I realize that many of you reading this are free-spirited, artsy, Pinterest-devoted die-hard project people, and that the best part of your homeschooling lives involve doing hands-on activities with your kids. Good for you - I applaud you. And I hate you. Just a little bit.
You see, I am a logical, by-the-book, organized, sequential kind of gal who secretly wishes her kids could get everything they need educationally by simply opening up a text book or working through a workbook. And this traditional learning, visually and auditory-oriented mama was given the blessing of a creative, out-of-the-box, spontaneous, kinesthetic first-born child. A child who learns best by doing... (insert dramatic music here) projects.
Now when I committed to this homeschooling thing, I committed to teaching my children in ways that they best learn, and that most certainly (SIGH) is not an abundance of text books or workbooks. But I have to say, the projects portion of homeschooling continues to be an uphill battle. A battle I’m willing to fight, but a battle nonetheless. Projects to me, if I’m honest, mean disorganization and mess and tracking down doodads from multiple stores, and spills and lots of advanced planning, and missing out on “real work” and figuring out where to store the finished product when we’re done. I mean, c'mon. Can't we just stick to me reading and you listening?
But alas, no, we can't. Because children need a variety of educational experiences, and because my oldest daughter thrives on projects. And this whole homeschooling thing is really supposed to be about the kids, not me. I can drill the parts of the circulatory system until I'm blue in the face, read multiple books on the subject, have her write a paragraph on the function of the different parts of blood – and she won’t remember any of it as well as when we make a model of blood out of Karo syrup, red hots, lentils, and cannellini beans. So part of being a good homeschool mama is getting out of my comfort zone and breaking out the creative activities... mess and all.
I’ve tried to balance my kids' need and desire for projects with my need and desire for organization and "traditional" teaching. Because as much as I want to do everything to maximize my kids' learning, if I tried to do a project every day, this family’s homeschooling would come to a very quick end. So we balance activities that are, well, neater and less intensive, such as drawing things we are learning about or cutting and pasting pictures of a topic, with messier, more involved projects. Coloring and drawing happen rather frequently (multiple times per week), whereas projects that require multiple craft items or paint or the like get saved for special (and much less frequent, like once or twice a month) project days. This balance seems to meet all of our needs, keeping mama from becoming a frazzled, seizure-induced nutcase, and helping keep a sense of fun and excitement in school for the kids.
On our most recent project day, I decided to take on a mini-study on the Ark of the Covenant. You know, that holy box that the Israelites carried with them in biblical times, which contained the 10 commandments and God’s presence? We learned all about the importance of the Ark to the ancient Israelites, including how the Ark was made and what was inside. To reinforce learning, I determined that we would make our own Ark. Armed with small cardboard boxes, dowel rods, clay, and gold spray paint, I took a deep breath and planned a whole school day (Aaargh! A whole school day!) to the efforts of our creation. We each molded the 10 Commandments, Aaron's rod, and a jar for holding manna (oatmeal) out of clay, to go inside our Ark. Then we sculpted two seraphim (angels) to go on top of the box. Finally, we spray painted the whole thing gold and put two dowel rods through the sides of the Ark, as the poles by which the Ark was carried. Pretty involved, yes. Was it worth it?
Well, surprise of surprises, I loved doing it. It was wonderful to watch their creativity shine, and to see the excitement on their faces as their hard work turned into a pretty authentic-looking Ark of the Covenant. And the kids thought it was the best thing ever. One of my daughters even woke me up early the morning of project day, saying "Come on, Mom. Get up. We have to do school!" (Hmmmm... she doesn’t do this on regular school days when we stick to books and writing!) They took their time creating each piece of the project, each encouraging the other as they worked. They oohed and aahed over their finished Arks and have plans to bring them to church to show them off. But the biggest benefit? Even my 4-year-old can tell you what the Ark of the Covenant was, and what was inside. No amount of reading would have reinforced so clearly to my kids what they learned from creating this Ark themselves. So was it worth it? Absolutely.
This homeschool mama survived project day. And was once again reminded that homeschooling is not just about getting the job done as efficiently as possible; it’s about enjoying the journey along the way. Yes, projects are messy. Yes, they take a lot of work. But they also bring about joy and wonder and creativity and fun. And somehow I think what is going to matter, when my kids are grown and we all look back on our homeschooling years, is not how many worksheets we completed or how well we followed our carefully planned schedule, but how many wonderful messes we enjoyed creating together as we learned.