How to Get Started With Project-Based Homeschooling

Interested in project-based homeschooling? Find out more with this project-based learning introduction.


If you’ve read a couple of my posts here, you know that I’m a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, eclectic homeschooling mom. We’ll try a bit of this, throw in a pinch of that, and see what we come up with.

It sounds fun, but it can be a bit exhausting and frustrating, and I’ve often envied the homeschool moms that pick a method or curriculum when their kids are five and stick to it.

So why didn’t I just do that? Wouldn’t that have been easier?

Perhaps, but it would be so boring. And homeschooling is about the parent as well as the child.

Also, kids change. They get older and aren’t as entertained by puzzles, and games, and outings. Plus, the shutdowns and restrictions have made field trips difficult or impossible, which has really thwarted my homeschool style.

So we need to try something else to bring back some homeschool excitement and learning. If you’re feeling the same homeschool drag and are tired of the usual, maybe this is the time to introduce project-based homeschooling.

project based homeschooling

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What is Project-Based Homeschooling?

Project-based homeschooling goes back farther than we realize and finds its inspiration in the Reggio Emilia educational philosophy. The philosophy is based on the works of psychologist Loris Malaguzzi in Reggio Emilia, Italy, after World War 2. Project-based learning has become popular in schools, but mostly for the younger students from preschool to elementary.

There isn’t a prescribed curriculum, required materials, or expected outcomes, and a teacher does not explicitly train to be a Reggio instructor. Additionally, anyone can use the term Reggio Emilia since there is no accrediting body, and it’s not so much a method as an approach or philosophy.

Project-based homeschooling (PBH) brings Reggio Emilia into the home and is available to all ages, and was made popular in the book Project-Based Homeschooling by Lori Pickert, a former Reggio school director, and homeschooling mom.

Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Pickert, Lori McWilliam (Author)

Project-based homeschooling is child-led and managed, which means the child takes responsibility for their project and learning, which can be difficult for the parent who loves to intervene and help. It’s up to the child to decide what they want to learn about, chooses the resources, and determines their learning format, length, and path. Essentially, they do the work.

Which, honestly, sounds a lot like unschooling. However, there is one key difference I find extremely appealing. Project-based homeschoolers don’t ostracize you for using a math curriculum.

How great is that!

Basically, no matter your educational method, you can implement project-based homeschooling to the extent YOU want. Do you want to do a project once in a while? Fine. Want to exclusively homeschool with projects? Fine as well.

free project based homeschooling ebook

What Does Project-Based Learning Look Like for Homeschoolers?

So what does project-based homeschooling look like in real life?

Well, that’s the beauty of PBH; it can look any way you like. Its implementation will be based on so many factors, like:

  • Age of the child
  • The topic of the project-based study
  • Availability of resources
  • Time

All of these things, and more, will influence what project-based learning looks like in your homeschool. And it will change from project to project, so don’t get caught up in doing it “right.”

However, I will say that it will look quite different than it does in a school setting. Many teachers have begun implementing project-based learning in their classrooms, but it lacks the spontaneity and flexibility offered through project-based homeschooling.

As homeschoolers, we have the gift of time in our project-based learning. There is no time limit on completion, and a project can be delayed or forgotten and then started up again. All things that are not likely to happen in a classroom.

What are the Benefits of Project-Based Homeschooling?

Using project-based learning in your homeschool offers the best of both worlds, which I love. Your child creates plans and projects based on their interests, much like in unschooling, yet you also can implement a bit of structure and accountability, as with other homeschooling methods.

I also love that it isn’t an either/or, and fits better with my eclectic style. So often we’re told either your either a perfect unschooler or your not at all, or your a classical educator, or your not.

With project-based homeschooling, it’s more both/and. I can be both a homeschooler who uses a math curriculum and implements self-directed project-based learning. I’m not a big fan of arbitrary rules, so this makes me happy.

Learning with the projects also allows your child to practice research and design skills, and they learn so much through this process.

For example, if your high schooler wants to learn more about graphic design, it would take a bit of time and research to cultivate a plan. They might begin with free YouTube videos, before deciding which course would be best to invest their time and money. This is an important skill they will use throughout life.

What Makes Project-Based Homeschooling Difficult?

Since you have such freedom with PBH, there aren’t insurmountable difficulities, but as an introverted mom with six kids, I’ll give you mine.

It’s much the same as my struggle with unschooling. Many believe unschooling is doing nothing, but that isn’t true at all. Unschooling can be very intense for the parent, as can PBH.

Trying to facilitate and encourage six children in their sometimes widely different interests can be challenging. Helping to develop a well thought out project, facilitating the implementation with time, supplies, or funds, and then reflecting on how your child is completing their project is a lot for some parents. Including me!

So I’ve thought up some tips on how to manage this in a large family.

  • Ease in, don’t start all your kid’s projects at once.
  • Stagger them, maybe have one or two kids work on their project, and then take a break while two other kids start.
  • Divide up your time; perhaps you only do projects in summer or during the holiday break.
  • You could even alternate your homeschool, one month on a project, one month with more traditional methods.

The wonderful thing about the PBH method is you can make it work for you, your family, and your homeschooling goals.

free project based homeschooling ebook

Tips for Beginning with Younger Children

Are your children young, and you’re dipping your toe into the water of project-based homeschooling? Perfect timing.

Younger children are naturally more interested in a variety of things and don’t have the jadedness that can appear with puberty. This makes introducing PBH much easier.

Since they are younger, the projects can be shorter and perhaps not as elaborate. They are also often more open to mom’s ideas and suggestions, making it more pleasant for you. So when introducing PBH, consider:

  • Starting small
  • Making suggestions, but being open to them saying no
  • Acquire some materials to have on hand for their projects
  • Be open to their ideas, even if it involves Minecraft

As I’ve said before, many of the foundational ideas for PBH are similar to unschooling ideas. I’ve talked a lot about strewing in your homeschool, and projects can be thought of similarly. If they reject your project idea, don’t take offense.

Remember, with younger children you can start small and slow, working your way up to larger projects as they get older.

project based homeschool

Tips for Beginning with Tweens and Teens

Introducing PBH to tweens and teens is entirely different, and I feel they fall into two different categories.

First, you have the older kids who initiate a project completely independently without thinking about it being “educational.” Perhaps, a child starts an Etsy shop or builds a computer from scratch. These are projects that they are engaging in without outside influence or prodding.

Perfect!

However, you have the teens who don’t seem interested in much, and you feel desperate to find something for them to engage with. This can be a tough process and one I’m just beginning to figure out myself.

Deciding how to move forward with an older child will be based on a lot of factors, such as their:

  • Personality
  • Interests
  • Strengths and Weaknesses
  • Goals for the future
  • Age

Here’s what I did with my young teenager to get the ball rolling; we’ll see where it goes. I first asked her if she had anything she would be interested in learning more about or trying. This was met with a lot of blank stares.

Since I could see we were getting nowhere with that, I started thinking about resources I had available she might be interested in. I finally got a hint of interest when I mentioned Masterpiece Society Studios lesson on hand-lettering.

Hopefully, this is a start, and we can grow from there. My other thought is to get her involved in helping the 6-year-old. Do a project with him, which will at least get her involved with something and someone. She did spend a lot of time with him the other afternoon working on his “Dinosaur Presentation.”

My biggest piece of advice for starting PBH with teens is to tread lightly. Getting demanding never seems to work and creates more resistance to learning. No matter the age.

Give Project-Based Homeschooling a Try

A great thing about introducing project-based homeschooling is that it doesn’t require you to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Try one project and then another. You don’t have to scrap your entire year’s plan and automatically become a purist. Ease in. Take it slow.

Project-based learning can be an addition to your homeschool that works for you, not a master from which you cannot deviate.

Even if you can’t get the kids excited, start your own project! Then you will inspire them.

Resources to Start Your Project-Based Homeschool Adventure

My Project-Based Homeschooling Pinterest Board

Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learners by Lori Pickert

Bringing Reggio Emilia Home: An Innovative Approach to Early Childhood Education by Cadwell & Gandini

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About Bethany Ishee

Bethany is the mom of six, always-homeschooled children, who one day realized she'd lost herself in the process, probably under a pile of laundry. Her eclectic style of homeschooling draws upon Classical to Unschooling and everything in between.  While homeschooling her children and writing about learning outside of school, she tries to find time to read a book, drink coffee, and pay the bills.

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