"Our Neighborhood" Project

The "Our Neighborhood" project introduces kids to structured ways of thinking and expressing ideas about the people, places and things that matter most to them. The lessons build on the information and experiences that the children and the instructors already have about the culture around them. Click below to see the lesson plan for each of the eight sessions.

Go to session: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 |

When conducted in a group setting, these activities will build children's vocabulary and help them develop social skills. Children will practice cognitive skills through reading, writing, counting, adding, measuring, labeling, drawing and creating crafts. A variety of options for products—things that children can design and make on their own—are presented. The main goal of the project is to produce something as a group that can help other children and adults learn about their community.

"Our Neighborhood" is designed to be adaptable to a variety of interests and ways of working. It can be done in sequence or out of sequence, in parts or as one continuous, connected project. Because many out-of-school programs follow the academic calendar of winter, spring and summer terms, an 8-week project is suggested. Assuming a typical term of 12 to 13 weeks, this schedule allows extra time for field trips; preparatory activities, such as team building; closure activities, such as family nights; and extension activities.


"Our Neighborhood" is designed for 6- to 8-year-olds. Age, identity, family and community are common themes in children's schoolwork, in the literature and media they are exposed to, in the games they play, and in their personal lives. These themes are also relevant to older children and teens, and the project can be adapted by selecting reading material, group activities, Web sites and software that are appropriate for older children.

This project will introduce collaborative reading, writing and groupwork processes, such as brainstorming, labeling, mapping and storyboarding. Computer-based activities emphasize multimedia skills, such as creating and editing original drawings, photos and text, and introduce basic Internet navigation skills.

Formulating questions

"Our Neighborhood" is an inquiry-based project. Children will formulate questions about their families and communities, and the adult facilitators will help the children figure out how to find the answers, do the investigations and document what they have learned. The facilitators will help the children identify questions that they want to investigate for the project. Questions could be broad, such as:

    • Who lives in my community?
    • What do people in my community do?
    • What are important places in my community?
    • Where are the places for kids in my community?

Or questions could be more specific to a particular topic, such as:

    • What animals live in the neighborhood park?
    • What do the animals in the park eat?
    • Where do the animals in the park sleep?
    • What things can we do to help the animals in the park?


Groups doing this project will have the option of making one or more of the following products:

    • A group journal
    • A group "slide show" (multimedia presentation)
    • A group Web page

Children will also create the following individual products:

    • A personal journal
    • Personal newsletters


    • Reading: Children will read and be read to during every session.
    • Writing: Children will practice composing words and sentences during every session.
    • Oral presentation: Children will practice speaking in front of a group and listening to others while they are speaking.
    • Presentation of mathematical data: Children will have the option to collect, analyze and organize numeric information during one or more sessions.
    • Organizing information: Children will sort and categorize information on maps and cards.
    • Visual communication: Children will compose, take and edit photos; draw by hand; and draw using software tools.

Children doing this project will achieve the following goals:

    • Increased vocabulary as they describe and come to understand some of the people, places, events and things in their family, peer group and community
    • Increased ability to perform such social skills as sharing, listening, taking turns and helping others
    • New factual and qualitative information about the people and places in their neighborhood that are important to children
    • Increased ability to present concrete and abstract information in multimedia formats
    • Increased skill in using multimedia authoring software and the Internet
Preparation (Before You Begin): 

Children who participate in "Our Neighborhood" should be organized into groups with no more than a three-year age span. The activities are not recommended for 5-year-olds (or for any children who have not yet enrolled in, or completed, first grade) because the activities require beginning reading skills, the ability to work independently for short periods of time and the ability to work in a group and with a partner. Because levels of skill and maturity vary, adult facilitators should exercise their best judgment when placing children into groups.

A reference book on teaching and child development will help adult facilitators make decisions about how to customize the project activities for their groups. Check out Yardsticks: Children in the Classroom Ages 4-14: A Resource for Parents and Teachers, by Chip Wood (Northeast Foundation for Children, 1997), or a similar resource.

Children enrolled in a group should be expected to participate consistently throughout the whole project. The group should meet to work on project activities on regularly scheduled days and times, and children should start and end the activities as a group.

If the project is started with a group of children who have never worked together, it is highly recommended that the group spend the first few sessions doing community building activities to help children get to know each other and the adult facilitator. Community builders are also important for groups of children who know each other but who are new to working on a project together.

Children should be organized into groups with an adult facilitator-to-child ratio no greater than 1 to 20 and no less than 1 to 8. Ratios should be determined according to the comfort level of the adult facilitator and the needs and comfort level of the children.

The group will need a comfortable space in which to conduct project activities. Preferably, this space should have at least one large table and several chairs for writing, drawing and other sit-down activities. The group will need secure space to store project supplies and to hang materials such as drawings and maps.

A reference book on drawing techniques will help adult facilitators coach participants through activities that involve drawing and graphics. Check out Drawing for Older Children and Teens: A Creative Method That Works for Adult Beginners, Too, by Mona Brookes (J P Tarcher, 1996), or a similar resource.


Specific supplies needed for each project activity are listed in the session plans. It is helpful to have the following items on hand:

    • Scissors (child and adult size)
    • Clipboards
    • Glue sticks
    • Masking tape
    • Scotch tape
    • Index cards
    • Loose white copy paper
    • Colored construction paper
    • Thin felt-tip colored markers
    • Thick colored markers
    • Pencils
    • Pens
    • Single hole-punch
    • Ball of string
    • Rulers
    • Manila folders
    • Poster board
    • Newsprint pads
    • Composition books or spiral notebooks (Composition books are preferable because they are more durable than spiral notebooks.)

It is helpful to have a children's dictionary; a standard adult dictionary; a thesaurus; and a map of the world, a globe or an atlas. Children should be encouraged to use online dictionaries, encyclopedias and map sites. It is also helpful to have a cassette recorder to record sounds and play tapes. A hand-held recorder can be used during field trips and in the classroom to record interviews, music or interesting sounds.

Technical needs

Check our recommendations for computer software for project-based learning and the suggested software listed in each session's plan. Regardless of the specific application, it is recommended that the following types of software programs be made available:

    • A program that young children can use to draw freehand and manipulate clip art (KidPix or a similar application)
    • A program that children can use to make multimedia presentations (KidPix, HyperStudio, PowerPoint or a similar application)
    • A program that children can use to edit digital photos (Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft PhotoEditor or a similar application)
    • A word processor that can import drawings and photos (Microsoft Word or a similar application)
    • A program that young children can use to make graphs and charts. The Graph Club by Tom Synder Productions is specifically designed for children from kindergarten through fourth grade. A business application that makes graphs and charts, such as Microsoft Excel or ClarisWorks, could also be used.
    • A WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) Web publishing program (Netscape Composer, Dreamweaver or a similar application)
    • A Digital Camera

You'll need a PC or an equivalent Macintosh (an iMac). It is also helpful to have at least one microphone that can be plugged into a computer to record sound.

These lessons do not require one computer per participant. For many activities, it is recommended that participants share computers with a partner to benefit from peer coaching. Participants can rotate between computer and noncomputer activities during a project session.


The following children's books are listed in the session plans as recommended reading:

    • Chato and the Party Animals, by Gary Soto
      Chato, "the coolest cat in el Barrio," throws a surprise birthday party for his buddy Novio Boy. It is a special party because Novio Boy, who came from the pound, has never had a birthday celebration. The friendly neighborhood of cats, dogs and mice reflects the culture of a close-knit Latino community. The story uses some Spanish words. An English-Spanish glossary is provided.
    • Tar Beach, by Faith Ringgold
      Author Faith Ringgold is an artist who first created this book as part of a storytelling quilt, the design of which is woven into the illustrations. The artwork helps tell a story from the point of view of 8-year-old Cassie Louise Lightfoot. As Cassie sleeps on the "tar beach" rooftop of her apartment building, she dreams of flying over New York City and imagines how things would be easier for her family if she possessed magical powers. The book touches on serious issues, such as the fact that Cassie's father cannot join a labor union because his father was not a member and because he is of Native American and African American descent.
    • The Important Book, by Margaret Wise Brown
      This book, by the author of Goodnight Moon, describes a number of everyday objects such as spoons and apples, narrowing them down to the one "important" thing about each. It provides an excellent model for descriptive writing exercises.
    • Pet Show, by Ezra Jack Keats
      Archie scrambles to find a pet to bring to a neighborhood pet show because he cannot find his cat. He demonstrates maturity and caring when he ultimately lets a neighbor collect a prize ribbon for the cat. The story provides opportunities to introduce classification and description and to discuss sharing and friendship.
    • Fortunately, by Remy Charlip
      Ned gets an invitation to a surprise party and ends up having an adventure with lots of twists and turns. Things are very good ("fortunately, a friend loaned Ned an airplane"), then very bad ("unfortunately, the motor exploded"), then good again ("fortunately, the plane had a parachute"), and so on. Provides an excellent model for writing simple narrative stories.

Books with similar themes can be added or substituted. It is recommended that the reading materials feature characters and settings that reflect the culture and ethnicity of the children doing the project. Here are some other suggested books:

  • Hairs/Pelitos, by Sandra Cisneros
    Describes a loving family through the voice of a girl talking about the different hair textures and hairstyles of her siblings and parents. The text is written in both English and Spanish.
  • All Kinds of Families, by Norma Simon
    Describes all the different ways in which a group of people can be a family (big or little, adopted or by blood, stable or moving around a lot, etc.). The pictures show families of different races and ethnicities. The author states that the book's purpose is "to acknowledge that families are not always composed in the traditional way: a household made up of two parents and their children."
  • Frog and Toad series, by Arnold Lobel
    The classic Frog and Toad books (including Frog and Toad Are Friends, Frog and Toad Together, Days with Frog and Toad, and others) are great for chapter reading. The stories touch on social and emotional themes such as sharing, friendship, taking on challenges and growing up.
  • George and Martha series, by James Marshall
    George and Martha are two hippos who do everything together, including getting in trouble. Their humorous stories teach children about learning from mistakes, respecting friends and other life lessons. Great for chapter reading. Titles include George and Martha; George and Martha: The Complete Stories of Two Best Friends; George and Martha: One Fine Day; George and Martha Back in Town; and others