The Basics of Project-Based Learning: Lesson Plans for Preschool Classrooms

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What Is It?

As preschool teachers, we know that early education curriculum should focus on topics of study relevant to children’s cultures and environment and should incorporate formal learning (or teacher-directed activities) and informal learning (child-centered activities). The preschool curriculum should also incorporate opportunities for children to try to develop strategies to cope with testing an idea, and trying again when it fails.

One way to provide a curriculum with those characteristics is through the project approach. A project is an in-depth investigation of one single topic. The investigation can be done by a small group of children or the entire class as a whole. The key concept of the project approach is that research is the main focus. The research is often more important than the project itself, and the children will work together with the guidance of the teacher to find answers to the topic.

What Would a Lesson Plan Look Like?

When choosing to provide such a curriculum, it is important to first understand that your lesson plan will probably not resemble a “normal” lesson plan. Often these project-based learning lesson plans look like curriculum webs. A paln will begin with a central idea or theme and branch out in several directions with small projects in all areas of the curriculum. All small projects will lead back to the central theme. Once you have decided on the central theme, ask the children for their input.

For example, if your central theme is “Helping”, there would be several branches off the main idea. The more involved the children are with the planning of the curriculum, the more apt they will be to take a vested interest in the project. From the central theme “Helping”, children may decide they can help animals and they can help people.

From each of these ideas, more branches will sprout. From the “Animal” branch can come animals at home, animals at the zoo, animals in the wild, etc. Each smaller theme would then have a project for the children to complete.

It is important to remember not to let the these lesson plans take away from the usual school curriculum. In other words, be sure to incorporate the usual gross and fine motor activities, sensory activities, etc., when planning your curriculum.

Why Is the Project Approach Important?

When using the project approach, children are empowered to ask their own questions, conduct their own investigations, and make decisions regarding their daily activities. By providing these opportunities to children, we are enabling them to become independent thinkers and lifelong learners. They are able to experience self-motivated learning, which will only increase their desire to dig deeper, ask more questions, and conduct more research.

Just be aware that much of this investigation must be guided by an adult, either a parent or the teacher, as preschoolers will not obviously be able to do it independently. Collect resources on the topics you are targeting and help with gathering and recording methods.

Read More About It

We offer these additional resources, right here on Bright Hub Education:

Also take a look at:

  • Young Investigators: The Project Approach in the Early Years; Judy Harris Helm and Lillian Katz; 2001