My oldest is really into art. I love that, and I’m doing my best to encourage it, despite the fact that my own art skills plateaued at the 3rd grade level. “O.” has taken a couple classes, and gets art in her homeschool program during the “school” year. I tell myself and her, we’ll work on art more at home! I’m full of good intentions, but…we never get around to it. The girls make random things all the time, but we don’t work on it like I’d hoped.
I want to do more with this, but I don’t wish to drive all over the metroplex and spend tons of money in the process. I started looking at homeschool art curriculum—there are several out there. One called Artistic Pursuits caught my eye.
At last month’s homeschool convention in Arlington, the best presentation I attended was by one of the developers of this curriculum, Daniel Ellis. I’ve thrown away my notes; however, I’m going to try to capture the gist of it as well as my faulty memory can.
He talked about creativity in a general sense, and how it applies to the visual arts. Creativity, he said, is generating a new solution to a problem. I liked this definition, because it was so general and could be applied to many different situations. What we really want to see in the visual arts, he said, is the unique perspective of the artist. An important part of developing creativity is learning to tune into our unique personal responses to what we experience: what we see, touch, taste, smell, hear. Then, incorporate those responses into our “solution” of the artistic project at hand.
Everyone talks about creativity and we often assume that children are naturals at it. Often, kids are given advice to just “draw what’s inside your head!” The problem with that, he said, is that children don’t have enough visual material to work from yet. First, they need to cultivate observation. They need to spend time—lots of time—really seeing things. Then, importantly, they need plenty of practice attempting to do something with the information they’ve taken in. In other words, creating.
When kids want to create something, they want to do so right now. If they have to wait for you to shop for supplies or drag them from the top shelf of the hall closet, frustration sets in; the urge passes and withers. Ellis recommends keeping a varied stock of art supplies that are available for kids to reach and work with at whim. Regular practice builds “fluency” in visual creativity. Plenty of observation and practice plus ongoing education in the technical aspects is the basis of a visual arts education. Kids who don’t have the freedom to practice in this way early often need lots of time to “catch up” later.
We had a fair amount of art supplies at my house, but they were scattered. Some were upstairs, some downstairs. Inspired by this presentation, I bought this cute rolling cart from IKEA to corral at least some of the kids’ supplies.
I love it. They can wheel it around wherever they are. I’d like to get another so they each have one. I also bought a cart to corral my supplies, including those which would would do a serious number to the house if the four-year-old got liberal with them.
My kids have such a strong urge to draw, cut, paint, etc. I lost that urge a long time ago. I don’t remember drawing much as a child. I did write in journals. I learned to play two instruments; I loved to sing. I still like to two-step and salsa dance. But, I don’t doodle. I break into a cold sweat playing Pictionary.
I liked hearing Ellis’ thoughts on art education for a couple of reasons. He talked about the importance of observation for building a sort of “visual compost heap” for the brain. I would think that would be similar for those who spend time observing and experimenting with dance, music, or drama.
I saw similarities between the art education process and writing. When you read a lot it generally enhances your ability to write, because you naturally absorb, over time, a rich vocabulary, the cadence and possibilities of language—all of which become choices for you to draw upon when composing. In a language-rich environment, similar benefits play out in a person’s speech.
I liked the thought of slowing down and carefully observing. That is rare these days. The disappearing images on screens and social media don’t count.
The Artistic Pursuits curriculum is based on the ideas he discussed, and it looks great. It spans preschool through high school. It incorporates art history, appreciation, and techniques while letting kids engage the creative process using fairly mouthwatering materials and tools. Each lesson includes information about a general aspect of art, a short picture study of famous paintings, followed by practice they can basically do on their own. Kids observe objects, scenes and photos in their environment, and often spend time outdoors to complete projects.
I decided to purchase the K-3 level curriculum, as a middle ground for my two girls. At this level, kids try out a variety of different materials. That’s by design, as kids this age are still very tactile. Just in our first book, they get to use drawing pencils, drawing paper, soft pastels, oil pastels, watercolor crayons, watercolor brush, watercolor paper, construction paper, tissue paper, and clay. There are three books in this level. As the curriculum progresses, the skills are more technical, and they use less variety of materials. The reason: each material presents new information to the student. To learn both new techniques and new materials at once could be overwhelming.
We used watercolor crayons in our first project, to draw a scene in our backyard. We’ve only done one lesson, but the kids loved it. Heck, I loved it. This is so much fun! I kept saying. They—who make things all the time— looked at me, looked surprised, looked at each other, and carried on.
I really don’t wish to brag, so I’ve decided not to post my project here. 🙂 But guess who displayed her picture on the refrigerator? Me, me, me. It might not be better than a third grader’s, but it still makes me happy.
This summer, we’re adding ART to our mix of swimming, decluttering, popsicle making and reading. One of my fellow contributors at Fort Worth Moms Blog recently published this guide to summer art enrichment in Fort Worth. We plan to check out a few of those good ideas, too. I’m sure the kids will enjoy, and I will enjoy rediscovering my inner child.