WonderHere is ALL ABOUT Phenomena-Based Learning (PBL – also known as “project-based learning”) and I am so excited to share with you what exactly this means and how we make it happen on the daily through our curriculum and in our classes!

As your child’s interests take center-stage and their questions and wonders begin to matter and drive instruction, their learning will begin to take shape. This happens most organically through project time – a time where activities are open-ended, creativity is boundless, and learning comes alive! The goal of project time isn’t necessarily to have a finished product by a set time, but rather to engage in research and creating in such a way that keeps the questions coming. Some kids naturally want to make a big project to present. Others have quiet epiphanies as they tinker, research, and take notes. Knowing your kids is key to helping them get the most out of project time.

The first thing everyone should do when approaching PBL is to simply introduce your child to phenomena. Phenomena are holistic real-world topics like animals, government, matter, culture. They are the things occurring in life. As your child explores phenomena hands-on, through observation, they will develop questions and wonders naturally. As a parent, it’s important to model this sense of curiosity in the every day. For example, last night the full moon was HUGE! It seemed so close, like it was about to land right on Earth. I said aloud to Evan, my one-and-a-half year old, “I wonder why the luna (“moon” in Spanish) seems so much closer some days than other days?” I know he didn’t understand anything other than luna, but he’ll sure get used to that questioning tone in my voice when my eyes get locked into something I’m interested in.

While many wonderings happen spontaneously like that, we can create an intentional atmosphere where phenomena is explored and kids get to wonder aloud on the regular. In our studio classes, we devote about an hour to unbridled project time every day. During this time, we lay out elements in baskets and bins that our kids can explore in a hands-on way. We also give them access to technology for research purposes. In our Energy Unit (where we were studying all forms of energy – light, heat, sound, chemicals, electricity, mechanical energy), we laid out light bulbs, flashlights, circuits, batteries, cut-up Christmas lights, metal spoons, instruments, a gear set, dominoes, a thermometer, electrical tape, copper wires, and interesting articles on energy. We then let our kids just explore, tinker, and research. Sometimes we would put out an example of what they could create to give some inspiration, or ask a specific question to get their wheels spinning.

As your child explores, you have a very important role: that of the observer. This is what makes project time so powerful… you are getting to know your child through observing what interests them, how they take in information, and how they create. During this time you can help guide their questions and wonders, therefore helping them make connections. We encourage you to take notes! These notes will help you decide how to keep them wondering and learning (and they also serve as a great way to authentically track their learning progress – an excellent piece to any homeschooling portfolio!).

During our Force & Motion Unit (coming May 2020!), some of our kids were playing with dominoes, making long domino trains (like the ones you see on YouTube). They were getting frustrated because one little misstep set off the chain reaction before they were ready and meant they had to start all over. We did a little bit of research on how professionals did it, and learned that they created their long trains in sections, so that if they messed up one section, it didn’t ruin the entire thing. They tried this and were successful!… and then I swooped in with some info on Newton’s Law of Inertia 🙂 They wouldn’t have cared a lick about Newton or his law had they not interacted with it hands-on, in real-time first!

Project time can seem daunting for parents at first. There’s no answer key, no right or wrong way, so it takes extra thinking and planning. It will be hard work… dolling out worksheets is a lot easier than setting up a table full of phenomena. But we encourage you to take on the challenge of letting your child (yes, even your non-reading 5-year-old, your immature 8 year old, and your unmotivated tween) do and think and question and figure it out. What do you have to gain? Everything! What if this crazy PBL journey leads you down the path towards finding the joy in watching your child discover their own abilities, grow in independence, and recognize that they, too, have wonderful ideas?

Is it worth it? You better believe it! At least our kids seem to think so… I’ll leave you with our very own students’ opinions on project time:

Q: What do you like about project time?

Rosa: I like that it’s peaceful.

Sam: I like getting to explore books.

Ada: I like taking the time to slow down and think about my day.

Gavin: We get to play and learn!

JJ: I like getting to create, like with our button-maker!

Naomi: We get to make things and learn new things.