Doing the impossible: Teaching Art Appreciation to a 5-year old and a 10-year old

know it sounds impossible – but I actually pulled this off. You know how half the time, well ok for me it feels like most of the time, I feel like I strike out more often than I hit a home run. I hear myself saying more often than I care to admit “Well, that didn’t go as well as planned.” But this time? This time I hit it out of the park.

It began when my mother told me about an exhibit going on in San Francisco: Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne, and beyond at the de Young Museum. I rushed right over to my computer and bought tickets for Sam, the kids, my parents, and me before I even thought twice about it. Then of course it dawned on me that spending the afternoon in a crowded museum, looking at old pictures on the wall probably wasn’t going to be the most fun the kids ever had. So I came up with a plan. I would make it into a game.

As luck would have it, my parents had plans to go to this exhibit two weeks before. So I asked her, as she went through, to make notes of a few of the paintings in each room, so we could later develop a “scavenger hunt” – age appropriate for a 5 year old and another for a 10 year old. (Ok, yeah, my mom did a good part of the hard work here – I still think this was a huge success).

The day of our tickets to see the exhibit, we came armed with two clipboards and two pencils. For Zach, the questions were basic enough: Find a painting with a golden vase. Find a painting of a cow. etc. It was challenging enough and he really enjoyed it. The only difficulty we had was really thanks to the crowd.

(On a side note: I’m a bit frustrated and annoyed with the museum. They’re very clear that they don’t want people bringing sketchpads, because to have people standing there sketching the pictures would “slow the flow of traffic throughout the exhibit” – and yet, they push the purchase of these audio tours that has everyone walking around the rooms like drones at a snails pace (or rather standing there FOREVER listening to the audio tour) rather than actually moving on through. I really would have preferred a time when NO ONE was using an audio tour – I think it would have gotten people moving more so I could have actually gotten within a few feet of a painting, instead of standing on my tip toes trying to get a peek from behind twenty people.)

Anyway, thankfully the kids were small, and my goal had shifted from wanting to see the paintings to wanting my kids to enjoy the experience. So I stood way in the back and sent Zach down underneath to sneak up to the front (all grownups who could easily see over him) so he could get a close look at the painting.

Can I tell you how proud I was to see him go up to the painting – point at it excitedly and tell me he found the painting of =whatever we were looking for=. People looked amazed that this little kid was actually excited to be there. Excited to be looking at the paintings. (Between you and me, so was I! LOL!)

Scattered within the scavenger hunt were a few “Which is your favorite painting in the room? Why is this your favorite?” or “How does this painting make you feel?”

Rachel’s was a little harder “Find a painting that shows 6 smoke stacks? Who painted it?” “Who painted a picture of a circus in this room” “Name 3 paintings by Henri Seurat (in this room)”

Rachel, who thought the whole scavenger hunt thing was beneath her before we started, really got into it once we were there. I came to find out that she had very specific and sometimes surprising opinions about the paintings.

Now here’s the best part. Aside from the fact that we got through the entire exhibit without a single meltdown – I considered it enough of a win. But then something happened tonight that just totally sealed the deal. My mother had bought a coloring book that had paintings from the museum in it for you to color. Zachary was playing with it after dinner – found one of the paintings and said “I remember this one! This one was on my checklist!… This one too! This is the one of the man fishing!”

It’s out of the park! 😀

The Reading Game – iPhone App

TGo download it and check it out! Here’s some info sent to me by the developer:

First of its Kind: Rewards and Tracking as Kids Read Their Books

Parents Can Give Their Child the Gift of Reading

Just in time for summer reading assignments! The Reading Game makes reading books more exciting and fun than ever before. With over 100 rewards to unlock, this game transforms daily reading into kids’ favorite thing. It is simple and easy to use.

Students are already hooked on technology. Now they can harness that energy to prevent the summer slide that causes them to shed their academic skills. This new game encourages students to read every day, to track their reading and be rewarded every time they read.

This app was designed to sustain and improve youngsters’ academic skills. The Reading Game provides the incentive to read more books and receive immediate rewards.

Using The Reading Game, kids can unlock special characters such as the parachuting squirrel, the cute puppy, the weight-lifting robot, the guitar-playing penguin, the surfing alien, and the water-skiing mouse. After they enter the names and total pages of their books, The Reading Game keeps track of the pages they have read and unlocks their rewards. There are over 100 appealing sound effects and songs to unlock as the user reads. While viewing their rewards, users can shake and tilt their phones or iPads to create wild sound effects.

• Offers over 100 animations.
• Offers over 100 sounds and songs.
• Responds to shaking and tilting with original sounds from the sound rewards.
• Calculates how many pages are left to read.
• Displays the percentage of the book that has been completed.
• Keeps track of the reader’s current page like a bookmark.
• Tracks reading progress with as many books as the user likes.

You can find more info and videos on their site here.

The Reading Game: FREE!*

*Price at time of this post.

Any teachers out there?

There’s this great program that they do in Rachel’s school called “Art Through The Ages.” It’s completely run and taught by the PTA and the idea behind the program is to teach kids both history, and art history, while also giving them an art class. The time period is discussed along with what things were happening in the world and a particular region at that time, art during that time frame is shown and discussed, and then the kids get a chance to try their hands at creating similar art using similar methods from the time. Rachel loves the program. She comes home and tells me all about what she learned, and what she made.

This year I offered to help. Honestly, I really didn’t think they’d need me or that they’d pick me to lead the lesson. I thought maybe there were better trained people and I would just be helping them. I chose the Renaissance time period. Yesterday we had the training, and I found out that, in fact, *I* will be leading the lesson. (There was someone listed as being available to help me – but I haven’t heard from them).

So the history portion (as far as I understand it! Someone PLEASE correct me if I’m wrong!) talks about the shift from God-centered thinking and artwork, to human-centered. People sent less money to Rome to the Church. Because of the bubonic plague, there were just less people around in general, which meant less famine, less (business) competition and a “middle class” rose into being that had more expendable money. Some of this money was spent on the arts; Music, plays, artwork. Artists could make a living on their craft – and this gave rise to an explosion in creativity.

This is the point that we’re supposed to do an activity with the kids to get them to “feel like they’re in this time” – and unfortunately the activity just made no sense to me. The activity they had revolved around having a few kids pick a “job” (for example: corn farmer) and having them set a price for their product – and would the rest of the class pay that much, (if there’s just one corn farmer – do you have much choice) – and then if there are more corn farmers – how does their competition and price change.

I just don’t get the connection between that activity and the Renaissance. There’s got to be another activity (non-art-related – that comes later) that can give them a better understanding of the time period. Unfortunately, I’m on my own if I want to try something different (which we’ve been given the freedom to do) but aside from the fact that I 1) suck at public speaking even in front of kids! and 2) suck at teaching in general – WHAT?! What do I do??

The ART portion of the lesson I think I can do (or at least do better than what is planned for the HISTORY portion) – I’ll be covering the new concepts that came about during the Renaissance such as “vanishing points”, “foreshortening”  – I can show paintings during the Medieval time and compare that with paintings during the Renaissance. I can show how vanishing points work – etc. Then the kids are to try their hands at creating a “fresco” (which actually isn’t really a fresco – from what I understand – fresco means painting on WET plaster – secco is painting on dry plaster. Most FRESCO’s were a combination of fresco and secco because while the fresco had more permanence, the colors couldn’t be as vibrant – so most artists went back over their fresco and added details with the more vibrant colors – secco) The kids will be painting on DRY plaster. (Do I bother to explain the difference between fresco and secco? They didn’t even mention it in the training and just said the kids will be doing a fresco – which is wrong!)

But what about the HISTORY portion? Any ideas? Any resources? (I could use more painting samples too – any websites out there that have a lot of examples I can show the kids?) (I should probably add that this is for a 4th grade class)

Man, I am NEVER doing this again!!! There’s a VERY GOOD reason I don’t homeschool – I absolutely SUCK at this!

Writing practice and connecting with your child (a two-fer)

I met up with a some women from my moms group last night, one of whom is a Kindergarten teacher. Some of us brought a few things to work on while we chatted, she was grading some papers from school. She was laughing at a note from one of her students and I asked her about it. Apparently, as an exercise in her class, to have the kids practice writing, they write notes back and forth to her. She said sometimes she’ll ask them a question, like “what is your favorite color” and they’ll answer and write her back and ask her a question – and the back and forth goes on like this. She said she also encourages the parents to do the same – to write what she calls “pillow notes” – little notes that ask a question and encourage the child to write something back.

I thought this was such a cute idea. And even though Rachel is now in 4th grade – her handwriting could use some work. I know she loves writing and drawing little things for Sam and me – so I had an idea on a way to expand on my friend’s pillow-note idea…

I’ve decided to get a notebook/diary – in which both Rachel and I will write to each other. That way not only does she get to practice writing, but we also get to keep a log of the “conversation.” I’ll write and ask her a question, and leave the notebook in her room – and then she can write me something in the notebook and leave it for me to find. I think this will be a great way to connect with her AND get her to practice writing!