What is The Project Approach ?

The Project Approach is an approach to teaching and learning that has been widely used in early childhood classrooms throughout the United States. Grounded in the philosophical work of John Dewey (1916), project learning was made popular by Kilpatrick (1918) (as cited in Vartuli, Bolz & Wilson, 2014). Lillian Katz and Sylvia Chard (2000; 2014), University Professors, applied Dewey’s philosophy to create a meaningful and relevant approach to teaching young children. Judy Harris-Helm (2001; 2011; 2014) furthered the work of Katz and Chard by creating helpful tools for teachers’ practical application of the curriculum framework’s teaching and learning principles.

The Project Approach reflects a variety of instructional strategies that incorporates best practices in teaching young children. A primary feature of this approach is that curriculum is negotiated between children and teachers. Teachers become guides in learning as the learners work to solve authentic child-initiated problems and answer questions about a topic worth investigating.

What is a project? A project is a short (4-6 weeks) or long-term (6-12 weeks) investigation of a topic that is worth learning about. Topics emerge naturally from the context of the children’s community and school environment. Teachers often observe children’s play, observe phenomena in the child’s immediate environment, and ask children about their interests in order to determine the topic of evaluation. Teachers integrate content areas (reading, math, science, social studies, music, art, etc.) and learning standards within the context of projects. Projects however are distinctly "projects" (rather than themes) when children have questions about the topic and the children’s questions drive the teaching and learning experiences.

Key features of The Project Approach. Teachers engage children in the learning process by helping children ask and answer their own important questions through scientific approaches: observation, prediction, investigation, experimentation, creating, planning, analysis, and evaluation, etc. A project has three phases: Phase I, Phase II, and Phase III.

Photos are from various Mid America Head Start Coaching Project and Project ABC2 projects featured on our Projects and Coaching Project page. We appreciate the sharing granted by teachers and families-- teachers who opened their classrooms and the families who gave permission for the use of the wonderful project documentation.

Information written by Karrie Snider.