I know it’s not true for everyone, but teaching art and music has always been a bit of a challenge in our homeschool. Though there is great value in learning about artistic composition and, especially, expressing creativity with a variety of media, it’s easy to sweep these subjects under the proverbial rug when other, more “important” subjects take precedence. You know, the three R’s, right? Sometimes that’s all we manage to get done in a day. How do we make time for art and music? I’ve been ruminating on this topic as we begin yet another homeschool year—always seeking a better balance as we work to accomplish multiple objectives.
Just one of the hurdles we face in addressing the arts is our family size and dynamics. With eight children, it’s difficult to get everyone on the same timetable to sit down for a cooperative art or music activity. Not to mention, with the varying ages and stages, what is simple for one is a total mess for another. The logistics of implementing a creative process with a large, mixed-age group can be daunting enough that it’s over before we’ve begun.
Although I took many years of private lessons in drawing and painting, time is another critical factor in passing these skills on to my children. It is a big project to get the paints out, spend some time being creative, and then clean up. To leave it out—where could that be done safely in a small house filled with many people? Ditto with sewing. Just one more reason why our projects tend to be few and far between.
Another impediment is my own lack of expertise in some of these areas, particularly music. I suppose my style is to be a bit “off the cuff” and teach in the context of life, as lessons present themselves. Because I’m not a wealth of knowledge in the arts, I can’t reasonably share that information with my children in an ongoing manner. And while I’m not bashing the “sit-down-and-do-school” style of teaching, that’s not how we typically do things, so having an art or music curriculum has not yet proved effective for us, either.
If for any of these reasons (or others) you find yourself sharing in this dilemma of how to incorporate the arts into your homeschool, I’d like to offer some tips from our trenches on how we’ve managed to cultivate some level of artistic literacy in our children, despite the challenges we’ve faced in this area.
- Educate yourself on the “basics” of a solid arts education. If you decide to use an art or music curriculum, you’ll need to know what is most important to teach, if your child doesn’t have a specific interest. Even if you’re not the curriculum type, you’ll need to know what topics to introduce and have some familiarity with them so that they can be incorporated in the context of your day-to-day life and schooling. Commit to learning alongside of your children!
One resource I’ve found very helpful is “Home Learning Year by Year” by Rebecca Rupp. In it, the author identifies key concepts for study in all subjects, including the arts. Also, we’ve gone through seasons of reading aloud from the various grade-level books in the Core Knowledge series by E.D. Hirsch (“What Your Kindergartener Needs to Know,” etc.). The art and music sections provide a solid foundation for further exploration in key areas.
- Let the Internet do some of the work. We regularly leverage the Internet to integrate the arts into our homeschool. Here are some of our favorite sites (visit them with the same cautions you would exercise with any site):
www.crayola.com has many activity ideas for parents and educators plus online coloring, painting, and creative tools.
www.dsokids.com: here you can listen to music by composer or instrument, play online games, and find music-related activities to do at home.
www.googleartproject.com: online tours of some famous art museums.
- Co-ops or classes? Maybe. Some families regularly attend coops for the purposes of socialization or to help their children learn to respect adult authorities besides their parents. Other parents choose specialized groups to address areas where they feel weak in teaching; for some it might be advanced math or science, and for others it’s the arts. Co-ops can provide an ideal opportunity to integrate the arts into your homeschool and take the stress out of having materials and time in your own home to encourage creativity.
Even if no formal co-op is available, consider getting together with another local family to do some hands-on, fun artwork. Maybe one Mom can manage little ones and supervise clean-up while the other provides instruction and encouragement during the creative process.Similarly, many families out-source the arts by taking classes such as dance, acrobatics, piano, and the like. These are all valid options and can benefit your homeschool. However, you need to balance the amount of time spent out-and-about with the time spent at home, which can be a great challenge if you have multiple children involved in different activities. Be wise in what you choose so that the busy-ness does not become a burden or cause you to neglect other priorities (i.e., discipleship and family relationships).
Finances can sometimes be an issue where classes are concerned, but if you feel that this is something that would be beneficial, set it before the Lord in continued prayer. See what opportunities He may provide to meet this need!
- Offer plenty of materials and chunks of time for kids to be creative. Not every child has to participate in every creative activity. I’ve found that if we make available a variety of media and materials, children naturally gravitate toward using them in their afternoon “free time,” which is usually an hour or more. Extended time on weekends tends to be spent this way as well. Our art shelf usually includes the basics like colored paper, tape, glue sticks and liquid glue, scissors, paints, paintbrushes, and cardboard. As our budget permits or as the children are so blessed (thanks, Grandma!)we add pipe cleaners, google eyes, sequins, beads, foam (in sheets and sometimes shapes), play dough or clay, and other supplies. Then there are magazines (to cut and paste pictures), toilet paper tubes, empty boxes and bags, and whatever else would make a good project.
We’ve occasionally incorporated art kits as well, such as NaturePrint paper, Scratch Art, engraving, paint by numbers, needlepoint, and the like.As far as music is concerned, we purchased a simple recorder and “teach yourself how to play” songbook, which all the kids have picked up now and then. We’ve made our own musical instruments and regularly sing during our family devotional times (though we certainly “make a joyful noise!”)
- Add books on music and the arts to your homeschool library. Read aloud to your children and encourage them to explore topics independently. Here are some titles that we have enjoyed:
The I Spy…in Art and Child’s Book of Art series of books by Lucy Micklethwait. We’ve taken lots of these out of our local library—which, by the way, is a great resource you shouldn’t overlook!
A Child’s Book of Great Musicians and Music Talks with Children by Thomas Tapper. These are classical-style stories written to gently encourage children in love for and knowledge of music and the great composers. You can download them for free online at sites like www.gutenberg.org, or get economical paperback versions on our Web site. (The three-book set is currently available at a discounted price of $18, for a limited time.)
Gutenberg also has many wonderful art-related books available, such as The Book of Art for Young People and A Textbook of the History of Painting.And I’ve already mentioned the Core Knowledge series by E.D. Hirsch, which covers the basics of a solid art and music education for the various grade levels.
- Learn something new together. When I’ve felt inadequate (as if we’re not “doing enough”), or if there’s something I have wanted to learn how to do personally, I’ve involved the children in the process. We’ve gotten books on beginning knitting from the library, then purchased a commercial “Teach yourself how to Knit” kit at Wal-Mart. We’ve done some hand-sewing for clothing repair and the girls have also made simple doll pillows and dresses. The purchase of my first sewing machine was exciting for everyone. At one point I was going to teach myself how to play the guitar, so we learned a few chords, and though I didn’t stick with it, now my oldest son has picked it up. The best way to teach is to model lifelong learning!
- Expand your definition of art. Even if you’re not the “artsy” type, your kids probably engage in art and music more than you think. Perhaps they make up silly songs while dusting and vacuuming, or bang rhythms on pots and pans while they are doing dishes. Be sure to encourage this! Dramatic play, which all children naturally explore, is also very artistic in nature. A digital camera can even be a tool for artistic expression, especially when coupled with some computer software (see our sons’ animation on our blog as an example: http://valuesdrivenfamily.com/a-day-in-the-life-of-sheep/). And did you ever think of mud play as art? It sure is! Check out what a 5 year-old boy in our neighborhood recently made out of mud and sticks as he sat on the path outside of our front gate (it’s a tractor and trailer, in case you can’t tell, and there’s even a shovel in the trailer):
So get out of the box with your implementation of arts in homeschooling. Your kids are probably being creative when you’re not even paying attention!
- Not every child will be an artistic prodigy. You may be impressed when you read about, say, Akiane (http://www.artakiane.com/) and feelings of inadequacy would certainly be understandable. In your more realistic moments, however, you know that God has uniquely gifted each of us, and perhaps your child’s calling does not involve the arts to a significant degree. Your job may be to simply lay a basic foundation and open the doors for further exploration and involvement as the Lord leads. Don’t let yourself be over-burdened by others’ expectations in this (or any other) area.
- Remember, “to everything there is a season.” When we have a new baby, when moving, or during other life transitions, our schooling in general experiences some changes. This is to be expected, and the ability to “go with the flow” is one of the blessings of homeschooling. While in one season we may be working instead of schooling or just trying to keep our heads above water instead of focusing on academics, I know that in other seasons we will compensate for any lack in our “school schedule.” For example, when the garden comes in and we’re harvesting and canning for much of the day, winter will bring with it ample opportunity to hole up in the house and dust off the math books. When we’re in the middle of a life transition, our focus is usually on the “3 R’s” (for the sake of structure and consistency), but during the slower days of summer when academics are more on the back burner, it’s a good time to engage in some of the arts-related reading and activities that we haven’t otherwise had time for. Think about what works for you in terms of fitting art and music into your routines. You may want to tackle some art projects with older children during littles’ nap time, or perhaps you could focus on academics four days per week and use one day for more creative activities or “life skills.” Embrace the flexibility of homeschooling and see what makes the most sense for your family when it comes to integrating the arts into your curriculum.
Blessings to you in your continued homeschooling endeavors. All for the glory of God!
Marc and Cindy Carrier