One of our boys has decided that he hates all things writing. It’s not because he isn’t good at it or that he doesn’t understand what he needs to do. Rather, in his seven year old opinion, it takes too long and has no clear application to his everyday life. The fights and arguments that ensued over simply writing a paragraph were testing this very stubborn mama to her limits. I dreaded 10:45am every school day because I knew that writing was coming and the fight was going to start. Thankfully, for me reaching my limit is where innovation and creativity enter the picture. So after, months of frustration and annoyance I imagined a world where the writing mattered and didn’t seem like it took too long because it was part of something grander. What we ended up with was more than I could have even thought to dream.
We landed in a place where interests meet the real world, where writing is necessary and complete, where personal responsibility and learning collide and where curiosity reigns supreme. We landed on what we call Personal Projects.
Personal Projects are the pursuit of answering a question. If your brain can dream up the question and you can think of a way to explore it, you can pursue an answer. Often the pursuit starts with research either online or in books and then spirals into an actual project of some sort.
The first week, one of the boys chose to learn about the effects of temperature on yeast. Seriously, what seven year old comes up with something like that? But for some reason or another, his brain really wanted to know. He researched and found out that yeast only thrives in a certain temperature range. Then, he designed, willingly wrote down, and conducted his own experiment to prove what he had read. He wrapped up his week using what he learned to make yeast cinnamon bread.
That same week, another one of the boys chose to figure out how to create a marble run with three tracks where all of the marbles landed at the end point with 1 second from the first to the last. To do this, he needed to explore the properties of the various pieces, consider friction and momentum, design some options, test them out, and then redesign until it worked. He ended up studying a bit about Isaac Newton’s laws in the process.
As you can see, these projects aren’t a neat process or one where we know all the steps from the beginning but they are totally worth it. To help us keep moving forward, at the end of each day the boys write about what they worked on that day and plan for tomorrow. At the end of the week, they also write about their wins and learning points. Below you can see the chart they use to organize their writing and planning.
One bonus that came out of these personal projects [besides the lack of writing arguments], is the personal responsibility the boys are taking for their own learning. They now search for and organize their own materials, think about their own thinking and clean up after their own experiments. It has been amazing to watch the ways in which they have grown since the beginning of our journey with Personal Projects.
Now, before you worry that this is the only writing the boys do, let me assure you that I have snuck writing into several other subjects as well and it seems at the moment to be working in such a way that they are still doing at least as much if not more writing as they were before. The point of Personal Projects was not to replace writing all together or to convince you that you are doing writing all wrong. Rather, I wanted you to see the possibilities you have when you stop and consider what is happening during your day and how with a little bit of creative thinking you can turn what was an argument into the best part of your day.
Want to start personal projects but feel like you need a few ideas? Here are a few that the boys have chosen to do or have kicked around as ideas.
- This week I will thoughtfully write, edit and publish five letters to friends and family. I will address them and get them into the mail.
- This week I will create a marble run where all of the marbles arrive at the destination within 3 seconds of one another
- This week I will learn about the Titanic and share what I learn with others.
- This week I will create a movie including a script and a performance.
- This week I will research cardinals and create a pamphlet letting others know about them.
- This week I will design and build an entire town out of Legos. I will consider the needs of the people living in the town and make sure to develop a complete city.
- This week I will write a dinner menu for five days. I will consider proper nutrition and our schedule. I will also make the grocery list.
- This week I will learn to do the laundry from start to finish.
- This week I will learn how to use oil pastels and I will plan and create a piece of art using this new medium.
- This week I will design, build and market a new game.
- This week I will improve my multiplication facts. By the end of the week I will be able to do 100 multiplication problems in less than 10 minutes.
- This week I will read ______. Following reading it, I will design and complete a project to represent the book.
- This week I will learn about the properties of yeast. I will design and carry out an experiment about what makes yeast work.
- This week I will learn to play _______ on the piano well.
The key to Personal Projects is the same as the key to the rest of our homeschooling. Keep it smart. Keep it simple,
If you decide to give it a go, let us know how it goes. We love hearing from you. Good luck!