Unit Studies Using Art as the Thread
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By Sharon Jeffus
Many times art is taught in short segments of one perhaps two hours.
A better way to teach art and inspire children to do art and learn
art appreciation, is the immersion of students in a topic in art
for 6 hours or more. A shorter period of 2 1/2 hours would be appropriate
for younger children. Art can be part of each of their core disciplines.
When we give students brief encounters with art and teach it as
a separate subject, we miss the opportunity of teaching by doing
art to enforce the core. If we include science principles with art
projects; history principles with art projects; geography principles
with art projects; English principles with art projects; we end
up teaching important art basics and having our core curriculum
become sheer delight for kinesthetic and visual learners. Learning
through art teaches you to see things from several perspectives.
It is a great way to reinforce other types of learning. We can look
at the St. Louis Arch from an aesthetic point of view, from an engineering
point of view, from a scientific point of view, and from a poetic
point of view.
Art instruction has three main elements. It's important as you
merge your art instruction into your core curriculum that you incorporate
each of these elements. The first element is art appreciation. Children
need to be shown great master works of art in their historical context.
This can be a brief description of the work of art using the vocabulary
of the arts. The second important element in a good art lesson is
just that, the vocabulary of the arts. Each lesson needs to reinforce
vocabulary of the arts such as foreground, background, hot colors,
or cool colors. The last element is the use of a variety of media.
Children should draw, paint, and sculpt. They should be allowed
to use oil and chalk pastels, work with clay and textiles. By planning
to incorporate art in your studies, you can include one or more
of these elements and a core learning principle in art.
There are additional benefits to spending extended time on art.
For example, if you are working on a history based unit study, you
can give your students an opportunity to complete projects and get
a feel for how art was done in the period you are studying. They
can also learn about the science and literature of that time period.
The key to retaining the excitement and interest of children is
to offer a wide variety of activities and media. We do a variety
of day long workshops with students that address various areas of
history and science. A typical day of American History through Art
would begin with a lesson on portrait art. We look at a variety
of art by early American portrait artists Charles
Willson Peale, Gilbert
Stuart and John
Singleton Copley. We notice the way that the portrait art of
Rembrandt and other European master artists has similarities to
early American portrait art. Early American portrait artists studied
the European master artists. We teach the students how to make portraits
and then let them make a picture of George
Washington on black paper using chalk and charcoal pencils.
They learn art history, how to draw a face, and how to use chalk
pastels and charcoal.
Following this lesson, lasting approximately one to two hours,
we show "The
Peaceable Kingdom," and other animals pictures that were
created by Edward Hicks. We then look at a variety of bird paintings
James Audubon. We show the students how to transfer a picture
onto a piece of paper using Audubon's "Pink
Flamingo." We then let them choose any bird they want and
do a picture of it on white paper with oil pastels. We teach them
how to use this medium correctly. For the third hour we look at
a variety of western art by Frederic
Remington and Charles M.
Russell and talk about the great history of Western art. We
draw a horse's head together, learning how to proportion a picture
by sizing one area at a time. Students complete a horse's head from
which they have learned shading, and the use of shadow and texture.
This project is done in pencil.
Following a lunch break, we talk about American
Indians and their art. We show the students how to do coil building
and slab building and let them make a pot out of clay. We talk about
Indian signs and symbols. We then show Indian sand paintings. Students,
then, create their own sandpainting.
You can purchase colored sand at most discount stores. Wal-Mart
usually has some. Cut 4" by 4" squares of foam board
or mat board. Provide diluted white craft glue on disposable foam
plates with brushes for the students. Instruct students to draw
the design in pencil first. Then they need to paint one area of
their design with glue sprinkling one color of sand at a time
on the area of wet glue. Caution students that a line drawing
will not work. Letters need to be doubled and thickened. Put different
colors of sand on separate foam plates. One box of colored sand
purchased at Wal-Mart for $5.00 goes a long way with 30 students.
After sandpainting, we allow students to do a stick weaving. We
show various Indian weaving and talk about balance and the beautiful
symmetry of their designs. We do something similar to a God's
eye using at least three sticks instead of just two. We also
give students feathers and beads. They love this.
We then wind the day up with a lesson on Frank
Lloyd Wright, Louis
Sullivan, and cityscapes. We talk about Sullivan, the father
of the skyscraper and mentor to Wright. We then give students ruler,
pencil, paper, and they learn to do a cityscape from looking down
on the tallest building. city
scape 1, city
scape 2, city
During this day, students have learned a variety of vocabulary
of the arts; experienced different media; seen several master works
of art; and talked about history as well. Students have heard about
art history and seen how it is woven into American history. They
will remember what is taught because they actually were involved
with the projects. It is similar to baking a cake. How much do you
remember when you read a recipe? Now, think how much you remember
when you actually watch the recipe being made. But when you actually
bake the cake yourself, you will always remember the ingredients.
Teaching art using this method is a marvelous tool for making your
children not only remember what you are teaching them; but have
them love every minute of it.
Copyright © 2003 Eclectic Homeschool Association