Project-Based Learning: Tips for Parents
By Anne Jolly,
During this unprecedented time in our education history when many schools are closed nationwide, how can parents and other caregivers set up environments and activities to help kids continue their learning? And what kind of learning is most useful?
This Worlds of the Future report spotlights four especially important skills that define high-quality learning for today’s students. These include skills that students currently practice in cutting-edge project-based-learning (PBL) classes. As children spend more time away from their classrooms, parents and guardians can reinforce some PBL practices and continue to arm students with valuable skills to prepare them for their future world.
Strengthen your children’s learning in these ways:
- Develop children’s awareness of the wider world and how to be active in a global community. Project-based learning sets projects in a global context that prepares students for a world that’s growing increasingly interconnected. This includes developing students’ abilities to empathize with others, appreciate other cultures and points of view, understand how events in one part of the world affect other parts of the world and recognize problems that go beyond their communities. Defined Learning is an online project-based learning resource that offers free e-learning projects for students in grades K-12.
At home, encourage your child to research another culture and how the people there live and think. Kids can also explore global challenges, including creating a healthy, sustainable environment, reducing health problems, or solving water and food shortages. During this pandemic, children might become familiar with the impact of the coronavirus in different places and learn how the disease is affecting people’s lives and the economies of nations.
A couple of free sites that can help kids think globally include Design Squad Global with lively activities and global connections for kids, and National Geographic Kids, featuring stories of people and wildlife all over the planet. Bottom line: expand your child’s horizons.
- Encourage innovation and creativity. Is your child always asking “why”’ and “how?” Great! Keep your kids curious. Start by showing them that you are curious about things and are interested in learning more – your enthusiasm will motivate your children’s interest. Ask them to look around for situations right in front of them that need answers or solutions. For example, they might wonder: How can I stop the squirrel from getting into the bird feeder? Design my own wind chimes? Make a new piece of furniture for my room? Build a robot? Design new fashion jewelry? Find a new use for an old suitcase?
Now involve these curious kids in critical thinking, investigating how things work, and problem-solving. When they decide on a problem, turn them loose to learn more about it and work on solutions. Welcome off-beat ideas and give them ownership of the task rather than jumping in to help them. When your child asks a question, instead of offering a solution, urge him or her to look for information and come up with several possible solutions. As they work, commend them for what they are doing and how they are learning.
If your child needs some ideas for projects, you and your child can check out project ideas on Discover Engineering (click on “Activities”), Cool Projects for Kids of All Ages, and Instructables (click on “projects”). For ideas on setting up a “maker space” where kids can invent and build things, see “Reinvent Summer Learning: Make It Up!”
- Involve children in using technology and developing digital skills. Whatever technology you have at home, start by helping your kids learn how to manage digital sites responsibly and how to use technology appropriately. You’ll find tips to share with your children at Digital Etiquette for Being a Good Digital Citizen. Also check out this Digital Citizenship site, suitable for kids ages 9-18.
Use technology for learning. TV watching doesn’t have to be mindless. Plenty of entertaining TV programming relates strongly to learning and provides kids with a wealth of information as well as enjoyment. View science and technology TV and videos with your child and talk together about the program afterward. Try History Channel’s Modern Marvels, PBS’s NOVA, the Discovery Channel’s Planet Earth and National Geographic’s Cosmos. These tried-and-true favorites have hundreds of episodes covering a variety of topics. Check out BrainPOP where children can play interactive games, and learn “cool stuff.” TED-Ed provides short videos your older child can choose from to stimulate interest in learning in different areas.
- Focus on interpersonal skills such as collaboration, persistence, work ethic, and leadership. PBL focuses on these skills, but your children need your help to develop them. Check out some of the strategies on this SEL (Social-Emotional Learning) site While directed at high school students, they can be adapted for younger ages. Also, check out this SEL blog post that lists seven ways to help your kids grow in SEL areas. Some additional tips for helping kids grow these skills:
- Working together is often a difficult skill for children to master. In PBL classes, collaboration and teamwork is the way that students “do business.” This short article on extending collaboration at home can give you ideas for helping your children with this.
- Staying on task and not giving up is one of the most valuable qualities children of any age can develop. For tips on building persistence, try Kidspot. Let kids know that when they design answers for a problem, they may come up with ideas that don’t work at first. That’s okay. In fact, that’s even good! It’s the mistakes we make that keep us learning and growing.
- A strong work ethic involves characteristics such as curiosity, creative thinking, and so on. This post on teaching work ethics is directed at teachers but parents can use the ideas from it as well. You may also find this article on Teaching Your Child to Be Ethical
- Sensible leadership is an essential need in today’s world. Children vitally need to gain moral courage and the ability to speak out, step in, and help others. Unselfish leadership abilities make a difference for others. A number of sites address this issue, including Lets Grow Leaders, and Momtastic.
- Search out education-related recreational activities. Every experience has learning value for children. Take them on a trip to a museum or an Exploreum. Visit robotics competitions or a makerspace. Visit zoos, theme parks, and other educational sites. As you tour these sites with your child, click their brains into gear. Call attention to how theme park rides operate. (How are they constructed? What science principles are they using?) Take your children on hikes and talk about everything from the environment to how the trails are constructed. These types of experiences build confidence and empower kids to feel that learning is a natural part of life.
Your children can help to change the world, and you can help them. At its heart, today’s learning is about solving real-world problems. The world needs more and more graduates with the skills to identify problems, visualize explanations, design possible solutions, then implement and test these solutions. Imagine your child among these graduates, helping to change the world for the better. Now there’s a goal that teachers, caregivers, and parents can work together to achieve!