Personal Kanban for a School Science Project

It Started at the Library

I took my children to our city’s public library since a very young age. We visit the library at least twice a month. The library has an enclosed hall on the first floor for children of all ages. Up until a certain age, we just played toys here, read some toddler books and picked DVDs with movies about Dora, Diego and Bob the Builder.

Before her seventh birthday, Sasha had read all Jack and Annie books and started exploring other shelves. She soon found her favourite shelf. It was filled with books about ancient civilizations: Egypt, China, Rome. But Greece was her favourite. Almost every week she would take home several books about Ancient Greece and read them cover-to-cover.

The School Science Fair

When the school announced a science fair, open to students from Grade 2 to Grade 6, our second-grader already knew the topic of her project. I helped her with some simple computer tasks and — ha-ha — as a process consultant. I just had to remember not to overdo it.

The Kanban System

We mapped a very simple value stream. The end of it when a topic is fully implemented: written, drawn, printed and glued to the 4-by-6 project board in the right place. There is nothing left to do with it. Sasha’s backlog contained about a dozen such topics.

kanban board

The “Doing Now” column (actually a row, as the flow was from top to bottom) had a WIP limit of two. We worked on no more that two items at once. When a topic was written, drawn or printed and all the paper was cut, it was ready to be glued to the board. The “ready to glue” buffer had a limit of four. We wanted to have options before deciding to glue something to the project board, a decision that was hard to undo. At the same time, the total work in progress in the system wasn’t too high, so we wouldn’t start new work before getting feedback from how some of the first topics looked on the actual board.


The project was finished on time. The child never stayed up late to work on it. The parents never did any work on it after the child was in bed, staying up until midnight trying to finish it. There were never any tears or fear of embarrassment. Sasha’s project was a hit. There was sanity in our home while she worked on it. And my wife and I quietly took some pride in the fact that while many bigger kids brought physics and chemistry projects to the fair were clearly done with a significant push from their parents, Daily Life in Ancient Greece was purely the work of our seven-year-old child’s mind.

school project on a 4-by-6 cardboard

This entry was posted in hands-on. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Personal Kanban for a School Science Project

  1. Patty says:

    This is fantastic! You took all the stress and fear of the big project away from everyone involved and gave the power and control to your daughter (via wip of a 2 task limit). This is one of the biggest reasons why I believe so strongly in using Personal Kanban in the classroom, there’s no fear and stress involved. I absolutely love everything about this project. A job well done to Sasha! Congratulations!

  2. KanPlan says:

    I love this story!!!! Good job. It reminds me all what I have been doing with my 3 kids. I wanted them to learn this efficient, simple and fun workflow process. They are now self managed, they use kanban ( KanPlan) everyday for their projects, homework and tasks,,,

  3. As a parent, few things make me as proud as seeing my kids doing things of their own accord, rather than being pushed by me. We’ve had great success with Personal Kanban at home, although our focus has been mainly on routines and chores. But with our eldest in Grade 4 this year, we’re now also starting to use it to plan revision for this test cycles, as well as projects. I empathize with you about trying not to go too far, though. It’s easy for our own enthusiasm to get in the way of letting the kids do it their own way. After all, self-organization and self-motivation are the goals here. Well done!

  4. Pingback: The Best of 2012 | Learning Agile and Lean

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s