Introducing Children to Art

Caleb and Monet, Joseph and Picasso

Art has been a part of our school life from the time my boys were toddlers, both producing art and enjoying works by others. I enjoy art and I think exposing our children to beauty always has rewards.

When the boys were young I collected postcards, calendars, posters, and books. I didn’t have a formal plan, we just enjoyed looking at the works of a variety of artists. If they expressed an interest we might read up on a particular painter, but for the most part I just made the introductions and let them gravitate toward the works that spoke to them.

As time passed they became quite familiar with many different styles and time periods and could accurately identify and group paintings. We made it a game, putting out cards and seeing if they could pick out all the Van Goghs (Van Gogh is a good one to start with as his style is so distinct). Sometimes we would study a work and then turn it over and see how many details we could remember.

We have the privilege of introducing our children to geniuses like Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Michelangelo,  all incredibly gifted artists who were able to express their vision of the world in moving and beautiful ways. We can, in a sense, enter into a conversation with these masters. It’s an amazing thought, your child can enter into a ‘dialog’ with some of the greatest minds and talents the world has known by thoughtfully contemplating and studying their work.

Following the advice of Charlotte Mason I refrained from immediately giving them a lot of information about a particular work, instead I let them first experience it for themselves. They had their own thoughts, insights, and feelings about particular paintings. At some point, I would tell them a little about the artist and the world he lived in, not a long lecture, just enough information for them to gain a deeper understanding of what the circumstances were that surrounded a work. Often love and knowledge go hand in hand. While they might be drawn to a particular painting, learning more about the context it was painted in, and the artist who produced it would deepen that appreciation. As they got older our study of Art History became more intentional and in depth.

For instance, Picasso’s work Guernica is moving and disturbing on it’s own. (More disturbing when you consider that the

Picasso's Guernica

Guernica, Pablo Picasso, 1937, Oil on Canvas, Museo Reina Sophia, Madrid Spain

finished work is 11 feet tall and 25 feet long.) The lack of color and violent images were noted by my son Joe when he was probably 8. He had his own thoughts on the painting recognizing it as a work of Picasso and wanting to know what was wrong. (He had found many of Picasso’s other works sad, amusing, or funny, but this one felt different to him.) His understanding was deepened by learning that  Guernica was painted in protest of a vicious bombing of the city by the Nazi’s during the Spanish Civil War. A tour of the work brought this event to the world’s attention and has become a perpetual reminder of the tragedies of war.

Don’t worry, google any artist and you can get a brief history that will fill in some of these pertinent details for you. You don’t need to be an Art Historian to introduce your children to art…that is part of my point, you are making the introduction.

Back to the point. Joseph had his own experience with this painting, he interacted with it, came to his own conclusions, sought more information, and then went back to looking at the painting, picking out the anguished horse, disjointed people etc. He didn’t need a summary from me of what he should think and a nice stated objective to walk away from the ‘lesson’ with. If he were to look at the painting now he would probably notice different things and, with the additional years he has had to mature and learn more history, he would probably have a deeper understanding of Picasso’s mindset. In another 20 years his relationship with this painting will change again. Great works of art, (or literature) enrich our lives in a variety of ways and continue to speak to us throughout our lives.

Claude Monet, The Artists Garden

The Artist Garden at Vetheuil, Claude Monet, 1881, (French 1840-1926) Oil on Canvas, Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, CA

When Caleb, my third son, was 10 or 11, we went on a field trip to the Norton Simon Museum. By then he knew most of the painters he would be seeing and began to wander…until he found this painting by Monet. We had moved on and I realized Caleb wasn’t with us so I went looking for him and found him still standing in front of this work. I asked if he wanted to come see the Rembrandt’s and he said, ‘No, if it’s okay, I’ll just stay here. I like this one.” He found a bench and sat in front of that one painting until it was time to leave. He was so relieved when I told him we could purchase a copy of the painting to take home. For whatever reason, at that time in his life, that painting spoke to his heart.

After these two experiences I appreciated even more that as educators we often need to get out of the way. We introduce our students to ideas, books, works of art, and then we step aside and trust them to take away from the experience what is appropriate for them.

This style of learning can be scary for those of us who associate ‘education’ with mastering a specific set of skills for each grade level. We have science standards, math standards, and reading standards. If you google most museums that cater to children and have educational tours you can get a list of which ‘standards’ their tours will meet. That day at the Norton Simon I had parents who were very concerned because Caleb didn’t ‘see’ everything. We, as parents and educators often have a set idea of what we think our children should take away from an experience, and those expectations can get in the way of your child making his or her own genuine connections.

I’m asking you to throw out the standards and let your child lead. Instead of giving information, ask questions. Get your children thinking and interacting on their own. If they are not used to this kind of learning at first they will be resistant…they have been trained to ‘give the right answer’ and will be hesitant to just offer an opinion.

But if your goal is to nurture curious, independent thinking in your children,  then resist the impulse to wrap up every learning experience in a nice little package with a stated objective. I am not suggesting that you should not be intentional about what you introduce or that there are not some specific facts you want them to learn (we read biographies of the artist, tried out some of their techniques, put them onto timelines, and played the games I mentioned earlier). What I am suggesting is that within that framework there should always be room, lots of room, for them to think their own thoughts, draw their own conclusions, and react with their own feelings.
















Go all in!

Unplug, get outside, reclaim your summer

Summer is here!!!! 

Except it’s not.

I was at the library with my 18 month old granddaughter this morning and overheard some conversations between moms and the children’s librarian. They were discussing ‘summer slide.’ That dreaded decline in students abilities over the summer break. On Pinterest, I was deluged with posts about how to keep your kids reading over the summer, or… here’s a link to math worksheets to keep those skills up. On Facebook, more articles on the same theme. Everywhere I turned it was another reminder that we need to keep our children productive, learning, doing… ALL THE TIME.

What happened to lazing on the grass watching the ants, running in the sprinklers, or eating watermelon on the porch? When do we all get to take a BREAK!

I love books, ideas, and education as much as anyone, but I also love children. They get one childhood, that’s it, just one. And while there might be some ‘summer slide’ going on ( frankly, can’t we mitigate that with something more enjoyable than worksheets..sheesh), there are also huge benefits from just taking a break.

Imagine, stepping away from the planning, unplugging the computer, ditching the phone and spending a few weeks with your kids. Not keeping them productive, not shuttling them from activity to activity, not vegging in front of the TV or computer…but spending time with them. Enjoying them. Listening to them. Creating with them. (more…)

The Law of the Farm

If you are feeling overwhelmed or that you aren't accomplishing enough in your homeschool day, this tool will give you a better perspective.Farmers have to plan for the long haul.  They plant in the spring, water and tend their crops all summer in hopes that, come fall, there will be a bountiful harvest.  Can you imagine a farmer foolish enough to think he could go out and plant in October and harvest in November?

The law of the farm applies to many areas of life.  Parenting is just one example. As parents we repeat ourselves, endlessly.  Teaching our children to say thank you, to wait their turn, to ‘use their words’ and to share takes persistence and fortitude.

Parenting isn’t for the impatient.  You can’t hurry up the maturing process, and you can’t ignore your kids for years and cram parenting right before they hit 18.

The same holds true for teaching. The law of the farm can provide homeschool parents with a balanced perspective that can serve as a guiding principle.

My boys, four of them, entered college ready to take on the next phase of learning. Their preparation happened gradually over the 18 years leading up to their departure.

I’d like to say they were college successes because of my amazing teaching skills, or because we spent the money to buy the perfect curriculum, or even better because they are geniuses. None of that is true. They found success due to daily habits and steady plodding over weeks, months, and years.

Are parents really qualified to teach their children?

Research shows Homeschooling is a viable option despite parental education, income level, or race.

Good comparison of test results to back up homeschooling's claims.I understand if you have your doubts. We have been taught to think that we need a special credential to teach our children and that if we teach something in the wrong order our children will be permanently damaged. As you will see in a minute, the research suggests that not only are parents qualified, but that they do an awesome job.

The reasons should be obvious…who is more concerned and tuned in to a child than his parents? Who knows his/her strengths and weaknesses better? Who is more interested in seeing that child succeed? What school can offer the individualized help that a parent can offer? Just the one on one tutoring nature of homeschooling gives it many advantages over a classroom situation.

Added to the fact that parents have far smaller ‘classes’ to teach, curriculum writers have realized that homeschoolers are a big market and have written curriculums with the parent/educator in mind. You don’t need a credential to use these materials, most come with step by step instructions. Understanding that parents will be doing the teaching, curriculum writers have made their products family friendly. (more…)

Hate history?

Ditch the textbooks and make history come alive!


Ditch the textbooks and make history come alive for your children!

Do you hate History? Did you watch the clock tick off each minute as your teacher droned on? Did you suffer through dry readings, memorize meaningless dates, and answer pointless review questions? Do you dread subjecting your child to the same boring process?

If so, I’m sorry. Believe me, it doesn’t have to be that way!

While in college I have a vivid memory of sitting in the library studying with some friends  for an upcoming test for World Civilization. We were reviewing English history during the 1500’s.  My friends were struggling with dates, names and seemingly unrelated events.

I wasn’t struggling. The reason… in high school I had read a series of historical novels set in the courts of England. Nothing boring or dry there. There had been romance, court intrigue, religious conflicts, betrayal, heroes and villains. I’d cried for Queen Catherine as she watched her marriage and family crumble because she couldn’t produce a male heir, and was horrified as her daughter, Bloody Mary, turned her reign into one marked by revenge, fanaticism and bloodshed.

I wrestled with the issues that caused England to break from the Catholic church and was fascinated by the complex and fragile allegiances that were formed to consolidate power. The characters I met were complicated individuals who were forced to make decisions that would affect whole countries, individuals often beset with self-doubt and questions. I found myself caught up in their dilemmas wondering what I would do, what they should do…and rarely finding a satisfactory answer. (more…)

Shakespeare Resources

Great tools to help you introduce Shakespeare to your kids.

Helps for teachers and parents who want to introduce Shakespeare to their students.


In a previous article I made the case for teaching Shakespeare to your students. If you haven’t read that article you can find it here.

Or if you are interested in background information that is helpful when teaching Shakespeare you can check here.

As promised, here are some resources I recommend

This is a wonderful resource. Brightest Heaven of Invention by Peter J. Leithart will give you all you need to teach 6 of Shakespeare’s plays. This is a Christian guide and one I refer to constantly.

I go back to this book each time I teach Shakespeare and each time gain something new. Teaching Shakespeare by Rex Gibson is a great resource to keep on hand. (more…)


Be careful of sabotaging your efforts to instill good habits with rewards.

Be careful of sabotaging your effortsDo you have some sort of reward system in place for chores?  Do you reward yourself when you lose a certain amount of weight or work out every day for a week? Do you pay your kids for good grades, or take them for ice cream if they read a certain number of books? When my boys were playing baseball, I knew a parent who paid their kids if they hit a home run. Perhaps you give your child a treat if they finish their veggies, or a reward when they finish their math.

Rewards are an odd thing. We’ve probably all used them at one time or another. You’ve probably read articles about using rewards to help establish new habits or change behavior.  The thing is, offering rewards can actually sabotage your efforts, and they should be used with caution and intention.

I’ve always been leery of rewards and have seen a great deal of negatives when rewards are overused. Let’s examine a few instances to see the danger.

The chore reward system, there are lots of these. In some kids put up stickers as they do their chores and earn a reward at the end of the week. In others, kids start out with a certain amount of money and if they don’t finish their chores, money is deducted from their ‘allowance’. In still others parents post jobs they want done with a dollar value attached and children can choose which chores they want to do to earn spending money. You can probably come up with many more.

In our house, every member of the family did some of the work, because we are a family. There were regular chores the boys did every morning and on the weekends there was yard work or cars to wash. I didn’t pay the boys for these things because they are part of the family and once they were old enough, they took on some of the responsibility and work to keep things going.

When I knew one of them was trying to save money for something (usually another musical instrument) I might offer to pay them for some work, but that wasn’t the norm. They weren’t compensated for their regular chores.

I think I tried the pay system once or twice but abandoned the idea quickly because it led to an attitude of entitlement. It seemed that those systems quickly sent the message that they should be reimbursed for every contribution they made…and that wasn’t going to work for me. (more…)

Shakespeare’s England

Great background information to inform you study of Shakespeare

Lots of great information here to help when teaching ShakespeareUnderstanding a few things about the era that Shakespeare lived can make reading his plays simpler and more meaningful.

Shakespeare was born during the rein of Queen Elizabeth 1, or the Elizabethan Age. For an actor and a playwright, this was a boon. Before this time actors were at the bottom rungs of society. Most assumed actors were cheats and scoundrels, and public theaters rarely lasted long.

However, Queen Elizabeth enjoyed the theater and great advances in the Arts were made during her reign. She was the last ruler of the Tudor dynasty and she was a force to be reckoned with. She had beaten the Spanish Armada, a feat that had seemed impossible at the time, and had emerged as a dominant power in Europe and the New World.

Within England she was a patron of the arts, and they were thriving. The Renaissance had arrived in England and with it incredible advances in art, science, scholarship and literature. (Italy had started the Renaissance, or rebirth, of Europe over 100 years earlier.) For the first time actors and playwrights were financially thriving and gaining respect and status.

This was also the era of the Reformation, a time of Religious upheaval that had many groups breaking from Catholicism and loyalty to the Pope.  In England this movement began when Henry VIII split from the Catholic Church and founded the Protestant Church of England. This was done because the Pope refused to allow Henry to divorce his first wife and marry Anne Boelyn, Queen Elizabeth’s mother. The Reformation took on different characteristics in different countries in Europe. In England it caused a great deal of unrest and violence, both before and after the reign of Elizabeth. However, during her reign, their was relative peace within England. (more…)

Why Shakespeare?

To teach or not to teach Shakespeare that is the question.

Don't let your fear of Shakespearre keep you from enjoying and teaching it. I admit, I’m one of the nerds who loves Shakespeare. I was introduced to the Bard in Jr. High in a drama class, and was asked to compete in a Shakespeare Festival performing a soliloquy from King Lear. While I’m sure my performance was sadly lacking, I was able to watch performances by some very talented students, and I was hooked.

In high school I had excellent English teachers (Thank you Miss Irwin) who furthered my appreciation. Then, the summer after high school, I had the good fortune to travel and study in Europe. During that summer I visited Stratford (Shakespeare’s home town) studied Hamlet at Cambridge, and saw several productions by the Royal Shakespeare Company. It was glorious and I was officially a fan.

Perhaps your experience with Shakespeare was a little less positive, and frankly, if you never have to read or see another play you’ll be perfectly content. You are certainly not alone

But, as Hamlet would say, “There’s the rub.” You’re homeschooling now. You’re responsible for your child’s education…and Shakespeare seems to be on everyone’s list of subjects that should be tackled. But why? Perhaps if you understand why Shakespeare and why a play, you’ll be motivated to give it another chance. And, at the end of this article, I’ll link you to a few excellent resources to help you in your endeavor.

Shakespeare deals with enduring themes that remain relevant to every new generation of readers. The emotions and situations that are explored are at once familiar and recognizable across time and cultures.

If you are human, the characters, plots, and themes are relevant. The plays explore family relationships, love, power, morality, politics, wealth, and death. Emotions such as hate, anger, despair, jealousy, courage, and wonder are examined and expressed with passion and empathy, (more…)