When I decided to homeschool, I knew that Charlotte Mason was going to be a big influence on the way we approached our learning, especially in the early years. I loved the emphasis on reading, nature, and the arts. I loved the short lessons, the variety of topics covered, and the respect given to the learner as the captain of their own education. And I loved the simplicity. As complicated as a Charlotte Mason approach can seem sometimes, while we shift through stacks of living books and organize the various courses of the “rich feast” we are trying to present, it’s really very simple when it comes down to it.
A few weeks ago, I was talking to another homeschooler about Charlotte Mason’s philosophies and mentioned picture study. She waved her hand dismissively and said something about not having time to balance “all of that fluff” into their already busy lives. After the arts major in me had recovered from a temporary stupor, I laughed. Is there anything more simple to execute than picture study? More importantly, is there anything else that is so easy to incorporate that is also so beneficial to the learner?
Let’s break down the benefits of adding picture study to your Charlotte Mason homeschool:
1) It’s SO EASY to Implement
Picture study is deceptively simple to incorporate into even the busiest of schedules.
- Step One: Find an artist you’d like to focus on.
- Step Two: Collect approximately 6 paintings or works of art and dedicate one week or so to each piece. (Optional: Read a story about the artist before diving in.)
- Step Three: For each picture, begin by allowing the child a few minutes to study it closely, taking everything in.
- Step Four: Hide the picture from view and ask the child to describe it in as much detail as possible.
- Step Five: Once the child is finished narrating the picture, talk about it together. Did they like it? Why or why not? Does the picture remind them of a place or person they know?
- Step Six: Repeat the following week with a new picture. Once you’ve gotten through all six pictures, start over with a new artist.
Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy, right? We use picture study in all of the Blossom and Root curriculum, and most sessions take less than ten minutes from start to finish.
2) It’s Inexpensive, If Not Completely Free
Not only is picture study easy, it’s affordable. By using library books, Google image searches, or free ebooks like this series by Stanley Cesar, you can keep the costs down to 99 cents or less per artist. If you want to get fancy and order large prints of each painting, you certainly can. But it’s not required. Picture study can shrink or expand according to your budget and your desires. When we started doing picture studies three years ago, we used Cesar’s ebooks on my iPad. We’ve recently started ordering the portfolios from Simply Charlotte Mason because we wanted to build our own little “art museum” in our homeschool space.
3) It Gives Your Child a Foundation of Familiarity with Different Artists
We were waiting for a routine checkup last fall when my oldest daughter started jumping up and down, excitedly pointing to a painting in the hallway. “Momma! I see Renoir!” She eagerly ran to the framed print of The Swing to show me. You see, after spending nine weeks (we like to extend our studies a bit) pouring over Renoir paintings, she’d developed a familiarity with his work. Seeing that painting was like seeing a old friend for her. It was a touchpoint, a frame of reference. What she may have never noticed a year ago was suddenly very personal to her. By studying the works of three to four different artists every year, you’re giving your child a precious gift—a library of familiar friends that they will encounter throughout their lives.
4) It Teaches Your Child to Observe Things With Depth and Intention
When was the last time you really stopped to look at something—I mean really look at something? When was the last time you really studied a scene before you, took in all of the details, took your time absorbing it? When was the last time you really saw a painting? Think of a famous painting—any famous painting—and close your eyes right now to picture it.
Can you recall in your mind’s eye the exact angle of the light? The precise shade of blue in the lower right corner? The texture of the paint? How accurately can you pull this painting up in your memory? Would you be able to replicate it, or would you recognize something out of place in an incomplete replica of the painting?
In our scroll-aholic world, we’ve gotten out of the habit of looking deeply. Every observation is done on such a shallow, immediate, and transient level. We’re just passing through, giving a quick thumbs up as we slide by. As a society, we’ve grown sorely out of the habit of meditating on one view, one object, one scene. But being able to observe things carefully and discerningly is a critical skill set that can be applied to any number of tasks in any number of careers. It’s also something that requires practice. Picture study is such a perfect way of honing this essential skill in a pleasurable, meaningful manner.
As Charlotte Mason herself proclaimed, ““We learn to see things when we see them painted.”
5) It’s Inspiring
Studying the great works of different artists can plant seeds of inspiration in your child, even beyond artistic pursuits. A child moved by Georgia O’Keeffe’s poppies or lilies might develop a passion for botany. A child excited by the whimsical, mind-bending works of Robert Gonsalves might recall the unique perspectives of these paintings while working on a difficult project later in life that requires out-of-the-box thinking. A future inventor might find the roots of their inspiration in a picture study of the works of Leonardo DaVinci. A budding designer might bloom to life after being exposed to the rich textures and colors in a collection of Rothko paintings.
6) It Can Help Develop a Bigger Worldview and Empathy for Others
Gazing at a painting is one way of seeing the world through someone else’s eyes, a practice we could certainly use more of in today’s fragmented society. Studying the works of artists from all over the world can help to cultivate a broader worldview for your child. The rich conversations you can have around a picture study can have a tremendous impact on the way they think about people living all over the world. Since art is often used to express emotions and tell stories, it can help fill in the (enormous) gaps left by most history curricula. For example, integrating picture studies of Jacob Lawrence, Enoch Kelly Haney, Roger Shimomura, and Benny Andrews can help to tell stories that your child may otherwise not be exposed to in a traditional American history curriculum. In addition, studying a painting touches us on a different level than simply listening to an account of something that happened. Think of the emotions we can feel in the depths of our human selves while studying Picasso’s Guernica. It just does not compare with the experience of simply hearing the facts and data surrounding the Spanish Civil War.
7) It Teaches Your Child to Value Dedication, Vision, Commitment, and Beauty
Picture study helps to emphasize important values such as committing oneself to a vision, practicing skills to mastery, beauty and truth, and dedication to personal expression. It also helps to teach the importance of honoring the vision and voice of others and the story of their experiences.
8) It Stimulates the Mind and Strengthens Other Academic Skills
There have been dozens of studies done on the connection between academic achievement and exposure to the arts. The overwhelming evidence points to the arts having a significant impact on other learning areas, including (but not limited to) math and literacy. Read more here.
For something that brings so much value to the homeschooled child at such a small investment (both in time and in funds) I can hardly call picture study “fluff.” To us, it is as important and as valuable as our math and reading lessons.