Beginning a Project: How to Plan
Have you tried doing project work with young children? Whether you are working in a classroom or educating at home with one or more young children, project work can be a wonderful way to facilitate child led learning. It can also be hard to know where to begin. I was fortunate to learn a lot about project work during my training for my early childhood degree and while work at a Reggio inspired center in Minnesota. There are other resources as well for learning more about this method of teaching and learning. One of my favorites is Working in the Reggio Way by Julianne P. Wurm. It is the most practical guide I have read about Reggio Emilia, although there are other inspiring resources.
Our four year olds recently started a new project, so I thought I would share the process of how we began to give you an example. For me it all begins with observing and listening.
On Instagram I shared about how our twins have been pretending to be bunnies and owls. I have no idea where this interest came from, but off and on for several weeks they pretended to be bunnies and owls. They flew around the house hooting loudly when they were owls. They crawled and sniffed at each other when they were bunnies. Often this happened in the background of other play. They would be owls, but playing doctor at the same time or they would be bunnies driving trains.
Unlike many young children, aside from brief interests in ducks and hermit crabs and turtles our children have shown virtually zero interest in animals. They like the zoo, but mostly for the carousel and the train rides. They like the aquarium, but their interest never seems to go beyond our visit. They love the natural science museum, but seem to have no further interest in learning about fish or snakes. I found this all moderately puzzling, but it didn't seem overly important. We just learned about other things.
Then they started pretending to be owls and bunnies. After observing this for a couple of weeks, I started to notice a couple of patterns:
*They love to pretend to move like the animals
*There is always a Mama and a Baby animal
*Sleep is a discussion in their play
One day during group time I told them that I had noticed they were pretending to be owls and bunnies a lot during play time recently. They immediately started telling me about animals that they like right now. They listed Bunnies, Owls, Turtles, and Bears. Then I asked what they knew about them. They listed a few things, mostly related to how they move or made noise. Then I asked, "what are you curious about?" They asked me about 20 questions that all boiled down to one question;
"How do animals move?"
There was also one random questions ("Why don't bugs have ears?") but all the rest of the questions were about how different animals moved. How they crawled, flew, moved around, etc. This was demonstrated with lots of crawling and hopping around the dining room.
Then I asked, "How do you think we could learn about how animals move?"
As adults and educators it seems that we are often eager to offer children information, facts, and answers. I could have listed a plethora of animal movement vocabulary or launched into a lesson about muscles and joints that could have answered their question. This seems like the most simple way to pass along knowledge. Rather than teaching them facts, consider teaching them how to learn. Equip them with the skills to gather information and answer their own questions. Our twins thought about my questions and responded with;
*Watch movies about animals.
*Go to the forest and be really, really quiet.
*Watch animals in the tanks at the Natural Science Museum
*Visit animals that are captured in the cages at the zoo
*Read a book from the library
At this point, when we have a question and a general direction I start gathering resources. I have a lot of resources that I tend to return to a lot for inspiration, as well as filed old lesson plans and picture books from teaching toddlers and preschoolers. At this point I am merely gathering information. I am not making a lesson plan or planning out a unit, simply gathering resources and information for me so I can help provide them with ways to answer their questions.
For this particular project I have gathered:
*Growing up Wild curriculum has some activities and songs about moving like animals
*Tortoise and the Hare story study materials because I can't help throwing some literacy into every project.
*Little Passports this month also happens to be about animals around the world so I looked through what could tie to their interest
*Rapunzel's Supermarket gave me some ideas about how to incorporate art. I'm thinking about some simple drawings of movement and clay work. I am also thinking about teaching them to take videos of animals at the zoo and themselves moving.
*Looked around on YouTube for some videos of animal moving and saved them on a pinterest board.
*Searched Pinterest for any ideas about animals and moving and pinned some to my boards.
*Old lesson plans about animals and the human body. In particular, a couple of songs that involve moving like animals and activities about how muscles, bones and joints work.
*Some picture books about animals and bodies, but we will look together for more at the library this week.
*Penciled in some trips to the Nature Science Museum and Zoo for the coming weeks.
*Gathered some play materials, since we haven't had much of an interest in animals these are limited but I pulled out some African animal toys, animal finger puppets and animal costumes. Depending on how the next week or so goes I'm considering buying this collection of animals to add to our block area. The doctor pretend supplies are already out because that has been interest the past few weeks with an uptick in doctor visits for me and I’m interested to see if the two tie together.
An invitation and observation….
At this point I usually present an idea or two. This might take the form of an invitation at our art table or an addition to one of their play spaces. And then I wait (not my forte!!) and observe and see what happens next.
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