Category Archives: elementary & up

{Art Together} Tints and Shades

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{This post is part of the art together series. You can see all the posts in the series here.}

4yo's painting using tints and shades of red.

4yo’s painting using tints and shades of red.

Color theory is a huge subject, and if you even begin to dip a toe into exploring it, you may start to feel completely overwhelmed, and rightly so. Like anything taught as “theory,” it’s hard to make sense of without practical experience. It’s like the difference between reading about how children develop and living with your own child and watching it happen every day. Reading about color theory might be helpful once you’ve played with color on your own, but trying to understand what you’re reading without experiencing it yourself can get extremely confusing. I’m going to share some color play activities over the next few weeks, and perhaps some of them will speak to you.

Tints and shades describe a color mixed with white (tints) and black (shades). If you mix white and black, you will get gray, yes? If you mix white with blue, you will get tints of blue; if you mix black with blue, you will get shades of blue; and you can mix all three and get various gray-blues (tones). This article tells me that funky things can happen to color if you mix it with black (although I do it anyway). But maybe you’ll like what happens; you won’t know if you don’t try.

For this activity, my kids and I each picked a color and I set up a palette for them with the color, white, and black.

Using a take-out container cover as a palette.

Using a take-out container cover as a palette.

The younger two kids used tempera paint on Bristol board, and my oldest and I used Liquitex Basics acrylics on canvas paper (because I’ve been wanting to try it). With a toddler or preschooler, I’d do this at an easel if you have one, or hang a piece of large paper on the wall (protect the wall first though). I was the only one who tried to do a representational painting using my tints and shades; the younger kids just mixed colors right on the paper to see what happened.

4yo's painting in progress.

4yo’s painting in progress.

My oldest struggled with this activity, and I asked him if I could share about it here, because I think it might be helpful to some. Different people have different personalities, and people are going to struggle with different things. He had a very hard time with the loose nature of this. He’s fine with mixing paint colors when it feels more controlled. But simply having three different paints on his palette and no way to control the mixing, to keep it precise and neat, felt much too loose to him. He didn’t like the idea of his mixed colors mixing. He had trouble even explaining what was bothering him so much. I let him know he didn’t have to do it at all; but eventually he took another stab at it. I ended up very specifically telling him how to mix one tint and one shade:

  • Take a paintbrush and scoop up some of your red and put it somewhere else on your palette. Do that again.
  • Take a different paintbrush and scoop some white and mix it in one of the smaller dabs of red.
  • Take another paintbrush, scoop some black, and mix it with the other dab of red.
A photo of my palette, with separate paintbrushes for mixing.

A photo of my palette, with separate paintbrushes for mixing.

Using different paintbrushes helps keep the tints and shades separate, if that’s important. It didn’t matter to my younger kids—they just rinsed their brushes. My older son and I used different brushes as well as rinse water. He eventually covered his paper, but I’m not sure he truly enjoyed it.

11yo persevering.

11yo persevering.

I told him sticking to something that was so uncomfortable for him, and seeing it through to the end, was an impressive quality. I wouldn’t have forced him to, though; if something isn’t working for your child, take a break or shelve that activity for a different day or year, even. Sometimes things don’t click. Some nights my kids tell me they LOVE green beans, and other nights they won’t touch them. I don’t force the green beans, either. Art and food and most things, really, should not be tied up with stress and unhappiness, either for your child or for you.

My choice of colors does not rest on any scientific theory, it is based on observation, on feeling, on the experience of my sensibility.

Henri Matisse

Take it Further:

  • Try this activity with just white and black paint. How many grays can you make? Try adding white paint to black and black to white; how is it different?
  • Try doing this more than once using a different color each time.
  • Try making a painting that is all tints. How about one that’s all shades?

You could explore just this one bit of color mixing for a very long time!

Share Your Work:

Reminder, the {Art Together} Flickr group is available if you’d like to post pictures, and that’s where I’ve added photos of our finished work.

I’m skipping next week since we’ll be busy with Easter things this weekend…so the next {Art Together} post will be on April 10 and will deal with more color activities. See you then!

{Art Together} Scribbling

{This post is part of the art together series. You can see all the posts in the series here.}

“That the word scribble is used so often as a term of disparagement is one indication of how we fail our children in their quest for knowledge.”—Susan Striker in Young at Art

8yo's scribble, colored in.

8yo’s scribble, colored in.

If you’ve read my manifesto (and if you haven’t, you should!), you know that I think art should be fun and relaxed and play, for everybody—for kids and for you, too. If anybody is hung up on what “should” be happening or what something is “supposed” to look like or trying to teach proper perspective or mimicking Picasso’s rose period, goodness, that is a lot of pressure. Now, there absolutely is value to learning about things like line, shape, design, and color theory, and I definitely love looking at and being inspired by works of art, both in books and in person whenever possible. But this series isn’t about formal art instruction or art history—although sometimes that comes into what I do with my kids, too. This series is, first and foremost, about sitting down and playing alongside your kids, but instead of using things like blocks or cars, we’re using paint and crayons.

It’s about having fun (and opening up the portals to creativity, but I need to save some stuff for later!).

So this week’s activity is all about loosening up, letting go, getting your head out of it and having fun. Scribbling is the very epitome of mark-making for the sole purpose of making marks, of feeling how the tool of choice slides across the paper. If you have a younger child, he or she won’t need any encouragement to scribble. To an older child, or to you, it may seem awkward at first. We are used to making marks with intention and deliberation. Try to let go. Move your whole arm. Make big, strong marks. Fill a page. How do your scribbles reflect how you’re feeling? If you’re feeling tentative, the marks on the page will probably look tentative, too. What about scribbling when you’re angry? What does that look like?

I sat down with my kids this week and we all did something different, but we all incorporated scribbles. You can try any or all of these (plus a couple others I’ll link to) or make up your own variations. Between us, we used black Sharpies, colored pencils, oil pastels, watercolors, and liquid acrylics, the last being a little heavy for the typical sketchbook, but used in small quantities, they were fine. I began by filling my page with one long line of scribble, overlapping it and closing the line at the end. (Photos taken in our art area, which has daylight bulbs but no natural light, often have shadows. We all work with the space we have!)

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Then I used colored pencils to fill in the shapes. I could have set myself all sorts of rules for this, trying to link the colors in a certain way or only use certain sets of colors…instead I used whatever color I wanted without much thought, my only rule not being to use the same color in adjacent areas.

Coloring in, in progress.

Coloring in, in progress.

My 8yo chose to do the same project (his finished work is at the top of the post). My 11yo wanted to make a free-form scribble and then see what picture he could find in it.

11yo's scribble.

11yo’s scribble.

He sketched in the rest of the picture he saw.

Sketched-in scribble.

Sketched-in scribble.

Then he used acrylics for color.

11yo's finished scribble-inspired painting.

11yo’s finished scribble-inspired painting.

My 4yo wanted to do everything, so she began with making marks with oil pastels and adding watercolor.

4yo working on her scribble/painting.

4yo working on her scribble/painting.

But she tired of that. After a while she decided to do a big scribble like I had, but use liquid acrylics to add color, like her brother did. I’ve added her finished painting to the Flickr group.

4yo's unfinished scribble/painting, #2.

4yo’s unfinished scribble/painting, #2.

Take it Further:

Oil pastel/watercolor scribble resist.

Oil pastel/watercolor scribble resist.

In the past, we’ve made oil pastel/watercolor resists, using the pastels to scribble first. The full post on that is here. My son got the idea of turning scribbles to pictures, I think, from this activity that begins with watercolor scribbles and finishes with drawn images.

Watercolor blot animal drawings.

Watercolor blot animal drawings.

Further Resources:

Young at Art, by Susan Striker, which I quoted above, is an excellent resource for exploring open-ended art with toddlers and preschoolers. I particularly like her progression for introducing paint colors to encourage authentic color mixing discovery. She also includes good advice on how to talk to children about art.

Speaking of which, Let’s Talk About Art by art therapist Jen Berlingo has more guidelines for how to talk to kids about their artwork.

Share Your Work:

Reminder, if you want to post pictures in the Flickr group just click the join request button. Meanwhile, I’m still posting additional photos there of our work.

Next week we’ll be talking about–and playing with, of course–watercolors. See you then!

{Art Together} Looking Closely

{This post is part of the art together series. You can see all the posts in the series here.}

“’The teaching of drawing is the teaching of looking.’ A lot of people don’t look very hard.” –David Hockney.

Looking closely at a pussy willow, by V, age 11.

Looking closely at a pussy willow, by V, age 11.

Before we go any further, you need to promise me you’re not going to start comparing. Don’t compare your artwork to mine, your kids’ artwork to my kids’ artwork, or your work to your kids’ or your kids’ work to each other. Remember to start where you are. Also remember that I’ve been doing this with my kids for a while now. We’re all comfortable with the process. Brand new things often feel uncomfortable, so if you or your kids are feeling awkward, it’s okay to acknowledge that. Like anything else new, it’ll feel less awkward the more you do it.

Okay, then! Let’s get started. We’re going to start not by trying to draw but by trying to look closely, with a pen or pencil in our hand. Because I find natural objects so interesting to draw and because I am craving spring, I suggest finding a Growing Thing to serve as the focus of your observation. If you can head outside, wherever you happen to live, and find a dry patch of ground on which to sit, and it’s not so cold or windy as to be distracting, do that. If you have houseplants, pick one. I am death to houseplants, so I bought some tulips and pussy willows at the supermarket. We have so many collected natural treasures on our table that some of those found their way into the drawings as well.

As for art materials, we used sketchbooks, but loose drawing paper and even regular old printer paper will work just fine. I gathered a selection of sketching pencils and markers.  I love my Pitt DSC02670Artist Pens, but a fine-point black Sharpie is a good alternative, and it’s cheap and easy to find. (Also, I don’t share the Pitt pens with my youngest, since she still presses down too hard on the tips for my liking. She uses Sharpies.) If you don’t have sketching/drawing pencils, there’s nothing wrong with using a regular #2 pencil, but I suggest taping over the eraser. If you have it as an option, you’ll want to use it. You’ll get hung up on getting everything “perfect,” which will just interrupt the whole process of looking at what you are drawing. My kids decided they wanted to use colored pencils too, so we added those to our pile later.

Start out by looking at your drawing item together. What do you notice about it? Here are some of the observations my kids and I made as we drew:

8yo, drawing pussy willows: I’m shading the puffy things in to make them look furry. Do you notice these have a furry texture?

DSC02678

4yo, drawing a tulip: Is the green the flower too or just the yellow and red? [Answer: The green she was looking at was the leaf; the stem was green too.]

Me: The edge of this tulip looks like a clam shell the way it comes together in the middle.

11yo: This [the hardest pencil in the group] is horrible for shading. (For more information on soft/hard pencils, see this post; I’ve updated it with more pictures.)

Me, to 8yo, as he struggled to draw a junebug’s wing: Look at the shape of it; it’s not symmetrical. The bottom is a smoother line but the top goes up and then tapers down. Start with the overall shape and then fill in the details.

DSC02680

In Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, author Betty Edwards explains that we have built up a shorthand of sorts—what a hand should look like, a flower, a tree, a house—and when we sit to draw, our brain supplies these symbols, and we end up drawing what we think we see rather than what is truly there. I remember my first drawing class that included a live model; the professor pointed out how the proportions of the human body are not at all what we think. For example, a hand is much larger than we usually draw it; in fact, a hand is extremely odd looking if you really investigate it.

4yo drawing a sand dollar; she counted the "petals" in order to draw it accurately.

4yo drawing a sand dollar; she counted the “petals” in order to draw it accurately.

I’ve come to think that the true value in drawing isn’t the image itself, it’s that a drawing practice teaches you to really look at something. Of course the ability to recreate what you see can be extremely useful. You can use this skill to make notes on a nature walk so you can compare what you see (a flower? a leaf? an insect?) to a field guide later on. You can use it to sketch out the idea in your head to help you get it across to someone else—or even to help you figure out exactly what you’re thinking. But the sketch on the paper is only a small part of what you’re doing. The first part of drawing is looking—looking closely.

If you feel yourself becoming discouraged by your perceived inability to draw, try to reframe it: You are learning to really see. And remember that as with anything else, if you practice, it will begin to get easier. You will learn to truly look closely. You will begin to see what is actually there rather than what you think is there, and that is a valuable skill to have in life whether you become an accomplished sketcher or not.

Further Resources:

Drawing Lab For Mixed Media Artists: 52 Creative Exercises to Make Drawing Fun: My kids and I (together and separately) have enjoyed many activities from this book; flip through and pick out something that interests you.

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain: Presents an approach to drawing designed to trick the brain to leave those preconceived notions behind.

Take it Further:

Blind Contour Drawing: This post at the Camp Creek Blog describes a method of drawing that involves only looking at the object, not at all at the paper.

Share Your Work:

I’ve created a Flickr group, where I’ve added more photos from our drawing session, and where you can share photos too, if you want to, or ask questions in the discussion section…whatever seems useful and helpful to you. If you have any questions please leave a comment or email me at amyhood AT amyhoodarts DOT com, and I will see you again in a week. Happy drawing!

Animal Classification: Reptiles

Reptile page, all filled in.

Reptile page, all filled in.

{Previous posts in this series: Animal Classification BookletAnimal Classification: Mammals + FishAnimal Classification: Birds; Animal Classification: Amphibians.}

Phew, the last post in this series. We finished up our five-part animal classification class for ages 5-8 at co-op this past week. Because this was the last class, it included some review of all five groups.

Resources:
Reptile poster from Verterbrate Teaching Poster Set
Various books on reptiles, including ID guide
Snake shed (not necessary, but I happened to have one)
Large (18×24″) chart to fill in with the kids. List the five types of vertebrates down the left side and create five columns with the following headings: How it breathes; Body covering; Eggs or born alive; Warm- or cold-blooded; Distinctive characteristic.

Activity:
Sniffers activity at Reptiles Alive
(Note: I used citronella as one of my essential oils and I do not recommend it! It sort of overpowered all the other scents.)

Handout:
Reptile word search found via Google
Completed Animal Classification booklets

We began by listing the groups we’ve already talked about, and the kids identified which group (reptiles) was left. As a group, we listed what we knew about reptiles, and then I hung the poster for discussion. Since we have snakes that live in our yard and I happened to have a complete snake shed we found in the yard several years ago, I brought it in to share. We tried the sniffing activity–it worked well enough but would have worked better if I’d avoided the citronella–and then we discussed how snakes use their tongues to pick up scents and why animals might need a good sense of smell.

After the kids filled in the reptile page in their booklets, I hung up the large chart and we filled it in together. The best part of class for me, I think, occurred when one child was working on the matching activity on the back page of the booklet and was stumped by kangaroo. Instead of telling him the answer, another child helped him figure it out on his own: “Kangaroos have fur. There’s only one group with fur, do you remember which one?” Witnessing the point at which someone feels confident enough in what they’ve learned to help teach it to somebody else–that’s just awesome.

We were limited by time (50-minute sessions) and space (no field trips, just a classroom experience), but I think we managed some great learning-together sessions. I hope you find these posts a useful starting point if you decide to plan something similar at home or in a co-op.

{PBL} Scattering

There have been some seemingly one-off random things going on this week, but you never know where things will lead. My 4yo has been interested in bones for a while now, although I’m not sure I even posted anything about that interest here. Recently she’s developed an interest in coyotes, too, but that’s not necessarily a separate interest. We visited the local NWR visitor’s center a week or two ago to look at the bones they have on display–they have many, out and available to touch, and among them are many skulls.

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Coyotes have skulls too, you know. And skeletons. She was delighted to make this connection between her projects. (Yes, she identifies them as such. As a never-schooled preschooler, she signed on to this style of learning with full joy, quickly realizing the gravity the word “project” bestows upon her interests.)

Here she is drawing and then painting a picture of a coyote, using some reference pictures.

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This is such authentic work she is doing. She is working hard there, choosing to try to draw a coyote, noticing its colors and how many ears and legs it has, and where they are. She asked me where its nose was, and I showed her the snout and we talked about how the shape of the snout is one of the ways a coyote is distinguished from other dogs, and she worked at getting it right, at the same time understanding that she could make as many paintings as she wanted to try and get the coyote to look the way she wanted to.

This all makes me happy, not because my child is doing this but because I have created the space in which my child knows she can do this. She is not being kept distracted with “age-appropriate” busywork but instead allowed to choose her own work.

Also this week, all three of the kids made light straws.

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Someone on Twitter–I can’t remember who, unfortunately–posted a link to an article about diy.org. I checked out the site and sent the link to my 11yo because I thought he might find it interesting. He decided he wanted to make Light Straws, so he bookmarked the video instructions and wrote a supply list. All of us went to Radio Shack and tried to figure out which LEDs were super bright if none of them said super bright, and realized he’d spelled “ohm” incorrectly, but we managed to find everything we needed. I helped the 4yo but he and his brother made their own while we watched the video. Don’t they look super cool? And once they were made, they tinkered with the design, deciding they’d like the switch to work differently.

Later that day, my 4yo looked up at one of our light bulbs and excitedly announced that inside, it had wires that looked like the ones that connected to the LED in her light straw. My 8yo, who is building a pretend machine out of various block-type toys, is explaining how the “wires” should connect. All these scattering activities and interests…they connect in such interesting ways.

Animal Classification: Amphibians

{Previous posts in this series: Animal Classification Booklet; Animal Classification: Mammals + Fish; Animal Classification: Birds.}

amphibian page, filled in

amphibian page, filled in

I find the common practice of discussing reptiles and amphibians together both annoying and mystifying. They are wholly separate groups of vertebrates. There is perhaps a superficial resemblance, in that some salamanders (amphibians) remind people of lizards (reptiles). That’s my best guess. They are nothing alike. Lumping them together only leads people to confuse the two groups. So of course I am addressing them separately for my co-op class.

Resources:
Amphibian/Reptile poster from Vertebrate Teaching Poster set, folded over so only amphibian portion is visible
Assorted books on amphibians
Life cycle of a frog sheets

Activity:
From Polliwog to Frog: Association of Zoos and Aquariums
Frog sounds, using an Identiflyer; you could probably also search for an app that would supply amphibian sounds

Handouts:
Word searches, found through Google

We began by talking about what we knew of amphibians, making sure to discuss the most important characteristic, their metamorphosis from aquatic creatures with gills as juveniles to adults that breathe with lungs and live on land. The session’s activity was craft-oriented, with coloring, cutting, and assembling; this is part of my desire to offer various types of activities. As with other classes, we discussed the information on the poster and wrote the group characteristics in the animal classification book.

In our final session (coming up), we’ll discuss reptiles and compare the characteristics of all five groups as a whole.

Animal Classification: Birds

Bird page from booklet with characteristics filled in.

Bird page from booklet with characteristics filled in.

(This is the third in a series of sorts…the PDF of the animal classification booklet can be found here. Teaching plan for Mammals and Fish can be found here.)

Resources:
Bird poster from Vertebrate Teaching Poster set
Assorted books on birds–the kids really enjoyed DK Eyewitness Books: Bird

Activity:
Birds, Beaks, and Adaptation: PDF activity found at the teacher resources page of the National Park Service’s Mississippi (Minnesota) National River and Recreation Area.

Handout:
Bird word search–Googling will bring up many choices. One of my students asked for a word search to bring home each week so I am trying to accommodate!

For our third session, I began by asking the kids what they knew about birds. I realized after the fish class that I need to do lots less talking with this group. They are so eager to share what they know, and they know plenty. We went around the group and everyone shared something about birds–they lay eggs, they have feathers, they fly, they have beaks, etc–and we compared those things to mammals and fish. This was a great way to review the previous two groups we’ve covered, especially since it had been two weeks (instead of one) since we last met. I only put up the poster after we’d discussed what we knew of bird characteristics, and we checked if we’d missed anything, and we had! We’d all forgotten about warm-blooded or cold-blooded, so we reviewed that too and then talked about the groups of birds shown on the poster.

While the kids wrote in their booklets, I set up for the beak adaptation activity. Early finishers looked through the selection of bird books I’d brought. Some of the youngest kids aren’t reading yet, but I noticed older kids explaining and reading the information–I love these opportunities that naturally arise in a mixed-age group.

We had eight kids in class, so I separated them into four pairs for the beak adaptation activity. Each group was given one tool and a recording sheet, and they went around the room trying their “beak” at the different “habitats.” More than one tool will work for some items, so I told them this and asked them to find the beak that worked best. When they’d finished, they traded tools with other groups so they could try more out.

It’s impossible in an hour to cover everything about a group of animals! But focusing on one area (beaks) through a hands-on activity worked really well.

Animal Classification: Mammals + Fish

As promised, to go along with the Animal Classification Booklet download, here are my plans and resources for the first two groups we talked about in co-op, mammals and fish. Again, this class is for ages 5-8.

mammals copy

Mammals page from the booklet, with characteristics filled in

In our first class, we covered mammals but began with the idea of classification itself, discussing the two big groups of animals (vertebrates and invertebrates) and how scientists make that first divide (by whether they have a backbone). We found our own backbones.

Resources:
Vertebrate Teaching Poster Set; I’m using the appropriate poster for each class, starting off our discussion of the group by talking about the information and animals on the poster.
What is a Vertebrate? by Bobbie Kalman, to have on hand for pictures and to refer to.

Activities:
Dichotomous key: We did this together, keying out most of the included animals, to show how scientists use differing characteristics to place animals in smaller and smaller groups until the species has been identified.
Mammal matching: Each student had a copy, but we did it together as a group. This demonstrates how mammals are divided into smaller groups.

We also filled in the pages of their books as a group, with each student writing in their own booklet.

Take-Home:
Mammal word search

Fish page from booklet with characteristics filled in

Fish page from booklet with characteristics filled in

We began our second session by reviewing the characteristics of mammals before moving onto fish. In this way we could compare the groups (which are very different!). Again, we discussed the poster and wrote in the booklets.

Resources:
What is a Fish? by Bobbie Kalman
Various field guides/books of fish

Activity:
Fashion a Fish from Aquatic Project Wild: I received my copy many, many years ago by going through the Project Wild and Aquatic Project Wild training; this remains the only way to obtain this curriculum. Google tells me some folks have scanned in this activity and posted it online, but you’ll have to search yourself, because I’d feel uncomfortable linking. However, that link above includes a link to the state coordinator page for this program. Training is, as far as I know, still free, and you get an entire book of resources for free, too.

Birds, reptiles, and amphibians will be upcoming as we cover them!

{PBL} Projects + School

One of V's scenes in his organic farming movie.

One of V’s scenes in his organic farming movie.

One of my biggest frustrations with school is how much time it takes up. My oldest chose to remain in school, and I haven’t managed to support him on any self-led projects on nights and weekends, which fly by so quickly. The school describes its curriculum as “project-based,” but their definition and implementation is somewhat different than mine. Recently, my son completed a school project on organic farming. The curriculum is pre-planned, and my son chose the topic from a pre-set list. The projects had certain requirements—for instance, each student had to interview someone local pertaining to their topic, asking at least five questions. Interviewing somebody is great—if the student decides that’s the best way to get information that otherwise is unavailable. But assigning an interview takes away so much of the learning process…What do I want to know? How can I find it out? What resources are available to me? Instead, it seems like somebody else decided fifth graders should interview “experts.”

Several weeks ago, my son and I had a conversation that went something like this:

Him: I think I want to make a movie for my project representation.

Me: That sounds cool. None of us have experience with that. Can Miss [x] mentor you as you figure out how to do that? [Because that is what is supposed to happen in project-based learning; the student has a mentor.]

Him: I don’t know. I think there’s a video camera I can borrow?

Me: That’s a start. Do you have an idea of how you want your movie to be?

Him: Well, I want to start with a scene of fields, you know, with the crops.

Me: Okay. It’s December, though. You won’t be able to film that here, unless you’re okay with, you know, dead-looking fields.

Him: But that’s not what I want.

Me: Could you draw a background for that, maybe? Or perhaps try stop-motion? I can show you some examples.

Him, beginning to sound frustrated: I don’t have a lot of time to figure all that out! Maybe I’ll just do a poster.

Me, after a long thinking pause: I can understand, given that you have a deadline for this, why you would want to do a poster. I won’t think less of you if you do. But it makes me sad that you have an idea and don’t feel you have the time or support at school to see it through. I’ll do whatever I can to mentor you, if you want to try a movie. I hope, if you don’t do a movie for this project, we can come back to it when you have more time to dig into it.

And we left it there, for the most part. It seemed my son had decided on a poster. He let me know the materials he’d need (my role in his homework is mainly procuring supplies when necessary). For Christmas, we gave him the book Unbored, which I’d hoped to look through myself, but I can’t get it out of his hands! After his first day back at school, he told me he was going to do a movie after all. Unbored has a chapter on stop-motion, he told me, and now he had a better idea of what he needed. Awesome, I said. Make a list, and a storyboard. A storyboard? “Draw out each scene—figure out what you want to show and say. Then you can figure out what props you need.”

And this he did, in detail. After looking at his storyboard, I pointed out that it didn’t seem stop-motion would work, but perhaps a series of photographs? He brainstormed props. I thought I remembered a Duplo farm set…we checked his sister’s LEGOS and yes, indeed, she has not only a bus and a mailman but a farmer with flowers, a chicken, a pig, and a tractor. He received her permission to borrow her farm LEGOS. He figured out solutions for his other scenes—he transformed a bottle of spray fixative into a pesticide bottle by drawing a new label. We added an acorn and butternut squash to the shopping list. He painted grains of rice black, to represent harmful insects on the plants. We lucked out with a sunny Sunday afternoon, he set up each scene in natural light, took multiple shots, and chose the best ones.

Shooting film for his movie.

Shooting film for his movie.

I’d have liked to set him loose to figure out Movie Maker on his own, but given the time constraints, I tried to figure out the basics ahead of time so I could help him. Together, we added his photos, edited the duration of each shot, and recorded his narration, which had to be matched to each scene just so. He typed up the title and credits, and we strung it all together. It is amazing. If this were a home-based project, more time would have been spent on figuring out the program and investigating different methods of movie making. It’s hard for me to accurately describe what I see as the difference in school projects and home projects, but I’ll try:

School is more interested in showing what was learned about the assigned topic. The movie is a means to prove he learned about organic farming.

I am just as interested in the learning going on to create the representation. Learning about a topic is one part of the learning; acquiring skills to share information in a chosen way is just as (if not more) important. He drew a storyboard, wrote a script, arranged his scenes, photographed them until he was satisfied. He had a vision and manifested it. He struggled with the computer program, worked through that, we figured it out, and he created a finished product which pleased him. All of this is more important to me than the facts he acquired about organic farming.

I still hope he returns to this interest when he has more time to dig into it for the sake of digging into it rather than as a means to fulfilling a school requirement. I will nudge, and I will mentor. And I am so glad he chose movie over poster after all.

Language Arts

That’s not exactly the right title for this post, but I’m not sure what is. We read all the time here. My older kids read voraciously to themselves; I read out loud every day. My 4yo will sit with a book and “read.” Because I have my younger two at home and my youngest cannot actually read yet, I read many of my 8yo’s homeschool-related books aloud. That way, my 4yo doesn’t feel left out. Usually we start the day with me reading from whatever chapter book we’re in, and we move on to history or science or project books, as well. (If I get laryngitis, our entire homeschool schedule will fall apart!)

So I have no worries whatsoever about my 8yo’s reading skills. He loves to read, he reads a variety of books, and he can tell me about what he’s reading. We talk about the books we’re reading together, and we’ve compared different versions of the same story (such as with The Wizard of Oz). Actually, now that I’m writing all of this, I’m not sure why I thought I needed to do anything additional with language arts. The main thing that’s missing is writing. My son doesn’t like the actual, physical act of writing. So I’m not forcing it.

Yet, I did feel like adding in something additional, so I thought back to my previous homeschooling experience, with my oldest during his first-grade year. We used Enki curriculum that year. As it turned out, I needed to supplement it quite a bit, because he wanted more in some areas (specifically science and math) than that curriculum offered. But I really enjoyed the storytelling sequence, of telling a story and working with it over a few days, and I decided to add something similar into our schedule when we started up again after the holidays.

In our history readings, we’re up to Roman times (and just past Greek), so I thought we’d work with myths. We have books of Greek and Roman mythology, but I wanted a version without illustrations–you’ll see why. After poking around Amazon a bit, I borrowed Classic Myths to Read Aloud from our local library. And this is our process: I read the myth aloud. The next day, I read it aloud again, and I have my 8yo tell it back to me. And then we each draw a picture related to the myth. I’d like him to add a sentence describing the illustration, but I got some resistance to that idea today. We’ll work up to it.

Meanwhile, he retold the myth beautifully. He remembered so many details. And we all love to draw, so working with the story in that way was fun for all of us. And we will have a collection of our own illustrations for various myths.

Illustrating a myth

Illustrating a myth

I don’t need him to write a book report to prove to me that he is comprehending what he is reading and is able to summarize it in proper narrative order. Without the distraction of the physical act of writing, he can focus better on what he’s doing. And did I mention how fun it is to sit on the floor together and draw?

So that is our “language arts.” We read… a lot. We talk… a lot. And we draw, too, because we like to and we can. And yes, he is still working on his monster book, which entails reading, researching, note-taking, and even…writing.