Project-Based vs. More Structured Curriculum

By Jenny Giezendanner1

Our family has been home-teaching now for over ten years, with a total of four students as regulars in the program over that time. Most of this period we’ve lived in a rural third-world setting. Now we’re in a major city in the same country. When I started to teach our oldest child kindergarten, I had never taught primary school. Home schooling was just emerging as a movement in the United States, and even I thought it was dangerously unconventional. Nevertheless, it provided the best and perhaps only way of keeping our kids with us on the field. We definitely followed a trial-and-error approach.

Though I’d never taught primary school nor attended a home school, I had been in school for most of my life. And I had taught young adults. Admittedly I had pretty high expectations of my little kindergartner.

For the first two or three years, we stuck pretty much to a basic, proven, traditional (and expensive) school-at-home program. It was a “follow the daily lesson plan and you’ll get there” regime. But as our second child reached school age, things got trickier. First, it was difficult to maintain two separate programs for first and third grade, besides caring for our younger children. Also, the assignments seemed a lot less appropriate to our kinesthetic, object-oriented learner than they had for our more visually and people-oriented first child. All of us were getting tired of workbook pages, too.

Creative Discovery

We began by discarding reading texts and work pages for “trade books,” that is, books that a person would buy just for the fun of reading them. Classics, historical novels, specialized histories, science picture books, biographies, and even comics began to fill our library—books we’ve used over and over. Reading aloud has probably become our favorite family activity.

Next we began to use learning materials that led us through various experiences together: art projects, science experiments, math and logic games, etc.

This “creative discovery” approach proved motivational for us all, but it required lots of preparation on my part. I sometimes wasn’t sure who was learning what. As a check on this, the kids began taking standard achievement tests regularly. They find an objective measurement of their progress as encouraging as I do.


As the program has settled over these years of experimentation, we basically work from both ends of the standard curriculum/creative project approaches. All our kids have standard school math, spelling, and handwriting texts, with some history and science textbooks in the higher grades. They work through daily assignments in these subjects first thing in the day. They are also required to redo any missed problems until they are correct.

About halfway through the school day, we close down on those (the older kids save any leftovers for “homework”), have a snack, discuss some of their reading, and launch into project mode. Reports, poetry, and letter writing are part of this as well as drama, experiments, 3-D creations, and games. A certain amount of natural overlap comes from their individual assignments, but I try to be less picky about corrections in this mode.

Having both types of assignments in our home school allows each child to work on his/her own level, while still providing group experiences. For me this reduces preparation and correction time significantly and provides time to work with the individuals as well as the gang.

We still have rough days sometimes, but overall the kids like this routine. Each child likes having his/her own work that he/she can successfully “get done,” and each also likes the stimulation and practicality of our learning adventures together. One of their favorite questions is, “What book did you get that idea from, Mom?” It has been tremendously rewarding for me to see them learn to seek information and recreation from books independently in their free time. And we’re all thankful our learning doesn’t have to stop when the “school day” ends.

See also Tips for Project-Based Learning by the same author and Project Approach to Learning by Sharon Haag.

Permission to copy, but not for commercial use.