Teach It: The Spore Project


Sometimes I get into a rut about homeschooling. I forget that there are other home school parents out there, many with really great ideas on what they want their kids to experience and learn.  I make the mistake of thinking that my way is the only way, or even worse, the right way.  Great ideas are almost always built off the ideas of others, and how can we have great ideas if we don’t collaborate and share? Sometimes, I need to remind myself that this is not about me, it’s about exposing my homeschoolers to as many experiences as possible so that they can figure out what they believe and who they want to be. I need to leave my comfort zone so that we can all grow a little.

At the beginning of this school year, I was fortunate enough to meet Susan and her son, who is the same age as one of my homeschoolers. She had an idea for an art project that I was just not quite sure about.  It was well outside of my area of expertise (I am no artist – I can hardly draw a stick figure) and art was something that I just hadn’t been emphasizing in my children’s education. This was an opportunity to move away from my own ideas and try something new, so I pushed my skepticism aside and brought the boys to her house for a morning of paper bag mushroom making. Yes, you read that right. Our goal was to make 200 paper bag mushrooms.

Spore Project Annie Graham

The Spore Project and was started in 2005 by a guy named Doug Rhodehamel.  Its mission is to highlight the importance of creativity and art education for children.  The basic idea is to create a number of paper bag mushrooms and then display them in a public (preferably outdoor) location. The actual process of creating a mushroom is fast and simple, maybe 2 minutes from start to finish. The project was well suited for my Harrison, who has about a 2 minute attention span for anything outside of Minecraft and Legos. The boys chose to leave many mushrooms undecorated, though some of them were decorated by Susan and her family at a later time. When the kids gave up mushrooms building for Lego building, the moms (there were three of us) made the last few mushrooms and talked about life, homeschooling and family. It was free therapy, with a product. Rather, with 200 products.

Spores Project 1 Annie Graham

Next comes the part that I’m pretty proud of. I took a look at what we were doing, saw that it was important to my kids, and tried to be involved in a way that would add value for them. Now that we had made the mushrooms, we had to put them somewhere. I’m a pretty hardcore rule follower, so that meant getting a permit. I talked to the parks department and to the University. In order to install our artwork in a park, we needed to get an insurance policy, pay a fee and jump through a few other hoops. In order to do it at the University, we needed about 5 signatures from heads of departments and the President’s office. We went the University route because it seemed like it might actually work and it wouldn’t cost us anything. And, how cool would it be to plant 200 mushrooms on campus and enjoy the students enjoying them? Very cool, it turns out. Everyone was more than happy to sign off on our odd request for a “flash” outdoor art installation that would last only a few days. Our permit was approved.

One Thursday afternoon in November, five homeschooled boys marched through the University Center, carrying boxes of paper bag mushrooms. They began working as individuals, excitedly planting mushrooms all over our designated area. Then, they started to work together.

The Spore Project 3 Annie Graham

“Dude – how about this?”

“Hey, over here”

“Wow, that looks really good”

And then, they worked as a group to place the decorated mushrooms in the shape of an “M”, reflecting the University’s M on the hillside above. The result was a stunning transformation from a simple hill to a magical field of mushrooms, just outside the UC. Students took notice almost instantly and someone from the campus radio station came out to inquire about what was going on. As we watched, two students walked up onto the hill and laid down by a cluster of mushrooms to fully enjoy the fairytale like environment.

The Spore Project 2 Annie Graham

I didn’t think it would last even a few hours. Surely, students would pick the mushrooms and bring them back to their dorms. It was a great idea, but how quickly would it be destroyed? The answer to this question provided yet another lesson for me to learn, this one about the nature of Missoulians. When Susan and her son returned on Monday morning to remove the remaining mushrooms, not a single one was gone. In fact, one had broken and had clearly been repaired by a concerned viewer.

The M with the Spore Project Annie Graham


From beginning to end, this project taught me that there are so many more ideas that my children need to be exposed to than those that lie within my narrow definition of education. I am so glad that my kids got to decorate the campus of the University of Montana with paper bag mushrooms for a weekend. I think they will remember it for a lifetime.



Learn it BioAnnie Graham and Brandon Kendall are convinced that education can be fun, exciting, and meaningful. Brandon has been a teacher in Missoula for the better part of a decade. Annie is a proud parent of six children and a home school teacher. Check out their blog for fun (and educational) adventures around Missoula. Visit their Learning With Meaning website for ideas on dynamic and project based learning at home and in the classroom.