The "Riches": Music, Art, and More!

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Ahhh, my favorite part of homeschooling!  So far in our curriculum discussion I've been covering the "nuts and bolts", or, to use Charlotte Mason's "feast of ideas" analogy, the "meat and potatoes."  Today I'd like to turn to the "gravy"; the secret sauce that keeps our homeschool days varied, interesting, inspiring, and fun!  I should probably forewarn you that I was a music major myself, and my favorite "hobby" after music is artsy stuff in general, so we might do a little more in this area than others.  My hope is simply to give you some good ideas and show you how easy it can be to incorporate them into your day!

Music Appreciation

We "do" music appreciation in a number of ways at our house, and none of them are difficult to implement, even for someone who has very little background in music history or theory:

1.  Listen to lots of music.  Varied music, inspiring music, the best music in each genre.  I try to turn on some music when everybody is getting up and around in the morning.  Sometimes it's classical, sometimes it's worship music, or it could be jazz or world music.  YouTube is your best friend for this!  (What did we ever do before YouTube???)

2.  Hymns and folksongs: we roughly follow the hymn and folksong rotation at Ambleside Online.  I say "roughly" because many hymns have a special place in my heart and I have chosen to cover them first.  But if you are not familiar with a lot of hymns, then by all means follow the hymn rotation at Ambleside!  We also use the folksong rotation there, but we usually only really end up learning one song per term rather than several as listed.  We sing them regularly together in our Morning Time loop schedule.  What's that you just said?  You can't sing?  Here's my answer to that: Do you have a voice?  Can you talk?  Then you can sing.  It may not be as beautiful as some others, but in my opinion, singing badly is infinitely better than not singing at all.  And if you really can't even carry a tune to save your life, there's always your friend YouTube again.  Just make sure you and your children make an attempt to sing along too!  Ephesians 5:19 instructs us to speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs...and it doesn't qualify that by saying to only sing if you have a good voice!  This instruction is for everyone!

3.  Cultural experience: I make it a point to take my kids to an orchestra concert at least once a year.  We love going to Ann Arbor for a day and finishing the day taking in a free concert by the University of Michigan Symphony.  I'm naturally a little biased because I studied music there, but U of M has an excellent music program and the concerts are always great.  Now that a few of my kids are getting a little older, we also try to get there a little early for the pre-concert lecture.  I'm not sure how much they enjoy it, but I do!  I can't say enough about how strongly I feel about the value of exposing our children to real, live music.  It's totally different than listening to a recording.  It's a living, breathing, organic, shared experience!  This one is practically a no-brainer to implement: look up the performance schedule of a college near you, find something that sounds interesting, and put it on your calendar!  (I do make arrangements for my toddlers for that day; but I start bringing my kids along as soon as they're able to sit through the concert, about age 5.)

Music Application

In addition to music "appreciation", our kids do quite a bit of music skills practice as well.  They are all learning the piano.  It's my opinion that a basic understanding and competence in piano skill should be non-negotiable, for many reasons...but that's another blog post!  Our oldest son also takes cello lessons, and our second son is about to start the violin.  Beyond that, we encourage them to pick up whatever instruments interest them.  We have an acoustic guitar, bass guitar, electric guitar, djembe, and we recently acquired a drum set, much to the consternation of my introverted, peace-and-quiet-loving 14 year old!  Through piano and formal music lessons, they learn the essentials of music notation and theory, and by having plenty of instruments around to "play" with, they are learning to create and improvise.  

Art Appreciation

1.  Artist Study: we have been following Ambleside Online's artist rotation, pretty much to the letter, for over a year now.  I really love this approach because you stick with the same artist for an entire 12-week term, covering 6 of their representative works.  This allows plenty of time to become familiar with the artist, take in their work, and learn about the historical background behind it.  There is even a link to a yahoo group where you can download a file containing high-quality art images for each term.  I have them printed on 8.5"x11" cardstock at our local Office Depot store for less than $5.  I bought a simple black picture frame, and every couple weeks I swap out the next picture for our study.  Artist study also happens in our Morning Time loop schedule!

2.  Art Museums: when we take our trip to Ann Arbor every year, I also try to make a point to stop in at the free university art museum.  They have a pretty good selection of traditional art, especially of the impressionists, as well as art from different cultures.  Of course there's also the weird and confusing room full of modern "art" that leaves us all scratching our heads and saying, "Huh??"  But just like with music appreciation, I feel it's important for our kids to be exposed to the world of "real" artists in a "real" art gallery.  (Side prepared to steer your kids away from vulgar nudity or especially disturbing images.  It might be wise to explore the museum yourself first, or ask someone else who has been there, so you know what's coming!)

Art Application

1.  Drawing lessons: In our Morning Time rotation, I include a day for drawing lessons.  We are currently using ARTistic Pursuits, Middle School Book 1, which uses only drawing pencils for the first half of the book.  Even though it's written for middle school students, I have found it to be pretty easy to simplify the lessons for my 6 and 9 year olds as well.  When we first started drawing lessons, there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Everybody got so frustrated because they couldn't make their pictures look as good as they wanted.  But we just keep repeating, over and over, "There is no right or wrong.  This is only for practice.  If I don't like it when I'm done, nobody else ever has to see it.  Drawing is fun, drawing is fun, drawing is fun!"  And, little by little, their drawing has improved, and when their attempts at faces or animals come out looking more like space aliens, they can laugh it off and start again next time!

2.  Chalk pastel tutorials with Tricia Hodges: We've been really enjoying the YouTube channel Hodgepodge.  Each tutorial is less than ten minutes long.  These are just plain fun.  We scroll through the dozens of tutorials and choose one that looks interesting.  I have loved seeing my kids learn how to draw something with chalk pastels, and then begin to try the same techniques with colored pencils or markers in their spare time!  

3.  Provide lots of quality art supplies: We are slowly building our arsenal of art supplies.  We have chalk pastels, good quality colored pencils and drawing pencils, glue, scissors, markers, art paper, etc.  I'm hoping to invest in some good watercolors soon.  

4.  Art project "lessons": My aunt is a gifted art teacher and has really blessed our family by doing art projects with them once a week during most of the school year.  My kids love this and look forward to it, and she delves into media and projects that I have not ventured into, such as sculpture, collage, decoupage, and other creative techniques!  I would strongly encourage you to look for someone like that in your circle, and then just ask!  Chances are they would be thrilled at the opportunity to work with your children.

We work art and music appreciation into our morning time rotation.  For the longest time these were things I kept saying I wanted to do, but never actually got around to doing.  I have found that putting them into our morning time plan has made all the difference.  Do we always get to everything on our morning time list?  No, of course not!  Distractions happen, things take longer than we expected, appointments get in the way of our usual schedule...but at least by having a plan we are able to make it happen on a more regular basis!  

So, what does your family include in your music and art appreciation studies?  Have you ever tried taking a field trip to the symphony or art museum?  We would love to hear your ideas as well!