Monday, April 17, 2006

Art: Another Reason to Homeschool

This was originally posted at my other site, Twice Bloomed Wisteria.

Art is frequently sacrificed (other than coloring pages) in lieu of basic skills training in public elementary schools, but in a homeschool children have the freedom to explore art, art history, and artists. I take this freedom seriously. Maybe I just have an obsession with art supplies and need an excuse to purchase more, but doing art with my children just makes me feel satisfied. Boys at scouts and children who visit our home are mesmerized my the options, quality, and variety of art stuff available at our house. They are able to let their imaginations soar by painting, drawing, sculpting, creating mosaics, inventing catapults, airplanes, and boats with balsa wood . . . They all ask, "Where did you get this stuff?" I get to say, "We homeschool, and all this is part of our school." Then, with an envious look the child says, "I wish I could go to school here." Satisfaction -- satisfaction that my children, who are curious about public school, feel that they have a good situation and satisfaction that my children are learning so much without even realizing it.

I didn't have my schooling plans solidified when we began homeschooling. We do a quasi classical/Charlotte Mason/unschooling contortion thing for school now, but this method has evolved over five years . I would have loved to incorporate historical art study with history, but I re-acted my first year instead of planning. I have purchased and used, and purchased and put on a shelf many art resources. I will share some of these so perhaps you will not have to purchase blindly, as I did.
  • We started with Child Sized Masterpieces. These are just sets of postcards, which unfortunately you have to cut apart. The children then play matching and sorting games with the cards. The guide How to Use Child-size Masterpieces by Aline D. Wolf gives suggestions about arranging the cards, care of the cards, and activities. Honestly, I didn't use the book much but I did scan it. I also didn't store the cards with as much care and reverence as they suggest. I used a book ring and hole punched the cards. We do enjoy the cards, even after four years because the artists and art for each set of cards was thoughtfully chosen and you can sort and arrange the cards in many different ways -- by painter, art schools, chronologically, naming the artist. I mostly just leave them on a table and someone picks them up and looks.
  • Art Basics for Children by Rich and Sharon Jefferies is an A to Z guide for art concepts and technique written for elementary age children. A is for apple and the lesson is drawing an apple and shading. Z is for zebra and you learn to draw an animal using ovals. The book is not a commercial publication and is copied/printed in black and white and bound with binding combs. Layout and design is not beautiful, but the information is good and can be used as a resource or an art curriculum.
  • Meet the Masters is my all time favorite. More expensive than many programs, but well worth the money, especially if you are not a seasoned artist. This program consists of a html program on a CD and binder for the teacher. The CD provides a slide show with good resolution art images, some sound bytes, and an ending quiz or slide show for each artist. The binder includes the script for the slides shown on the CD, activity/technique pages, and the instructions for the master work production. My children have produced beautiful works of art(a Van Gogh, a Remington, a Mondrian, and a O'Keefe) and have a wonderful appreciation and knowledge of the artists we have studied. I produced some wonderful pieces, too! Now we must wait for the next artist group, before we can continue with the program.
  • The Story of Painting by Sister Wendy Beckett is an enormous (736 pages) reference volume and is just good to have. It is referenced chronologically which makes it quite useful for the classical homeschooler. The hard cover, paper quality, narrative, and zooms make it a wonderful study and a nice coffee table book. It is well worth the money.
  • Getting to Know the World's Greatest Artists Series by Mike Venezia are wonderful paperback books loaded with images, large print narrative, and a few comics. They are just right for the elementary art student, but have enough information for older students. We don't have all of these, but wish we did.
  • Lives of the Artists by Kathleen Krull is a humorous book with short stories about various artists. These are anecdotal in nature. If you can only get one book, this is not it. Though the information is interesting, you don't get a full picture of the artist, the art, or the movement.
  • Looking at Pictures by Joy Richardson is a wonderful introduction to art museums and the role they play in preservation, types of painting, painting techniques, and stories in painting. This is a short book, only 79 pages, but is loaded with information and beautiful images. I like this book and with a practice component or artist study could be the spine of a year of art.
  • Art Fraud Detective by Anna Nilsen is a fun sleuth game in a book, where the child (7 and over) seeks forgeries by comparing the catalog images to the art in the museum. I found all the forgeries.
  • For times when you just need or want to let the children color, The Start Exploring Masterpieces coloring book by Mary Martin and Steven Zorn provides stories about the paintings and somewhat detailed coloring pages. Crayons are not perfect for this coloring book, use markers or colored pencils instead.
  • Online Resources - Try Princeton online Art Lessons. If you don't find what you need Doc has compiled her usual mega-list of resources here. Thanks Doc!
Next year, I will have the chronological classical plan up and running, thanks to Art Smart! by Susan Rodriguez. This chronological plan, complete with slides, begins with the stone age. These activities require a bit more planning and sometimes more real art materials. They are appropriate for the 9 to 13ish group. Making a cave art gallery out of a refrigerator box might lose its appeal with the older children and some of the activities are beyond the fine motor skills of the under 9. There are only 20 activities for ancient art so there is still time for artist study or enrichment of some sort.

I am so happy I get to share these art experiences with my children. Art enriches our daily lives and we have so much fun. Even on those days when structured school seems overwhelming, we can look at pictures, read about artists, and create our own works of art and have that satisfied, a job well done, feeling.

Saturday, April 8, 2006

Reading Good Books

This entry was originally posted at my other site, Twice Bloomed Wisteria.

One of the most wonderful benefits homeschooling offers is the time and flexibility to explore timeless books. Some books just cannot be scheduled. They must be read when they are discovered, in their entirety, and with passion. I have been reading to my children since birth and will continue to do so (even though they are becoming readers) until they shove me out of the bed or off the couch. I love sharing books at bedtime or on the porch swing or on the couch or . . . I have abdicated some reading responsibility as they have grown, but will continue to find time to read as long as they want me.

We have read thousands of books and it seems that each good book leads to another. We read The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth Speare and Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes last year for history. Both mentioned Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe. My son had to read that book last summer. We don't always follow literary allusion or recommendations of characters to books. Sometimes we follow authors. My son loved The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, so we have also read Tom Sawyer. My daughter enjoyed The Little Princess by Frances Burnett last year, so this year we read The Secret Garden. Other times we follow stories through to their conclusions by reading a series like the Harry Potter novels by J.K. Rowling, The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis or The Little House series by Laura Ingals Wilder.

We also find books through our study of history by reading historically significant literature. We studied the Civil War this year and read The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane and Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt. We are reading Gay Neck:The Story of a Pigeon for WWI study and plan to read The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boon and Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl for WWII. My little ballerina also led us to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night Dream. After watching the ballet, I suggested we read the play (I would have found an excuse to read Shakespeare even if she had hated the ballet).

Once you start reading good books there is no where to stop. The question is where to start. I love book lists. I check several, periodically, to make sure we haven't forgotten some wonderful, age appropriate, historically appropriate or just perfect piece of literature. Here is a smattering of the lists I use to help guide my children's reading and enjoyment of literature.
  • Honey for a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt -- My sister in law gave this book to me years ago and I still enjoy it. Though her lists are not exhaustive or organized as I sometimes need them I have come back to this book many times because Gladys Hunt chooses quality. Over 1/2 the book is commentary on the importance of reading quality books. If you are just starting and have young children, the commentary can confirm your ideals and cement your plans in reality.
  • Let the Authors Speak by Carolyn Hatcher -- This book organizes titles historically by reading levels, type of book, and location. Having all this information at your fingertips is indispensable if you like to structure some historical fiction and non fiction with your history study. There is little commentary. Three fourths of the book is comprised of lists sorted by period, title and author.
  • The Literature Teacher's Book of Lists by Judie Strouf is an older book. I got it in my past life as a literature teacher. This book does not stop at lists of books but has an assortment of other "useful" or maybe "useless" information. Book lists are sorted by age, classics, popular, fiction, non-fiction, autobiography, comics, and on and on and on.
  • The Story of the World Activity Guides by Susan Bauer and others -- I bought the first two of these and used them quite a bit. I don't like blind ordering from the library and enjoyed the historically significant literature choices. After the second activity book the activities and book choices seem sloppy and somewhat haphazard. The Guides do have lists of books by chapter significance, but the information is somewhat vague and the books are often redundant. You shouldn't have to read the same book each time you go to China in history.
  • For free online lists try these:

    • Award winning book lists -- Though these are the source of exhaustive official ALA lists, the format is not great. They are difficult to read and print. This list does not have the all important short summaries for each listing.
    • Newbery Books -- Each entry has a short summary and winners are divided by century. The Caldecott Medal Books are accessible from this page, but are not organized for printing as you have an extra click so that you only get one book per page.
    • The Great Books Academy -- This online school provides lists for great books and good books arranged by grade level.
    • Great Books Online -- This list is for the older student and for people who don't mind reading online or printing books. The list is free and so are the books!
    • Ambleside Online -- AO has reading lists for each grade level. Click on the grade level of your children and scroll down to the bottom for literature and free reading selections. They also have an alphabetical by authors list.
    • Finally, though many of the books on these lists are drivel, here is the resource for the much touted Accelerated Reader program. I sometimes use these to find a grade level.
Armed with lists, I feel I can choose books that will make a lasting impression on my children, fill their minds with questions, and lead them to more books.

Saturday, April 1, 2006

Nature Study

This was originally posted on my other site, Twice Bloomed Wisteria.

Spring is a natural for nature study. You only have to step outside to hear the almost obscene symphony of bird courtship rituals, see flowers blooming and trees leafing, feel rivers and streams gushing, and find tadpoles and frog eggs. Take advantage of your child's natural desire to be outside and live nature study. It's never too early to start.

We've been doing nature study since my children were born, though I didn't realize it as an organized "real school" subject until this year. We just walk, look, and talk. Finding snakes, alligators, beaver huts, fox holes, and nests of eggs in the wild and learning to respect the animals and their habitats is the official lesson, but mostly we just look, listen, and enjoy. Granted, not everyone has the wild so close at hand, but nature is everywhere if we are patient enough to find it. Here are a few things I have learned in the past ten years of nature study.

  • Babies love to be outside and I think they learn about nature even when tiny. I let mine stay outside on a blanket as much as possible. I back country hiked when my first was four months old and took him overnight canoeing when he was two. He loved it!
  • Let the child lead. Children are closer to the ground and unbelievably observant and therefore able to find small treasures you might miss like a salamander, crystals in rocks, mushrooms, and bugs. Even if they are too young to identify species they are learning to find beauty in nature and to interact with nature in a positive way.
  • Let the child set the pace. I have to watch myself here. I have a tendency to rush (combining exercise and nature). Children can spend much time watching ants carry loads and snakes sunning. They learn more from watching nature than listening to you drone on and on about the details.
  • Let your child explore freely, yet safely. Be aware of your surroundings and hidden dangers like posisonous mushrooms.
  • Don't give all the information you know or can produce from the guidebook to small children. If they need to know something they will ask. Do provide basic observations and comparisons.
  • Teach your child respect for animals' wildness, personal space, and habitat. Some adults need this lesson too. When hiking in Glacier National Park the trail crossed the highway where several cars were pulled over to look at a grizzly bear. One woman took her camera and started trekking up the side of the hill to get a better picture (despite all the warnings in the park). She put herself at risk and that bear at risk. Luckily, a ranger showed up and dragged her down the mountain.
  • I may carry this a bit too far, but clothes can be washed so let them get dirty. Feeling mud squish through toes and fingers, making clay bricks, and rolling in the grass are learning experiences too!
  • Children don't melt. Let them play in the rain if lightening is not a problem. Teach them respect for weather, not fear.
  • Nature happens everywhere. Every city has a park (not a researched point). Take advantage of them and the zoos, natural science museums, botanical gardens, and aquariums found in a city.
  • When the children are older and you wish to add more structure think about starting collections of rocks, shells, flowers and leaves; growing vegetables and flowers from seeds; starting a bird watchers life list; or starting a nature journal.
  • If you decide to journal these things have worked for us:

    • I love the Bienfang Notesketch books. Each page is divided into a lined section and a sketching section. The paper is heavy enough for water colors and packing. They come in two sizes and two page configurations. They are available from Rainbow Resources (search words note sketch) or Office Depot.
    • Use the best colored pencils you can afford. I truly believe the Berol Prismacolor pencils and water color pencils are worth the extra money.
  • Subscribe to The Big Back Yard or Ranger Rick. My children love the pictures and stories. They also like getting mail with their own name on it.
  • If you want or need more information or structure you can use materials available at Ambleside Online - a free Charlotte Mason inspired curriculum. Many of their suggested books are available online.
These are resources and books I like for my 10 year old and under.
  • In the Small, Small Pond and In the Tall, Tall Grass by Denise Fleming. These are for the very young. They are bright, happy and appreciate nature.
  • I Took a Walk by Henry Cole. Again, this is for the younger children. It teaches attention to detail and camouflage.
  • Let's Read and Find Out Series i.e. From Tadpole to Frog. These come in two stages. Stage one is appropriate for 4-6 year olds and stage two is for 7 to 10. My 6 year old daughter enjoys the stage 2 and I frequently catch my just turned 10 year old reading the stage one books. We have many resources and my children have much hands on experience, but they still like these books that have enough information to be useful, nice illustrations, and in the stage 2 books some activities.
  • The Usborne Complete First Book of Nature Study is a colorful and useful guide for children. Loaded with illustrations and short informational sections and activities this book will be picked up over and over again.
  • The National Geographic Nature Library. I think there are eight slim books in the series. Each species has a "What is a..." page that show the commonalities of all reptiles, birds, insects, mammals, or fish. The pictures and drawings are what you would expect from National Geographic. We have poured over these. I would guess that they are expensive though we got them as a gift.
  • I love Stellaluna and Verdi by Janell Cannon. They create lovable images of two of the world's most feared and least understood animals. I couldn't bring myself to buy Crickwing, the cockroach.
  • Mammalabilia and Insectlopedia by Douglas Florian are fun poetry books about animals and insects.
  • For conservation's sake try The Lorax by Dr. Suess. We've read it at least a thousand times and still love it.
  • The Raft by Jim Lamarche is a wonderful longer picture book story about interacting with nature in a positive way on a special raft.
  • National Geographic's My First Pocket Guides provide enough information to identify animals and start a conversation with the 7 and under group. There is not enough information for more prying minds. Some of the guides are redundant.
  • Secrets of the Woods by William Long(actually all his books) personify animals while teaching real concepts. The stories are long enough and interesting enough for the 8 and above crowd.
  • Burgess Bird Book and Burgess Animal Book by Thornton Burgess personify animals in fun stories while teaching real characteristics, habits, and homes. Both my children love these stories.
  • For you, get Anna Botsford's Handbook of Nature Study. This book, as recommended on Ambleside Online, provides information for you and leading questions. There is a ton of stuff in this huge volume.
  • If you decide to start a life list get a Peterson's Field Guide to the Birds or another complete guide. Many of the junior versions only have the most common species and this can be frustrating when you find that more rare species.
  • Online resources:
    • provides such useful resources as How to draw a bird, coloring pages, puzzles, and Identify a Bird.
    • provides species identification and sound tracks
    • provides study pages, online databases, and a weekly newsletter.
Of course, all this being said all you really need is some time and a child and a place to explore. Get out there and live school!