Welcome to Build Your Library’s “Homeschool Tidbits: Episode 9 – Picture Study, or How to Look at Art with Children. In this new weekly video series, I will delve briefly into a topic related to homeschooling and will share some of my knowledge and expertise as a long-time homeschooling mother of 4 children. Three of whom have graduated!
Today we are continuing my Charlotte Mason series. We discussed her methodology, living books, how to use them, book recommendations, narration, and copywork and dictation, and today we’re going to talk about Picture Study!
When you think about adding art to our homeschool routine, you probably immediately think about the mess! Paints, crayons, clay, glitter… everywhere. It’s easy to either let your child go nuts and make a ton of artwork or just skip it entirely because you can’t deal with the mess. But there is another side to art instruction. There is the physical act of making art such as painting and drawing, then there is art appreciation. Today, we’re going to be discussing the art appreciation aspect. I’m here to tell you, it’s a lot easier to make time for it, and it doesn’t make any mess at all. Technically, you don’t even need a curriculum to do it either!
Charlotte Mason was all about honing our child’s focus and attention to detail. That’s a big aspect of picture study. To simplify, we choose an artist, and each week we put out a different piece of art for our children to look at. Over the course of 4 – 6 weeks, we learn about the artist and study their art. Because we are spending a week with just one piece of art, our children really get to know these pictures. They spend time each day looking at them, noticing all of the fine details, and really getting a good idea of an artist’s style.
This kind of study goes against what we normally would think to do. In our society, we want to do things quickly. We read a biography about an artist, we flip through a book of their artwork, and then we move on to the next thing. But with Charlotte Mason’s picture study, we take our time, we really get to know an artist and their work. We spend a week with one painting, really looking at it. This is true art appreciation!
“We cannot measure the influence that one or another artist has upon the child’s sense of beauty, upon his power of seeing, as in a picture, the common sights of life; he is enriched more than we know in having really looked at even a single picture.” ~ Charlotte Mason
First, we must choose an artist to study. It can be any artist, classical or modern. I recommend starting with something like Vincent’s Starry Night and Other Stories by Michael Bird. This not only gives you a history of art from prehistory through modern-day, but it also gives you a starting point – this book includes 68 artists, enough to cover your child’s entire education!
Now that you have chosen an artist, collect 4 – 6 pieces of their art for your child to observe. Now before you throw out this whole lesson because you cannot afford to collect that much artwork, you can use the internet! Most artists you might choose to study will have online galleries you can use for this purpose. You could purchase postcard-sized paintings from art museums if you want a physical piece of art to look at. But you can just as easily pull up a painting off Google Images onto your computer screen.
Now that you have chosen an artist and collected some of their artwork, the lesson can begin.
First, show the art to your child. Let them look at it carefully for a few minutes. While they look at the art, you can introduce them to the artist by either reading a biography to them or just sharing some information about the artist that you have learned. Tell them the name of the art they are looking at.
Next, ask them to see the picture in their mind. Like their spelling words, they should “take a picture of the art” in their memory so they can see it with their eyes closed. They need to really look at the art to do this. When you first start with picture study, it is helpful to talk about the art with them. I might point to things that I notice, and then ask them to tell me what things they notice in the painting.
Next, you are going to take away the piece of art and ask your child to tell you back what they saw. Think of this as a form of narration. They are going to narrate the piece of art back to you. Just ask them what they saw in the picture. There are no right or wrong answers, and different children will notice and remember different things. As long as they are telling you about the piece of art you are studying, they are doing great!
Finally, I like to ask my children to tell me what they think is happening in the picture. This is where creativity comes into play. They can just give a basic answer like children are playing a game of tag, or dancers are warming up. But I find that most children are storytellers at heart. Let your child flex their creative muscles and tell you a story about the picture.
“As in a worthy book we leave the author to tell his own tale, so do we trust a picture to tell its tale through the medium the artist gave it.” ~ Charlotte Mason
And that’s it! You have now done a Charlotte Mason picture study lesson! You should aim to do this once a week (though I try to leave the picture out all week for my children to look at). It shouldn’t take longer than 20 – 30 minutes. Over the course of your child’s education, you can study a huge variety of artists this way, exposing them to great art, art styles, and techniques painlessly! Throw in a few trips to your local art museum, and you will give your children an excellent art education.
I hope you found this Tidbit helpful! Come back next week when we’ll be talking about vocabulary – specifically what to do with vocabulary lists included in literature-based homeschool curriculum!
Until next time, happy reading!
Emily Cook is the author and creator of the secular homeschool curriculum Build Your Library, a literature-based K-12 program infused with the teachings of Charlotte Mason. She writes full-year lesson plans as well as shorter topical unit studies. Emily has been homeschooling her four children in Southern NH for 18 years. She is passionate about reading aloud to children of all ages and loves to share her love of literature with others. She and her family also make incredibly dorky videos about homeschooling, books, and more on Youtube at ARRRGH! Schooling. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. You can also check out her author page on Amazon.