One of my favourite times of the day is when all the kids are gathered in the art room working on their separate things, but together. Chatting and encouraging each other, sharing and supporting, giggling and helping. Watching them makes my heart feel so full!
We do this every day. Sometimes people ask how I meet the needs of many kids of different ages when unschooling and this is one way we make it work! We call it ‘Project Time’, a name chosen by the big girls because they usually use it to work on any projects they’ve got going on. It’s a great time to work on more complicated or ongoing things.
What is Project Time?
For us, it’s really just ‘Present Time’. It’s a time where I’m 100% present. I’m there with them, helping them with anything they need, just watching and chatting, or joining in and doing my own thing.
How did this evolve? Well, helping four children with all their ideas and plans can be hard! They have so much going on. So many passions and interests and ideas. I love that and I absolutely want to be able to support and assist when they need it. That gets tricky when everyone is wanting something all the time and I also have other things to do and we have outings and friends and ballet and a million other things, ha! So, we made space for it.
I don’t like feeling like I’m often asking people to wait or that ‘I’ll be there in a second’ or that ‘I just have to finish this’, which is how it feels when I have lots to do at once. Instead, I make a time every day to be 100% present for them and available. We regularly talk about what we want our days to look like, what is and isn’t working, and what might need to change through different stages and seasons. Generally though, what we like is having Project Time in the mornings.
In the morning, everyone is feeling fresh and inspired, the little ones aren’t tired and grumpy, and we don’t have any ballet lessons to get to. So, after breakfast everyone usually drifts to the same place and I join them and make sure I’m all there. Not distracted, planning other things, thinking about the washing, answering blog comments, etc. I’m just there. We’re usually in the art room because that’s where all our creative materials are and there’s a table, stool, and enough space for everyone.
When we do this in the morning they feel heard and that their needs are a priority. They are also much happier to carry on with their own things and play independently when we’ve all had that time of connection and attention at the beginning of the day. All our buckets are filled!
Now, this is not to say I don’t help them with things for the rest of the day! I do, of course, but I also feel more comfortable saying ‘just a minute’ or if it’s something really complicated and I have grumpy little ones needing me even ‘could we do that tomorrow?’ I know that we have had that time together and that I have made it a priority to help them with what they need, and they are able to understand that sometimes we all need to wait. Having a predictable and guaranteed time together means that even if they do have to wait until tomorrow they know their needs will be met!
So, what do they do during Project Time?
Anything! The rules are, there are no rules. This is NOT a forced learning time and no one has to participate. There are no requirements, no expectations, no force. It is simply a being 100% present and together time. They can choose to do ANYTHING they want to do. It doesn’t have to be a ‘project’, despite the name. It’s rare though that they don’t have something they want to do. Where there is a supportive and interested adult, you will often find a passionate and inspired child.
The big girls do often choose to work on ongoing projects or ideas. They’ll ask me questions or to get them things they need, or they’ll just enjoy chatting to me about what they’re up to. Sometimes they’ll read a book, do some art, or join in with what the little ones are doing. Whatever they are doing comes entirely from them depending on whatever they are currently interested in.
The little girls just want to be a part of anything that’s going on! They might sit and draw, or paint, or play with dolls, do experiments, sensory play, or make something.
Sometimes they’ll all do something together, but generally they are all in the same area but doing separate things. People will come and go as needed. They often sit for a while and then one of them will go outside and jump on the trampoline for 5 minutes before coming back and carrying on with what they were doing. It’s so interesting to me watching them naturally listen to their bodies and what they need.
We have ‘Project Time’ on all of our home days and everyone always looks forward to it. If I’m slow to get started in the morning someone will inevitably ask me, ‘can we have project time now?’
It’s something we have done for a while now. It was harder and therefore less frequent whenever I had a little baby, but we’re into a great rhythm now and we love it.
If you’re struggling to find time for everyone’s ideas and needs, carving out a dedicated time to be 100% present might be helpful. It’s so enjoyable for us!