In her article, The Project Approach to Early Childhood Education, Lilian Katz, PhD. highlights how projects support children’s “dispositions to be curious, to make sense of experience and to explore the environment.” Projects offer children opportunities to investigate a topic in depth and they are an important approach to learning at our school.
The teachers here at LCP incorporate many features described in Dr. Katz’s article: choosing an interesting and meaningful topic, encouraging children to generate questions to investigate, making predictions, comparing and reflecting on results and representing theories and ideas through a variety of media. We also stress the collaborative nature of projects to help support a “community of learners” in which we value the ideas and contributions of each child while reinforcing that our experiences are enriched and deepened by the perspectives and insights of others.
Take a recent project on Turtles and Tortoises. The project began when a child at lunch mentioned that his family re-uses their straws. Children asked why and he said that they do it to “save the turtles” All the children were interested in hearing more.
As children shared what they know about turtles, it became clear that some children wondered about how a turtle and a tortoise are different, and wondered if all turtles live in water. So before thinking more about how straws impact turtles, the group decided to find out more about both turtles and tortoises and clarify the differences between them. In the process, the children generated a list of questions they wanted to research.
Where to research? Teachers offered a variety of books with information and small groups looked at photos and other related information online. (Although as a school we don’t use computers much, we do take advantage of photos, live cams and other videos from museums, researchers and other reputable sources to enrich classroom research).
Children then took opportunities to express what they learned through clay work and drawings.
As children collected answers to some of their questions, conversations returned to the problem of straws for turtles and to thinking about how the choices people make have impact on the health and safety of wildlife.
The children generated a list of possible next steps and actions to take, including contacting the New England Aquarium to see if someone would talk to the children or share resources, and making a flyer that could be shared with other people about ways to help keep turtles safe.
The children worked together to dictate a letter to the Aquarium and sent it. Although the letter itself did not receive a response, a call made to the Aquarium did lead to a conversation between New England Aquarium staff and teachers, leading to new ideas and resources for the children.
The children worked together to create a flyer and helped distribute it to everyone in our school. There was some talk of bringing the flyer to our local libraries so that the children’s message could impact a larger community – a firm decision about that hasn’t been made yet.
Just as Dr. Katz suggests in her article, the Turtle and Tortoise project offers children strong motivation to develop their academic skills as they expand vocabulary, document through both pictures and words, measure and compare, make predictions, and collect information from books as they make connections to their personal experience and knowledge. And this project offered children the opportunity to take personal action on behalf of the turtles – to use what they found out in a meaningful way to try to make a difference and help.
Some projects will last all year. Others, like the Turtle and Tortoise Project, have a clear beginning, middle and end. Not every project will involve every child. But it’s exciting to watch them develop!