Posted on 09/21/2015 at 11:09 AM by Liz Determan

As many early childhood programs move forward with implementing research-based curriculum we are hearing more and more about The Project Approach that was founded by Judy Harris Helm and Lilian G. Katz.  

So what does it mean when teachers say they are doing a project?

A project is an in-depth investigation of a topic worth learning more about.  The key feature of a project is that it is a research effort focused on finding answers to question about that topic, that are posed by the children or the teacher.  The goal is to learn about the topic while incorporating curriculum goals and objective and giving children 21st century skills.

A project does not constitute the whole curriculum; rather it is complementary to the curriculum.  Project work is not a separate subject, like math or science; but it provides a context for applying content area concepts and skills.  Project work can be done at any time in the daily routine, depending on the nature of the investigation.  It provides children with opportunities to apply skills, enhance their strengths, develop intrinsic motivation and be an active participant and decision-maker in their learning.

Projects are different than themes in that with themes teachers decide what children will learn and in projects children pose questions that they want to find answers to.  The length of themes are determined by the teacher; whereas with projects they go on as long as children still have questions they want answered.  In projects children investigate to see how things work, but in themes often teachers tell children how things work.  

Drawing, writing, reading, recording observations and interviewing experts are all part of project work.  Children accomplish age-appropriate skills through dramatic play, making models, graphing, going on site visits and cooperating with peers.  They learn lots of new vocabulary, and family and community involvement is key.   Projects are based on child-centeredness though there is plenty of teacher guidance.

Projects have 3 phases.  During Phase 1 you select and refine the topic to be investigated.  It needs to be a topic that will allow children to have plenty of direct experiences with and be able to cover curriculum content.  Children explore what they would like to learn about the topic and teachers web the learning that could take place.  Phase 2 consists of direct investigations where children together with teachers find answers to the questions they have about the topic and represent what they learned.  It can last for weeks or months.  Phase 3 consists of a culminating event, where children share with others what they have learned about the topic.  It is a celebration of the learning.

You can learn more about The Project Approach at


There are no comments yet.
Add Comment

* Indicates a required field