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.

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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.
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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…)

WHY USING REWARDS CAN BACKFIRE

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…)

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…)

The Habit of Thought

What we think about when we are free to think about what we will - that is what we are or will soon become. ~ A.W. Tozer

At the start of a new school year we focus on creating a workable schedule, buying the best curriculum, and writing up lesson plans. As the school year progresses, we discover that curriculum choices and schedules are only a small part of our challenge as teachers.

Rather than struggling with curriculum, most parent/teachers struggle with their student. At one point or another we all hear:

  • “But why do I need to know this?” (Be sure to read that in a super whiney voice to get the full effect.)
  • “I just can’t understand math.”
  • “I hate to read.”
  • “Why do we have to write evvverrrry day?”

Dealing with the whining and complaints can be exhausting and leave parents feeling like they are failing at the educational task. It would be a mistake to think that the issues inherent in this sort of grumbling will be solved by switching up the school day, or making learning more ‘fun’.

The underlying issue here is a failure on the part of the child to self-regulate, or to see what needs to be done, and to have the internal fortitude to get on with doing the work with a positive attitude. Developing that ‘internal fortitude’ or positive attitude toward work, is going to be far more important for your child’s long term success than any of the academic skills you are working on.

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Why Geography?

Raising globally aware children should be every parents goal.

Why we need to raise geographically literate children.We live in a crazy and exciting time, the world is changing… daily. When I wrote up my Philosophy of Education, and looked to the future, one of the things I wanted to impart to my kids was a concern and interest about life outside of the United States.

With advances in travel, communication, commerce, and the internet, the world is literally, at our doorstep. As Steve and I sought to prepare our kids for the life God has for them, we felt a critical part would be helping them to develop a global perspective.

Now, I am very grateful I was born in this country, and have had the privilege of raising my children here. I think knowing our history, understanding our government, and expressing gratitude for our freedom is a vital part of our role as homeschoolers.

I also think it’s vitally important that our children know that we are only one part of a diverse and fascinating world. I was very concerned as the boys grew that they would be proud of their country and heritage, balanced and tempered by a concern and appreciation for other cultures and people. I wanted my children to be geographically as well as culturally aware. We spent time pouring over globes and maps. We spent time reading stories about people living in other parts of the world. We learned the history of far away places, and learned about other religions. We tried ethnic foods and did projects on various countries. We talked about what daily life would be like if they lived somewhere else. My hope was that all of this would translate into responsible adults who had a concern for the world beyond their borders.

Now part of giving our kids a global perspective is very practical. Many jobs of the future will include an ‘international’ component. (more…)

WHEN READING FOR YOUR CHILD IS THE SENSIBLE APPROACH

Bear the burden of reading to keep your child's love of books alive.

When reading for your child is the sensible approachIn our last post we discussed the importance of allowing children to read books that are too easy for them. If you missed it, you can check it out here. Today, we are going to explore another mistake we make when it comes to our child’s reading level.

The oldest of my sons was slow to read. He was also highly intelligent, had an expansive vocabulary, and loved learning. When he was in early elementary school I began checking out options for history and science. Mind you, this was before Homeschooling had really taken off, so my options were limited. A friend suggested I check out a popular Christian Textbook publisher. I was VERY disappointed in the material.

The history text was stories about community helpers; firemen, postal workers and police. It was cute and boring, so boring. The reason…the book was written for a 6 year old’s reading ability, and so the content had to be “dumbed down.” I couldn’t see my bright son being even slightly interested in the book.

My solution was to work on his reading everyday for about 20 minutes…and the rest of the time, I read to him. We explored all sorts of interesting people, concepts, places, and art. With me, standing in the gap, he was able to pursue information about anything that interested him. At the time the Ninja Turtles were huge, and so he poured over Art books about Michaelangelo, Donatello, Raphael, and DaVinci.

Tim was a sponge. He could sit for long periods with books, even when he couldn’t read them. He would come to me with questions that illustrations had sparked and ask me to read sections.

During these years of struggle with reading, I was determined to keep his love of learning and books alive. While he may have made halting progress with phonics, in every other subject he was leaping ahead. When his reading skills eventually caught up I knew he would have a strong foundation and mastery of words and concepts to build on.

At the beginning of his 3rd grade year he was still sounding out most words, and reading quite slowly. Then, seemingly overnight (although it had been years of steady work) it clicked. Boy, did it click. By the end of 3rd grade he was reading at a 9th grade level.  When his reading skills synced up with all of the other learning he’d been doing he was capable of reading and understanding just about everything he picked up.

Even if your child is a whiz at reading, more than likely, in the early years, their comprehension will be greater than their reading ability. Don’t limit their science books to only those they can read on their own. Don’t limit their enjoyment of literature to graded readers with limited vocabulary. Read to your children all sorts of books! Their busy minds will love being fed a steady supply of fresh ideas, and their love of learning and books will continue to grow. They will want to become better readers because they will know, through you, the magic that books contain.

I had another student who was severally dyslexic. After years of testing and work, the conclusion was he was always going to struggle. You might think this limited him educationally, but it absolutely didn’t. His mother, and a younger sister read him all of his books. In High School I taught him Shakespeare, Chemistry, Biology, and History. He did great in each course.

He was able to enjoy the language and beauty of Shakespeare through others standing in the gap for him. (And he built me an amazing reproduction of the Globe Theater) He excelled in the sciences. He had the science series in an audio format and would work ahead so that he could do the experiments, work out all the kinks and do them in class for the rest of us. It was awesome.

I was so proud of him when he graduated. He hadn’t ‘just’ made it through high school, he’d thrived. With his family’s help, he’d received an excellent, well-rounded education, because his mom hadn’t let his inability in one area determine what he could study in other areas. She played up to his strengths and stood in the gap to help him in his weak area.

The point I’m trying to make is that, all children will probably experience a time when not all of their skills will sync together, growing in perfect harmony.  This does not mean they cannot continue to excel and grow in every other area of their education. With you, helping to bear the burden, they can continue to progress while you work on their weaker areas.

I’ve witnessed far too many students who have difficulty with reading, or a learning disability become stalled in every other area of their studies. Not being able to read well meant they did poorly with history, literature, and science. Not being able to read, could stall our student. They could be limited to remain at their reading level…but they don’t have to be.

No, we don’t want to do the work for our child, but there are certainly times where we can bear the burden with our child, and stand in the gaps so that they can continue to grow and enjoy their school years.

This doesn’t just make academic sense, it makes emotional sense.

A child who is slow to read can experience severe damage to their sense of self. They can feel stupid and less than their peers. I know adults who have never recovered from being in the ‘slow’ reading group in elementary school. At a young age they internalized the message that they are not intelligent, not good at school.

For most kids, that’s a lie. The problem is we expect children to all develop at an arbitrary rate, to learn in a steady progression upwards. For a percentage of kids that works, but for most they learn in a stop, start, 2 steps back, 1 leap forward individual pattern.  Each child has their own strengths, their own areas of intelligence and giftedness, it’s our job to nurture those areas, and work steadily where they struggle.

So, be aware of where your child struggles, get them assessed and helped if they need it. But also, don’t allow those areas to limit their education. Stand in the gap with them to be the bridge to the information they need while they develop the tools to build that bridge for themselves.

Oh, by the way, my son Tim graduated from college with an English degree and is now a High School English teacher.

If you’d like to check out the other posts in this series, here are the links.

Curriculum is a tool, nothing more

The key to raising a reader that most of us miss

Make this paradigm shift to get the most out of your school year

When rewards backfire

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Curriculum is not the key to your homeschooling success

You are teaching a child, not a curriculum

Curriculum is a tool, nothing moreThe first and biggest mistake many of us make is teaching a curriculum, not a child. 

Let’s take math. Our child needs to learn mathematical concepts, so we choose a math program. Then, almost universally, we become focused on the curriculum instead of the student.

Have you ever become hyper focused on your child finishing that day’s math page.  We hound them by saying,  “Pay attention, we have to finish this!” We threaten and bribe to keep them on task.

The shift is subtle, but the math lesson is no longer about the child learning the material, it’s about getting the lesson done. After all, our accompanying teacher’s manual says we need to do 4 lessons a week, with one day for testing! The curriculum has become our focus.

Completing the lesson, or the entire book, is of no value if your child didn’t master the concepts in the lesson. This shift in focus is sneaky, we don’t recognize it happening until 3 months down the line when we realize our child is hopelessly lost. (more…)