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Learning about art without spending a bundle


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.

The Method

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.

The Books


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 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.

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Wednesday 20th of June 2018

I taught Art Goes To School in the 70's using a slide projector, some teaching notes and my art knowledge. NEVER underestimate your audience! Kids are way smarter than we give them credit for. Trust me. A question is coming that will leave you with egg on your face!! I want to Congratulate you AND thank you for putting art in your classroom. Maybe with more teachers like you we will raise a generation of adults that recognize the important things in life. Art IS important. It says who we really are as a society. It tells our history, what we believed, valued, and describes our Humanity. Learning is NOT just computers, science labs, math. It is also the combination of all these and ART, MUSIC, and Literature. GREAT JOB TEACHER!

Carroll B. Merriman

Sunday 24th of October 2010

Wow! what an idea ! What a concept ! Beautiful .. Amazing ... :)


Friday 21st of August 2009

I love the idea of using real books to teach! I've used something similar in a class I took that focused solely on different version's of MacBeth. We read this version ( and I thought it was a really fun and interesting way to introduce Shakespeare to elementary school children. All the illustrations were done by children as well, which adds a nice touch.


Friday 21st of August 2009

Oh my gosh, that Mike Venezia is a prolific author---my library system shows 18 pages of his works! I'm going to go through it when I have time and pick out a few for us to start on. There are artists, composers, presidents. I'm sure I'll learn a lot, too. That's part of the fun of homeschooling. Well, I won't say that when my kid is studying algebra. I hated that enough the first time through... (spoken like a true literature/language/history major, sorry!)


Friday 21st of August 2009

as an additional activity, it seems like it would be worthwhile to take your kids on a trip to an art museum or art gallery. you could talk about museum etiquette and they could see the difference between paintings in a book vs. standing right in front of a "real" painting. there is texture and life to a real painting that doesn't quite come through in reproductions. most colleges/universities have an art museum that is free to the public or at least a free day/week.

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