Project Based Learning with children

What happens when you give a bunch of preschoolers an empty school, some tools, and totally free reign on what they want – and need – out of their day? If you imagine ‘chaos’ is the right answer, then you’re partly right. But what really happens is pure magic… Creative Chaos ensues, and while you get some ideas that are sublime and ridiculous….you also get some totally pragmatic ideas that are well-considered, logical and designed to make the lives of the users – aka the children – easier.

While it might sound like a totally esoteric concept straight out of a social experiment, project-based learning with preschool ages kids is a genuinely remarkable way of not only teaching, but enabling children to teach themselves. It encourages problem solving, cognitive development, free-thinking, team-work and responsibility – and when your team complete a project that they have been working on, it promotes a sense of overall pride and accountability for the working environment.

At the start of the academic year, our class realised that we had no-where to store our personal flasks and water-bottles. This was quite the conundrum...can 15 4-year olds really be expected to keep track of their bottles throughout an 8-hour school-day? Especially as we flit between different areas of the school. First, we let the problem arise. Naturally, after a few days, the kids’ were becoming increasingly frustrated at having to tote their bottles around – and were even more fed up when they kept forgetting them at some hidden corner in the garden. Two subsequent questions arose; what should we do, and how can we do it?

At this point, the floor belongs to the children to brainstorm among themselves, while the teachers act as moderators only. Once several ideas have been floated, we work democratically and the children vote on what they consider the best idea. A wooden trough, painted and varnished, with handles is the winning idea in this case. We discuss materials, tools, safety concerns, colour, patterns, size...everything that could possibly arise. Then….we get our hands dirty! We play with raw materials, make prototypes, practice using measuring tapes, talk about shapes and angles….big concepts that little ones grasp when it really makes an impression on them.
With assistance and under supervision, we measure the wood, sand it down, paint it, apply patterning, and then assemble with a drill. Quality control is meticulous – the children are very thorough! The final stage is a thick coat of varnish to protect the trough from the elements.

Each stage – from conception to completion - must be slow and steady to ensue that the project fully ‘belongs’ to the kids, and that the learning outcomes (math, science, team-work, problem-solving etc) are achieved.

Now, every morning as we arrive to school, the class teachers and kids automatically place their water bottles in the brightly coloured station, as second nature. We can carry it throughout the school, easily transporting their bottles to wherever we need them. Mission accomplished!

Regardless of the project – whether big or small – the fundamental steps remains the same. Giving children the space and freedom to not only identify their own needs but to figure out how to achieve them is incredibly rewarding fr everyone involved.

By Charlotte McAllister
Early Birds Istanbul Teacher