“Don’t turn on the news and kiss my babies for me.” My entire perspective changed with that one phone call. Almost two thousand innocent people lost their lives that Tuesday morning; what if one of them had belonged to me?
We had only been homeschooling a few weeks. I had read every homeschooling book I could get my greedy little hands on. I had a plan, and my plan included an hour of SAT test practice every day of high school. I was certain that high test scores combined with a solid early foundation would ensure my children’s success.
But what if?
What if it had been one of them? What if their lives had been severed that morning?
What if I did everything the experts encouraged? What if I planned every moment of their lives in preparation for that perfect test score, that coveted acceptance letter, that full ride — but their lives were cut short? It happens every day. Teenagers die of illness or car accidents all too often, right at the moment when they are to reap the rewards of all their labors.
I made a promise that day. I would not sacrifice my children’s childhood preparing them for an adulthood that may never come.
My goal was no longer to give them a successful future life. I wanted to give them a beautiful current one. We skipped school that day. Instead, we spent the day in the sunshine, on the patio, painting Halloween decorations on wooden boards we hauled out of the trash. As the children painted, I thought about my promise. I could never forgo Latin and Logic and books by the greatest writers who ever lived. What could be more beautiful than those?
I could balance them, though. I could fill our days with meaningful work,
and healthy food,
time with family
and time with friends.
Almost thirteen years later, I have graduated two children and have another with one foot out of the door. It’s time to evaluate my methodology: Have I reached my goals?
“Are you doing what you want, Sweetheart? Are you happy?”
“Yes, Mom, very.”
*featured photo by Gretchen Phillips*
Genevieve–is a former public and private school teacher who has five children and has been homeschooling for the past thirteen years. In her free time she provides slave labor to Dancing Dog Dairy, making goat milk soap and handspun yarn, which can be seen on Our Facebook Page and at Dancing Dog Dairy .
Stratford Caldecott in his book Beauty in the Word renames the Trivium’s Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric as Remembering, Thinking, and Communicating. Or Jenny Rallens in her video The Liturgical Classroom and Virtue Formation uses Lectio, Meditatio, Compositi and talks about the idea of Compositi being ‘honey making’.
Both Communicating and Compositi are creative.
As I was thinking about these ideas and remembering Bloom’s Taxonomy, I was getting excited about creative projects I could bring into my homeschooling! I’m a creative person; I could totally think up projects for each subject that would segue well with what my kids were studying. Unit studies, lap books, crafts! But the more I thought about that, I started to wonder, is that really the type of creativity that Bloom’s Taxonomy is speaking about? Is that true Communication and Compositi?
If I make a project for my children to use with their homeschooling, who is being creative? Me? And am I dragging them through something that doesn’t add anything to their learning?
I had already done that a few times by following a few other curricula, and what I learned that no matter what the projects were, my kids forgot them. I came to the conclusion that the only person being creative in these situations was me. It was another moment for me to realize that homeschooling is not about me, what I want to do, or what I think is fun. It’s about what is best for them, how they learn, and even if writing out Latin words in Light Bright pegs on a rainy afternoon sounds like fun to me, my kids might not think so.
I had circled back to my first question: How do I foster this top tier of creativity in my children? Is this even compatible with classical home schooling? And then I thought about when I had seen it in my children. After a semester on poetry (and years of poetry copywork), one of my daughters started writing her own poetry, without any prompting from me. Another had written her own poem and made a cross-stitched picture of it. My sons loved drawing their own comic strips and I had seen what they had learned in our medieval studies making their way into the strips. Another son used what he learned in the poetry semester to write music and obtain a merit badge. All of this was totally unprompted by me.
What I had given them was the scaffold to be creative. I taught them the skills (rhyme and meter) and gave them the tools (hearing poetry and a deep well of ideas).
Now, how can I more purposely build a scaffold, and foster even deeper creativity? What kind of schoolwork is making the creativity for them, and what type of schoolwork is giving them the ability to create with the skills and tools they’ve learned? What type of schoolwork enables them to behold glory and represent that glory in their own medium?
Something I am going to be trying is Charlotte Mason’s Book of Centuries. I recently read one of the best books on Charlotte Mason’s practices that I have ever read, aside from Charlotte’s own series, titled The Living Page by author Laurie Bestvater. It is a book I am going to tell everyone about. What seemed like a murky idea in Charlotte’s books that I never quite understood, Laurie has teased out with a lot of research and devotion to her task, and she writes about it with eloquence.
Why the book of Centuries, The Nature Notebook, a Commonplace Book, and a Timeline Notebook? Because they are scaffolds. Here are the tools and here are the directions, but the end product is fully up to the student. It is about what they have assimilated through their reading and learning, and taken as their own to be expressed on paper as only they can.
As an artist, a blank canvas can be intimidating. How much easier if the art teacher tells you to draw a still life in monochromatic colors, or complimentary colors? The notebooks have rules to follow which give the child support, and parameters. Freedom to create comes with parameters.
If you do narrations with your children, you have provided the skills, and the tools, you built the scaffold, and the narration is the creativity. The picture narration your child draws is the creativity. But you have also given the scaffold. You have read a story — the child is supplying an oral narration on that story. Or the child is giving a picture narration of the story. You’re not handing them a blank page and telling them to create. You’re not creating for them, and asking them to somehow ingest that lesson as their own.
This is something that I am going to be checking myself with from now on. Have I given them the skills? The tools? Have I built the scaffold? Or have I created something for them and asked them to fill in the blanks? I need to keep reminding myself that this is not about me, this homeschooling journey is about them. My job is to build the scaffold.
Briana Elizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.
Inspiring creativity in our children can be intimidating for some families. Many have no idea where to begin, or believe that since they aren’t artistic or crafty themselves, that they have no way to pass creativity on to their own children.
It can be done, and should be done. It will look differently in every home, but it begins with the same idea: exposing your children to the creative side of life.
This is what it looked like in our home when our girls were small.
Outdoor free play was important. Sometimes it was making a train out of lawn chairs. Sometimes it was filling buckets full of earthworms or cardboard cities in the back yard.
Music was vital. We listened to all types of music, sang songs and danced around. They made noise, played on instruments, and made up songs. Growing up, they knew the sounds of Bach, the Wiggles, the Beatles, Union Station, Guns and Roses and Norah Jones.
Our home was imagination friendly. As long as they weren’t overly destructive, or in danger, they had the freedom to play. As you can see in the photo below, we had all sorts of things accessible, even as toddlers and preschoolers. The desk and drawers were full of paper, glue, markers, scissors, paint…you name it. And they were allowed to use them. They were allowed to empty closets of blankets and pillows to make forts. They were allowed to drag baskets of books under the table to read.
Yes, sometimes their creativity ran away with them…
But even then, it was an opportunity to learn about personal responsibility, caring for your home, and how to clean up.
We had toys that had no specific purpose. Simple wooden blocks that provided years of entertainment and learning, marbles and balls, nameless dolls, boxes of odds and ends for inventing; all were available for play.
We let them take some risks, like climbing trees, and playing in creeks. Yes, they fell. Yes they bled. And oh, did they get dirty! But they made some wonderful memories, and can still recall the elaborate dramas they created in their minds as they played outside.
They used real tools, like scissors. Yes, hair got cut occasionally. It grew back.
Sometimes, paint got eaten. (Non-toxic, of course.)
Sometimes it was actual food…they learned how to cook and use real kitchen appliances. A real oven was used instead of an Easy Bake.
They even had places to go for quiet contemplation or just to be alone.
And plenty of opportunity for complete silliness.
Their adventures led them to all sorts of imaginary places.
And sometimes even turned up an Oompa-Loompa.
The point is, creativity doesn’t have to be a beautiful work of art. It is often messy and a little wild. It is simply the freedom to let your mind play.
Apryl–Born and raised in Tennessee, Apryl is a southern girl at heart. She lives out in the country with her husband and her three daughters. After having an unfulfilling public school education herself, and struggling to find peace with the education her girls were receiving in the public school system, she made the choice to homeschool. When they began their homeschool journey, the girls were in the third and sixth grades. Now she is happily coaching three teenaged daughters through their high school years.
My favorite gift as a child was a banker’s box filled with art supplies. I couldn’t imagine anything better than a box full of colorful paper, crayons, glue, sequins, and glitter. My sisters each received one of these boxes too, and we spent hours making glittery creations at our kitchen table. I was never a great artist, but I did find joy in creating things.
These days, I spend my free time scrapbooking and making other paper crafts. I enjoy making things to give to other people and making things to embellish my home. I’m also a creative cook. I like to figure out new and interesting dishes, especially when my CSA box arrives. Combining foods to display their colors and textures always feels like creating a piece of art to me.
For some reason, I don’t think of my kids as creative types. This is, however, completely untrue. My kids are very creative, just not in the way I traditionally think of creativity. We have lots of art supplies in this house. I always imagined that my children would love cutting up paper and using pom poms and glitter and pipe cleaners and watercolors the way I did. They don’t. Most of our homeschool art projects are forced by Mom.
What am I supposed to do with this, Mom?
I did get them to do one Pinterest idea. It only involved gluing strips of pre-cut paper, so they were good with it.
Since I am a scrapbooker, though, I get to revisit our lives when I create pages about certain events or activities. This has caused me to look through hundreds of photos that I’ve taken of my children and to marvel at the creativity that does shine through in so much of what they do. I think this creativity can be partially attributed to the fact that I’m pretty laid back about messes. For example, one sunny afternoon, I went outside to see my boys and my niece smashing boxes of sidewalk chalk with croquet mallets. Instead of being angry that they had destroyed all the chalk, I commented on the beautiful rainbow of dust all over the driveway. It also helps that I’ve exposed my kids to many different types of creative outlets. We’ve taken them to children’s museums, art museums, stage productions, concerts, etc. They’ve both attended theater classes and briefly took music lessons.
Colorful chalk mess
Home made slime mess
Getting creative with Potato Head parts
In the children’s discovery area at the Cleveland Museum of Art
My older son has been creating comic books for a few years now. He has made up his own characters and has literally filled hundreds of pages with these comics. The drawings are very simplistic, but he spends hours and hours coming up with plots for his books. They tend to be disgusting and violent, but I’ve given up trying to get him to tone them down. His favorite character is Hamy Mommy, and he created his own birthday decorations and dictated how I was to decorate his cake for his 8th birthday.
This cake was totally his design.
He drew characters and other items on each goodie bag.
This same son has inherited my creative cooking gene. He likes to experiment with ingredients to see what will happen. I can tell you that popcorn pancakes are not very delicious. He does make a scrumptious granola cake and has contributed good ingredient suggestions to some of my recipes. My younger son made a “vinegar cake” one time, and that was not so tasty. BLECH! That was the end of his cooking career.
Cupcakes they made for our annual Harry Potter Film Marathon
My kids are also creative when it comes to their appearances. I never thought I’d be the mom who allowed her nine-year-old to have a mohawk, but he was so adamant about it, I decided it wasn’t a hill to die on. This led to several whacky haircuts, the strangest of which was a poof of hair on the top right side of his head, which we had to dye orange. The day he came down with the blue tattoos all over his arms, combined with the haircut, I was speechless.
Then, my younger son decided to wear a third eye for a few weeks. He went everywhere with a googly eye stuck to the middle of his forehead. My mother would never have allowed us to go out in public like this, I’m sure of it, but I’ve decided that it is fostering their imaginative sides. (Or, at least, that’s what I tell myself!)
Yes. He wore this everywhere.
I’m always astounded by the creativity of their play, too. Almost none of their toys are used for their original purpose. The Beyblade arena is turned into a hot tub for the stuffed animal spa. The swords and light sabers are laid end to end to create boundaries for an imaginary house. Their video chairs are turned on their sides and pushed together to create a hideaway. Their socks are turned into sleeping bags for their Zhu Zhu pets. One day, I walked into the master bedroom to find stacks of boxes with a “throne” on top where one stuffed animal was holding court while all the courtier stuffed animals were paying tribute on the floor below. Another day, I came home to find the Harry Potter chess set pieces circling the Lockrobot population on the floor. It made me laugh.
They save all their Halloween costumes and then rearrange the pieces to create some very comical effects. I have several scrapbook pages of the weird costume combinations. My favorite were the Dalek and Cyberman costumes they fashioned out of stuff they found in their room.
Looking back over all these pictures helps me to envision creativity in a whole new light. So, I probably will never get to do all the fun homeschool art activities I’ve pinned on Pinterest, because my kids have very little interest in that particular kind of creativity. I’m content to pursue my creative outlets and to let them pursue theirs.
Lynne–Lynne has enjoyed homeschooling her two sons for the past three years, after their brief stint in the local public school. Her older son is a humorous fellow with high functioning autism who thrives in a home education environment. Her younger son is a sensitive soul with a great deal of patience. The boys, Mom, and Dad, along with the two guinea pigs, live in Northeast Ohio. Lynne holds a Master’s Degree in French Language and Literature. She is also a Harry Potter fanatic, enjoys line dancing and Zumba, spends hours scrapbooking, and loves organic vegetables. You can visit her soon-to-be revitalized blog at www.daysofwonderhomeschool.blogspot.com.
There is no dichotomy between logic and creativity. None. We have falsely mystified the idea of imagination, causing many people to believe that they don’t have the ability to be creative or, conversely, that they are too artistic to be constrained by logic! What a shame.
Don’t believe that creativity and logic are intricately entwined?
Creativity isn’t just having the freedom to discover beauty, it is combining ideas and materials in a new way. We live in an interconnected world, and creativity is one part of the whole. It is intentional and it can, in fact, be fostered. Classical education offers a wonderful springboard for creating such an environment.
Creativity in Math and Science
It has been stated by many that “Research is organized purposeful creativity.” I love this line of thinking. Research requires thinking about things in a new way, experimenting, observing, trying diligently, and often getting things wrong.
One of the wonderful parts of Classical Education is that it values time spent in thought. It cultivates the art of awareness, teaching students to articulate their observations clearly. Children aren’t afraid of being wrong and their capacity for innovation is infinite. Classical Education allows them the freedom to question, and to discover answers through their studies in an orderly way.
Creativity in History and the Social Sciences
Creativity is empowering. It creates change. It is how generals develop new battle plans, and how new systems of government are formed. Spending time observing the interconnectedness of our world teaches our children to build an awareness of the activities around them and to begin to analyze what they see.
(Oh, and as a bonus, the study of stories has been proven to help with retention in other fields as well! Consider it homeschool multi-tasking.)
Creativity in Debate and Writing
The purpose of Classical Education is not to produce fact memorizers (although the youngest children are encouraged to do a significant amount of memorizing). The goal is to create students who understand how to learn. Maybe more importantly, the goal is to bring up children who are excited to learn on their own and share their discoveries with others.
By the time students have completed the Rhetoric stage, they have gained enough skills to be express their point clearly. It is only through this expression, rather than mere thought, that they will be able to impact the world around them with their discoveries.
The opposite side of the coin…
Have you noticed that the arts are analytical? Music and dance follow patterns, there is history in drama, and psychology in colors. Intelligence is diverse. More diverse than we generally acknowledge.
In the words of Picasso, “All children are born artists.” It is our duty to foster their passions and teach them how to utilize their creativity whether they choose to become painters like Picasso or not.
Do you think Classical Education takes imagination seriously enough?
Sheryl is living her dream in the house on Liberty Hill where she is a full time wife, mother, and teacher. She is passionate about turning children’s natural curiosity into activities that will inspire, enlighten, and entertain. Learn more about her adventures at LibertyHillHouse.com
Leo Lionni’s book Frederick is a great book for grammar stage kids. It contains pictures of adorable mice and a lesson about valuing different types of work in society.
There are a few things I like about the books of Leo Lionni in general. He uses many different techniques to create his artwork. You can find paper cutting, stamping, collage, and other techniques that are easy for a child to try out and emulate. I also appreciate the fact that he doesn’t dumb down his vocabulary to fit small children. His use of poetic language and descriptive words provides wonderful examples for kids.
First, we are introduced to a lovely meadow with a stone wall. We then meet the chatty mouse family that lives within the wall. Finally, we meet Frederick, introduced as the lone mouse who isn’t working hard gathering grain and nuts for the winter. This method helps us feel we are zooming in on the scene. It feels intimate, and we are slowly drawn into the mouse community.
How do we figure out the theme of the book? We look at the problems that the mice are having. There are three basic problems that the mice deal with: 1) they need to gather food for the winter, 2) Frederick doesn’t want to work, and 3) how to deal with the glum boredom of winter. As we progress through the book, it becomes obvious that the three themes combine. Yes, it is necessary to gather food for the winter, but gathering food isn’t the *only* necessary thing for the mice to survive the harsh winter. But, let’s leave Frederick and the mice for just a moment.
“Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.“ — Kurt Vonnegut
I recently read an article on how many art programs are being cut from schools due to deep cuts in federal funding. In the same week, I read If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?: Advice for the Young, a collection of Kurt Vonnegut’s speeches and letters. One of Vonnegut’s recurrent themes was the importance of creation. In Vonnegut’s view, it doesn’t matter what you create; it doesn’t matter if anyone ever sees it. It only matters that you create.
Most homeschooling parents have read articles on the importance of art to a child’s development. But, most have also felt the strong temptation of letting the arts slip as we squeeze every minute of the day to have time for chores, sports, time with peers, and just fitting in the three Rs.
At this point, you are probably wondering what creation and art have to do with literary analysis, much less to do with the little mouse named Frederick. First, I strongly believe that it is easier to analyze literature when you’ve practiced writing a little. You learn the tricks and shortcuts that authors use to get their point across more easily. But, mainly, the quote speaks to what I believe is the real point of Frederick.
During the food gathering season, Frederick seems to daydream and laze about. But soon enough, the winter comes. The food supply becomes short. The mice are sad and forlorn. Frederick infuses some happiness back into their lives by telling stories — by creating. His creation helps all of those around him, not just himself. It soon becomes clear that although Frederick used his time differently than the other mice, it was equally worthy and productive, albeit not in a tangible sense.
Clearly, Lionni is making several points. First, art is worthy. It’s worthy of our time and attention. Art is worth giving compensation to an artist. Art can be a vocation that takes time away from “producing” in a more traditional sense. It’s a message that too many parents do not agree with.
Many parents are willing to pay for sports or a math tutor, but not for music or drawing lessons. Many parents are willing to help their child pursue a business degree, but not a degree in the arts. I think this book can provide food for thought for parents of all children. Do we truly value the arts? How can our actions reflect that?
Jen is a born and bred Sooner who has spent twenty years following her military husband around the world. Jen started on her homeschooling journey when her eldest daughter learned to read at three years old, and she decided that she couldn’t screw up kindergarten that badly. That child is now a senior in high school, and they have both survived homeschooling throughout. Jen has two more children who are equally smart and have also homeschooled all along.