Project-based Homeschooling: Sketching at the Botanical Garden

When my eight-year-old went to pottery class, I drove my five-year-old ten minutes down the road from the studio to the State Botanical Garden of Georgia, which is probably my favorite place on this earth (and I’ve been a lot of places). I used to go there 2-3 times a week when I first moved to Georgia. I didn’t know many people, and for me, walking on the beautiful, wooded trails or sitting by a stream was like visiting with a friend.

Now that I have children, I don’t get to go there as much as I would like to, but I am happy that we have taken my boys hiking there several times, and my eight-year-old has even taken summer camps there. Sometimes my five-year-old and I took advantage of these times by walking on the trails while waiting for older brother.

I consider Fridays “art days,” and we usually don’t do our other lessons on these days. Luckily, pottery class happened to be on Fridays last fall, so while older brother took that class, I took my five-year-old to the botanical garden for our “art.” I didn’t do formal art lessons though. I decided to just take our sketchbooks and see what would happen.

I am not an artist and until now, I have never put any effort into drawing or painting because it hasn’t been a huge interest of mine. The main reason I’m giving it a go now is because my five-year-old LOVES to draw. He is always coloring or drawing a picture, and I have stacks and stacks of his work. I hang some of it up on the wall above my desk, and other artwork is filling our stairway. As another way of trying to support his work, I got all of us a sketchbook, and occasionally I try to use it. I’m not very good except, maybe, at drawing plants. So that’s what I usually draw. I find it’s a very relaxing exercise too, which is beneficial to me. My goal is to try to make it a weekly practice, although I don’t always get to it that often. (You can read more about how and why I started a sketchbook habit in this post.)

My five-year-old is not very confident at trying to draw new things by himself. He likes to draw “storms” or trees, and loves to use stencils. Usually he colors pictures from a coloring book or he has me draw something for him that he can color. But he has also created some really interesting artwork. Some of it is highly detailed too. Maybe you could call it “doodle art” or abstract art. You can see a slideshow of that on this post. I let him create art however he wants to do it, but I hope as we continue to explore art and drawing together, he will try new things.

Sometimes my five-year-old wasn’t into drawing at the botanical garden, but he almost always wanted to get a snack at the small cafe, and that was okay. (I didn’t mind getting a coffee.) After that, I would pull out our sketchbooks or whatever I brought. He rarely wanted to walk around the botanical gardens at this time, which was okay since it was cold outside, and I had never really sat and lingered in their visitor’s center before. This was definitely a huge treat for myself as well, and I already miss going! (Yes, I know we could go any day just for fun, but that is easier said than done.)

One day was particularly special. It was the day that he wanted to bring his camera, so on that day, we not only enjoyed a leisurely snack and drawing in our sketchbooks, he used his camera to document our workspace and everything around us. He even took his very first video, which turned out to be hilarious (imagine a five-year-old swinging the camera around and talking to his mother at the same time).  It is a video that I will always treasure, and I think he’ll enjoy watching it when he grows up.

Many of his photographs were blurry, but a few were great, I thought, especially since we were sitting in some wonderful light. Below are his photographs. I asked him if he wanted to walk around to take photos, but he didn’t want to do that. He took all of these from his chair. Above are a few snapshots I got with my phone so that you can see how serious he was about his drawing and picture-taking. He didn’t want me to take photos of him, so I had to be quite sly about it! That was necessary because I never want to forget this day. I wish every homeschooling day could be like this one.

8 thoughts on “Project-based Homeschooling: Sketching at the Botanical Garden

  1. I love little kid photos! My daughter took some pictures when she was 4 and we were camping. Definitely my favorite photo album. 🙂
    The botanical garden looks so lovely, what a great place to do some art.

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    1. Peggy — Thank you for your comment on my botanical garden blog post. We’ve got 100s of digital photos the boys have taken, and I always think to myself that I need to go in and delete some of them, but they definitely have a charm of their own! And they are better at documenting the real life stuff — like the messy house! lol

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  2. Dear Shelli, I thank you for sharing this beautiful experience today. I believe in those “coincidences” in life that meant to be there. This is the first time I write to you, even though I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now. But today I could no possibly stop myself. For the last few days I have been frustrated and troubled by my poor interactions with my nine year old, somehow I lost the ability to connect with his interests and motivations, the harder I looked the less I would see, no surprise he is so reluctant to do any work at all. After reading your blog this morning the penny drop. I have stopped encouraging the learning with no path ahead, the exploration with no aim, the curiosity that boredom brings. May be unconsciously I have been expecting that his work at nine years old can not have the same approach when he was five. His brother is 11 years old and I genuinely enjoy following his projects as they are more my “cup of tea”, quiet creating work, which is also the expression of his age. My little one, might have put himself in pressure to follow that path that is not his, and I has encouraged that mistake by expecting the same process that his brother had.
    Thank you Shelly, I will give back the camera to my little guy expecting nothing more than his view of the world plus lots of out of focus photographs.

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    1. Rocio, Thank you so much for leaving your comment and for reading my blog. Two children can be very different and approach life and learning in different ways. You obviously love your sons very much, and I know that will come through to them no matter what you do. Certainly just observing a child and asking questions about any little thing that interests him or her, even if it seems trivial or insignificant to an adult, can be a good starting point for a parent to make a connection. Even if your child doesn’t respond to you at first, you can keep being a silent advocate of what he enjoys doing (or what he decides not to engage in), and he’ll start to feel validated. I’m not an expert by any means. But I do think our children can lead us in the right direction, if we let them. Keep me posted and thanks again.

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