The Houses Project

A Project by Five- and Six-Year-Old Children at the Child Study Centre, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada

Length of project: 2 months
Teachers:  Margaret Brooks, Jim Odell, Shanthu Manoharan

Phase One—Beginning the Project

This project began when children stopped to watch a house under construction near their school. They were also interested in the very old houses adjacent to their school and had noticed how one house had ramps and fire escapes. We invited children to represent and discuss what they knew about houses, especially their own house. They drew what they could remember of their house, and then used these drawings to build block houses and cardboard houses. We walked around the houses near the school and talked about all the details they could see: the shape and size of roofs, windows and doors; the number of floors; and the construction materials used to build them. Children drew these houses, first from memory, then from observation. Several children were having renovations done to their own houses. Many questions about houses and buildings were generated.

Phase Two—Developing the Project

A web was created. Several field visits were made to watch the house under construction progress from framing to dry-walling. Children made drawings and rubbings, took notes and measurements, and gathered samples of materials. Key workers at the site were interviewed and photographed, their tools examined and drawn, and descriptions of their jobs recorded. The children noticed the importance of blueprints. An architect brought a model of her own house which came apart to show the three levels and the scaled down blueprints on each level. An architects' office was setup in the block area and role play of designing and building occurred. Elevation and floor plans were still puzzling, so block structures were built on large pieces of paper on the floor and the outline of the blocks traced. Floor plans were made of the school. Elevation plans were done similarly. After understanding how plans are used, the class set about building a playhouse for the school yard. Work teams were formed for shifts so all could take part. Children learned how to frame doors and windows and how to shingle. Materials were examined in detail. Recipes for concrete were developed and tested and rebars introduced. Different kinds of nails and screws were sorted, resorted, and named. The children were interested in eves troughs (gutters) and assembled and tested them in many ways. Interest in down spouts and pipes led to exploration of the role of the plumber. A plumber brought samples of pipes and showed how to cut, join and repair pipes. An old sink was put in the water table and the block area became a plumbers repair shop with tools and pipes.

Phase Three—Concluding the Project

During the course of the project, children's work was documented through photographs and descriptions of the process. Examples of children's drawings, plans, writing, and calculations were displayed with descriptions. Parents, visitors and students were invited to view and read displays. Video clips were taken of some of the dramatic play events and some of the problem solving done in small groups. Several books were made at different stages of the project. These books told the story of the project with the ideas, language and words of the children. Some stones were dramatized. The books remained in the school so children and families could revisit them and remember what they had done.


During the recording of this project, the teachers were particularly interested in the role of adults in supporting children's learning. This role often differed from the role an adult takes in systematic instruction or free play. The teachers interpreted children's drawings and how these drawings informed teachers about children's problem solving, exploration and confirmation, data collection, and organization of ideas.

Project Summaries

Table of Contents