Monday, August 22, 2016

Curriculum: Art & Music

One of the things that really startled me when I began looking into home schooling was that fine art and classical music should be introduced at a young age. For me, art and music consisted of giving my kids a bag of crayons, a stack of coloring books, and popping in a Veggie Tales or Wiggles CD . . . while I, in turn, popped in a pair of ear plugs to avoid insanity.

When I read the chapters on art and music in The Well-Trained Mind, I didn’t know whether I should do the dance of joy or rip the pages from the book and expunge their contents from my mind. On the one hand, the Wise ladies have a point: if you want your kids to appreciate good art and good music, you have to expose them to good art and good music. But to have them sit there and look at a Raphael for ten minutes, or to have them listen to Bach for fifteen? Come on. High culture for my kids has been Stan Lee and Johnny Cash.

Thankfully, Jem was only in kindergarten, and that gave me a year to think about how I wanted to teach art and music. Thanks to Charlotte Mason’s A Philosophy of Education and Elizabeth Foss’s Real Learning, I think I’ve developed a plan . . . at least for this next year. It consists in making fine art and classical music part of their lives.

I don’t particularly care if my first-grader can distinguish a Cezanne from a Van Gogh (though that would be nice) or Bach from Wagner (thought that would be nice, too). More to the point, I don’t want them to think of fine art and classical music as something to be studied; rather, I want it to be part of their life, something they live.

Regarding music -- I decided to forgo “formal” music appreciation and instead play music during meals, in the car, and throughout the day. Also, I decided not to make a big deal about what we were listening to. For example, we might listen to Bach during breakfast, Credence Clearwater Revival over lunch, and Miles Davis at dinner. Good music is good music, whether or not it’s classical, country-rock, or blues. Besides, at some point in time, my kids are going to choose what kind of music they want to listen to, and they'll probably choose some form of popular music; my hope is that by exposing them to Johnny Cash, CCR, The Beatles, Tom Petty, etc., they’ll naturally avoid the schlock that passes itself off as music nowadays. Now if that’s not idealist, tell me what is?

Art is a little bit different. How exactly does one fit art into one's everyday experience. Following The Well-Trained Mind, I decided to join art with my kids study of history. Since we’ll be studying the ancient world this next year, that’s the kind of art we’ll be looking at.

And that’s all we’ll be doing -- looking at it. I have a big, thick, coffee-table book of ancient Egypt, and my plan is to sit down once or twice a week with Jem and let him page through it for fifteen minutes or so. We can talk about it if he wants, but silence is fine, too. Basically my goal, which I learned from Charlotte Mason (though I can’t find the passage at the moment), is to fill my kids head with images of the ancient world so that the ancient world is a real and vivid place for them. And if Jem wants to look at the book on his own, without any guidance from me, then more power to him. In fact, I'm going to encourage him to do so.

That’s basically it for art and music appreciation. It’s pretty simple, and very much part of our everyday life. My goal is simple: good art and good music are not things set apart, things that only stodgy folks like Frasier and Niles Crane enjoy; rather, they are things anyone can enjoy -- indeed, things that enrich our lives.

As far as the practice of art and music goes, that's a bit easier. With art, we'll be using Drawing with Children. I used this a bit last year, but it seemed too advanced for Jem. However, since then, he's attended an art class at a local Michael's (which he loved) and he's asked me several times over the past few weeks when we're going to use "that book that teaches you how to draw lions." So my plan is simple: a "formal" art lesson every two weeks during which I sit down and review the basic strokes with Jem and maybe even give him an assignment.

Anything beyond that would be too much. Jem loves to draw and cut and paint and "do projects," as he says. So a formal lesson every couple of weeks from Drawing with Children joined to the monthly art class at the local Michael's, along with his own proclivity to art, should be enough for him to make solid progress.

I have a fairly strong background in music; I studied classical guitar throughout junior high and high school. When Jem turned seven in December, I'm going to start teaching him the piano. I'm self-taught on the piano, and I know enough about music theory and sound musicianship to lay the foundations. If he really takes to it, then I'll find him a teacher. If not, I'll make him study for two year then drop it.

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