In our family, we love projects. Big projects, small projects, projects of all kinds. They all involve real activities we pursue because we want to build something, create something, grow something, or find out about something. I’m not talking about projects that we parents think up, something “good for us” to learn, nor thematic units that “cover” a certain subject to show that we’ve “done American history” or “done fractions” for a given period of time. Projects that are valuable to us are those that come about because one of us is curious about something, and then things spiral from there.
In our son’s case, he loves building and creating things. Over the years, Ben has done a variety of projects involving woodworking, metalworking, guitar building, sewing, baking, photography, and indoor climbing, to name a few. My husband and I have worked on projects involving gardening, cargo bikes, guitar building, math workshops, and quilt making.
At the beginning of a project, one of us gets an idea for something we want to do or learn about. It might be something we work on alone or together. Some projects are easy and short-lived, and others continue on and on. It might be as simple as Ben wanting to do some baking, and asking for a little help from me with a few recipes so he can eventually do them on his own. He’s done this with bread, cookies, and pies. He’ll make a lot of something for a while and then move on to something new. On the other hand, a given project might be as complex as Ben watching his dad build an electric guitar, then asking for help to build one for himself, and then wanting to build more on his own as independently as possible.
Each project typically involves a good deal of research, reading, planning, budgeting, talking with more experienced people, and then plunging into the activity itself. We learn real skills while doing meaningful work, and this meaningful work faciliates meaningful learning. We do as much as we need to do until a goal is reached or an interest is fulfilled. This is what we do as adults, and it’s at the heart of what Ben does as an unschooler.
Unschooling allows for many rich, project-based experiences like these. We have time for them – long stretches of uninterrupted time – because we’re not working on arbitrary lessons that need to get done before the good stuff can start. We’re not spending our time on worksheets or textbook questions just to cover a subject and say we learned a given topic. We have time to pursue meaningful goals, to find answers to real questions, and to learn things that will stay with us our whole lives.