On September 15th, 2020 was International Dot Day. It is named for the classic Peter H. Reynolds storybook "The Dot". Our family celebrated this special day by doing an Alma Thomas inspired art activity. Alma Thomas (1891-1978) was a black woman artist. Her work lends itself ideally to talk about color theory as well as expressionism in art.
Before getting creative, we looked at some of the later paintings by Alma Thomas. We talked about the interesting way the artist used shapes and colors to create veritable mosaics on paper. My kids were immediately inspired by her pictures and ready to get started with their own.
You do not need any special materials for the project. I still had some cotton canvas and acrylic paint left, so I handed them out for this project. It is, however, equally fine to use regular art paper and tempera paint if that is what you have. The project might even work with watercolors – after all Alma Thomas started out with watercolors – but the pictures will be less bright.
I decided to give the kids minimal instructions and just let them be creative. Instead, I displayed examples of Alma Thomas’ art throughout the project and let them be freely inspired and draw their own interpretations of the artist’s work. As you can see, some adopted the circular patterns while others were inspired by the vertical lines. One kid even let go of the mosaic character and drew some (Kandinsky-like) concentric circles. In the end, every kid was happy with the outcome and the pictures will make some great new decorations for their rooms.
Music is an important element of our creative family life. We all play at least one instrument and we love to listen to all kinds of music. I like to introduce my kids to composers and their music in a holistic way. Thus, right from the very beginning of our homeschool journey, I started the tradition of “monthly composers”. Every month, we choose a composer – sometimes per individual request of a family member, sometimes based on a topic or epoque we are covering in school. We then read and talk about the composer’s life and style and try to listen to his/her music daily. After a while, we start to see patterns and connect specific pieces to a particular composer. There is no better way to train young ears!
This month, our school activities evolved around self-identity and racism. So I looked for classical composers of color and found a great article on Black Composers. I was embarrassed to realize that I had not heard of most of these great artists. It was difficult to choose our composer of the month from so many great options. In the end, I opted for Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges (1745-1799) who lived around the same time as Mozart. Saint-Georges or the “Black Mozart” was the son of a wealthy plantation owner and one of his slaves. He had a successful music career in Europe. In fact, at his time, Saint-Georges was even more popular than Mozart. And Mozart tried to retaliate by creating the intimidating and mean character Monostatos in his now very popular opera The Magic Flute. Talk about a classical example of racism!
Nowadays, the situation has reversed: Mozart is popular and known not only among classical music connoisseurs. Saint-Georges, however, has been almost completely forgotten – none of my musical friends had ever heard of him! So why is this? I think that this may be – again – a consequence of racial bias. Therefore, I encourage you to listen to some of Saint-Georges’ pieces and bring the first classical composer of African origin back into the classical music repertoire of today!
Drawing self-portraits is an important art skill that fosters perception, self-identification, and the ability to transfer observations onto paper. At the same time, making a portrait of oneself can be awkward. Still, as we are talking about racism and self-identity right now, I felt that self-portraits could be a valuable artistic rework of our class discussions. To reduce the internal threshold a little bit, I decided to do expressive self-portraits. I was inspired by a lesson published on Deep Space Sparkle.
We started by preparing the background for the portraits. Everyone could choose one color and we used watercolors for the background. While the watercolors were drying, we took another sheet of paper and drew our portraits using oil pastels. I stressed that these self-portraits were expressive and did not have to be exact replications of the mirror image. In fact, we did not even use mirrors for that class. Instead, the kids could feel free to exaggerate. And this loosened the kids’ artistic inhibition. Even my younger daughter - who normally cannot finish a piece of art on her own because it does not turn out the way she wanted – was in full swing and finished her portrait without any drama. Finally, we cut out the portraits and glued them onto the prepared (dried) background. I encouraged the kids to embellish their artwork with drawings and affirmations. You can see our finished work in the picture above.
Overall, the lesson was a great success. The kids enjoyed being creative. At the same time, they could apply one-to-one our prior discussions and reflections on self-identity. If I did this lesson again, I probably would use the same paper format for background and portrait drawings (we had used regular printer paper for the portraits). What are your experiences with portrait drawing or art projects in your family? Feel free to share them in the comments section! If you would like to discuss specific projects for your family and your needs, check out the coaching I offer.
It has been a periodically recurring discussion in our family whether a particular food we had for dinner was a vegetable or a fruit. In fact, all my kids have asked this question at one point or another. And oftentimes they did not quite believe me when I told them that the tomato that I was cutting for our salad was a fruit.
So, today, during our science lesson we looked at the discrepancy between the scientific definition of a fruit and the common definition of a fruit. I drew some inspiration from the KidsGardening website. The lesson does not need a lot of preparation. I gathered some examples of fruits and vegetable we had in the house and placed them on our kitchen table. At first, our youngest just named what he saw.
Next, we talked about the importance of seeds and how they disseminate. This naturally led to the scientific definition of a fruit as the part of the plant that carries seeds – which would make the tomato a fruit. We then looked at a Supreme Court decision from 1893 (Nix v. Hedden) that distinguished between the botanical and the culinary definition of fruit and determined the tomato to be a vegetable within the meaning of the Tariff Act of 1883. So things are sometimes not as straightforward as one thinks!
Now, it was time to vote. We went through the whole pile of produce in front of us and each of us indicated whether a specific item was a fruit or a vegetable. I emphasized that this was a personal decision. We compiled our results in a table and then drew a Venn Diagram with one circle representing fruit and the other vegetable. In the overlapping section we wrote fruits that are commonly referred to as vegetables.
While this lesson is primarily geared towards early elementary kids, you can easily scale it up for higher grade levels by incorporating more scientific or philosophical elements. And the best part? As an illustration of the smooth transition between fruit and vegetable, you can bake a chocolate zucchini bread together 😉! Enjoy!
This week, our long-awaited student desk chairs arrived and completed our improvised classroom. Now, I can give you a little virtual walk through our small space homeschool.
I have always preferred a separate space for school activities. I know some families perfectly manage to homeschool their kids at the kitchen table (kudos!), but that has never worked for us. Mostly, because sometimes the kids are still working on their projects when it is time for me to prepare lunch or dinner.
You do not need a separate school room (though it can be great for keeping school items in one place). Instead, a designated area where the kids can learn and work is all it takes. Now, in the past, we had a desk per child and we arranged them two by two, forming a rectangle that was conducive to collaboration. Unfortunately, this had two disadvantages: first, the kids had to turn their heads when I explained something to them on the whiteboard; second, desks can be a harbor of too many things stuffed into drawers and then conveniently distracting from school. In other words, the desk interior was always a mess and notebooks, worksheets etc. disappeared into a "black hole". This year, we decided to try something new and I researched student desk-chairs. They finally arrived this week and so far I could not be happier. They are sturdy, prevent the kids from slouching, and you can easily arrange them in whatever constellation you need. Plus, with the little baskets underneath the seats, they provide just enough storage space for books, notebooks and other school materials.
Besides desks/chairs, you do not need too much additional equipment for a successful learning environment. I use a wall-mounted whiteboard when I teach something to the kids. We have a simple printer to print or copy materials (ours only prints in black and white, though sometimes being able to print in color would be great). It is useful to have some kind of organization for the school materials: shelves, bookcases, a cupboard, boxes, you name it! I like to color-code my kids' school supplies: each kid has its own assigned color for notebooks, pens, folders etc. This way there is no discussion as to which item belongs to which kid.
If you are interested to see some more pictures, feel free to visit my Pinterest board!
I hope you found this little "walk-through" helpful. What does your homeschool space look like?
Today was our first day of school after a unusually short summer break. We pretty much started in medias res with math, English, and some discussions on self-identity.
Before we delved into our core subjects, however, we worked on our school memory keepsake books. Every year, the kids note their weight, height, and career aspiration. Then, we take a first day of school picture. Our whole family enjoys referring to these journals and seeing how the kids develop over the years. I for myself wish I had something like that as a kid such that I could share it with my family today.
How do you celebrate your first day of school?
Our family loves doing art together on Sunday. It does not have to be an elaborate project. It does not have to take long. Instead, we just enjoy being creative as a family. The kids are always thrilled to do something with their hands. Yet, also for us adults, art can be the ideal outlet to release some of the stress that has accumulated over the week and we can go back to our work refreshed after just an hour (or even 30 minutes) of creativity.
Today's Creative Sunday project is a garland made out of origami "good luck boxes". My kids love doing origami. It calms them down. And the good thing is, you do not need a lot of supplies. Nor does it create a big mess. We recently bought a new origami kit (see link below). The first instruction was for a "good luck box" and the kids initially struggled with it. Then, once they had figured out how to fold a good luck box, my kids produced a large quantity of such boxes which then littered the whole floor ... and shelves ... and tables ... etc. ... not really a long-term situation! Thus, I suggested that we could make a garland out of the boxes for our "last day of summer break celebration". It was quite tricky to thread the string through the boxes and we needed to tape the the elements of each box together such that they would not fall apart. You can see the end product on the left. Enjoy - and feel free to post about your origami endeavors below!
Everyone needs a pep talk now and then. And kids are no different. So today, my kids worked on their "I've got it" boards inspired by Big Life Journal. The idea is that children prepare a poster with their own achievements, tools, and qualities. After completion, the poster should be hung in a place where it is accessible during moments of low morale or when your child needs a motivational boost.
My kids were initially very excited about making their own posters. Very soon, however, they discovered that it was quite difficult to complete certain sentences. For example, they had trouble describing their own strength and things they could be proud of. Quite surprising to me, as I thought that we would remind our kids daily of their qualities and achievements.
My take-home message then was that while deliberate substantial praise can be an important motivator for your child, your kid should also occasionally be encouraged to reflect on her own strengths. So why not ask your child now and then - during a car ride, at bedtime, or when having a meal together - what she is proud of or what she thinks her strength is. This will initiate a thought-process that will eventually lead to self-motivation and resilience.
Today, was day two of our "Bootcamp" and we talked about setting and achieving goals.
Kids usually have a multitude of externally set "goals": standards they have to fulfill and things they have to learn for school. If things go well, they get gradually led towards achieving these goals through instruction, homework assignments etc. Eventually, they may master the assigned material and, hence, have reached their goal. Unfortunately, the process towards their achievement usually remains rather obscure to most kids. Plus, they might not stand fully behind their goal anyways because it is not intrinsic to them - it is just what is expected of them at their age. The result? A lot of whining, frustration and temptation of giving up.
Therefore, it does make sense to have kids also set themselves their own individual goals - things they would really love to be able to do. The goals do not have to be big or ambitious. In fact, a goal can be as small as being able to fold a particularly difficult origami structure or as big as mastering a challenging cello concerto. What matters instead is to guide your kids in achieving their goal - splitting it into small feasible steps that eventually lead to the desired outcome. Similar to using a ladder to climb onto a tree - without the ladder it is more difficult and can seem unattainable. The ladder helps you to climb onto the first big branch.
By setting and gradually working towards their own goals, kids acquire an important tool for becoming successful students, adults, and world citizens.