Posts tagged ‘project-based homeschooling’

August 16, 2014

Project-based Homeschooling: Angry Birds – You Never Know

I don’t know much about the Angry Birds game except that it used to be my son’s favorite game when he played on his dad’s Nexus, and when I sat down to watch him play, it seemed absolutely silly. But hey, it’s not for me. It’s for him, and I’m glad he’s having fun. I don’t have a problem with screen time, and while we do enforce some limits (it’s just part of our daily routine), our day’s overall screen time is definitely higher than what most conscientious parents prefer.

It’s really cool, however, when I see his interest in a game turning into a little project. All on his own one day, he made these angry birds and their raft. (Note: He already had access to all the materials he needed, and he knew how to use them, so he didn’t need anything from me.) How cool is that? Now the game doesn’t seem so silly, huh?

Never dismiss, restrict or belittle your child’s interest. Ask questions, nurture it, and it may blossom into something productive and cool! You never know!

July 24, 2014

Project-based Homeschooling: A Mushroom Project Teaches Mama When to Let Go

mushroom project-1Last year when my seven-year-old told me he wanted to learn about and grow mushrooms, I was excited. This was something I could sink my teeth into. Though I’m a novice, I love plants and gardening, and mushrooms fascinate me. We see so many cool ones around here, and they never fail to excite me. My boys love looking at them too. So I was looking forward to learning about mushrooms alongside my son.

I had visions of learning how to identify mushrooms, creating a mushroom poster, and learning how to grow them at home. But I was a good PBH Mama. I didn’t mention any of that. 

Instead, I sat down with my son and asked him what he wanted to know. This is what he said and how I wrote it down in our project journal:

Mushrooms — “I want to grow them in the house or in a terrarium.”

  • Where are their spores?
  • Are they made of spores?
  • What are they made of?
  • How do they grow?

“My idea is to crumble mushroom into a terrarium.”

We’ll experiment with layers of dirt and scraps from woods. Mushroom from outside, but we need to identify.

1) Learn about mushrooms –> books from library

2) My idea to use terrarium. (I gave him an old venus flytrap terrarium we had.)

Don’t worry if that doesn’t totally make sense to you. It doesn’t make sense to me either. I need to take better notes!

We checked out some books about mushrooms from the library, and when we got them home, my son enjoyed looking at the mushrooms in the field guides, but he wasn’t as interested in listening to me read about mushrooms. Despite the questions he asked, he mostly wanted to grow mushrooms. I knew his idea to crumble mushrooms into the terrarium would not work because I had looked up some videos on how to grow mushrooms for my own knowledge, and I showed him at least one video too.

I realized two things. 1) He wanted to do it his way, and I just needed to let him try that, and 2) growing mushrooms isn’t simple, but letting a seven-year-old try out his way of growing mushrooms is simple, and that’s what I needed to do anyway.

So, over a month or so, we tried some different things. I found a few notes I took in our project journal:

Sept. 13, 2013

He wants to chop mushrooms smaller and put under dirt. (Current project is very smelly.)

Later, I tried to sum up the few things we did in the journal. (I’m not very good at keeping this journal on a daily or even weekly basis, but I do manage to update it now and then.)

Oct. 8, 2013

We took old carnivorous plant terrarium with its dirt and added wood chips. (Because the seven-year-old knew that mushrooms needed a substrate.)

1) Bought button mushrooms, cut them up, put them on top of wood chips. We kept dome on and left it on front porch — they just rotted. We also put some of the mushrooms on leaf litter in the woods – nothing happened.

2) Seven-year-old found mushrooms with yellow caps in yard. [Since we're not sure which mushrooms are poisonous and which are not, we never touch wild mushrooms with our hands. My son managed to gather these using two small sticks.] He put that in the pot and left dome off. They were gone in the morning. We think squirrels got them!

3) We bought Bunapi mushrooms at Dekalb Farmer’s Market. 2 days in refrigerator. We put them in terrarium, left dome on, and we’re keeping it inside house. Mist with water.

Unfortunately, my notes stop there, but nothing ever happened with those mushrooms either.  Eventually the terrarium ended up back in the garage, and my son’s other interests kept taking precedence.

However, something serendipitous happened! During the summer we were given some sundew seeds to try to grow. Remember my son’s carnivorous plant project? We kept them in a little cup with another plastic cup over it because it needed to stay wet and humid inside. Though the sundew never grew, we did find this one day when we were checking them! It was unintentional, but we did grow a mushroom!

For a long time, I thought this project was a bust. I felt like I did something wrong because he didn’t pursue it further, but actually I did ask him about it, and he didn’t seem interested in pursuing it further. That’s actually the whole point in project-based homeschooling: you let the child decide when he’s finished with a project. As I began looking back over this year to create an end-of-the-year review and write some of these end-of-the-year blog posts, I realized that we did, indeed, do a mushroom project. It just didn’t look like how I envisioned it would be.

Trying something and failing at it is one of the best ways of learning. Deciding not to pursue it further is a worthy decision. Though my son may not be able to identify the mushrooms that grow in our yard, and he doesn’t know how to grow mushrooms, he has actually learned quite a lot about mushrooms. He’s learned everything he’s wanted to learn about them. At least for now.

When I realized I needed to write this blog post, I thought I would ask my son one more time. He was standing next to my desk as I was looking at some of the photos we had taken of his mushroom experiments.

“Do you remember how you wanted to grow mushrooms?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you want to do anything more with that?”

“No.” A definite shake of the head. He walked away.

As I’ve written, learning is like a chain-link fence. We build our knowledge one link at a time; it expands and grows in different directions. My son has several links in his knowledge about mushrooms. If it ever matters to him again, he can build onto that knowledge, but it won’t mean much unless he wants to learn about it.

I think it’s neat that he had an idea, and he tried it. That’s what I want to encourage. Questions. Curiosity. Getting excited about attempting things he doesn’t know. 

As for me, I know that if I want to, I could do my own mushroom project. I could learn how to identify and grow them and share my interest with my boys, but as it turns out, all I really want to do is take photographs of them. So, for fun, I’m sharing my photographs of mushrooms here with you in this slideshow. Aren’t they beautiful and amazing?!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

What are you learning about today?

 

July 21, 2014

Project-based Homeschooling: DNA

Way back in September 2013 when I officially kicked off my seven-year-old’s first grade year, I thought we were going to start a project on mushrooms. That’s what he had been talking about for awhile. He had mentioned DNA once, I think. So on that first day, when I pulled out the journal I try to keep updated with the things he talks about/asks about/says he wants to do, and how we follow up on them, I read off what he had recently told me, and he surprised me by saying he wanted to do a DNA project first. So that’s what we did.

(We also did some work with mushrooms, and I’ll write about that in my next PBH post.)

What he wanted to do most of all was build a DNA model. Remember how I told you he’s turning into a little builder? He wanted to buy a kit to build the DNA model, and maybe because his birthday had just passed, I told him he could buy one with his own money, if he really wanted it. But I suggested we look around at our supplies and try to make a homemade DNA model first. He agreed to that, and I tried to go with his ideas on what to use for the model. We ended up using ribbon, straws and pipe cleaners:

I didn’t think we would get it to stand up or twist, but I didn’t say anything, and look what he managed to do? Over time, it has fallen down, however, and he replaced the two pieces of cardboard holding it up with popsicle sticks glued together. That hasn’t held together well either, but he still has this model in his room. I was pretty proud of him for making this!

He still wanted the kit, so then I let him order it. I found the ScienceWiz DNA kit on Amazon, and I highly recommend it. It has a lot of cool experiments and little pieces that you can put together to make a nice DNA model. My little builder did that first.

This is one of my favorite photos of him ever. And I love all these photos I took of him putting together this kit. He is happy. He’s in his element. They speak volumes about who this kid is, so I’ll treasure them forever.

And we did more than that! First, we checked out The Usborne Introduction to Genes and DNA by Anna Claybourne from the library, and we read most of that book in several, short sittings. I think we checked out some other books, but this was the one he was interested in listening to once we got home. It’s a beautiful book. I wish we owned it. Some of it was a little hard for him to understand, but I think he got the gist of what DNA is. I mean, this isn’t an easy topic for ME, so I wasn’t worried if he didn’t understand everything.

Around this time we watched a documentary about the human genome project (I’m sorry I can’t remember the title). I think my son was able to understand it a little better having learned about DNA!

We had the most fun when we extracted DNA from a kiwi fruit! The instructions and most of the supplies were in the DNA kit. If we try it again someday, I may post the instructions on my blog, but for now I’ll send you over to one of my favorite blogs, The Scientific Mom. She’s got some instructions for you there. Because for some reason, though we could see DNA in the final step, we couldn’t pull the strands of DNA out of the tube. We had wanted to see them under a microscope. After they warmed up in just a few seconds, they seemed to disappear in the tub. So, I’m hoping we can try it again sometime with a different fruit.

Though you can’t really see it in the photo, we could see strands of DNA in the tube. (It looked like gooey string.) We could see it even better after putting it into the freezer for several hours.

There are several more activities to do in the kit, but after this one, my son seemed satisfied. Recently, however, he said he would like to do another project from the kit, so maybe we’ll do that this summer. Though the DNA project lost its momentum after this, I’ve seen it come up here and there, such as when they were playing with their zoob pieces.

And even just a week or two ago the four-year-old was practicing writing his letters on a dry erase board, and he thought he’d add some DNA to his number practice. :) What a memory!

All our projects are open-ended. I remind my son about his projects, and if he’s not interested in pursuing them further, that’s okay. (Although I admit sometimes that disappoints me because I want to learn more!) He seemed to lose interest in this after we finished extracting DNA from the kiwi fruit. Indeed, that felt like a grand finale! But this is a project I think we’ll continue over the long-term as we do more with that DNA kit, and maybe as he gets older, he’ll be able to better understand DNA and that will help him too.

Have you tried extracting DNA from fruit? I would love to hear about your experience.

 

July 17, 2014

Project-based Homeschooling: This year’s cardboard projects

It’s the end of our “school year,” so I’m wrapping it up at home and on my blog. A few more posts to go!

As I review our past year, I have found that my seven-year-old has been quite a builder! I’ve written extensively about his interest in clay here and here. Now I want to share with you all those little cardboard projects that I thought might get their own post, but actually, they add up into one big post: my son’s interest in building. (I wish I could find a woodworking class for him. I think he would love that!)

The material we have most readily at home is cardboard, or more specifically the cardboard used to make cereal boxes or frozen pizza boxes — they are much easier to cut. I also keep LOTS of tape on hand, and I though I ask him to try not to be wasteful, I don’t fuss at him for being a little excessive with the tape when I see him being so productive!

We also have a cool shot glue gun, which I let him use on his own. It works well, and the glue cools more rapidly, which makes it safer. We had a regular glue gun, and while my son never got hurt, my husband and I both got some scalding burns from it! ;) My son has learned to be quite cautious with glue guns.

Here are his creations made between last summer and this summer in no particular order:

“spaceship robot”

Thank you Curious George for giving my son the idea to make this big robot!

A representation of the Mayflower. Unlike most of his creations, I did help him a lot with this because he didn’t have the motor skills for the fine details, especially tying the thread. However, he absolutely directed me on where everything was supposed to go. He looked at photos of the Mayflower and designed it himself.

He wanted a toy tank, so he built one for himself. I helped him a little, but I’m certainly not responsible for that excessive use of tape! :) He also looked at a photo online to help with his design.

A “thin, flat lizard” inspired by a box he found.

A bee made out of a toilet paper tube and some wire, etc.

I think this is supposed to be a mosasaur.

“A drill that goes to the center of the earth.” “It’s pretend,” he said.

Airplane.

He loves Star Wars and decided to build Darth Vadar’s ship as closely as he could to the design in the movie. He was willing for the center to be a cube since it’s hard to make a sphere out of cardboard.

These creations take up a lot of space in the house. They can fall apart, and sometimes he’ll fix them and other times he doesn’t. I encourage him to throw them away or recycle the materials when something is unrepairable, or when we’re running short of space, but I don’t force him to throw anything away. It’s all important to him, and I respect that. My sanity suffers a little, but mostly I’m just super proud of my little builder!

July 7, 2014

Project-based Homeschooling: Long-term Clay Interest

I’ve already written a detailed column about my seven-year-old’s recent participation in pottery classes and his growing interest there, but I wanted to create a post that showcases some of his work with clay over the long-term and how it has slowly culminated to the point where I knew he would love those clay classes!

He’s been working with clay since he was four. A year or two ago, he watched some videos about pottery and clay, and he made this little car following a tutorial.

And he made a tree of his own design.

His Titanic was part of a long project, and my column became one of my first and most popular PBH articles.

Remember when he made this penguin?

I never showed you his space shuttle.

Or his sauropod.

His Mayflower. He also made the Mayflower out of cardboard, and we read a book about it, so this was a little bit longer project.

His hummingbird. He also painted it, but I haven’t got a picture of that.

Earlier this year we enrolled him in a homeschool pottery class where he learned how to use the pottery wheel…

…and sculpting techniques such as “pinch pots” and “slip and score,” and then he used those techniques at home…

…to make some sculptures such as this frog. Later he painted it green, and it’s really cute.

And he made a bird sitting in a nest.

And a dinosaur.

We also let him take a week-long pottery summer camp, which was about Asian pottery and Raku methods…

The big pieces on the left and all the pieces in the front row are from his Asian pottery camp. (The big black one is a lantern shaped like a house. Though it looks black in the photo, it actually has some very cool, iridescent colors in it.) Also there are two sushi plates and the plate with different compartments are from his Asian pottery camp. Everything else he made in the homeschool pottery class. And he’s anxious to take more classes!

As I mentioned in my column, we’ve also taken him to some pottery sales, and he’s had a chance to speak to local potters and see their kilns. We plan to continue letting him take classes as long as he wants to (and as long as we can afford it), but this will probably happen over a long time. I look forward to seeing where he takes this!

And I guess I need to get more shelves. :-o

June 20, 2014

Project-based Homeschooling: My seven-year-old and his pottery

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on June 18, 2014.

My seven-year-old loves to build things. Mostly, he uses cardboard because we don’t have access to many other materials, but he also loves using clay. For the past three years, I’ve kept air-dry modeling clay on hand because it’s cheap and the boys love it. (I like it ten times better than Playdoh.) The seven-year-old takes his clay building very seriously, and he’s sculpted some pretty cool stuff.

When I found out a homeschooling class was being offered at Good Dirt Clay Studio in Athens, I jumped on it, and to say that my son loved it doesn’t do it justice. He even opted to go there instead of his homeschool science class at the nature center, which has always been a top priority with him.

I wasn’t sure how he’d feel in the big studio with all the different people coming and going, but after one class, his eyes were beaming, and I could tell he was in heaven. I loved how the class taught him some sculpting techniques as well as taught him how to use a potter’s wheel. All the pieces were glazed and fired too, so he got to learn about the whole process. The teacher also made the students spend the last 30 minutes cleaning up after themselves – that’s always an excellent lesson.

He ended up outperforming the older kids in the class by making many more pots than they did. I don’t know if this was because they were talking too much, or they were going for perfection or what. My son’s pots aren’t perfect, but they are all beautiful and useable – they have almost replaced the plastic kid’s ware that we usually use.

I love how my son wanted to use the air-dry clay at home after the class, and he used the techniques he learned from his teacher. In the past, he has gotten frustrated when small pieces fell off his sculptures, or they would easily break. Now he instructs me on how to make a pinch pot and how to “slip and score,” and his work doesn’t fall apart as easily.

rhino made in class

dinosaur made at home using same techniques

I don’t know how long he’ll continue to enjoy making pottery, but his father and I want to support all his interests. Learning any skill is a good thing in my book. The pottery classes aren’t cheap, but they aren’t so expensive that we can’t swing a class here and there.

We also thought he would have fun going to some pottery sales and meeting the potters who sell out of their homes. We are lucky to live in an area rich with this type of craftsperson. About twice a year, they collaborate and have open houses to sell their work.

Last weekend we went to Geoff Pickett’s open house, and we were delighted when he gave us a tour of his studio, kilns, and my son even got to see his potter’s wheel and asked him a question about how he made a vase.

From there, we went to one other sale, and we ran into our son’s pottery teacher. She thrilled him by complimenting him in front of other potters. She said how quickly he learned how to center the clay on the wheel, which is one of the hardest things to get right.

I’m struck by how kind and generous these artists are, and it’s clearly a good community to belong to. I don’t know if my son will continue to learn about pottery, but I’m happy that he’s happy, and I only see good things coming out of the experience.

June 18, 2014

Project-based Homeschooling: Mama’s Sketchbook Habit

The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls. ~ Pablo Picasso

Over a year ago, I bought a little sketchbook while I was browsing an art store with my boys. I knew that I wanted to use it myself, but I justified the purchase by allowing it to be another homeschooling tool that I was just going to keep on hand for when the moment was right.

A couple of weeks ago, I was proofreading the Art Start column for the summer issue of home / school / life magazine. (Did I mention I recruited Amy Hood because she’s awesome at explaining this art stuff in a completely stress-less way?) Her column is about starting a sketchbook habit, and it came to me at just the right time.

My little sketchbook that I bought a year earlier was still empty. So were the big, beautiful sketchbooks that were given to my boys for gifts a year or more ago. As soon as I read her column, I knew it was time to change that.

The most important reason besides me wanting a new hobby is that my four-year-old loves to draw. He draws and draws and draws. And paints. (I wrote about that in Project-based Homeschooling Preschool: My four-year-old’s projects.) I’ve got several stacks of paper with his artwork on it, and I don’t know what to do with it all, but I’m not throwing it away. I’m encouraging him to do more. And if I am going to help him draw, then I need to learn about it too. (Remember in project-based homeschooling, parents should model the actions they want their children to take.) While my seven-year-old prefers other mediums, I knew a sketchbook habit might be fun for him too.

But I knew that I couldn’t expect my boys to just start a sketchbook habit. They don’t do things simply because I tell them to. That never works! I knew that I had to get past my insecurities about drawing and just do it for myself. Then, maybe then, they would follow. But if they didn’t, that would be okay too.

I am not an artist, and frankly, I don’t want to be. I can draw well enough to enjoy drawing, but I want to do this so that I have something just for myself. Just for fun. With no pressure.

My passions are writing and photography, but after working at those for so long, they aren’t as fun anymore. I want to remember how to be creative and simply have fun. When I do that, then I start to have more fun with my passions. Does that make sense? I need something that gets me away from my computer too.

I was very happy to see that when I pulled out my sketchbook, my seven-year-old was interested in what I was doing. I told him about that beautiful sketchbook I had been saving for him. I gave it to him, and he’s been using it. (Unfortunately, it has caused some stressful breakdowns on his part when perfectionism rears its ugly head. Sigh. But I think over time the sketchbook may help him deal with that. At least I hope.) It’s supposed to be fun and just for practice!

lagoon outside our vacation condo by seven-year-old

I decided not to give the four-year-old his nice sketchbook yet. This is because he flies through the paper, and I have my limits. First, I gave him the little sketchbook that came with the pencil set I bought. After that, I bought him another inexpensive sketchbook. I will give him the nicer one when he gets a little older.

apple tree in the rain by four-year-old

I do not exaggerate when I say that I think this new sketchbook habit saved my sanity while we were on vacation. My four-year-old was sick that week, and I was stuck in the condo quite a bit, which was disappointing. But it didn’t seem so bad at all when I pulled out my sketchbook, sat on the back deck and drew the gnarly, big oak dripping with Spanish moss. Or when I took a chair down by the lagoon and tried to draw the snowy egrets and their nest.

If you are looking for a creative outlet, I recommend starting a sketchbook habit, especially if you make it stress-free by not caring if your drawings are good or not. It’s the act of sitting quietly, concentrating on an object, and really seeing it that is relaxing. For me, it’s an act of mindfulness and a respite from my busy life.

 My four-year-old asked me to draw the cecropia moth so that he could paint it, which he did.  He said he also tried to paint a luna moth, but he didn’t like it.

seven-year-old drew our cat

April 20, 2014

The Non-Garden

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on April 16, 2014.

Like everyone, I am so happy that spring is here. And Easter is coming here. And summer is coming. And summer camps. And, oh my. Time has a way of just slipping by, especially when the breezes carry the sweet smells of flowering trees, phlox and tulips.

Usually this is the time of year I like to get my boys outside into our garden. We would clean it up, rake the winter leaves away and find some seeds to plant. I’m not saying that won’t happen, but right now as I write this, I’m too tired to think about gardening.

But I do love gardening, and if I had the time, I would putter in my yard and make it look pretty. Right now it doesn’t look very pretty at all, but at least spring sends up a few blooms that give it promise.

Today my seven-year-old spent half the day making a big robot out of cardboard, red construction paper, paper towel tubes, coat hangers, some little wheels for feet, and a big cooking pot for its head. (We had to discuss which pot could be used for its head. The original request was for something I use almost every day in the kitchen. He settled for a pot I rarely use.)

He said he got the idea from Curious George. (Don’t you love Curious George?) When he gets busy working on a project like this, I’m only too happy to postpone our lessons. I think he gets a lot more out of these projects than he would get out of anything I would do with him.

Meanwhile, my four-year-old was busy drawing on a piece of paper. His drawings are piling up as well as all the blocks and toys scattered over the living room floor. It may look like a mess, but no, many times he is carefully placing his toys and blocks in a pattern or making a “city.” Once he piled a bunch of things together and called it his “artwork.” That cracked me up.

Most days I wrangle my kids together to do our lessons. My seven-year-old reads from early readers now, and recently we started working in the Life of Fred books for our math lessons again. We watch Salsa on GPB.org to learn a little Spanish, and we have started reading Story of the World for history lessons. (My husband, a history professor, was impressed with this elementary age book that aims to tell world history as an engaging story for kids.)

In the late afternoons between dinner and bath time, my seven-year-old usually asks me to read to him from the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. We are on the third book, and he loves them. He loves to hear how Pa Ingalls built the log house, and once after we read that, he dug out our Lincoln Logs and made one of his own.

Both my sons are taking classes at the nature center, and my seven-year-old started a pottery class too. He loves it. Although he still says he wants to be a scientist when he grows up, I keep seeing this love of building and constructing things – out of any material, from cardboard to clay. I wonder where that will lead us?

Now the weather is good enough to meet our friends at the park. We particularly love Harris Shoals Park in Watkinsville, and wow the boys slept well after hiking with their friends along the trail and playing by the shoals all afternoon!

Besides this, I’ve been working more, which I’m grateful for, but that means the garden may have to wait this year. In some ways, I’m tending another kind of garden, and it’s giving me just as much pleasure as digging my hands into the earth and smelling those spring blossoms.

Happy Easter!

April 1, 2014

Project-based Homeschooling Preschool: My four-year-old’s projects

Note: This column was published in the Barrow Journal on March 26, 2014.

Sometimes I worry that I don’t give my four-year-old enough attention, but then again, sometimes I worry that I don’t give my seven-year-old enough attention. In truth, it’s probably about even.

For three years, my oldest son had all my attention, but his younger brother has had to compete ever since he was born. I have to remind myself that my four-year-old got a lot of things his older brother didn’t get. Since he was a baby, he’s been carried along to play dates whereas I didn’t know many mothers with infants and toddlers when I first had children. He’s also been taken to his older brother’s classes and been around big groups of children of all ages from day one.

He was also born into a home with lots of toys and art supplies, and when he was a baby, we converted our dining room into a school room, so he is very comfortable going in there and pulling down books or puzzles or blocks and other building toys. Now, he sits at the table and listens while his older brother works on his lessons. Sometimes he wants to draw or do something else, but I’m surprised how much he’ll just watch. (Not exactly quietly, but not too distracting either.)

Even though he’s not getting the direct one-on-one attention my oldest son got from age one to three, he is absorbing so much information from his brother and me. (I can’t forget to mention daddy either. He’s always been around for both of them.)

Right now I’m very focused on my “first grader.” Reading lessons, math lessons, book time, computer time, conversations about history and cultural events, and most of all, his projects. We are project-based homeschoolers, which means that I set aside time for my son’s interests and use some “tricks of the trade” to get him to study deeper than the surface of those subjects.

My four-year-old has interests too, and lately I’ve been considering how I can make more time for his projects and lessons. I don’t think that at four-years-old, academics should be a priority, but by letting him explore his interests, he is learning everything a four-year-old would typically learn in preschool anyway.

Right now he loves letters and numbers. He hasn’t mastered the ability to identify all the letters like my oldest son did at an early age, but he’s taking a different approach. He loves to sing the ABC song, and by singing it with him every night, he has mastered it.

He loves to count everything, and we often overhear him counting when he’s playing by himself. He loves to play our math games even though they are too hard for him, and sometimes he’ll play by himself when no one else is available. He uses some tiny little, rubber vehicles (manipulatives) to help him add and subtract.

His favorite subject is dinosaurs, and whenever we go to the library, he asks for dinosaur books. (I’m really tired of reading about dinosaurs!) He watches dinosaur shows on T.V. with his brother, and we’ve taken him to museums to see dinosaur bones. He has asked me to draw him dinosaurs, make a dinosaur out of clay, and his father tells him a story about “Dig Dig the T-Rex” every night before bed. I have never thought about it before, but I guess you could say that he has an ongoing “dinosaur project.”

Whenever he tells me to draw or make him something, I encourage him to try to do it himself first. He never wants to. I guess he knows his own limits. I started to get frustrated about this, but then I remembered all the “art” he makes on his own. You might call it “abstract” art, but it takes some time and thought. He is very calculating about applying different colors of paint all over one piece of paper, drawing line art, or cutting and taping paper together to make interesting shapes. I’m glad he’s felt free to “create” whenever he wants to, and I have a nice collection of his work to save in a memory box.

When you have more than one child, it’s easy to worry about whether or not you’re giving them their fair share of your time, but in many ways, both boys have benefitted from not having my full attention. They occupy themselves. And when I stop to chronicle everything they do, I’m pleasantly surprised that quite a bit gets accomplished without me even trying.

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By having all our materials accessible to both of my children, I’m very happy to see how my youngest son has picked up on the “creating” “building” “art” vibe of his house. I will often find him in the activity room, scribbling away on a piece of paper. Sometimes, he pretends he’s writing. Other times, he wants to paint, and I love how he carefully applies different colors to his work. What I love most is when he’ll gather a bunch of supplies, such as paper, pen, markers, scissors, glue, string, beads, goggly eyes or what not, and then he says, “I’m gonna make somethin!” Here’s a slideshow of some of my four-year-old’s art and “writing.”

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March 22, 2014

Homeschooling: 1st Grade Art Explorations

When it comes to art, I’m extremely grateful that we’re homeschooling. This may not make me popular, but I have to admit that “crafts” make me cringe.  I rarely look at Pinterest because it makes my head swirl in a bad way.

Don’t take me wrong – I don’t think crafts are bad.  In fact, my kids love them just like most children love them.  My son loves them so much that he likes to look up crafts when he has something in mind he wants to make – I don’t mind that at all. It’s his idea after all, and he’s choosing which craft idea to follow.

I have on occasion (maybe twice?) looked up a specific craft, usually for a holiday like Native American Day. I wanted to teach my son a little bit about Native Americans, and I thought he would enjoy making a “totem pole,” which he did. I have also used crafts and specific art lessons for other reasons, which I’ll explain below.

In general, I don’t like the “Here kids…let’s all make this.” I would much rather give my kids a bunch of paint and paper and let them have fun with it. Let them explore. Experiment. Be creative and come up with their own ideas…not someone else’s idea. If they make a mess, that’s fine with me. (This is one of the reasons that Project-based Homeschooling appealed to me so much. It’s an important tenet in this educational philosophy.)

We are not just bound to paint and paper either. I’ve written about all the supplies I keep on hand, and you can find that here. Also, The Power of Time and Materials is one of my popular posts on this subject.

I realize that most art teachers and facilitators of craft projects would also want exactly what I want… to let these projects lead to the child’s own exploration of art. Get the children excited about creating and making things…. Yes! Exactly. If crafts are used in that way, I think it’s a great idea. But I think they can be over-used, and if the facilitator tries to prevent the child from veering off in another direction (maybe making the craft into something entirely different), that’s bad.

Try putting some art supplies in front of a bunch of children and telling them to have fun. Can they get started on their own? Or do they look at you, helpless because they need instructions? It all depends on how much freedom, time, and materials the children have been given!

I’ve created a room in my house where all our art and craft supplies are accessible to my kids, and at any time, they can say, “I want to paint,” and they can do it. I’ve taught them how to be careful – I usually help them get the paints out, and I have laid down some ground rules such as “the paint stays on the table.” Likewise, I have taught (and I’m still teaching) my kids how to hold the scissors and how to clean up after they are finished.

I’m really happy that by doing this, I’ve fostered some very creative kids. They don’t “create” everyday or even every week, but when I look over all the photographs I’ve taken of their artwork and building projects, I know we’re off to a good start. (And I have a bunch of little child-led projects that I need to blog about. In good time!)

This year my oldest son is in “1st grade,” and I want him to learn more about art. By that I mean formal art – about artists and their techniques. We don’t have time for formal art lessons on a regular basis, but this is a subject that we’ll be building on during his entire education, so that’s okay. And if it becomes an interest of one of my children, we’ll definitely make more time for it.

It’s also important in project-based homeschooling to teach your student how to use tools, different mediums and introduce them to different experiences, so that’s exactly what I’m doing here too. And yes, sometimes it includes a ‘craft.’ See? I don’t think they are all that bad.

I’m going to write about our art lessons in separate posts, but below I’m listing the resources I’ve used and plan to use as we continue our life-long exploration of Art.

  • Discovering Great Artists: Hands-On Art for Children in the Styles of the Great Masters by Mary Ann F. Kohl and Kim Solga – I use the Kindle version of this book, and I like it.  There are lessons and activities about artists starting from the Renaissance and until present time. We have skipped some of them, finding activities that I think my boys would enjoy. (And finding the ones with easy on-hand materials too.) The lessons are simple and short, which is a good fit for my very young children. (This book also has an excellent list of art resources; it’s worth the price just for that!)
    • My main goal with these art lessons is exposing my son to great art. I don’t think he’ll remember the artist’s names (I don’t) or the tidbits about their lives, but it’s a good starting-off place. This book does not contain photographs of the artwork by these artists. I have to look them up online, but I think my seven-year-old and I like that the best: just skimming through some images and seeing something new and interesting. (My four-year-old usually likes doing the art projects, but he doesn’t give a hoot about looking at the art yet.) So far we have studied:
  • Right now my favorite resource for art instruction is Amy Hood’s e-zine {Art Together}. So far Amy has written three magazines, and I’ve purchased them all. They are full of information, activities and encouragement for making art with your children! I have picked activities out of the magazine that I knew my boys would enjoy now, but there’s information in there for deeper study, so I know I’ll be able to return to them in the future. My seven-year-old has enjoyed reading parts of the magazine with me too. My four-year-old just likes to try his hand at the art making. I have not yet had the chance to read her latest e-zine on printmaking (I just purchased it!), but I have read and done these activities from the first two:
    • Making a Color Wheel inspired by {Art Together} Issue One: Color (and I also referred to her very good blog post on the same subject, Make A Simple Color Wheel)
    • Line Art inspired by {Art Together} Issue Two: Line (and I have a great story to go along with this one.)

(I will follow-up with posts about these art lessons and add links as they go up on my blog.)

Future Art Studies

Here are some things I have in mind for future art studies.

  • Oxford First Book of Art – I found this great little introductory book used on Amazon for under $7. Perhaps I need to lay it on the kitchen table and just let the kids discover it! It has some beautiful images of famous artist’s work. It also has some activities and commentary.
  • Museums – My boys are going to have to get a little older (UPDATE: We did take them to a museum!), but I look forward to taking them to some nearby art museums such as the High Museum of Art in Atlanta and the Georgia Museum of Art in Athens. I know the High Museum has Homeschool Days, and the Georgia Museum of Art has some great kid’s programs too. I just haven’t looked at them closely enough yet.
  • And I can’t help but give a plug for home / school / life magazine. (Disclaimer: I’m the senior editor!) We will be offering art resources in this magazine, particularly Amy Hood’s regular Art Start column.
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