Last week I wrote about how we cover the basics of kindergarten, and in this and some future posts, I’ll share how we tackle some things that are more like electives (not that kindergarteners usually have electives!).
For the basic idea behind all of this, I am indebted to Karen Andreola, who wrote a book on Charlotte Mason’s teaching methods. I read Karen’s book right before I started homeschooling Joshua and was quite taken with this way of teaching. One of Charlotte Mason’s basic ideas is that children learn best from real books (she calls them “living books”), not from textbooks, and that they remember what they’ve learned better by talking or writing about it than by filling out workbooks. Not only is this method effective, it’s also quite a lot of fun.
I do use textbooks and workbooks for some subjects (math, for instance), but when it comes to subjects like Art, Music, or Science, I find that Charlotte Mason’s ideas work very well.
When Joshua was in kindergarten, I decided that we would spend some time learning about a number of famous artists. I knew I didn’t want to use an art textbook, as that would probably be pretty boring and also way above a kindergartener’s head! My mom had bought a few children’s books about art when she was homeschooling my siblings and me, so I borrowed some of those and we set out on our journey of discovering art.
Since Joshua couldn’t read well yet, I read books about each artist out loud to him. As we worked through the books, which all had colorful reprints of the artist’s work, we chose a painting or two to reproduce. Armed with some paper and colored pencils, Joshua and I made our own versions of the Mona Lisa, Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”, and a lot of other classic paintings. I’m no fancy artist, and Joshua wasn’t either in kindergarten, but his end product was usually recognizable. More importantly, he had fun doing this, and while he was having fun, he was learning. When we finished with a particular artist, I had Joshua tell me, in his own words, what he remembered about each artist, and I wrote it down for him.
I don’t think Joshua remembered all the details about each artist, but he got a good grasp of the style of each artist, so much so that while we were sitting in a waiting room one day, he looked up at a painting on the wall (a painting he’d never seen before, not even in a book), and said, “Mommy, that looks like a Monet!”. I moved closet to the painting to check, and by golly, he was right! His favorite artist in his kindergarten year was Van Gogh, though. I think the bright colors and gobs of paint appealed to him.
When Lisey started kindergarten, I did the same sort of thing with her, and she enjoyed it as much as Joshua did. Lisey’s tastes ran a little more to the feminine side, though, and her favorite artists were Georgia O’Keefe (she liked the huge flowers Georgia painted) and Mary Cassatt.
My most favorite children’s art books are the “Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists” series, which are written and illustrated by Mike Venezia. While the books have reproductions of the paintings done by famous artists, those paintings are punctuated by fun and colorful cartoons, which illustrate interesting happenings in the lives of the artists.
Here, Gaugin is hollering at Van Gogh:
The text gives an overview of the life of the artist, and something I really appreciate is that Venezia always manages to throw in fun tidbits about each artist, things that pique children’s interest.
He also explains the story behind many of the paintings that are included in the books, and I think that is so helpful when you are trying to understand a piece of art. Venezia has written books about not only the older artists, like Da Vinci and Michelangelo, but also about more contemporary artists like Norman Rockwell and Pablo Picasso.
I really cannot say enough good things about this series! I think this is exactly the sort of thing that Charlotte Mason envisioned when she advocated the use of “living books” rather than textbooks. Venezia is passionate about his subject and he writes about it in a way that helps inspire other people to be passionate about it too.
My mom owned several of these books, which I borrowed (they seem to be on permanent loan here, actually), and I’m blessed to have a library that has a large array of Venezia’s books, so the cost for our art curriculum was almost nothing (free books, plus some paper and colored pencils). If your library system doesn’t have Venezia’s books (boo to that!), you can obtain them for $.75-$3 at half.com which is much better than the $6.95 they sell for at Amazon. If you’re part of a network of homeschoolers, perhaps you could get a group together to chip in, buy the books, and share them.
Lastly, I should add that if you are more artistically inclined than I am, I’m sure that you could get far more creative with the drawing/painting part of things by using different mediums and techniques. That’s definitely not one of my strengths (remember my pathetic phonics card drawings??), as my artistic skills lean more towards the photography or music end of things, but we’ve gotten by just fine with watercolors, colored pencils and plain paper. This doesn’t seem to have dampened my children’s enthusiasm and ability to learn about art, though, so don’t be scared to try this if you’re not a gifted artist.
If you decide to give this a go, I hope it’s as helpful and enjoyable for you and your children as it has been for us! And if you have additional tips to share on teaching art appreciation to kids, feel free to leave a comment.