project approach

Why I Love Teaching the Project Approach

I love the project approach because it enables our students to go in-depth with their learning. Preschoolers love to investigate and explore the world around them, and project work takes them on an intellectual adventure in which they can initiate, investigate, and follow through on their questions and interests. This level of investigation results in more meaningful learning and increased engagement from our students. They become “experts” on their project topic and are proud to share what they have learned. Our project culminations display the breadth and depth of their investigations.

But I also love the project approach because it covers all areas of the curriculum in an engaging way. It allows us to teach the necessary academic skills while also achieving more complex intellectual goals (such as formulating questions, problem-solving, cooperation, making predictions, and speculating about cause and effect). Academic tasks such as early literacy skills, letter recognition, counting, color and shape recognition, writing, etc., are all achieved through the active student participation in the project approach—without any boring, repetitive worksheets! In fact, because the children are curious, absorbed, and interested in a project topic, they more eagerly approach academic goals that might be met with resistance if offered in a discrete, decontextualized manner.

During the early stages of our box project, for example, we offered graph paper and helped students practice drawing “boxes.” This required excellent pre-writing practice including proper pencil grip, making straight lines, and drawing the right angles required by many letter-formations. But I can guarantee that the students were more excited about “drawing boxes” than they would have been about rote letter-writing practice!

Students also used early math skills in purposeful ways. We measured boxes for our grocery store. This included counting with one-to-one correspondence and recording numbers and results. We also used early math skills for box-nesting activities, comparing different size boxes, and graphing the results of various box-related surveys.

Even more important than these early academic tasks, however, were the intellectual goals we achieve during the project. During our box packing and egg-drop experiment, for example, we practiced scientific inquiry. We asked a question (will the egg survive the drop?), predicted an outcome (yes or no?), tested theories with an experiment (packed and dropped the boxes full of eggs), analyzed the results (opened the packages), and reported the outcome (on a graph).

During our box boating/voting activity, the children had to work together to move their team across a large room (the “ocean”) in a big box (the “boat”) in order to cast their vote in a ballot box. They had to negotiate who would ride and who would push, how many could ride at a time, how many were needed to push effectively, and how to take turns to get everyone across the room. The children were also required to work together to effectively choose and pack a box of containers during one of our field experiences. This involved cooperation and trial-and-error.

Projects engage students, allow them to become experts, and accomplish curricular objectives — all while simultaneously achieving higher-level intellectual goals. At the end of a project, students have been challenged by and engaged in the topic, have increased confidence in their own knowledge, have solved problems, have learned from asking and answering questions, have developed their early literacy and numeracy skills in purposeful ways, and have worked cooperatively with their peers.

We announce our new project today!

In anticipation,

Teacher Molly




Planting Little Seeds in the Community

This weekend, some Family Preschool members went to downtown Durham to join the farmers' market crowd. The outing was both a chance for current families to gather with alumni friends and for the greater Durham community to get to know about our school. We chatted, blew bubbles, and we shared a basil planting activity with any child who wanted to join us.

Planting basil seeds echoed some of the play-based spring time learning we are doing in the classroom. Back at Family Preschool, you will find bean plants sprouting on the windowsills. Soon the kids will be able to take them home to plant in a bigger pot and watch them continue to grow and produce beans that they can eat. We have also been planting herbs and flowers to brighten our playground and provide another space for learning while watching things grow.

We hope our community outreach from this weekend will inspire even more children to plant seeds, watch them grow, and learn.

If you missed us on Saturday, keep an eye out at the Durham Farmer's Market in Downtown Durham. We plan to host some more play dates at the market in the future.

Happy Spring everyone!


- Board President

Project 2: Exploring Boxes

The second project that our 4- and 5-day friends are exploring this year at Family Preschool is "Boxes." I love how project-based learning can take such a simple idea like boxes and inspire so much creativity in the teachers, kids and parents! We've seen the kids make such fun discoveries in the classroom through their different activities, and they have embraced the box play enthusiastically.

So far, our children have:

  • Shared their own special boxes from home. We've seen treasure boxes, jewelry boxes, and music boxes to name a few so far.
  • Played with cardboard boxes of all shapes and sizes and made them into new things. This week, the children turned recycled boxes into a giant birthday cake to celebrate the 47th birthday of Family Preschool.
  • Discovered food that can be made from a box, like brownies and pudding. (And what a delicious exercise that was!)
  • Painted mailboxes and sent letters to themselves in the mail.
  • Packed eggs in boxes to see whether they would survive a fall.
  • Gone on a field trip to the FedEx store to learn about packing fragile things in boxes.
  • Gone on a field trip to I Must Garden to learn about the shipping process and to participate in a scavenger hunt for the right shipping box.

We have also enjoyed a great number of parent "guest experts" in the classroom. Our experts have visited the class to do special presentations on:

  • Sewing boxes
  • Electrical boxes
  • Tool boxes
  • Produce boxes
  • Box collections
  • Guitars made form boxes
  • Putting together pieces to make wooden boxes
  • Dog crates

At Family Preschool, we believe that children learn best through experiences that are meaningful to them. As we explore our projects, the teachers work on integrating math and literacy activities in to kids' investigations as a great way to enhance and develop emergent skills in these developmental domains in a natural way.

I can't wait to see what the box project has to offer next, and I can't wait to see what our next and final project of the year will be!

Happy learning,


FPS Board President

Not boxed in!

As part of the project approach at Family Preschool, the children get to explore how concepts relate to their everyday lives. We talk together about what the children already know about a topic, and we explore new information from the connections they've already identified.

Right now, our 4- and 5-day friends are engaged in their box project. They've done everything from build wooden boxes in the classroom to create an entire box city out of recycled cardboard boxes. Yesterday, they got the chance to get out of the classroom and learn about boxes out in the world. They visited I Must Garden, a Chapel Hill business that makes all-natural and earth-friendly pest repellents.


The owner, Marilyn Cox, introduced herself to the children and told them about her company and the products it makes. The children were then taken on a tour of the facility, and they got to learn how the pest repellents are made and watch them get bottled up and put into boxes for shipping. They learned about the different sizes and types of boxes used in shipping and why they are important.

Afterward, the children participated in a scavenger hunt. They were split into five teams, and each were given five different bottles and asked to find a box for each bottle that would be the right size to send it safely.

The children had a wonderful time learning about the company and learning about some of the many ways that boxes are used. They also loved getting a chance to see the father of one of our 5-day friends at work. It was actually the friend's mother who put us up to the idea to organize this field trip. It's one of many examples of how our families come together to make our school a better place and to improve the education that our children get.

It was another great day learning and growing together at FPS!


Happy Birthday Family Preschool!

Hi Families,

We are now well into our second semester of Family Preschool. It has been fun to look back at the family pictures taken during the summer home visits and see how much our friends have grown already!

The children have become very comfortable in their gathering groups and know the routine well. Teacher Alison has done an outstanding job in the Duckling classroom, and all our little ducklings -- even ones that just started last month -- are doing great! The Duckling friends have especially enjoyed making their Eric Carle-inspired mural in the classroom. Teacher Sue’s Tree Frogs have had a fun winter season with activities like making rocket ships blasting off to the moon (using baking soda and vinegar) to taking care of baby dolls with kindness and band-aids. The 4- and 5-day gatherings have been busy with their box project, including practicing drawing squares, esearching different boxes they can find around the school, and enjoying guest expert visits from so many FPS families. They also had a field trip to the UPS Shipping Station.

In March, we are celebrating Family Preschool's birthday. We are 47 years old this year! The week ofMarch 13th-17th, we will be celebrating our birthday with the school. During the week, we will prepare for our big birthday celebration by making wrapping paper and enjoying other activities. We will have classroom-specific birthday celebrations on Friday, March 17, and parents are invited to join us for a cupcake. Check with your child’s gathering teacher to find out the plan for that day! If you would like to purchase a present for FPS, we are focusing on playground toys this year. We will post a wish list of items that need replacing on the preschool door (and in the parents' section of the website). Items can be toys that you are retiring from your home collection or new toys. You could even pitch in with some other families in your gathering for a larger gift.

I have been so fortunate to have such an amazing group of parents and families here at FPS. Thank you for all your openness, guidance, and dedication to our school. Thank you to all the helping parents and on-call families who keep our school running so smoothly. A special thank you to our board, who have worked hard to support the school so successfully!

I cannot end this post without thanking our outstanding team of teachers. We are so fortunate to have this talented group of ladies working at FPS. I feel so thankful to be working in this warm, family friendly environment.