The House Project
By Parul Roy, Head Teacher
The children in Center AM became keenly interested in houses last winter; they were eager to learn everything about them. It began with an interest in using the metal ladders on the red playhouse in the yard. Children talked about fixing, “tearing down” and rebuilding the playhouse. Some of the children in the class were seeing their own homes being remodeled and were talking about the on-going construction. Others were watching construction in the community. This topic was meaningful and in context with their everyday lives.
The group negotiated possibilities for the red playhouse. The consensus was to rebuild it with wings. Children investigated, researched and documented their ideas. They drew blueprints of what the house would look like with and without wings. It was the start of a major project, initiated by the children.
The goal was intrinsically interesting to the children. They were achieving some of their goals with their own actions. They were eager to do “real work” with their construction tools. They used a variety of tools to build, fix and tear down structures they had built with blocks. Colored water and brushes were used to make the houses colorful and shiny. They reflected on their investigations through their own books made at the language table. As their expertise grew, they became more able observers.
Teachers began questioning the children about their understanding of houses. “What is a house?” “Who makes houses?” “Do all people live in the same kind of house?” The answers revealed the children’s past experiences with houses and their ability to recall and articulate information about these experiences. Many theories arose.
Adam: “It is an upstairs house. I have an attic. There is a hall, then you turn, and then there is the kitchen.”
Christina: “I share my deck with my brother Cameron. It is made of plastic and wood.”
Geoffrey: “If you have two bedrooms then you have two windows.”
Grace: “I live in a Mountain View house. I live close to my mom’s bed.”
Sawyer: “I live in a two-story house. That means you have an upstairs and a down-stairs.”
Children represented their ideas using different materials: blocks, cardboard, clay, paper and pencil, wood. The class investigated the topic in more depth by bringing in books, both fiction and non-fiction, related to building and tools. These included books about houses around the world and types of houses seen in the neighborhood. Their research provided opportunities for language exploration and building vocabulary as well. By coordinating firsthand experiences with the information in books, children gained knowledge.
As the children’s interest intensified, we invited Warren Packard, Justin and Tyler’s dad, to share his expertise and knowledge about houses. The children generated questions, practiced listening skills and shared ideas and personal experiences. Warren Packard and the children built a model of a house. He broke the task down into simple stages and provided vocabulary to describe the parts of the house. Children learned words such as foundation, insulation, plumbing, sheet rock and wiring. The children used this meaningful information in their work with other house building projects. Warren Packard also showed the class a power hammer and power saw and presented a slideshow of a house renovation. Jasmine’s mom, Laura Donohue, showed a dollhouse that Jasmine built with her family. Jasmine and her mom described the house building process in stages. Children saw the makings of a house up close and shared a group experience.
To further these investigations, children visited a construction site on campus in small groups. They had the opportunity to talk with the construction workers on-site and ask questions. Later, they brought back information to share with their peers at story time. Visits to the site were continued throughout the stages of the building process.
As a culminating piece of work, the children created a large house out of cardboard. They reflected upon and revisited their prior experiences to aid them in the building of their house. Their cooperative learning — debating, negotiating ideas, refining language and reinforcing the feeling of community — was a meaningful experience for the children. They also enjoyed being the protagonists, being able to walk right into their creation. Teachers felt rewarded to see the children truly engaged in learning and to see collaborative problem-solving, peer teaching, researching and sharing.
As growth continued in their understanding of this topic, children became fascinated by the red-tailed hawks in the yard. Watching them build their nests sparked the children’s interest in building homes for the birds, with natural materials found in the environment. This project provided a common focus for children and parents and teachers. Everyone came together for the purpose of helping the children in their investigations and supporting the growth of the children’s skills, knowledge and disposition toward learning.
The children were encouraged to take the leadership role in determining the direction of the project in order to create an environment where children were eager to learn. The interest in birds and their nests became an exciting extension of the house project, where the children’s learning was self-initiated and in context.