On the Border of Chaos & Order: Project Based Learning in Kindergarten


“The essence of independence is to be able to do something for one’s self. Adults work to finish a task, but the child works in order to grow, and is working to create the adult, the person that is to be. Such experience is not just play… it is work he must do in order to grow up.

 – Maria Montessori 

The article Perfecting with Practice: Project Based Teaching by Suzie Boss, lays a wonderful foundation for those educators looking to make the leap into Project Based Learning. As a Kindergarten teacher, this framework coupled with PYP curriculum and a strong emphasis on play-based learning is the perfect recipe for authentic learning engagements in my classroom.

Suzie Boss writes, that “Inquiry is at the heart of project learning.” As much as I  agree with her on that, I’d take one step further with the anatomy analogy and say if that inquiry is the heart than play is the backbone.  As an Early Years of working at conceptually based schools, I believe it’s the concoction of inquiry,  play, and experimentation that really helps foster critical thinking skills and promote big ideas.

Each day my Kinder students become more and more accustomed to inquiry and big ideas and solving authentic problems.  At first, the thought of relinquishing control and transferring more ownership over to the students felt a bit daunting.  However, I quickly realized once I got out of the way, that’s when the magic happened.  I had embraced the power of letting go and started looking at the learning through the macro lens.  By embracing project-based learning as my foundation I helped keep my students tethered to learning but unbounded by their own desires and creativity. 

Suzie’s Boss’ article Perfecting with Practice also reminded me of  Mitchel Resnick’s TED Talk Kindergarten for our Whole Lives.  Throughout his TED Talk, which I’ve also included below,  he dives into what he calls the four P’s of Practice. Those are as followed.

Play  & Peers

Starting with Passions

It’s been said if you want to get to know someone spends an hour playing with them.  You’ll learn more from that one hour than days of conversations.  In the Early Years, where students wear their hearts on their sleeves, a few play sessions combined some astute observations and notetaking and you will allow you begin to tap into the interests of an early years learner.  Take iTime, for example, ( also known to other educators as Genius Hour) undoubtedly our most popular time throughout the week. My Kindergarten students consistently look forward to iTime because they know that that time is personal to them.  It’s a dedicated time and space for creative thinking. 

iTime activates my student’s natural desire to learn and empowers them to embrace their imagination and design thinking skills.  Our classroom Makerspace is an organic entity that has taken on a life of its own and treasured by my students. Each week they take part in iTime where in addition to them learning about the creative process, they are constantly exploring, experimenting and tinkering.  In a sense, iTime is grassroots,  student-driven,  Project Based Learning. Fueled by their individual wonder and passions, my students take iTime very seriously. Here’s a great article that speaks to more of benefits of personalized learning  or “iTime”

Also, have a look at some of the focus and levels of engagement from my students below.




Make it Relevant to Make it Work

Although iTime is one way to tap into my student’s passions and make it work on a personalized level.  I began to reflect on my Kindergarten class as a whole and wondered which learning engagements fit best with their needs, Project Based Learning or Challenge-Based Learning?

After reading Kim Cofino’s blog post “ 3 steps to transforming your classroom,” I realized is that Understanding by Design or Project-Based Learning would work really well with my 5 & 6-year-old students. Understanding by Design allows me to revise lesson plans to keep them aligned with the learning goals thus acknowledging the ebb & flow of Kindergarten.

Other learning frameworks although, great, do not necessarily fit as well as my Project Based Learning.  For example, Problem-Based Learning & Challenge Based Learning isn’t exactly relevant or age appropriate for my students. Don’t get me wrong, delve into Problem-Based Learning from time to time, but that is mostly when we are attempting to solve or focus on classroom or individual conflicts.

By keeping my focus on the Project-based learning model,  I help my students become prosumers as they generate a cycle of creation, reflection, & refinement.  It will also change the way they perceive the world. In my class, there is no problem too big to attempt to solve. Providing children with Time, space, resources and an authentic audience equips them for the real world. 

Learning to collaborate on large-scale problems and give and receive feedback throughout the process is one key to success, both in the classroom and in life. 

Overcoming Obstacles  

Project Based learning helps the students learn how to think big and come up with big goals and ideas.  Of course, like any type of teaching, this takes scaffolding, patience, and practice.  One obstacle, although not terribly big one is the fact that things in Kindergarten don’t always move in a linear direction. Some of the learning will probably be circular but I suppose the nice part about Project-based learning is the freedom and flexibility that comes with having an overarching goal/set of learning outcomes. UBD units, for example, allow me to revise lesson plans to keep them aligned with the learning goals.

I find that when they have an authentic audience to provide them with the feedback they are much more responsive. This sometimes can become challenging, especially if we have already exercised the options of our Grade 2 reading buddies, the admin team, or our parent community.  One thing that I would like to do more to help circumvent this obstacle is to seek out more global connections. Perhaps through my PLN on Twitter along with #KchatAP & #Kinderchat groups.  It’s important that my students continue to present their learning to an authentic audience, one that expands beyond the grounds of our school.

I’m a firm believer that Kindergarten students are more than capable of handling big ideas and understanding/handing real-life authentic problems so I’d never completely discount something and underestimate the ability of my students. 

Mitchel Resnick’s book, Lifelong Kindergartener, has been on my radar for a long time and as a Kindergarten teacher, I wholeheartedly agree with his views regarding teaching and learning through his philosophy and the four P’s. 

Although it often requires the right delivery, time, space, a bit of essence and a lot of repetition, my Kindergarten students and I are able to make learning look like an organic roman candle of student interest, engagement, and enjoyment; unbridled and glorious.

Final Wonderings?

What does learning look like in your classroom?

How do you harness and promote creativity with your students?

How do you embrace the four Ps (Projects, Passions, Play,  & Peers) in your teaching?


2 Replies to “On the Border of Chaos & Order: Project Based Learning in Kindergarten”

  1. Hi Nick,

    I enjoyed reading about your personal experiences in your classroom. It sounds like your students are truly embracing their iTime, which is wonderful, and that you have a designated tinkering time and place, that really sets them up for success. I enjoyed watching your videos of the students creating. They are definitely engaged! You are so right when you talk about linear learning versus circular learning. Its impossible to learn linear, for most of us! That’s when those “Ah ha” moments happen when a student is able to be challenged in many different aspects and has to critically think, their learning goes in one direction and then another and then it will come back around again.
    I was wondering how you document your students work in iTime? I have been looking into different ways to make this time documentable, and accountable. I find that with our older students some of these projects could go on for days or weeks, but with the younger ages, often once the tinkering time is done, we tend to wrap it up pretty quickly so that we have it documented, but so that we could also be done. They don’t do well with information being dragged on, but what I like about getting the activity documented is it makes it a real piece of work that we can evaluate their thinking, their design and thought process and how they provide their own feedback for modification. So we have paper journals, they draw their design, I usually have to write their notes depending on where they are at with that and then they re-draw it each time they make a modification. At the end we take a picture of their creation and print it off and put it in their journal. We will usually then write a few sentences as a reflection on their project, like was it challenging, did it turn out how they hoped, if not why, and what changes would they make if they had more time or different materials. That can be time-consuming if you have 20+ kids! Maybe having them voice record somehow?!
    I found this colorful, blog that has some great tips for PBL in kinder. http://kteachertiff.com/2017/05/project-based-learning-kindergarten.html. You might be beyond this though! Regardless you are doing wonderful things in your classroom and your students are clearly enjoying it!
    Keep up the good work!

  2. Hi Nick,

    Thank you for sharing the experiences of your children, and of the benefits of the Project Based approach. The examples that you give really bring the approach to life and would be a real shot in the arm for those with concerns about the pedagogy.

    I feel that this is often what educators need, real examples of how approaches clearly work – especially for the learning of the students, but also for their drive, enthusiasm and (dare I say it) fun!

    Mistral, documenting the learning process is often a sticking point isn’t it, especially when considering how we communicate the experiences in the classroom with assessment. Parents too, I find, like to see examples in books to know more about their children’s education. I would personally vouch for the blogging platform https://web.seesaw.me/, which Nick originally informed me of.

    I like this platform so much, because it is really accessible for the youngest students. It is simple to use and also really easy to collaborate. My students now regularly watch each others videos, work and read each other’s writing, which has a cumulative effect on how much they learn. They also have an active audience, and regular feedback from a range of onlookers. I know that Nick uses this to great effect in Kindergarten.

    Lastly, I also find that ‘iTime’ (Genius Hour to us) is the part of the week that my students are the most enthusiastic about. Their finished shared projects this week were stunning. Home made chicken wire pterodactyls appeared out of school bags, and lessons about the periodic table were brought to life with pun based jokes. They loved it and learnt so much!

    Thanks to you both for the great comments and food for thought.

    Looking forward to your next blogs.


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