Working with projects
We live in exciting times in the field of education, especially in Early Years Education. New methods, strategies and ways of knowing how to reach the core interests of our pupils are being sought. In my work, for more than 7 years, learning has centred on interests proposed by the pupils themselves; that is to say in the form of projects.
It’s important that the learning that takes place in the classroom is initiated by the children themselves, as a form of constructing knowledge, and not imposed as in the classic model. This way we can define projects as new forms of investigation to be carried out in the classroom and which tend to coincide with events that take place by chance, an experience sparked off or provoked by the teacher, a focus of interest that affects school life, an idea a child has, a problem, an event that has repercussions in the classroom, an initiative, a visit, the entrance of an pet animal into class, etc… All these incidences can generate new avenues of interest for investigation and projects.
Many teachers practice this methodology today but are still caught up with doubts and concerns about how to approach this method, especially with infants. Some colleagues continue to have questions such as, ‘How is the desire to learn about a concrete topic instilled in infants?’, and above all, even if this does happen, ‘How does the teacher get to this point with their pupils in class?’ This is precisely the starting point for what we call ‘a project’.
Even though pupils are very young, it doesn’t mean that they don’t have preferences. In fact, driven by curiosity at an early age, they begin to explore their environment and their flare for discovery leads them to having a greater disposition and initiative to learn. We can then pay special attention to that which best characterises their cognitive development; language and play.
Through play they enjoy experimenting, manipulating, ordering, numbering and classifying objects and elements about them. In addition, they add comments, dialogues and explanations to the play process. The development of language and the progressive use they make of it contributes to the construction of thought and helps children understand and interpret their reality. In turn, this can serve as two good channels to transmit or guide interest.
There are two main options for stimulating interests – spontaneous suggestions that are made by children and suggestions that are elicited or provoked by teachers. The mechanisms by which a topic for a project can be identified can vary. Here are some ideas:
During assembly, we can ask each child what they would like to learn about. Once children are accustomed to working in this way, they participate a lot, because they learn that in the end the outcome depends on what they contribute or say.
- Read a story
Stories can provoke and raise doubts, questions or concerns for children. It wouldn’t be the first time that the main character from a story is an animal thus providing a starting point for a project that investigates animals.
- An excursion
Any visit to museums, theatres, factories, farms etc… can act as a detonator for a project that includes the before and after stages to the class visit. In this way, children can prepare for a visit and carry out follow-up activities afterwards.
- At the beginning of the school year
The beginning of the year, when children at settling in to school life, is a good moment to begin a project When the class is given a group name or a class pet is ‘adopted’ this can give a clear point of reference to identify themselves with the group, facilitating the settling in process.
- A special day/date
The range of possibilities is extensive; there are many special days and days which can act as a catalyst for project work.
- A particular situation
Perhaps a classmate has gone on a trip? Why not find out more about the country they have been to? This can result in a very positive contribution to multicultural awareness, developing empathy and tolerance.
For all the situations and ideas described above, it’s a good idea to write them in a well organised list on a board, flipchart or A3 poster so they can be seen clearly. Why? Well, this is the moment when project topics are suggested.
The reading of titles or topics can always be supported with representative illustrations, especially for 5-year-olds. For example if ‘Lions’, ‘Snakes’ and ‘Fish’ have been suggested, the letters (L, S, F) in capitals, can be written next to the drawing that represents each animal (and without realising, pupils become familiar with logograms).
Voting is simple and at the same time complicated. Using a ‘hands up’ system can be disastrous. Children do not understand that they only have one vote and once they have raised their hands for one vote, they can’t raise their hands again. A more visual and ‘transparent’ way of voting is to ask pupils to come to the board and make a mark next to the drawing (topic) that interests them most. In this simple activity, you are implicitly doing a million things. The project has begun! Behavioural norms and educational values, mathematical logic and initiation into reading have also begun. Already, with one session, your class has made its first step to project based learning. Imagine what will happen once the investigation is underway!
I hope I’ve smoothed the path to this adventure that many of you are thinking of embarking upon.
This article has been translated and adapted from an article first published by Irene González Collado on her blog El Alma de mi Aula