Thursday, September 28, 2006

Homeschool Teachers are Learning Too

I recently got asked this question: How are you teaching your son art when you don't know anything about it?

Good question.

Most homeschooling moms are not experts in art or math or French or the history of Australia or how pandas digest bamboo. A lot of us have degrees in one thing or another, I happen to have a couple of degrees in literature. Helps when we get to 19th century American fiction, but a fat lot of good that does me when we're learning about art!

So what do we do, when we're out of our element, and our kids need us to know what we're doing? Several choices:

1. We study hard and stay one step ahead of our kids. This happens mostly when a family is following a set curriculum. Mom may be teaching Junior calculus and she may be learning calculus the night before, real quick, before Junior gets to that lesson.

2. We learn right along with them. This happens more in a child-led learning environment, where we're following the kid's interests. What kinds of things do you want to learn about, Junior? Okay, let's get some books from the library, look it up on the internet, and delve in. A child who sees his mother actively seeking informationn, getting excited about learning right beside him, being open to new things, is getting a fine example of how learning should happen. Mom's not learning because she has to, she's not learning because someone is making her, she's learning because she wants to. That's a valuable lesson. When I was a kid, my parents read constantly, and I learned by example that reading was great entertainment. By watching them, I learned what to do. So when I'm struggling through my Spanish lessons with Rosetta Stone, or looking up Galapagos iguanas on the internet, my child is seeing how learning can be fun and exciting, when no one is making you do it.

3. Another choice is to hire someone to teach your child who *is* an expert. Benny has a swimming teacher, a violin teacher, and a karate teacher -- these are things that we have decided he really needs an expert to teach him. So we go find an expert. If he gets very interested in painting, we're fortunate to have an art teacher in the family, as his Ahno has an art degree and has taught it at various levels in and out of traditiobnal school. So, on that, we're covered. We have friends who take art lessons at the Children's Museum in Portsmouth. Or at the SOFA art camps. There are lots of ways to outsource this one! :D

So let's return to the topic of art and the way we're dealing with it this week. What happened at the museum on Wednesday?

We both wandered around the galleries. I let him lead. He knows pretty much where everything is. Our challenge, our mission, as we discussed it on the way there, was to look at the brush strokes and see how the artists used the shapes of their brush strokes to form the pictures.

Benny pointed out, about half way through the impressionist gallery, that when the brush strokes are bigger and more obvious, the paintings are less realistic. When the brush strokes are smaller, the paintings look more real. I used my fresh info about the Mona Lisa to inform him that the thickness of the paint matters too, so we compared that painting of the table laid out with silverware (very realistic) to the one of the Harlem River in winter, which is more abstract and where the artist used really thick paint.

After we had this revelation, we went on to the modern and contemporary galleries, where Benny visited his favorite painting, shown below. He rushed past it quickly, looking at it out of the corner of his eye, back and forth, back and forth, and told me that it looked good to him when the pattern mixed together because it was going by fast.

He also studied the installation with all the TVs shaped into a king, and we talked about how art doesn't have to be paint on a canvas or a bronze sculpture, etc. We left when the kids were ready to leave, and went out to look at the fountain, which is always Sadie's favorite part.

Benny went home and started painting another canvas. He showed me how he was using brush strokes to make shadows on the water. I'm not entirely sure how that works, but I'm glad he's experimenting with it and I'm glad he learned from his trip to the museum.

I'm so glad this question was asked, because think a lot of people are wary of homeschooling for this reason. They think, "I'm not an expert, I can't possibly teach my child everything he needs to know." The truth is, you can. First grade art isn't really a good example, because of course anybody can handle the curriculum here -- identifying primary colors, zig-zag and spotted lines, geometric and organic shapes, size relationships, creating a piece of art inspired by a poem, etc. You can see all the standards of learning for visual arts for Virginia here. If you can't stay on top of that list, maybe you really shouldn't be homeschooling your kid! ;D Just kidding. But seriously. I think Benny's okay, at least for now. If we get into serious stuff, and I'm over my head, I have access to experts to help me out.

You raise a good question. And part of what makes homeschooling so interesting, for many of us who do it, is that homeschooling is learning too.

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