Wonder in the Woods

Living and Learning in the Pacific Northwest

How We Do CM Part 1

After a rocky start, we successfully completed our first term this year!  This year started with me recovering from homeschool burnout and almost throwing in the towel.  My friend Liz saved the Charlotte Mason co-op by hosting it at her house for the month of September.  Liz convinced me that we could mesh the educational needs of our four children, who are at various levels, into one cohesive school that meets one day per week.  Meg joined us in October after several conversations and a couple of meet-ups.  Meg is already using this method of learning at home.

We started with a few more families in the co-op, which turned out to be too many for my space.  I also felt that I wasn’t communicating effectively.  I do believe this is why local co-ops don’t survive.  It takes a lot of finesse to get everyone on the same page.  I would caution anyone starting a co-op to start very small to avoid hurt feelings, or conflicts with method or scheduling/availability.  I thought we could manage this like our 4H group, but there is a big difference between a class for 1.5 hours and learning all day.  Four to six children is a good number for a new co-op.  When I first dreamed of a Charlotte Mason School, I had ideas about moving to a larger space and expanding.  Now I cannot imagine growing, but I know there is a great need for co-ops like this in our area.   Maybe when my children are grown I can revisit this idea.  I thought I would share how we do our co-op, so others might start their own.  This is also a record of our progress.

It took some fine tuning and we changed around the order of our subjects, how we teach them, who leads them, and we also changed a couple of the resources.  This requires open-communication and a willingness to be flexible.  You might hear from the other moms that your child is disruptive,or that someone else’s child is further ahead and needs more of a challenge than your child.  You might hear someone question, “What is the point of all this?”  A willingness to encourage the growth of all the children and consider the needs of everyone is a must.  We must see the strengths and weaknesses of all the children and ourselves.  This is how we learn.

Poetry:  The kids did not love Emily Dickenson.  I think one child did, but it fell flat with at least half of the class.  I am constantly reminded of something Charlotte Mason said.  She said {paraphrasing} if the class cannot narrate the book, then it is the wrong book.  We switched to Jack Prelutsky which increased their interest and enjoyment in poetry!  Prelutsky is silly but I would not call his work twaddle. The word-play is challenging, fun and within reach for this group of kids, whereas the deeper meaning of Emily Dickenson was lost at this age/level.  Now the kids eagerly recite or read the poetry aloud in class.  It is a favorite subject.  We plan to study Prelutsky a while longer.  We are thinking of studying Shel Silverstein or Christina Rossetti next.

Poetry method:  The kids take turns memorizing and reciting a poem or two, or a child can read a poem or two instead.  Most of the kids are also developing their read-aloud skills.  We spend about 15 minutes on poetry, depending on the enthusiasm. If we have time, we let them pass the books around and read more.  One day we also read a very short “living” bio of Emily Dickenson.  I tried to find one that is interesting and not just filled with facts and dates.  We need to find a bio for Prelutsky.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI love that Hunter went from boredom with poetry to “on the table” enthusiasm.

Art — Beginning Drawing:  We tried teaching drawing on our own and that didn’t work. The kids tried “The Fundamentals of Beginning Drawing” DVD with Barry Stebbing, then they tried Mark Kistler’s drawing classes available on the internet.  The kids all liked Mark Kistler the best.  My boys said they can’t draw and didn’t want to try at first.  Hunter’s first drawing was a few blades of grass reluctantly drawn with a black pen.  He made this drawing 4 weeks later.  We highly recommend Mark Kistler.


Art method:  We set up a laptop near the table with speaker accessory to amplify the sound.  The kids watch the lesson and draw with #2 pencils or charcoal pencils, paper stomps and good quality paper and erasers.  We pause the video upon request.  The kids do the main lesson that teaches specific drawing concepts, and then an extra fun lesson if we have enough time.  Liz printed some helpful visual materials to help them learn art terms like “foreshortened” and “perspective.” We schedule 45 minutes for art.  At the end of the lesson, each child’s art goes into their 3-ring binders.  We started with beginning drawing then we will do dry brush painting with the expectation that the kids will have the skills to draw or paint in their nature journals.  We hope they learn to enjoy adding to their nature journals.

Picture Study: The kids LOVE picture study! We started with Monet and finished 8 paintings in 8 weeks.  I am sorry now that we did not read “The Story of Claude Monet” that came with this Picture Study Portfolio.  Now we are studying Van Gogh Taschen Portfolio and on the first day we read “Van Gogh (Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists)” by Mike Venezia.  Some of the famous artists’ lives are quite tragic and Venezia made light of some of Van Gogh’s troubles.  I have mixed feelings about his jokes and told the kids that Van Gogh was likely mentally ill.  The book tells that he cut off his ear and committed suicide.  I liked the other cartoons and jokes in the book.  All in all, I feel the book created more interest (and understanding) in Van Gogh’s work.  I wish we had done more background on Monet because I already feel more interest in Van Gogh based on my reading and knowing his back-story.  Recently, I read this article about Van Gogh’s paintings and what the art world considers to be controversial — “Copy” or “Masterpiece?”

van-gogh-large-plane-trees-road-menders-at-saint-re-my-1889-the-cleveland-museum-of-art_customVincent van Gogh, The Large Plane Trees (Road Menders at Saint-Rémy), 1889

van-gogh-the-road-menders-1889-the-phillips-collection_custom-bVincent van Gogh, The Road Menders, 1889

Picture Study Method:  I select one painting for the day and read the name of it. The children stare at the picture for a couple of minutes and try to memorize all the details.  This helps train their observation skills and critical thinking skills.  One child takes basic, one-letter notes to remember.  When everyone says they are ready, I look at the painting (facing away from the children).  Taking turns, usually youngest to oldest, they tell me everything they noticed about the painting, their impressions and feelings about it too.  I nod encouragingly.  This is hard!  When someone finishes telling, they can stand quietly behind me and look at the painting while others have a turn. Liz keeps the painting to display in her home for the week.

The children’s observations truly astound me.  They make comments like, “The sky looks like it is painted with quick, short brush strokes.”  “It appears that the trees are just outside the window because a greenish-yellow light is coming through the window.”  Another child will say, “It also appears it is raining because the colors are running down the window.”  They notice the weather, the sun’s position, the light, and draw conclusions about the time of day and mood of the painting.  They have great ideas about the indistinct shapes in the painting that make us all think more about the painting.  Upon finding a book about Monet, Liz showed her kids what she thought was the “Woman with Parasol” painting by Monet.  Her kids told her all the reasons why is not the same painting.

Woman-with-a-Parasol-by-MonetThis is the one we studied.

~ This post is gigantic and I need a break.  More tomorrow….

Editing to add:

Our next artist will likely be studied from a beautiful calendar.  We can get 12 pictures instead of 8.  Our local Book Bin has many calendars from various artists and we can browse together before deciding on the next artist. We will cut the calendar apart to make individual pages. The paper is not as heavy as the other two resources, but could be reinforced and matted with scrapbook cardstock.  This would also increase the cost, unless you use the same matting for every picture, which we can easily do.

I love the Taschen Portfolios (14 pictures — 15.5 x 12 in. on nice, heavy paper) but they vary in price. I wish I’d bought more of them 5 years ago when I saw them at B&N. These are frame worthy, but harder to find.

The Simply Charlotte Mason Picture Study Portfolios (8 pictures 8 1/2 x 11 size on nice, heavy paper) are very nice too and come with a little booklet about the artist and how to do picture study, etc.  They are a decent size to put on display in the home too.




3 comments on “How We Do CM Part 1

  1. Pingback: How We Do CM Part 2 | Wonder in the Woods

  2. Pingback: How We Do CM Part 3 | Wonder in the Woods

  3. Pingback: How We Do CM Part 4 | Wonder in the Woods

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This entry was posted on November 4, 2013 by in Art, Artist, Books, Charlotte Mason, CM School, Habits, Picture Study, Poetry.



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