All-American Teacher Tools: The Value of Project-Based Learning for Only Children

Saturday, November 19, 2022

The Value of Project-Based Learning for Only Children

I am an only child.  As such, I never learned the fine art of jostling for my parents’ attention.  I knew they were always available for me. I didn’t need to interrupt a sibling to get their attention.  However, when I went to school, it was a different story.  There I had 20 or more “siblings” all vying for the teacher’s attention.  Since I didn’t have the sibling skills, I remained quiet.  The teachers saw me as a good, but quiet student.  When we were assigned a small group project, I stayed in the background, and did my part of the assignment, but seldom took charge or offered new ideas. 

Of course, not all singletons are created equal.  Parenting styles play a huge role in whether that only child is considered a “big baby” or simply another child in the classroom.  My mother never allowed me to be “spoiled” by buying me anything I wanted.  She encouraged me to work for my wants while she and my dad satisfied my needs.  That set me up with a strong work ethic that is still with me today. Other only children I have met over the years seem to feel entitled to all the attention, showing a snobbish attitude.  In your classroom, watch for the reticent only child.  That’s the child who is most in need of your attention.

Fast forward 30 years… I now have three grown children of my own.  I watched as they squabbled, played pranks on each other, and yes, sometimes cooperated with chores.  Unlike me, they learned the fine art of grabbing my attention, whether positively or negatively!  In a group project at school, they sometimes complained about the other student who worked, but didn’t bring anything new to the group, or simply sat there and watched the others work. Hmm… I see myself in that situation as the quiet kid who finished my part of the project without much interaction.

 So, where do we go from here, fellow teachers?  Look at your roster.  How many only children do you have?  Statistics report that only 20% of your students are singletons.  Therefore, in a class of 20, 4 or fewer (usually fewer) children have no siblings.  What can you do for them when placing students in groups?  Let’s do an experiment: When possible, put all the only children together in one group.  That will force them to cooperate and work together as a unit. How did they do?  For the next project, mix and match the only children with those with several siblings.  What happened?  Who was the leader?  My guess would be the first-borns – they have lots of experience leading a group!  It’s important to help the only child succeed with  his or her social skills.

 When I was teaching, I had an only child who notoriously refused to participate in a group project, preferring to do all the work by herself.  I totally understood her reasoning.  A teacher who has not had the “joy” of being an only child might not get it.  I did!  I allowed her to work on the first project of the year by herself.  Then we had a conference.  Next, I let her work with one other hand-picked student (not a singleton) for the second project.  Then we had another conference.  She felt more confident working with another student after that experience. I guess nobody took the time to take this student by the hand to help her adjust to working in a group! Finally, I did the random group method of picking names from a “hat” and picking the topic from another “hat. My only-child student looked like a deer in headlights until we had yet another conference where I explained that this was part of her learning experience.  Not only would she learn the subject matter, she would also learn a valuable life experience about group dynamics, something I haven’t learned even to this day! Side note: She excelled in the random group and actually enjoyed herself!

Fast forward another 30 years… I am now retired, my children are grown, and they each have 2 or 3 children of their own.  Good job, kids, no more only children in the next generation.  And as a retiree, I’ve been creating project-based learning resources for the teachers still in the trenches.  Check out my many and varied list of project based resources mostly for middle school: Project-based Learning.  I have projects for every state in the union plus DC in addition to projects on most ancient history topics. 

 If you want to use your own project-based learning resources, check out my FREE rubric for grading their efforts.

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