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Cathy Duffy Build-A-Project Review

When I first reached out to Ms. Duffy, I'm not going to lie, at first glance of my projects she said she couldn't review them. She didn't think it was what the homeschool community needed and didn't want to give me a bad review.

But I knew she didn't truly grab the essence of the projects I offer. I knew if I just explained the projects to her, she would understand them. She would love them.

Well, guess what. I had a booth in the exhibit hall at the Great Homeschool Convention last year and I was talking to the lady (Melanie Wilson - who ended up interviewing me on her podcast) next to me and explaining my projects to her, she said they sounded so great and I should be reviewed by Cathy Duffy.

I just laughed and told her my sad story of rejection.

Melanie told me that Cathy Duffy was here (at the convention -OMG) and I should go talk to her. I was like NO WAY, I NEED TO TALK TO HER.

I literally circled the exhibit hall and tried to track her down - couldn't find her.

A bit later, Cathy Duffy was nearby and Melanie pointed her out to me. I went up to her and explained how she didn't want to review my projects (she remembered) and I showed her my projects in person and explained how they work. I explained that it's not just a workbook or busy work, but a well-thought out project that emphasizes problem solving, critical thinking and analytical skills all the while learning about an important topic.

After seeing a couple projects in person, Cathy said, "Ok, send them to me again." Yay! The door is open once more!

After a few months, I was SO grateful for her to review my project. Here's what she said:

Build-A-Project is a limited-unit-study type of resource that can be used with students in kindergarten through tenth grade. Written by Nancy Mikhail, an experienced educator and advisor, these individual project-based studies have detailed information for those desiring to know and meet the educational standards, such as Common Core State Standards or Next Generation Science Standards. Build-A-Project has a variety of them for different subject areas, and most address educational standards for more than one subject area.

All of the project studies are written to be used with multiple age groups, such as grades K-2, 3-7, and 6-9. This makes it easy for parents to teach children together who are at different grade levels.

The nineteen project studies available at the time of this review are published as self-contained books in PDF format. Examples of some of the titles (and suggested grade levels) are Engineer Design & Growth Mindset Project (K-5), Astronomy (2-6), Anatomy & Nutrition (2-6), Building A Circuit (5-9), Native American (3-6), Weather Project (K-2), Business Plan Project (3-10), and James and the Giant Peach project and novel study (3-6). Each should take about one month to complete, although you could stretch them out over more time. The studies are all available individually, and some are also available in discounted bundles.

The goal of the Build-A-Project studies is to get students thinking and creating by including hands-on projects. These project studies are very well laid out with everything explained and listed at the very beginning of each one. Students will use the printable activity pages included within each study. Most of them are appealingly illustrated, and some serve as graphic organizers or activity templates. These pages serve as great reinforcements for the lessons. You can easily print out as many copies of each activity sheet as you need.

These project studies have embedded links to videos and specific websites that are extremely helpful. There are also lists from which to choose books to read along with each project. Several projects have students present information in front of an audience, teaching them how to make simple presentations. This helps students build confidence for making public presentations.

While each project study has checklists, reading suggestions, video links, and a list of learning goals, the projects differ a great deal, offering multiple learning situations and addressing different learning styles. They might involve research and writing (especially for older students), artwork, construction, and other types of activities. Quite a bit of adult supervision is needed for younger students when creating projects (e.g., a solar system or an electric circuit), but less adult involvement is needed for older students.

More details on the weather and engineering studies should give you a better idea of how these project studies work.

Weather Project

The Weather Project, written for kindergarten through second grade, addresses standards for science and English literacy. Students will learn about different types of weather, learn about the seasons, write about the weather, do a presentation, and build a structure to avoid heat.

Students begin by watching a video and completing a few activity worksheets. They will complete a weather journal for a few days by drawing what they wear each day, circling words (e.g., hot, warm, or cold), and filling in just a few blanks with the date, the temperature, and a one-word prediction for the next day. The weather journal includes a worksheet that asks students to write one to four sentences about the day’s weather and another worksheet that asks them to write one to three things they have learned about weather. (These might be dictated by the child for the parent to write down.) The weather journal concludes with a page that serves as a “weather wheel” that you will construct . (Students make the weather wheel by inserting a brad through an arrow that will sit atop the quadrants showing different types of weather.)

Parents will present brief information and vocabulary words (on flashcards). Students also watch a video about the seasons, listen to brief information read to them from the study guide, and color a “seasons” page. Students will prepare and present a weather report. Questions on a worksheet guide them through preparation for the brief presentation.

Three fun projects—Shaving Cream Rain, Wax Paper Painting, and a project with markers and paper towels— lead up to the final project of building a structure to avoid heat. The structure might be constructed with popsicle sticks, a shoebox, cloth, or other resources you are likely to have around the house.

A suggested 22-day schedule is near the end of the study. You might follow the suggested timeline, but you can use most of the activities in whatever order you please.

Engineer Design & Growth Mindset

In Engineer Design & Growth Mindset for kindergarten through fifth grade, students learn about engineering and also meet some of the standards for language arts, science, and literacy. Students have a list of four projects to choose from, with the projects presented as “problems to solve.” Students will use their engineering skills and creative thinking to come up with a solution—and maybe even build it or put in into action. The four projects are inventing a tool to help clean up toys, creating a supply organizer, inventing a new toy or game, and designing a clubhouse. Reproducible worksheets are included for working through the project. There’s a gameboard (actually a checklist presented in a game format) for students to use as they complete each planning worksheet and share their project. All materials for the game are printable. Details like this make these projects fun for students to tackle.

Parental Supervision

This curriculum is politically and religiously neutral for the most part, but students will need to research in books and on the internet. For instance, the Astronomy project has links to websites that mention the age of the universe and solar system as being billions of years old, which might be controversial for some parents. So potential problems might crop up in the links that are embedded in the studies, and others might arise if the student is doing independent research. It’s up to parents to guide students if they have concerns about the information they will be exposed to.


Build-A-Project studies are well written and engaging for multiple ages, and they cover a variety of topics, especially in science. These hands-on studies should be great for students with a wide variety of learning styles.

Reviewed by Nikki Farmer and Cathy Duffy.

Thank you so much Ms. Duffy!

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