Monday, November 11, 2013

Project Mondays: Monarch Project

My (paid) work experience with early childhood education was based on the Reggio Emelio/ Project approaches to education, so project work is the stuff I really dig.  We started out homeschooling this way, with them playing and exploring their interests, while I gathered materials and books that corresponded with those interests, their play mirroring their learning, until they felt they were done with the exploration.  Among all this I would find a way to impose handwriting and math practice as needed. It was fun.

(For more info on Reggio Emelio read here --please note I am not endorsing this school, which may or may not be lovely, only linking to it for its easy to read information.)

But, sometime during Kale's toddling year--while wiping up pee, feeding three kids, and juggling our schedule it became easier to do things more traditionally, with alternate play, and sit down work whenever the baby happened to nap.  But, now that Kale is older, asking his own questions, and forming his own projects I feel like we're ready to return to a more project based approach.  We're still sticking with our six week experiment but have been incorporating time each week toward a formal project.  I call it formal to distinguish it from a traditional project approach which would be very much child led and directed (as described above).  At their age I think it is appropriate to include some formal study into their projects.  By "formal" I mean report writing, math skills, and eventually public speaking.   

This first formal project was very much Mama led, with the idea being that eventually the kids will do their own complete projects.  This is not to say that I doubt they could do some pretty amazing projects all on their own accord--but again, my plan with this was to model how research is done, teach them project mapping, and to encourage them to incorporate writing and math skills into the study.

Here's how it went:  
Each fall we collect a monarch caterpillar in our bug box, watch it form a chrysalis, hatch, and then release. Except this year, because all over the country this year, Monarch butterflies have been missing.  We'd been looking unsuccessfully in all our usual places, when I heard this news report on MPBN.   The story piqued my interest and the kids were curious as well, so that was the beginning of our project.  

For the next six weeks (this all began back in the beginning of September) we worked on memorizing caterpillar poems, (below is my favorite), watching a cabbage moth emerge from its cocoon, reading books, drawing pictures, crafting caterpillars from pebbles, discussing life cycles, looking up vocabulary words, researching, writing poems, reading and discussing articles, diagramming the "ripple effect" of climate change on Monarchs, watching videos, and  mapping monarch migration (how's that for alliteration).  

The older kids also learned how to take notes, and outline a report.  Then, using note cards the three of us worked together to write a two page report on the missing monarchs.  I did the typing while they narrated the sentences following the outline we had created.  I let them do most of the writing, but did offer suggestions for connecting words to make the paragraphs flow smoothly together, and suggested word changes when something didn't sound quite right. It was a little more hands on involvement than I usually have with their writing, but I think it was useful in their learning how to do it.   

As I'm writing this I realize it sounds like a ton of work, but we spread it out, working for just an hour or two each week (on this particular project).  It was just long enough each week to explore the interest for a bit, then carry on with the rest of our lives.  It was not at all overwhelming, and with the exception of the vocab work (they had to look it up in the dictionary) they enjoyed it.  Over all we're pretty pleased with how this first project formal went.  

newly hatched cabbage moth, in lieu of monarch butterfly

For our next project we're exploring geology--based on numerous questions that Kale has had recently about lava, volcanoes, and how rocks are made. As well as Juniper's questions about how the Earth was formed, and Wylie's interest in Pangaea.  I'm gathering materials, and planning a few activities, but will also be hoping the kids can take the lead and create some activities on their own--either for themselves, or for all of us to do.  Can you tell I'm excited?  


  1. I love this idea, and would really enjoy implementing it here as well. We actually have a project based school that just started in town here. Just two days a week, but it looks really neat. The geology project sounds like it will be very interesting.

  2. MONARCHS. Oh my goodness . . . I live in Minnesota and noticed this past summer that I saw barely any of them. We usually find eggs and rear them through the entire process, but they were mighty hard to find this year. Hardly any caterpillars, hardly any butterflies. So upsetting.

    I read your link, and living in the rural Midwest, I can attest to the loss of habitat. Holy smokes. There is hardly any land that isn't tilled and even the ditches are mowed. So a Monarch might be able to lay eggs, hatch and eat for awhile, only to be killed before the process is complete. Patches of land where milkweed might grow is here and there, but it is just a drop in the bucket compared to the miles and miles and miles of CORN and SOYBEANS. Gah. So upsetting. The loss of natural life and landscape in this part of the country is a fright.

    Now . . . to read on about your project-based schooling. :)


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