When I was deciding how to pull together our art curriculum, I really wanted my children to gain a love for art and an appreciation for the beauty it adds to our world and the ideas it presents in our culture. The problem is, I am not an artist. I can’t discuss balance and tone in any meaningful way on the fly while standing there in an art museum, hoping my four-year-old doesn’t touch anything.
Then I thought, “How do we instill a love of reading in our children?” We don’t do it by visiting libraries and bookstores and talking about books while never touching them. We check out the books. We buy books. We have bookshelves overflowing with books. Most importantly, we snuggle together on the couch and read the best ones, again and again, talking about the pictures, talking about the text, and just making that time reading books special.
This video explains what we do with a cameo appearance by two of my boys at the end (about 5:31) “reading” the painting with me. Or if you prefer reading, the same information is written out below.
Why not teach art like reading?
The trouble is, I can’t very well check out Monet’s Japanese Bridge and hang it up in my front room for the children to touch and discuss. I have a limited budget and it isn’t going toward those large books full of art prints you can put on a coffee table. And have a mild heart attack if the children spill a glass of milk on it.
Enter the calendar.
These are perfect. Twelve prints centered on a particular artist, theme or style. They tend to be the most highly recognizable, which is sort of what I’m going for, anyway. And right about now, they are going on sale. The calendar I show in the video cost me $2 in a clearance bin at Walmart and for that, I have 12 beautiful prints I can switch out and hang up. I put them in frames so that they look nicer and are somewhat protected.
How do I teach art with a calendar print?
I don’t just leave it hanging on the wall. I take it down and snuggle with the children on the couch. We look at it and talk about it, much like we do the books we read. The children tell me what is happening, how the picture makes them feel, what they like, and what they don’t like. I introduce words like contrast, value, and texture. When we are done, the print goes back on the wall and the children will stop to look at it throughout the day. It may enter some writing assignments (Imagine if you were one of the men in that boat . . .). Over the course of the month, they will research more about the artist using my Any Artist Biography Notebooking Page and I will keep mentioning bits and pieces about the art as they are ready and interested.
But I’m not an art person, so how do I remember it all?
Google and I are pretty good friends, most of the time. I do a little research on the painting and what is significant about it. I go to Project This Site and review the terminology I want to introduce and discuss. Then I put the important stuff on sticky notes on the back of the frame so that I can refer to it while we are talking.
Bringing the art to life
Of course, this is art. You don’t just look at it. You have to create it, too. There are so many lessons online for learning about different styles and artists that I usually have more of a problem paring it down than I do coming up for something to do. Since The Big Wave is a Japanese Wood Block, we are going to learn about the process and make our own prints. My older kids will be carving up potatoes for some potato print and my younger two will cut apple cores in half to make apple print starts.
And a printable. .The Any Artist Biography Notebook Page
The Any Artist Biography Notebook Page is good to use with any artist to practice some research skills and keep a record of the artists you have studied. Just click on the link or the image to start your download.
Teaching art this way gives my children access to art, experience with art, and, most importantly, quality time with the art to help instill in them a love for art. My younger children are already asking me to buy more frames because they don’t want me to put them away when we are done studying them for a month!