Preschool at Home Adventures

By: Jan Surface

How Children Learn Fine Arts: Preschool at Home

Teaching the fine arts to the younger set isn’t just for the gifted or for those with artistic parents. I didn’t know the first thing about the fine arts until I became a homeschooling mother.  Note: This article is one of the Bonus Web Articles featured in the Virginia Home Educator’s special preschool edition. 

Preschool at Home

Wanting his picture taken, my six-year-old shouted, “Peek-a-boo!” as he stuck his head out from behind the leg of “The Red Horse” in the National Sculpture Gardens.

After a fun photo session, we started to read the plaque about the sculpture and the artist. “Alexander Calder created this,” I said to my son. “Do you know who he is?”

He casually looked up at me and replied, “Yeah, Mom, he made the first mobile. It was my favorite project until the pipe cleaners got all stretched out.” And he took off to run between the legs of the horse once more.

I remembered a moment in time almost seventeen years ago when my older children were his age. We were touring the Virginia Science Museum’s “Christmas Trees Around the World” exhibit when my two six-year-olds stopped in their tracks and expressed simultaneously, “Look Mom, it’s The Night Watch. It’s a Rembrandt!”

The lady standing next to them was awestruck. How could six-year-olds know a Rembrandt? It led to an interesting conversation about the joys of homeschooling.

But, how do six-year-olds know a Rembrandt or Alexander Calder? The answer is easier than you think.

Teaching the fine arts to the younger set isn’t just for the gifted or for those with artistic parents. I didn’t know the first thing about the fine arts until I became a homeschooling mother. But I have learned that teaching the fine arts to younger children helps them in so many ways. They learn to slow down and see things that many others miss, to find joy in the beauty around them, and to lay a foundation for mathematics, science, and history.

When my children are very young, ages two to three, we start our learning process by taking short trips to our local art museum. We pick one point of interest, learn to walk quietly in the museum, read a short story on the floor in front of the selected piece of art, and then go home to do an age-appropriate activity as a follow-up. We always purchase a postcard of the artwork or find a picture of it to post on our refrigerator or bulletin board.

During their preschool years, my children are introduced to a new artist and composer each month. I pick twelve artists and twelve composers or music styles to concentrate on for that year. We spend one hour each week reading an age-appropriate story on the artist or composer and looking at some of their work. Once a month, we spend two to three hours doing an age-appropriate art project that reflects some aspect of the art we are studying. We often listen to the music from our composer during that time. The Internet makes this even easier. We can quickly access the great works of art from any museum, and most of the larger museums have wonderful children’s pages on their websites. Over the past three years, my six-year-old has studied artists ranging from Audubon to Andy Warhol.

A couple of years ago, Audubon was our artist of choice for the month of September, and bird song was our music of choice. I checked several good children’s stories on Audubon out of the library, and I purchased a huge coffee-table book of his artwork for less than ten dollars at my local bookstore. It became a favorite reference. I then picked a few of our favorite backyard birds and cut out pieces of construction paper that could easily be assembled to look like those birds. Finally, we set up a backyard feeder outside our kitchen window. When my youngest could consistently identify each bird, he was allowed to put together his construction-paper bird and tape it to our sliding glass door. We would look up each bird we saw and then follow up by comparing the real bird to Audubon’s rendition. At age four, my youngest loved looking through the binoculars, cutting and gluing the paper birds, and listening to the birdsong, both in the back yard and on the Internet. This study has carried over into our lives as no other, since we continue to identify new birds, listen for their song, and compare them to the art of Audubon.

Another fall month, we studied Van Gogh. We looked at his use of fall colors and collected bright fall leaves. We made color copies of our leaf collection and then cut them out to make fall leaf pictures. We read books on the night sky as we looked at Van Gogh’s The Starry Night. We had fun drawing swirly patterns and creating our own starry night painting. We marked our world map to show where Van Gogh lived, and we took a long walk through a field to appreciate the fall harvest.

Every December, Rembrandt is our artist of choice. Some years ago, I stumbled upon a little book called Rembrandt, the Christmas Story. I printed copies of his Christmas story artwork from the Internet, laminated them, and put Velcro on the back. Now each Christmas, as I read the Christmas story from the Bible, the children look at the artwork and decide when to put each piece on the flannel board. They love to look at the pictures and try to decide which picture goes where–no easy task, as all of the characters in Rembrandt’s version are dressed as though Jesus was born in Europe in the mid 1600s! Rembrandt’s use of light and shadow also led to our delightful shadow puppet show of Jesus’ birth.

Another favorite study was our month with Andy Warhol. (Andy Warhol for preschoolers? Yes, his use of repetition and color fascinates small children!) We read a delightful children’s book called Uncle Andy’s, colored sketches of soup cans, and learned to fold paper in halves, fourths, and so on. The children delighted in using a stamp pad and stamping the same pictures over and over in each little square.

Studying the fine arts in the early years has put down a strong foundation in math, science, and history. My children have learned about different cultures and famous artists and composers, as well as about color and the use of different media. They have learned to pay attention to details. They often narrate a picture story to me, which improves their writing skills. Most of all, though, they have learned to appreciate different ways of expressing themselves and to appreciate the beauty of God’s creation all around them. Studying fine arts with preschoolers is easy, inexpensive, and just plain fun!

Favorite Fine Arts Books for Younger Children

  • Babar’s Museum of Art by Laurent De Brunhoff
  • Discovering Great Artists by Mary Ann Kohl
  • The Usborne Big Book of Playtime Activities by Ray Gibson
  • I Love to Finger Paint! by Jennifer Lipsey
  • I Love to Collage! by Jennifer Lipsey
  • Preschool and Early Elementary Art Basics by Rich and Sharon Jeffus
  • Art for the Very Young by Elizabeth Kelly and Joanna McConville
  • Usborne: The Children’s Book of Art by Rosie Dickins
  • Usborne: Art Treasury by Rosie Dickins
  • Rembrandt, The Christmas Story, Thomas Nelson Publishers
  • Katie’s Sunday Afternoon by James Mayhew
  • The Boy Who Loved to Draw: Benjamin West by Barbara Brenner
  • The First Starry Night by Joan Shaddox Jsom
  • Degas and the Little Dancer by Laurence Anholt
  • Uncle Andy’s by James Warhola
  • Picasso and the Girl with a Ponytail by Laurence Anholt
  • Leonardo and the Flying Boy by Laurence Anholt
  • Van Gogh and the Sunflowers by Laurence Anholt
  • Leonardo’s Dream by Hans de Beer
  • Henri Matisse: Drawing With Scissors by Johnson and O’Connor
  • My Name Is Georgia by Jeanette Winer
  • Picture This! Activities and Adventures in Impressionism by Joyce Raimondo
  • The Nutcracker Ballet by Vladimir Vagin
  • The Story of the Orchestra by Robert Levine
  • The Farewell Symphony by Anna Harwell Celenza
  • Meet the Orchestra by Ann Hayes
  • Peter and the Wolf retold by Janet Schulman
  • Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists series by Mike Venezia
  • Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Composers series by Mike Venezia

Jan Surface has been married to her best friend for the last 28 years. She is a mother of three and has been homeschooling for 16 years.

– By Jan Surface

Note: This article is one of the Bonus Web Articles featured in the Virginia Home Educator’s special preschool edition.