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When my children were younger, we would always run out of time to do hands-on projects. By the time we got out all the materials and cleared a space for the activity, we had about ten minutes to work on it before we had to begin cleaning up. How frustrating!
It became easier and easier to push off those projects to “another day,” which of course, never arrived.
We tried setting aside every Friday as project day, but that schedule didn’t work for projects that required more than one day to complete; for example, making a salt dough map, which takes a couple of days to dry, or learning how to do paper maché. Don’t even get me started on the mess that makes!
Another thing that got pushed off the schedule was larger household projects. We would talk about repainting one of the girls’ bedrooms or removing the wallpaper that the previous owner put in the dining room, but we never got around to actually doing it.
That’s when I had an idea.
As Charlotte Mason observed, “No phrase is more common and more promising than, ‘I have an idea’; we rise to such an opening as trout to a well-chosen fly” (Philosophy of Education, p. 105).
The idea? A Project Week. Why not do school work for three weeks, then enjoy a project week, three weeks of school work, one project week, and so on. Since we homeschooled all year round, that idea seemed like it might work.
So we tried it.
And it worked beautifully!
We found that project weeks were great for sewing projects that cause much less stress if spread out over several days. And if you can leave the sewing machine set up for that week, life becomes much easier.
Project weeks gave me the margin to invite the children to help with larger home projects. Oh, yes, they were already involved in regular cleaning chores and such, but somehow I had not tried to involve them in any larger projects. I had always hurried through those in order to get done and get back to schoolwork. Now the children could be involved, and it was much more pleasant to take my time and walk through the work with them, knowing that I had a whole week to do this. Plus, I was actually getting those house projects done!
As the children got older, we learned that project weeks were also a great time to do more intensive science experiments that require a lot of preparation and attention.
Now, when we started this schedule, I thought project weeks would help insert short breaks during the year: three weeks on, one week off. But as we got into it, I discovered an added benefit: many of the projects we worked on could be counted as school work.
For example, one week our project was to remove the old wallpaper border from a bedroom and paint the walls. We turned that project into a life-skills lesson by having the children figure the square footage of the walls and determine how much paint we needed, select which color of paint they wanted, compare prices to get enough paint without going over budget, read the labels of the wallpaper remover to see how much we needed to get and how to mix it and apply it correctly, . . . not to mention the actual paper removing and wall painting.
We took one day to do the figuring, budgeting, and pricing. Another day was set aside for shopping and moving furniture. The third day we dedicated to the wallpaper removal, leaving two days for painting and clean up.
And the nice thing was that we were not knocking ourselves out, working from dawn to dusk. We could put in some good work and still have time to enjoy ourselves and the process together.
Of course, not every project needs to be something that you can count for school. Maybe you want to use that fourth week to visit extended family for a couple of days—family you don’t usually get to see more than once a year.
You might plan two or three day-trips to take during that week, going to interesting places near your house. There is a canyon, a botanical garden, a presidential house, and an archeological museum all within three hours of my house. Yet somehow we never seemed to squeeze those trips into our schedule. A project week could be the answer.
You could take a week to plant your garden in the spring, or clean out the garage and hold a yard sale in the fall.
You could take a week in the middle of the year to regroup and revise your school plans if you need to.
Or you might tackle a pottery project and actually get it done. (And see, we’re back to activities that could count for schoolwork. So many of them do!)
Well, that was the idea that worked so well for our family that I wanted to share it with you: three weeks of school work and one project week, year round. Perhaps three-weeks-on, one-week-off will become a happy rhythm for your family too.
Even if you don’t school year round, you may want to schedule a few project weeks during the year. With scheduled project weeks, you know when you will “get around to” doing that big experiment or larger project. Give it a try!