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.

14 thoughts on “Homeschooling: 1st Grade Art Explorations

  1. Thanks for the shout-out, Shelli! I feel the same way about crafts, pretty much. It’s one thing if they’re self-directed, quite another if they’re adult-led and of the cookie-cutterish variety. I don’t think crafts should be prohibited, but I do think there is too much confusion of the two going on–I see so many things labeled as “kids’ art activity” that is really a craft. It’s a huge pet peeve, and one reason I can’t spend too much time on Pinterest. 🙂

    As for art museums, the kids don’t have to be older unless you feel you’re not comfortable taking them until they’re older. I’ve taken toddlers on up. (Actually, I remember taking my oldest to an art opening with him in the sling!) Our favorites include a museum with a sculpture park–perfect for balancing out the energy. But we’ve gone to the art museum in Providence, which is all indoors, quite a bit. I have a post with some suggestions for taking kids to art museums:


    1. You’re welcome, Amy! Yes, I recently saw some “art” made by my boys’ friends, which they had done at a local artist’s house who does art camps. I had previously considered trying out one of her camps, but then I saw the stuff they made, and they were crafts! And we have made very similar stuff on our own at home! I don’t know what I was expecting of an art camp for kids, but that wasn’t it. ;/

      Yes, of course, you are right. They don’t HAVE to be older to go to art museums. For us, it’s more of a way to budget our time and money right now. The boys are so into nature/animals/science that this is where we’ve been putting our efforts. We have family memberships to natural history museums, the nature center and botanical garden. So, while it’s definitely on our “to do” list, we partly haven’t gotten around to it. Also, I can hear my seven-year-old saying “I’m bored” in an art museum, although I could be wrong. I have this feeling that if we study art a little longer and wait until he’s at a point where he may recognize something he knows about in the art, he may appreciate it better. And my four-year-old is very hands-on and doesn’t seem to be very visual, so I think he would get bored right now too. If I had been doing a better job of exposing them to different artists all these years, this may be different though!


  2. I really enjoyed this post. I love how you are not rushing anything and point out you’ll be building on this during his entire education. What a good reminder! I am totally with you about the whole craft thing. I just wrote a short post about it a couple weeks ago 🙂
    On St. Patrick’s Day my 5 year old wanted to look up holiday crafts and I cringed. Ha! I need to let go-you’re right, it’s not all bad! She ended up getting an idea about making a leprechaun from a paper plate, but then made it into something all her own.
    Thanks also for the art museum reminder. I often just think about kids museums, but my littles would really gain a lot from a trip to an art museum. I look forward to your follow up posts on this topic!


    1. Thank you for your comment, Amy! What a lovely, lovely blog post about your kid’s art! They made some beautiful art! Thank you for sharing. Yes, I think it’s totally okay for a kid to look up their own crafts! You know, when my son wants to paint a motorcycle, for example, he asks me to help him look up a photo of a motorcycle that he could look at. Similarly, sometimes he gets an idea for something he wants to make, and he wants to see how other people may have made it. I think that’s cool. There may be 100 examples, and he picks the one he likes best. He’s learning from others, directing his own creations, and sometimes expanding on what he sees. I think if he had the opportunity to do this in a classroom with a good facilitator, kids would copy each other but then add their own flare to whatever they are making. He may not have a group of kids to create with, but he has all the people who have shared their work on the Internet! Almost everything he makes, he’s gotten the idea from somewhere else. However, he is in charge of what he makes based on what appeals to him. He’s not even required to make anything – that’s a child using his imagination and directing his own art!


  3. I couldn’t agree more! I believe my most insightful learning moments as a child happened when an adult threw me in the back yard and allowed me to explore my surrounding on my own. When there is no one telling you what you should think or how you should feel about something it’s truly inspiring. 🙂


Part of the reason I keep a blog is because being a stay-at-home mom can be lonely! So please reach out with a message, if you have a question or would like to chat. I usually write back within 24 hours, but please be patient.

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