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Teaching With Balance: Art Appreciation


“But education needs balance. No single subject should assume greatest importance at the expense of other subjects that a child needs to know about. Math is easy to test, and as long as education is ruled by test scores, we’ll have teaching focused on training exactness and solving problems efficiently, instead of teaching to awaken a sense of awe in contemplating a field of knowledge where perfection lives with or without us.”
Charlotte Mason, volume six, page 231

We have long known that our public school system survives on teaching to the test.. Math, vocabulary, history facts, spelling, reading comprehension, and other easy to test topics have long dominated the public school schedules because they are easy to measure on a test.

As homeschoolers we are in the unique position to change our own thinking and look at our children as people with varying needs and interests. Balancing the more academic with an introduction to things beautiful to the mind and spirit brings a sense of joy to our homeschool.

“Art is a thing of the spirit, and we need to teach it in ways that affect the spirit. We realize that the ability to appreciate art and interpret it is as universal to all people as intelligence, or imagination, or the ability to form words to communicate. But that ability needs to be educated. Teaching the technical skill of producing pictures isn’t the same as appreciating art. To appreciate, children need to have a reverent recognition of what’s been created. Children need to learn about pictures: they need to learn about them a line at a time, and as groups, by studying pictures for themselves rather than by reading about them.”
Charlotte Mason, volume six, page 214

Creating balance in our day with art appreciation takes a few minutes and little preparation.

  • Pick an artist.
  • Pick five or six of his paintings.
  • Take one painting at a time and make it your computer’s desktop background by right clicking the image and choosing “Set as Desktop Background”.

Now for the fun part!
“The six reproductions are studied one at a time so that the students learn to not just see a picture, but to look carefully at it, absorbing every detail. After looking at the picture, it’s turned over and the children narrate, telling what they saw, perhaps, ‘a dog driving a flock of sheep along a road all by himself. No, wait, there’s a boy, too. He’s lying at the river, getting a drink. You can tell by the light that it’s morning, so the sheep must be going out to graze in the pasture,’ and so on. The children don’t miss any details–the discarded plow, the crooked birch tree, the beautifully formed clouds that look like it might rain. There’s enough to talk about to keep the children busy for half an hour, and afterwards, the picture will have formed such a memory that the children will recognize it wherever they see it, whether it’s a signed proof, an oil reproduction, or the original itself in a museum.”

Charlotte Mason, volume six page 214

If you are viewing the painting on your computer screen, you can have your child move away from the monitor and finish the narration of the painting from memory. This simple exercise helps your child to begin to see over time the unique style and techniques of each artist you study. A Monet will look like a Monet. A Raphael will look like a Raphael. All ages of children are capable of this sort of activity and all will learn to narrate paintings quite naturally if you offer the opportunity each week for art appreciation.

If you want some help getting started with picture study, please check out my free plans for six week’s worth of art appreciation.
Summer 2009 Art and Music Appreciation Plans Everything you need to get started with a study of Claude Monet is included in the plans, even the paintings and links to viewing them online.

“Art appreciation is regarded with a lot of respect, but teachers tend to be intimidated about how to teach it.”
Charlotte Mason, volume six, page 213

Don’t be intimidated. Choose to balance your homeschool day with a little art appreciation.
Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Artwork:
John James Audubon
Mary Cassatt
Robert McCall

Reflections on a Charlotte Mason High School

“Children taught this way are fun to be around because they’re interested in so many things, and they have worthy thoughts. They have a lot to talk about, and this kind of talk can’t help but have a beneficial effect on those around them–and on society. That pleasant sense of knowing about things worth knowing, and things that make life worth living, is like a delightful atmosphere. It’s what makes people noble-minded. We agree with Milton that a noble mind is the most appropriate result of education.Students taught along these lines are familiar with a large number of books, many historical and literary persons, and quite a range of natural phenomena. Compare that with what a normal school student can claim–a sterile curriculum that isn’t mastered very well.”Charlotte Mason in Modern English, volume 6, page 267

When I first contemplated sticking with a Charlotte Mason style high school, I couldn’t find many families that had shared their experiences. I wanted to see what particular materials they used and how they used them. Last year after completing my son’s freshman year, I made up a page with all our specific resources that we used in ninth grade using a classical/Charlotte Mason style: Ninth Grade. Now that I am finishing our second high school year, I think it is time to start recording my thoughts, sharing how I think it is going for us….just in case you wanted to know. 🙂

Just a note: I am not a Charlotte Mason purist so you will find some variances in our implementation of her methods in our schoolwork.

*Keeping history chronological and including lots and lots of living books has helped keep the attention of my high school boys. They greatly enjoy autobiographies so I try to keep one going on their schedule at all times. They also enjoy reading source documents like speeches and letters and memorizing parts of them as we go along. The offering of lots of ideas has kept our school fresh and lively. History is more than just dry facts but it comes alive with ideas.

*Narration of all kinds is so much better than the fill-in the blanks tests. We use a variety of ways to narrate at a high school level. My favorite kind of narration is the informal daily oral narration around the kitchen table with the whole family. Term exams in conjunction with Tapestry of Grace unit celebrations are also a time that the boys like to shine with their particular knowledge of topics that have interested them.

*Excellent literature and lots of it, read slowly to let it seep down deeply. I pull my books from several sources. Of course the majority come from Tapestry of Grace but I also pull from Ambleside Online (House of Education) book lists for both formal reading and free reading. Poetry and Shakespeare are also included during every term and shared together and read mostly out loud as a group.

*Art and music appreciation are considered “core” subjects and are not skipped even when we have a busy week. Handicrafts are encouraged and supported as part of our afternoon schedule and during free time. We actually have time for hobbies and passions.

*Nature study is intertwined into our more academic study of science. Biographies of naturalists and books written by scientists are read as living books. Our nature journals have become more scientific and have included information from our biology and marine biology studies. We consider the nature journal an extension of our science lab book.

*Limited use of textbooks-mathematics and science for the most part. Science is about relationships and keeping that in mind as we work through our lessons and add onto the text our real-life experiences makes things come alive. Supplementing a science or math text with living books about real scientists and mathematicians from the past and present has greatly increased the interest level in these subjects. We have more ideas to ponder. (See my page on biology and how we made it a living study: Apologia Biology)

*Our family recognizes that our children have a spiritual need and as a family we devote some of our day to feeding that need and incorporating daily Bible reading, scripture work, discussion, and weekly volunteer work.

*Last but not least, remembering that education does not have to be confined to school time. “Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.” Indeed.

Am I happy with the results? I would say that it has been harder than I expected to keep on top of things but I would also say that it has been a very satisfying decision to keep with our CM style schooling and it has kept us balanced.

It helps to keep the CM principles in mind and if you want a concise summary of a Charlotte Mason education, here is a link to her Twenty Principles:
Charlotte Mason Twenty Principles-A Synopsis of her Educational Method

I find it refreshing to read through these ever so often.

I have to admit that I am not implementing all of Charlotte Mason’s ideas, nor do I necessarily agree with every principle or know exactly what they should look like in operation. Our homeschool is still a work in progress.

My confidence is building as I see the results of sticking to a course of study that means something to these boys. They are not filled with meaningless information that is disconnected from something else. I don’t think we are learning things just to be learning them. The kind of education they are receiving is not easily measured on a standardized test or given a grade but rather they have ownership in their education and they will have “that pleasant sense of knowing things worth knowing.”

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Time for Reflection: A Time for Ideas

“Education is a life. That life needs ideas to keep it alive. Ideas come from a spiritual place, and God has created us so that we get ideas in the same way we pass them on to others: by expressing them in talk, or printed words, or the text of Scripture, or music.” Charlotte Mason, volume 6, page 109

Eighth grade is finished for the fourth time in our house. It is bittersweet.

All four times we taught this grade, usually American history, in different ways with different books and different styles. Nine years ago we taught with textbooks, seven years ago we did unit studies, last year we used The Well-Trained Mind suggestions since we had covered American history using Sonlight a few years earlier, and this year we used Ambleside Online’s year 9 with some modifications for my son’s interests. Can you guess which year I liked best?

That really is an unfair question because for each child the experience was tailored to meet their personality. For instance with my oldest child we used a textbook for eighth grade history but there were lots of things we did to supplement her learning. That was the year of learning American history through the lens of women in history. We based the year on making a quilt and learned all about the history of quilting in the early colonies, for women who were slaves, and then pioneer women. We read lots of biographies of women in American history like Abigail Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, and Amelia Earhart and discussed admirable qualities that each woman possessed. We read about colonial women, pioneer women, women of faith, and women in science and the arts. We baked, sewed, sang, and read about that period of time and both of us still remember that year with fond memories because it may have included reading a textbook but it was so much more than that because we got to know the time period and the people and what made them tick.

You get the idea. Even though I had never heard of Charlotte Mason when I was homeschooling eighth grade with my oldest two, I was still looking for living books, real stories, and trying to get to know the real people we were reading about in our text. It was really about hearing their ideas through our reading and activities.

” When a child is very young, it doesn’t seem to make any difference what philosophical idea we had when we educated them, whether we had the notion of filling a bucket, writing on a blank slate, molding a lump of clay, or nourishing a life. But as the child grows, we’ll come to find that the only things that are assimilated into who he becomes are the ideas that fed and nourished his mind.”
Charlotte Mason volume 6, page 108

Some days I want to call for a “do over” and start from the very beginning again homeschooling my children, not because I regret the methods I used but rather because I want to savor each year again. Reading the books, sharing the minute details of each day, watching the light bulb moments, watching them grow spiritually, and sharing the adventure all over.

It seems I blinked and arrived somehow at the present day where I realize my children have become four intelligent, thinking, creative, loving, God-fearing beings. They are people I love to be with.

There is still an unfamiliar path ahead of us but it is nice to be sitting here at this moment feeling like I have already accomplished more than I ever set out to accomplish in the homeschooling world….both within my family, in my community, and with others around the globe. As the saying goes, “It has been some ride.”

Four more years lie ahead to be filled with lots more learning alongside my boys. This is the spot in the road that we have been working for all these years. So many directions to explore and people both past and present to get to know in the days to come. I will try to remind myself that it is the ideas that matter, not the particular books or plans.

I can see the finish line of in the distance but somehow I don’t feel in a hurry to get there.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

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