Can children truly plan their own projects? Yes, yes they can. Can they figure out a way to show the learning that has taken place? Yes, yes they can. Can they do so without strict parameters? Yes, yes they can. Give them a framework mama. Then let them go.

What is this framework? Four simple steps. Yep, that’s it four steps.

1. Choose – What do you want to do?
2. Plan – How is it going to happen?
3. Do – Make it happen!
4. Review – What did you do and how did it go? Share with others

The first few times your child works through these steps, they will need scaffolding and help. Each step of the way you may need to model and work with them until they see the process, but trust me it won’t be long before they shoo you away until it is time to review what they have discovered.

In our house this small scale project management process looks like the part of the day we call Invitation to Explore. For 30-45 minutes every day after lunch we all go our separate ways to learn, explore, or do something unique to ourselves. During this time, people may work together but only if there is a common project at hand. Otherwise, we generally leave one another alone. Then after our time is up, we come back together to share what we did and how it went. Sometimes everyone will have made an amazing discovery or will have a neat discovery or new skill to share and other times we all come back to say what we tried flopped but inevitably we all learned something as both success and failure can lead to learning. Did you notice I said all five of us? No, we didn’t have another baby nor did we adopt a neighborhood kid into our homeschooling life. I participate in Invitation to Explore! Why? Because learning doesn’t stop when you are “grown.” I want the boys to see me question, take risks, and find answers to new things. Now you may also be wondering how the littlest one participates. While he will occasionally choose a project on his own, I also put out a material for him in a basket [playdoh, pompoms, stamps, wiki sticks, dot stickers, watercolor paints, water beads, and Magnatile blocks are some favorites]. I do not give him directions on what to do with his material or how to explore but by providing the material[s] I do offer a bit of focus for the days when he can’t possibly come up with something on his own because well, he’s four and decision making is a skill that we grow into. Even with this part of the process decided for him, he chooses what to do with the material, does it and shares something about his time with the rest of us when we come back together.

After several weeks, this part of or day is loved and now I can’t imagine our day without it. We have built stronger relationships with one another during the sharing time, found new interests, laughed, cried, and cultivated stronger speaking skills through this short mostly unstructured time. We all look forward to Invitation to Explore.

Choose, plan, do, review, repeat. Choose, plan, do, review, repeat. Choose, plan, do, review, repeat. The steps are simple. The letting go is not. When it matters, make the time. Small scale project management breeds larger scale project management. You cannot afford not to take the time. It will be messy. It will look different. It will make everyone uncomfortable. Learning will happen. Learning will stick. Learning gives life to new learning. Your time doesn’t need to look like our time. However you choose to give choice and responsibility, make sure you keep it smart. Make sure you keep it simple.