Category Archives: art

World Nutella Day, and some projects

Oh my gosh, has it really been more than 2 weeks since my last post? Too many things happening.

Want proof?

Since last posting about Project Based Homeschooling I took some time to make some space for creative activity around the house. I confess, I did not do as much as I’d hoped. I moved some furniture around in the breakfast nook to make the shelves more accessible, and I labeled all the cups holding the pens and pencils and sorted them by type.

These are two of my favorite projects that have appeared since then:

Project Based Learning 2

I came into the kitchen to find Victoria, my youngest, painstakingly painting old seashells with paints she found in the shelves somewhere. To be honest, I don’t know how she found either of them or what made her think of putting the two together, but there it is.

Project Based Learning 2

This is Violet, my older, preparing to sew. She loves the webcomic Homestuck, because she is 1) an aspiring comic artist and 2) a teen. She found the hat-making tutorial, made a list of what she needed, and then dove in. She even made the horns (see below) twice, because she didn’t like the first set. And she did it cheerfully. And all I did was drive to the fabric store because I still don’t really know how to run the sewing machine. I’d venture to say this is the first time she’s used the sewing machine in 2 years, and that was for a pillowcase.

Project Based Learning 2

Every time I say to myself “why is she unmotivated?” I need to look at this picture. (And every time the kids give me crap about taking their pictures, I’m going to say that Lori Pickert said I should — though they won’t believe it because I’ve always taken too many pictures.)

Project Based Learning 2

I’ve also cleared the decks to do Journey North with Victoria, which we’ve never done before. I’m being sensible and letting someone experienced show me the way, following along with Melissa Wiley. This is the kind of project-y stuff that always screams “homeschooling” to me — working together, combining disciplines, posting up cool graphs on the fridge. I have no real educational aim in doing it except increasing my joy in homeschooling by participating rather than directing.

Project Based Learning 2

With joy as our goal, how could we resist World Nutella Day, which is apparently a real thing. (There is Nutella inside those whipped-cream covered crepes.) Appropriately, a friend sent me a message today with this quotation attached:

Life is meant to be a celebration! It shouldn’t be necessary to set aside special times to remind us of this fact. Wise is the person who finds a reason to make every day a special one.

So we make crepes, or hats, or painted shells, and I try to get comfortable with nudging that towards the center of our day instead making it stay on the margins. I’m still adjusting, leaving more of my own work until late at night now, which means it doesn’t get done or it gets done very slowly. Still, I make myself sleep in and whenever possible try not to push us very quickly in there mornings. There are only so many days to take fuzzy good-morning pictures like this:

Project Based Learning 2

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Filed under art, Homeschooling, homeschooling high school, raising girls, Unschoolish

New Year’s Learning Notes

And we are back to school, whatever that means right now. (Longer post required)

For Victoria, who is 9, she likes the reliability of subjects that we do regularly. Math, history, and French. But she also likes to make, and do, and sing. I am in love with the Klutz paper dresses kit she got for Christmas — she cracked that thing open and started making the most adorable little outfits you ever saw. After the first one was a little crooked, she had the concept down and there was no stopping her.

Totes Adorbs

Totes Adorbs

It’s so funny, because she also recently started participating in a little engineering club (BEST — Bridging Engineers Science and Teaching — ps can we agree no word-person was consulted in the formation of that acronym?) and she is so intimidated. How can a child who figured out, after about 2 minutes of advice from a Sewing Idiot (i.e., me), how to draw and cut out her own sewing patterns on paper by measuring a doll form and calculating seam allowances, cut out the fabric pieces, and sew them together feel intimidated by a few wheels and a battery-operated motor? And for that matter, why is attaching a motor to some wheels “engineering” while navigating the complexities of constructed clothing is “crafty girl stuff”? (Longer post required)

will sell for 2 dollars (observe the giant Tardis that has come to Hogwarts)

will sell for 2 dollars (observe the giant Tardis that has come to Hogwarts)

Violet, 13, is just drawing and drawing, lots of sketches for a webcomic she is plotting. She has memos on her phone and text files on the computer–the planning, I think, is the best part. Apart from the drawing.

Drawn on the computer/tablet

Drawn on the computer/tablet


She continues to study Chinese and linguistics in a pretty-much self-guided way. She’s staying with her chemistry course and keeps saying she wants take AP Physics next year. (Apparently physics will be “easy” because studying chemistry is so incredibly painful and physics is fun.)

And — knock me over with a feather — she said to me yesterday, “I think I need to start doing some math. I feel lazy not doing any math.” She has not formally “done math” in quite a while. Last year she was taking both physics and chemistry, and that seemed like enough math for any 12yo who doesn’t really love math. This year she was perfunctorily working through some geometry but we abandoned that — the level of perfunct seemed to guarantee that next to nothing was going to be retained anyway. One thing we are learning is that there is a degree of presence required, not only from her, but from me, to make things happen. Oddly, trying to be more unschooly seems to require more presence — of a certain sort — from me rather than less. (Longer post required)

We haven’t yet figured out what “doing math” will be. She wants to review before starting the Thinkwell Precalculus we bought, and maybe in the end we’ll put that aside for something else anyway. In any case the next two months, for her, will be all about Julius Caesar, her first performance in a Shakespeare play, unless you count the staging of parts of Midsummer Night’s Dream we did during her 9th birthday party. And all about drawing.

Experimenting with the new markers

Experimenting with the new markers

Throw in some fencing for Victoria and piano for both girls and lots of reading and trying to get some outdoor time in the winter and we are full-on back to something is that not quite vacation, even if it isn’t really school.

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Filed under art, gifted education, Homeschooling, homeschooling high school, raising girls, Unschoolish

Closing Doors

[in mid-November DH and I sent the kids to the grandparents and went on a short European tour of Zurich, Vienna, and the Czech Republic. I took way too many pictures of doors.]

Even the most relaxed homeschooling parents usually still have some bottom line subjects they insist on, or a level of competence they expect no matter what.

Often we talk about this in terms of keeping doors open. A kid who says “but when will I ever really use algebra?” is likely to grow up and a) want to go to college and quite possibly b) go into a field in which solid math skills are necessary.

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[These were in the back of the Spilberk Castle in Brno. I especially liked the hinges.]

Sounds reasonable so far.

But then the questions come: How long do you hold the doors open for your kids before you let them close? How many doors can you keep open at once? For parents of kids with multiple interests and multiple talents, stretching far enough to keep all the doors open starts to feel like spinning too many plates. So which doors do you keep open?

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[The door on the left is from the Einsiedeln Abbey in Switzerland; the door on the right is from the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul in Brno.]

Math is a big one for most families. “Math is cumulative,” people say. Slack off for a bit and that lost time will come back to bite you later. For some “English” is big: spelling, grammar, vocabulary building.

As we move further along the relaxed spectrum, and as my 13yo reaches high school transcript age, this is a big question for me: Am I keeping the doors open? What doors am I closing?

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[More castle doors in Brno. There must have been quite an artisan in the area at some point in the castle’s long history.]

So far I’ve figured out two things:

1. At a certain point, it’s no longer my job to keep the door open. That feeling that I am stretching too far probably means that I am stretching too far. I’ve shown the kid the door, I’ve made my best argument for why we should leave it open, but I just can’t make someone walk through. Anyway, most doors that have closed can be opened again by a motivated young adult.

2. There are more doors than you think. I have to say, I have never heard anyone argue, “I insist on my child continuing music lessons because I want to keep the door to a musical career open.” No parent has ever told me, “I told my child to spend lots of time role playing, because I want to keep the door open for a career as a novelist, playwright, or actor.” Aren’t drawing skills cumulative too?

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[I want this for my garage.]

I suppose it’s easy to argue that if a kid is “really passionate” or if it’s “meant to be” she will find a way. One could argue that math is a door you have to keep pushing open for them; art is a door they will run through at every opportunity.

But hogwash, to put it mildly. A kid who’s keeping every door open doesn’t have that many opportunities. She’s too busy scraping herself like butter over too much bread. And some kids know very clearly that some doors lead to parental (or social) admiration and support, while others are for lesser minds and also-rans. In other words, there is a point at which insisting that some doors stay open means that others close.

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[The Grossm√ľnster in Zurich; Spillberk in Brno. The Grossm√ľnster door at least is relatively recent: no doubt Zwingli and Bollinger would not have approved.]

Careers in the arts are incredibly competitive — that’s what makes them so scary to parents who want their children to grow up and support themselves. All the time that goes into building a robust Plan B, however, is time that is not going into developing a craft. And whether either or both of our kids have careers in the arts, they’ll likely find that having some fluency in a creative medium makes life a lot better.

I can’t say that I feel totally confident about moving in a more unschooly direction: blog posts like this are about convincing myself, not necessarily sharing my brilliant insights with the world. But I can’t say that I felt totally confident about the path we seemed in danger of starting down: relegating genuine talents and passions to the back burner in order to be sure our homeschooling met some made-up definition of “college prep” — to say nothing of what happens to our relationships and quality of life along the way.

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[Doors to one of the many art museums in Vienna, nearly three stories high; a yarn-bombed door on an office building in Brno.]

I am curious, though, whether we’ll eventually find out that “keeping the door open” has been an insufficient metaphor all along.

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Filed under art, education, Homeschooling, homeschooling high school

Setting Up

It’s always my hope that homeschooling — contrary to expectations — brings us closer to the “real world” and gives the kids more chances to do “real work.”

Of course the world of visiting grandparents or spending hours drawing is real, at least as real as the world of the desk. But what I look for is opportunities to participate in the wider world in some meaningful, uncanned way — something that hasn’t been cooked up “for kids.”

This is harder than you’d think — most people just don’t know what to do with a teenager who’s available in the middle of the day, other than ask them to babysit. (Which mine does, BTW . . .)

This was basically the overflow of the massive collection of crates.

In any case, we got a chance yesterday. Our parish has a commitment to “sacred arts,” meaning that we host multiple exhibits throughout the year. Next week the biggest one we’ve ever hosted will begin. There were crates on crates on crates to unpack, display hardware to assemble, and lots of signage to set up.

A man said “I have job for you” with some kind of European accent, handed us a screwdriver and a hex key, and put us to work. We spent two hours at the back of the church putting together signs, while a team of workmen hung giant paintings from iron bars along the sides of the sanctuary and the artist herself moved among us, giving further instructions. My daughter, who balks at unloading the dishwasher Every.Single.Day despite it being her job for the last several years, approached this fiddly task with delight and a surprising level of focus.

Sweet rewards.

I wish I had time to write the essays in my head about the impact of getting a behind the scenes look at the world of a working artist, not just for the aspiring teen artist but for non-artists who think that art just happens without skill or labor. I’d like to talk more about homeschooling as life, not just preparing for life.

But in reality I really want to avoid letting weeks go by before I post again, so that will have to keep percolating. Just take my word for it — we had an inspiring afternoon that made homeschool a teen seem a little less crazy. We fell into this little gig almost accidentally — surely there are more. I was so delighted with our good fortune and her good work that I only laughed when she told me that she “forgot” to order her massive Mint Condition Cooler as decaf. (And she bought it with her babysitting money.)

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Filed under art, Homeschooling, Twin Cities

Real Work

Beatles, Ponies, and the Doctor keep watch
My daughter can draw. I mean, she can really draw. We can imagine all kinds of cool things in her future: graphic novels, comic books, video game art, illustration.

But we all know what happens to kids who grow up doodling in their chemistry notebooks and dreaming of being an artist — life happens. The day job becomes the career, and art becomes a hobby or maybe just a spectator sport. While the high school football player sits on the sofa with nachos and ESPN, the high school artist goes to museums and browses the art supply store. I know how I’d rather spend the afternoon, and I can’t even draw, but still . . .

This was the story I heard, anyway, and I’m sure there is a lot of truth in it. But I also know that when you put all your energy into weaving the safety net and writing Plan B, Plan A withers a little.

So while Violet was gone we set her up a little drawing space. Apart from the practical considerations of stopping her contorting her body in weird ways to draw in really uncomfortable places, I hope it tells her that someone takes her art seriously, and that she can take it seriously too. I hope it’s one more concrete way we let her know that in this house we value creativity, art, and the love of making stuff at least as much as we value AP and SAT II exams.

Are we preparing her for the real world? In twenty years, no one will even know where to find her SAT II scores — and between us, no, she won’t remember calculus — but what she does at that table will still be with her.

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Filed under art, education