Project-based learning, or learning activities that take place over extended periods of time, have generally been associated with middle school and high school courses. For instance, many high school science classes’ genetic units involve students breeding fruit flies for certain traits. Recently, however, many early learning centers have begun to bring project-based learning into their own curricula to introduce and reinforce the concepts of creativity, exploration, problem-solving, and early critical thinking. See below to learn about five project-based learning activities that early learning centers are using across the country.
1. Growing a garden
Many early learning centers and primary schools have created an entire learning unit out of the project-based creation of a garden. Learners are facilitated in planting, caring for, and observing produce and flowers. Teachers ask questions that promote discovery, critical thinking, and reflection. Granny’s Garden in Ohio is one of the largest project-based early/elementary gardens in the country <http://grannysgardenschool.org/>. With a large staff of volunteers and local educators, students from Pre-K to 4th grade are presented with an integrated, project-based curriculum that sustains through the school year.
2. Keeping track of the seasons
Early learning centers all across the country, whether it be Maine, Florida, or California, chart the seasons in small activities throughout the year. Some learning centers prepare an activity each month to visually depict the weather (through drawing or use of craft supplies), and others go season to season charting rain, snow, and sunshine. Creating these visual representations and looking back to discuss them under different weather conditions promotes reflection among early learners.
3. Nutrition unit
Early learning centers that provide breakfast or lunch can create project-based learning units that discuss nutrition. Over the period of a week, month, or more, early learners can be prompted to discuss the different components that make up nutritious meals. Dunlap Exemplary Preschool in Iowa <http://ecrp.uiuc.edu/v7n1/floerchinger.html> starts with students creating representations of healthy food on trays with modelling clay, then facilitates discussion of where their own lunches come from, and ends with students play-acting how to make and serve lunch. Early learning centers that choose to do shorter projects can include children planning and drawing/coloring meals, listening to a guest speaker who is well-versed in cooking, or discussions can be utilized in a critical thinking exercise.
4. Recycling project
Early learning centers that choose to have recycling projects can make them last all year. Many teachers start by having their early learners create their own recycling center in the classroom. They have separate sections for bottles, cans, and paper. Students learn throughout the year which objects can be recycled, can visit an outdoor or public-friendly indoor recycling center, listen to guest speakers, and watch short videos about recycling.
5. Building projects
Some early learning centers create projects based on the building or creation of large objects over months or a year. These projects frequently involve the building of a model building (like the learning center or library) using various materials such as rocks, wood blocks, and other items over time. Each time the class visits the project, they build on top of the previously used materials with new materials, and they discuss the function, use, and texture of each item.
One of the greatest advantages of project-based learning for Pre-K and younger is the all-year sustainability. Ten to 15 minutes a day can create all-year lessons that showcase early learners’ efforts and accrued knowledge. Does your early learning center have any great project-based learning ideas? Let us know in the comments!