TOS Crew: Spears Art Studio (K-8)

TOS Crew

Up to now I’ve outsourced hands-on art instruction. We’ve done picture study at home, as suggested by Charlotte Mason, and dabbled with nature notebooks, and learned just a little bit of art history while we were studying the Middle Ages in a small co-op.

But actually doing artwork! I can give you a number of reasons why I haven’t, at least, not at home.

– Academics get in the way. Yup. Sometimes it’s all I can do to make sure that Bible, readaloud and math are covered. It’s been a good day when we’ve done Language Arts, writing, and science or history as well. (We alternate science days and history days.)

– Art is messy. We struggle with disorganization on the best of days. Why add to the chaos?

– I feel inadequate. This is the biggy. I don’t feel qualified to teach art. I can draw, a little. I’ve surprised myself with my nature notebook. But there’s so much to art, and I know so little.

Thus, the outsourcing. We’ve participated in a Friday school that was devoted to fine arts, another Friday school where art was one of the choices, and a weekly homeschool art class. Not all at the same time, mind you! We’ve done a lot with art kits from Walter Foster, and good-quality art supplies, and books from the library that the girls can go through themselves, if they’re motivated. We’ve watched instructional videos and some of those public television shows where an artist paints a picture and demonstrates techniques.

There’s a neat place within an hour’s drive where we like to go on occasion: My Masterpiece Art Studio. This is sort of a playground of art materials. You buy a package (paper, or clay, or paper and clay, are the packages our children usually choose, but there’s lots more to choose from) and with your purchase you have three hours’ access to the studio’s art supplies. There are paints, brushes, pastels, colored pencils, drawing pencils. There are all sorts of tools for working clay (and firing is included in the price, and you can glaze your creations, too). There are instructors who will show you the ropes the first time you’re there, or you can take classes there, too.

It’s the perfect place to go on a rainy day. One aunt gave the girls gift certificates to My Masterpiece for Christmas last year. I think that was their favorite present.

Formal, Guided Art Study at Home?

But formal, guided art study at home? Up until now I didn’t think I could do it.

Being on the TOS Homeschool Crew introduced me to the Spears Art Studio curriculum. For $134.99 you can buy the K-8 or high school package printed out in black and white, in a binder, ready to go, complete with CD-Rom of the same material in color which allows you to print student pages as you need them.  It sounds a little spendy until you consider that it works out to about $15 a year per grade.

If this is not in your budget, don’t despair! You can get the CD-Rom alone for $39.95 and print just the pages you need. That’s a little more than $4 per grade level for a comprehensive teacher’s manual that lends itself to multi-level art instruction with a Christian orientation!

The author sprinkles the pages with her own beautiful artwork, in full color. Even though I printed out most of the instructional pages in black and white — there’s a lot of competition at our house for the computer, so reading off the screen is not the best option for me — I made a point of printing some of the pages in color just because they were so pretty!

Why teach art?

In addition to the art lessons, which I’ll talk about in a minute, there’s a motivational article (“Art is Good for My Brain?”) to help you appreciate the benefits of art in the homeschool. Teacher helps include an introduction aimed at helping you get the most out of the lessons. The author defines terms and discusses various art techniques and media, a sort of overview of how-tos, and tips on care of your art supplies. You’ll also find student evaluation forms and information presented in question-and-answer format. The lessons are organized by monthly (September through May) and weekly themes, and the introduction contains an at-a-glance overview of these, as well as a description of skills addressed in the program.

More teacher’s helps

An extensive scope and sequence is provided in a series of charts broken out by grade level. Within this document you’ll find, organized by weekly theme, objectives both for learning in general and art techniques and topics in specific. You can see at a glance how the art lessons are integrated into other subjects in your curriuculum and also how the lessons fit into national standards for art instruction.

A comprehensive list of supplies is provided in an appendix, with what you’ll need to get started in September highlighted for your convenience. The appendix also has a glossary of art terminology which is very helpful as a quick reference.

“But what about the lessons?”
“But is it doable?”
“But how practical is this course? How well does it lend itself to homeschool?”
“It’s all very well, if you’re an art teacher! But…”

Well-organized lessons

The lessons themselves are well-thought-out, organized by theme. The themes are tied to the seasons; thus you’ll be making valentines one week in February, Advent and Christmas activities in December, leaf studies in the autumn and Easter in the spring. There are also ongoing themes: One that particularly lends itself is a sort of unit study on trees. You’ll read what the Bible has to say about trees, study tree structure, and throughout the year revisit the tree theme to see how the appearance of trees changes through the seasons. Another ongoing theme is Noah and the Ark. You make a giant Ark wall-hanging/bulletin board at the beginning of the year and leave it up for the whole year. There are activities that involve the Ark that are scattered through the course of the school year, a kind of visual representation of the story of Noah.

The lessons are carefully organized. For each week’s theme, there is a page or two of instructions and background for the teacher. The theme is announced, complete with scripture for the theme, art history suggestions (such as images you might be able to get from your local library), and “teacher inspiration.” The latter section outlines teacher preparation for the unit, and gives an outline of related subjects. You may have heard of literature-based or history-based study; you could build an art-based unit study from this material.

Multi-level approach

Lessons are written in a way that they can be adapted to multi-level teaching at home, or a classroom of students. For example, I wouldn’t prepare a transparency for any of my home-based teaching, I’d just print out an example or wall poster to tape on the wall, or perhaps a copy for each of my children to put in their art notebooks. The clearly stated copy permission allows you to purchase one CD-Rom and print materials for classroom use, making this an economical course to use in a co-op setting.

Lessons are broken out by age level. While every age level’s activities are related to the weekly theme, the children might be doing quite different projects. If this is too overwhelming, you can stick with one or two projects and adapt them to fit a wider age range, or you can work intensely with your younger students while your older students follow the printed instructions with minimal teacher input required.

Beauty in all its variety

Colorful examples are provided, and lots of templates for use in the projects. The projects themselves teach a lot of art techniques and use a variety of media.  This isn’t just drawing and painting, it’s torn paper collages and work done in two and three dimensions, sculpting and fabric art, weaving and seed art, and more. Christian concepts are woven throughout. You won’t find secular themes such as Halloween in October.

Adapting the program to fit your homeschool

I have to admit that we have not used the program as written, but have adapted it somewhat. We didn’t buy all the art supplies listed, for example, and have skipped a few activities as a result. We’ve done some of the early elementary (first and second grade) lessons even though our youngest is ten, just because the lesson material was interesting!

Some of the examples are a bit cliched–a tipi (teepee), for example, is used as an illustration in the November unit theme of “our Native American heritage.” However, there’s no reason you can’t seek out and use other illustrations. The author aims at sparking creativity, and is giving you a jumping off place for your own family’s creative endeavors.

You could conceivably go through the Spears Art Studio course every year at a different level, repeating the themes and incorporating different age-level activities as your young artists grow.

With so much packed into this small package, it’s great value for money. Even a non-artistic mom like myself can use it!


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