There is often a concern that project groups can be limiting or exclusionary in practice. However, project groups are set groups for extended periods of time for a few important and meaningful reasons.
For some, project work may be the first experience they’ll have where their experiences rely heavily on their peers and they feel a connection to them in a way they may not have before. Their identity includes others outside of their family. They use phrases like, “We are the performers.” or “You’re a storyteller like me.”
Project work offers children an opportunity to be an expert on a topic they are intrinsically interested in. They can share their expertise with others in the group, in the classroom, or the school community as a whole. This is a powerful position to be in, that many children don’t get to experience very often. Being an expert also leads to understanding that others can be experts as well. This can promote the idea of asking for help, collaborating, and seeing others as their own person with their own ideas, skills, and needs.
They get an opportunity to see how they can positively influence their peers. Participation in the project group enhances the project, furthers along the project, and impacts how others relate to the topic of the project. They also can bring their project back into the classroom, and see their peers outside of the project group share in the interest by conversing about the project and incorporating themselves into the play in the classroom. This can promote the idea of feeling pride in their interests, and to follow their intrinsic interests with dedication and longevity.
Having a set group also can lead to the possibility of seeing flexibility modeled. Sometimes, a child not in the project group can join for a provocation, or a child can choose to stay behind and continue something else. Perhaps, the project will start out being an exploration of endangered animals and it will transform into caring for the local environment. Maybe someone will even choose to disengage from the project group they were originally placed into.
Project groups are an opportunity to dig deep into a singular topic, to work together to answer an underlying question, and to explore their interests with their peers. It is a practice I have come to love and appreciate for all that it brings to the classroom, each individual child, as well as my own practice. This is my first year doing projects formally with toddlers and I am excited to see what is different, and what is the same about the process.