how to do a plié via Zoom?!)

But perhaps you sometimes ask yourself—as I do—how can I really support their learning at home?

One strategy–that I have found to be a roaring success for my family during this quarantine–is the use of the Project Approach as a home-learning tool. The Project Approach, in its simplest definition, is an in-depth exploration of events or objects in a child’s environment that takes place over time and is shaped by children’s interests and questions. As an instructional strategy, projects are typically carried out in three phases:

  1. Selecting a topic, teachers build common experiences by talking with children about their personal experiences to determine interests and helping children articulate specific questions as a topic emerges.
  2. Data collection, which emphasizes meaningful hands-on experiences. Children are researchers, gaining new information as they collect data to answer their questions. This phase is the bulk of the project investigation and takes place through direct and authentic experiences such as field trips, events, and interviews with visiting experts. Children can also gather data through secondary sources, including books, photos, videos, and websites.
  3. The culminating event, which is a time to conclude the experience, usually through a summarizing event or activity.

As a learning tool, projects are a meaningful way to incorporate multiple developmental domains like math, literacy, science, art, and social-emotional skills through investigations that the children themselves can shape.

This is one example of what it looked like at my house:

My daughter, who recently turned four, loves to be read Pinkalicious stories. In Pinkalicious and the Sick Day, Pinkalicious (yes, that is her actual name) drinks elderberry tea in bed while staying home from school. My daughter had many questions about elderberry tea: “What is an elderberry?” “Why is she drinking tea when she’s sick?” “Is the tea hot?” “Can I try tea sometime?” She kept asking questions about tea throughout the next day, so I used it as an opportunity for a collaborative family project–The Tea Party:

We read about different types of tea and where they come from (Social Studies/Geography!)

We smelled different types of tea we have at home to see which ones we might want to try (and also talked about caffeine….Science!)

We planned a Tea Party menu and made snacks, following some beloved recipes (Measurement is math!)

We created Tea Party invitations and placecards for our stuffed animal guests (Literacy!)

We set the table, chose music, and talked about our table manners (Social skills!)

All in all, it was a fun, authentic way for my daughter to get her questions answered, and to learn a whole host of other things in the process. As parents, we are all coping with quarantined life the best ways we know how—and this is just one of many ways to support learning at home. I am grateful that this approach seems to be working for my kids—and that it is creating happy memories for us all.

kids enjoying preschool homepage grid