by Linda Warren
Students who are home schooled have many more choices about how and what they study. By the time students hit the middle school grades they are making choices about their own likes and dislikes. A great way to allow students to explore likes and dislikes and learn something in the process is by what we call “special projects”. Let me explain what special projects mean at my house. I’ll use my daughter’s own interests to show you what I mean.
First, special projects must be driven by the student’s interests. My daughter is horse crazy, has a black belt in Taekwondo, and wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up. Based on that information, having her research ballet, or sewing would be a waste of my time as well as hers, not because she wouldn’t learn anything, but because I would have to drive the research, since she has no interest in those things. So, let’s say she chooses horses as her subject. We always start the project with a list of the things she already knows about horses. Along with the list of what she already knows about horses, I have her make a list of things she doesn’t know about horses, but would like to know. Maybe she doesn’t know how much a large horse would eat in a day, for example. That is a jumping off point to begin her research.
Next, she begins collecting materials from which to gather information. These can be books she already owns, or borrows from friends, or the library. She can also gather information on the internet, searching through general horse websites, as well as breed specific sites. She could also look for sites that described the things that accompany horses. Tack, barns, grain, grass, fences, grooming implements, and uses for modern horses would all be great examples of the types of specific research she could look into.
Finally, there is a hands on portion, and of course this is dependent on the subject matter. My daughter’s horse project might include a field trip to a boarding stable, or a horse show. She might make a clay model of a horse’s head, or a detailed drawing of the different gates of a horse. For a younger child, it might be coloring pages about horses. For an older child, it might be labeling the musculature of a horse, or creating a horse farm management plan.
There are two truly beautiful things about allowing your home school student do a special project, or independent project. First, the project can cost as little or as much as your family can afford. In a time when it is difficult to control costs in education, you and your student will have complete control over the project. If you can afford a thirty dollar book for your child to do research in, buy it. If you can’t, then borrow it from the library, or confine research to available materials on the internet. Even if you do not have internet access at home, the library offers free use of computers and internet access, all that is required is a library membership.
The second truly beautiful thing about special projects is that it is completely individualized. A second grader with an interest in airplanes will prepare a totally different project than a tenth grader. You might have to help your second grader more, guide them, assist in locating books and research materials. You will probably have to be more involved when it comes to the hands on portions of the project, assisting with building a model airplane, for example. Your tenth grader should have a much more polished report, his writing should be better, and more in depth. His illustrations, or hands on portions of the project should reflect his age, grade level, and more advanced abilities.
Depending on your child, and his or her interests, the project might take a day, or a month. My daughter’s volcano project spanned an entire semester. Don’t hesitate to ask for a written report on the project. It might be three sentences, or ten pages, depending on the age and grade of the child. Let them make a presentation, or set up a display to show their work. The special project is a great way for them to learn about research, organizing data, creating illustrations, writing paragraphs, or papers, and presenting that information. When your child becomes the teacher, as she will in the presentation phase of the project, then you know that she has definitely gained knowledge. Keeping the project parts to add to your child’s portfolio is an added bonus.
Linda Warren is a writer, and work at home mom of one daughter. They try and find inventive and fun ways to learn, using the internet, and sites like Vocabulary and Spelling City. Linda’s interests include home education, of course, preparedness and self-sufficiency. The move to the homestead is on schedule for mid-2012. (So far, at least!)