Friday, June 22, 2012

Looking Closely

For the summer time, I'm not giving a complete vacation from study, but we aren't doing any workbooks or required essay writing. Instead we're just reading from history books, biographies, storybooks and novels, and doing arts like drawing and music, and regularly doing stretches and exercises together in a semi  organized fashion. Today we introduced something new that I experienced at a talk during the MASS HOPE homeschool convention. MASS HOPE was very heavy on the Charlotte Mason method speakers. And I actually like a lot of her approach. I haven't 'studied' it or followed it closely or anything. I've just found through a little trial and error and personal experience as a homeschool student on the other side of the equation, that what works for us is to incorporate the subject studies together in as many ways as possible, and to limit our workbooks to things like math (and even with math to take rests from workbooks and use manipulatives and examples often, to make sure they know the concepts and not just rote answers), and use as many real and engaging books as possible.

So in this workshop at MASS HOPE, they gave a picture study. I'd heard of doing these from some of the books I have which even provide beautiful and detailed engravings, but I never really understood what they were getting at. At the convention, they put up a slide of a Rembrant image, and they gave us adults a picture study lesson and it all became clear to me. It wasn't about being incredibly critical or deep or studying all of the peroiod effects on the artist or the artist's intentions or anything like I endured in college with years and years of art history lessons sitting in dark rooms watching slides go by to the droning of an instructor and madly taking copious notes. No! Instead, it's quite simply just an exercise in seeing- focusing intently to drink in the details and composition of an image. A lesson in purposed observation.

To begin I chose this piece by Mary Cassatt out of an oversized book of her prints I borrowed from the town library.
It's called Baby Charles Looking Over His Mother's Shoulder. I asked them to all look closely and told them that after 3 minutes I would take the picture away and we would talk about what we saw. They looked very intently and quietly. Then when I took away the picture I just asked: What did you see in the picture?

At first they didn't know what to say. It was tempting to prompt them with questions, but I was told at the workshop not to interrupt the pauses and to allow them work out the answers for themselves. Sam and Gwen were too concerned about what was a complex or clever response such that that they seemed to hold back (a lot like we adults at the conference had). It was Jeff that began with the obvious fact that there was a lady holding a baby in the picture. When I responded with praise for that answer, the others began to give rapid fire observations. Her dress was red, her hair was tied up in a bun, They both have brown eyes, the baby was smiling, there was a mirror and in it the mother was smiling, the baby was naked (everyone laughed), Then I said maybe the baby was wearing a diaper and everyone insisted he was naked, I asked how they knew since her arm was covering him. They said you could tell in the mirror. So we looked at the picture again, and sure enough the kids were correct- The baby is mooning us in the reflection of the mirror!

They really want to do this again. And it looks like I need the practice in observation more than they do!

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