“My problems — how do I explain brainstorming to them? When I ask what would you like to learn about ______ I mostly get a blank stare. … How do I get them moving in the right direction?”
"With younger children, it really doesn't work to sit down and ask what they want to study -- unless they already have a few major projects under their belt.
Rather, you should begin observing their play, conversations, questions, etc., and documenting everything in your journal. Take copious notes and review them after you have documented several different segments of time. Look for patterns and possible project topics -- interests, questions, etc. This is a *much* more reliable way to identify possible project topics with very young children -- and even older children who have no experience with projects. (Children aren't always the best at identifying their own authentic interests .. especially if they haven't had any experience learning in this way.)
You don't need to explain brainstorming to them. You simply need to model being the type of learner you want them to be. Wonder out loud. Have ideas. Ask questions.
You'll find advice on here about NOT bringing home a ton of resources at once. It's overwhelming, as you have probably figured out. Instead, when you're at the library, pull a half dozen books and let your daughter pick out what she wants to get. Over time, she'll learn to ask the librarian for help finding books on her topic. Get her started on making her own decisions. (Even when you think they're wrong!)
Let things move s-l-o-w-l-y. Concentrate on just a few books. Read them multiple times. Let her pore over them herself. Set them out with drawing, painting, and collaging materials (on separate days! s-l-o-w-l-y). Hang up xeroxes and her drawings. Talk about everything.
Finally, remember that your children are very young -- but perfectly capable of doing deep project work. Simply take your time and allow them to very slowly begin to explore something that interests them -- and don't let yourself hurry on.
Remember that the most important thing for them to do at this age is learn the habits and attitudes of a successful learner. Don't get too hung up on making an impressive project, especially the first time. Simply start to experience all the parts of a successful project -- curiosity, exploring resources, posing questions, expressing ideas in multiple media, etc. etc. etc."