For the last few weeks I’ve incorporated a weekly art history study into our homeschool learning. I recently signed on for a trial with the Simply Charlotte Mason Organiser, I’ve really enjoyed it and one of the amazing benefits is the bookfinder which can be used for free. Because I use the organiser I can directly schedule things from the finder but it is a great resource for anyone looking to expand their reading list.
One of the books I came across using this tool is Art for Children, I requested it from the library and have been using it each week to do a picture study. We do this as a narration exercise and it only takes 5-10 mins which is perfect for Huwyl right now. The book includes a great variety of artists but I’ve chosen to focus intitially on ones I recognise and am familiar with. As we go along I’ll get a bit more adventurous!
Each section has some information about an artist, one of their famous works and some questions to ask about the artwork and our reactions to it. I’ve really enjoyed Huwyl’s reactions to the paintings and been surprised by how perceptive his observations can be. He thought that a Jackson Pollock painting looked like a forest which I thought was really accurate!
Although I doubt that any of this information will stick in the long term what I really enjoy is the opportunity to share beautiful and interesting work with Huwyl on topics that excite my mind too. So much of the ‘subject matter’ children are traditionally exposed to through school seems to me banal and lacking in variation. It also bears no resemblance to anything they will encounter in the real world.
I read a fascinating article (link from Playful Learning) about the Reggio Emilia schools in Italy. I found the author’s observations really enlightening especially in discussing the artificiality of educational spaces when contrasted with the Reggio Emilia schools. I have never examined that idea before and had one of those ‘Wow of course!’ moments.
There is a particular “aesthetic” to this room. Just from the images on the walls we know at once we are in a kindergarten (or primary grade) classroom. This look, like the string paintings or string prints typical of school art (Efland, 1988), exists only in schools. [my bolding]
Although this is not stating anything earth shattering I found this concept mind opening. When I first began our journey in September I bought a cute wall decorating kit from Scholar’s choice (my cool friend had a similar one and I was basically being a copy cat), it has the months on it and cartoon symbols of what the months represent as well as a useful calendar. Unfortunately being the slightly scatty bird that I am it really hasn’t gelled and everything got a bit destroyed and mixed up in the move. The bits that did survive are on the wall, unfortunately it still says February.
What I realised is that I am not a systematic person so rotating displays etc isn’t my forte (I wasn’t even very good when I was teaching high school so I don’t stand much chance now). I was trying to conform to an aesthetic that I thought would bring a feeling of authority to our home school, I wanted to make sure that Huwyl wasn’t missing out on the ‘school experience’ so wanted to bring some of that systematic order into our ‘home experience’.
Now I see that being authentic to who we are is much more important, sharing with the children books, art, music that I love and find fascinating. If I am to ignite my passion and teach my children with genuine enthusiasm I need to have subject matter I feel enthusiastic about. As we go on we will add in history (we started but have called a halt as we approach the warmer outside months), science and maths in ways that are concrete and vivid. For example working on some of the activities in The Story of the World activity book was enormously fun and has stuck with Huwyl over many months. We made the double crown of the King of Egypt and he still remembers which colour represents which area, which is more than I can!
We’ve also found that the Shepherds Crook of the Pharaoh can also come in handy for pirate kings.
So what does all of this rambling mean? Well I’m not sure. I love art and art history. I love sharing that with my children. I think that is a good thing. And I think that education has to be, at least in some part, about being exposed to what is great and good in the world. Yes I want my children to read, that sort of goes without saying. But I also want them to be exposed to ideas rather than just information. It is not enough that they know the colours, can name them by rote or point them out and paint with them. They need to know what the colours can do, the myriad possibilities when in the hands of a creative soul with something to communicate.
According to the standard schooling Huwyl would have received had he been educated outside our home, art history would not have appeared on the curriculum. The focus is on the skills needed to face the rigours of first grade and beyond, to learn how to attend school and work within the systems in place there. One of the freedoms we enjoy is the time to focus on other things; the time to explore the wonderful possibilities that the world has to offer, the joys there are to explore. Right now they have no preconceptions, no barriers. We can look at a Jackson Pollock painting and wonder ‘what would it feel like to paint like that’ or ‘what do you see?’ without worrying that it is modern art not classical, without concern that Art (with that capital A) is to difficult or too ‘boring’ to think about. They see everything with fresh eyes and open hearts.
I know a misconception about home schooling is that the children are often sheltered from ‘the real world’ but I am beginning to see that in many ways the opposite is true. We are connecting to art, music, history, science, mathematics as they exist not in an artificial state. I want the boys to be exposed to the real deal rather than a manufactured version of something, designed to ‘teach’ or more likely ‘assess’. They are learning that the world is filled with beauty, with amazing artists and creative minds that are discovering the multiple possibilities of the universe, of life.
And I wonder, what will they make of it all, these little artists of mine? Where will their creativity take them?