making space, literally and figuratively

The ever-wonderful Lori has a truly inspiring post up over at Camp Creek. It’s called Making Space For Their Ideas, and it’s all about how to help kids facilitate their own projects. How to let go of your own ideas, to make space for them to have their own ideas.

If you haven’t read it yet, do.

It goes right along with my last two posts. Makes me realize how far I’ve come with child-led learning, since my days as a teacher–and how far I still have to go.

Take Mr. T’s planet project. We’d talked many times of the papier-mache planet models that H made when he was Mr. T’s age. So when I asked if he might want to make his own models for our homeschool group’s upcoming history fair, I knew he might be interested. He was happy to go along with my idea for a project.

Just yesterday he started it. But I didn’t let him guide things at first. I just assumed I’d show him how to do it; then he’d take over once it came time to do the papier-mache and the painting. I hadn’t yet read Lori’s post, you understand (she says sheepishly).

But here’s something I love about my kids: when I start taking over their projects, they stop me. I must have done something right, because they know what they want.

First, Mr. T explained that the book I showed him giving scale explanations for the planets–if Jupiter is a large cabbage, then Earth is a walnut–was wrong. He led me to a video on Flixxy about the scale of planets, which was forwarded to us by my friend, Carrie. It’s a fascinating video, and Mr. T has watched it dozens of times, and studied the scale pictures below the video. 

explaining his model

“That book shows Uranus and Neptune too big. And Uranus and Neptune should be almost the same size.”

He was right. The book I’d so carefully tracked down from another library system, the one I used back when I was teacher, was published in 1977. It’s outdated–and Mr. T didn’t need it anyway. He could have figured out how to make the models himself, based on the video that’s enchanted him so many times.

Earlier, he’d tried making a foil ball the size of a walnut for Earth. He tried to trace the shape of the walnut on to the foil, so he could make a walnut-sized foil shell, which he would then fill with foil.

earth is the size of a walnut

When forming the shell became difficult, did I ask if he wanted help? Nope. I just blurted out that it might be easier to make a small foil ball and keep adding to it until it was the size of the walnut.

I knew when I said it that I shouldn’t have. I knew I was hurrying him along, wanting him to make progress on the project–because our history fair is in two weeks.

About an hour later I read Lori’s post. Just when I needed it. As much as I’ve learned to follow my kids, I need to step back even more. I want to step back even more. I want to see what Mr. T’s wondrous imagination comes up with, when I don’t climb in there and muck things up. Even if it means his history fair exhibit might look like it was made by a seven-year-old with a wondrous imagination.

I think I’ll print out Lori’s post and hang it beside my desk.

I’m glad I read it before Mr. T got deep into his project. I haven’t taken it from him yet–there’s still time to let him grab it from my hands and run with it.

And the other good news? He didn’t take my advice on how to make a foil walnut. He did it his own way.

8 comments… add one
  • lori Mar 4, 2009 @ 8:52

    thank you, patricia — and i’m glad it was so helpful! :^)

  • Helen Mar 4, 2009 @ 23:03

    I love how things often come just at the right time. And thank goodness for the internet for so many reasons!

  • gramps Mar 5, 2009 @ 11:01

    Nice shirt!

    • patricia Mar 5, 2009 @ 18:41

      Yep, Gramps, from one geek to another!

  • Janet Mar 7, 2009 @ 10:07

    HI Tricia,
    It occurs to me that every time I pop in and read what the family is up to it never fails to have some parallel to my life at school. As I plan and project out the next steps for our students, I always consider the drive of a teacher’s agenda vs the natural path of the learner. How do we give the space and time for children to gather knowedge and produce evidence of understanding in the chunks of time of a school term? The differences in our lives with our students/kids is pretty different, but the thought process and internal wresting is the same. Thanks for the links and the inspiration. J

  • patricia Mar 9, 2009 @ 15:49

    Hi Janet!

    This line of yours says it all: “The differences in our lives with our students/kids is pretty different, but the thought process and internal wresting is the same.” It sure is a lot of internal wrestling! And I do think there are a lot of similarities between what you and I do: your school seems to be a pretty child-centered one. I’ll bet there’s lots on the Camp Creek Blog that would appeal to you. Lori’s background was at a Reggio Emilio school, so she’s taking her experiences there and applying them to homeschooling.

    PS: I got mad at Chris for talking on the phone with you and Dave without bringing me an extension!

  • Veronica Mar 15, 2009 @ 1:56

    I need to get my hubby that T-shirt. Too funny.

  • patricia Mar 15, 2009 @ 11:46

    Veronica–I believe my dad got the shirt at ThinkGeek. When we first got our Mac, Mr. T was about four, and he did some, uh, work on our computer which really messed things up. So I think that’s what the shirt’s all about.

    Thanks for stopping by the blog!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.