Friday, 11 January 2013

Mini-Structure and Pop Art

I love Facebook.  I was in a conversation on it the other day, and identifying with that familiar HE struggle between the heart's love of the unschooling philosophy, and the head's need for a degree of structure, for sanity's sake.  This term, although we're only a week in, I feel like we've struck a balance that works for us.  Every day that we're home, the boys (particularly the two older ones) do half an hour (or more if they like - they sometimes do) of Reading Eggspress and MathsWhizz, while I do some reading or maths games with Youngest.  He stalled on Reading Eggs last term, and is still consolidating the skills learned and building his confidence to be able to go back to where he left off.  Also, most days we do an activity of Mummy's suggestion (the boys have the power of veto) - from a list of ideas.  Eg yesterday we played Middle's brilliant new game (another Christmas present), Scabs and Guts.  It's a board game with lots of questions on the body, healthy living etc - it seemed that every other question involved poo, snot & other not-so-refined topics... the boys loved it, of course, and Middle was particularly delighted when one card asked him to do a demonstration of someone with food-poisoning... his acted-out vomiting was very convicing - yeuch!

So other than half an hour of online curriculum in Maths or English, and one activity from Mummy's "what shall we do today" suggestion box, the boys are free to explore, watch, play etc as their interests dictate.  If the TV goes on they watch something that we have recorded (from BBC2's Learning Zone, or CBBC and CBeebies).  Horrible Histories is a particular favourite of Eldest's, and the younger two are currently enjoying William Whiskerson (geography) and Curious Cat (design & technology), which we recorded last term. There are a few great programmes on the internet too (we really like Grid Club) but more often than not, they're just off creating or having fun - not so much evidence of screentime this term ('hooray' says Mummy!)  Sometimes they need/ want my involvement, often they are happy to just get on with whatever it is.  It certainly all seems to be working so far :)  People who are purely unschooling may well suggest that we're not doing it properly by having any structure, and those who are fully structured may be horrified at my doing "so little" with the boys - but it works for us.  At the moment, anyway.  When it stops working, we will find what works better, and adapt.

So yesterday our learning (that I was aware of) looked something like this: Eldest and Middle were on Reading Eggspress while Youngest and I read a few small books from the Oxford Reading Tree - him sounding out & blending the simple words, me reading the ones that he couldn't/ didn't want to read - and of course, having fun chatting about the illustrations, to keep it fun (given the choice of 'sharing a story' or 'practicing reading', I know which seems more appealing!).  Middle baked some smartie cookies, but somehow they all got eaten before I remembered to take a photo - oops; Eldest read his new book, "Predators" (Steve Backshall); we all played the aforementioned delightfully disgusting board game, 'Scabs and Guts', and then Eldest (and Middle) played camera challenges where I had to give them a challenge of something to take a photo of  (eg something with a triangle in it, something with spots/ stripes, something shiny etc.   All in all, a lovely day!  Like I said though, that was just the learning that I noticed - so much of a person's learning just cannot be quantified.  They were off playing and creating for hours - who knows what they were absorbing while enjoying themselves!

And today? Well, we've had MathsWhizz; Horrible Histories and William Whiskerson on TV; Youngest has been further exploring the CBeebies website; Middle counted the bones in his foot (then we looked it up to check the "real" answer); and Mummy's contribution was to make some Pop Art.  I showed the boys Andy Warhol's 'Marilyn' prints in our book, "Famous Paintings."  Eldest remembered it from the from the Art programme they watched last term (recorded from the BBC's learning zone), and they were all keen to get the paints out and have a go at our own version.  I looked online to see if there were any instrictions to follow (I'm not totally confident when it comes to teaching art), but as I couldn't find any, we worked it out as we went along.  In case you fancy a go, this is what we did...

Pop-Art Self-Portraits

We wanted to do four colour variations - and four x A4 would have been too big I felt, so I folded an A4 page in half, to give us a smaller starting area each.  We each drew a basic head (and shoulders) self-portrait.  We are blessed with a photocopy function on our printer, so I made three further A5 copies of each self portrait.  If you don't have access to a photocopier, you could just trace the simple outlines.

Next we mixed six colours of paint (I only keep paint in the primary colours plus black and white at home - partly because of limited storage space, partly because it provides plenty of practice at mixing colours).  We decided the best look would be to limit ourselves to using five colours each.  We laid our four identical self-portraits out in front of each of us, and started painting.  It worked better for us to do a kind of production line: rather than completing one self-portrait at a time, we each did all four faces first (making sure each was a different colour), then each mouth etc...

That was as much as Youngest could handle really (ie just colouring his faces in with different colours on each page).  With Eldest and Youngest we looked at Warhol's colour variation and talked about how they weren't all uniform - in some of them the eyes and lips were the same colour; in others it was the lips and hair etc.  As we went along we tried to not only vary the features that were the same colour on each self-portrait, but also make sure there was a balance of colour across all four pieces. 

When we had finished filling our faces with colour we looked at how Warhol used colour to make bolder backgrounds than just leaving them white - so (with the exception of Youngest, who declared his to be finished), we assessed our faces so far and looked at which colours would work best as backgrounds to tie the four mini prints into one work of art (that sounds more pontificatory than it actually was).  Most importantly, it was fun, and we're all really happy with our completed "artwork"





And then this afternoon we had a play date with the boys' old school friends at a soft play area - so now they're all nicely exhausted and happy from another lovely day.  And what's more, it's now the weekend, so we get Daddy at home too - hooray!  I'm off to enjoy the weekend - hope you have a good one too!


  1. i love seeing your creativity - those paintings are fab! Also great that there is no 'right' way of homeschooling - we are relatively structured most days but I love the days that just go well spontanously and we just go with the flow because i feel they just learn something so much more special and valuable on those days. x

    1. Thanks BB! I think the main thing I want new (and old) Home Educators to know is that there is no single right way to do it: there are as many variations as there are individuals to educate! I love it when people feel encouraged to find the one that works for them! Sounds like you're having a great time :)

    2. we are having a great time - best thing we ever did was to Home -ed! x

  2. We probably only manage about an hour of "structured" learning each day too, so it's reassuring to know I'm not the only one! Today, however, J is busy playing with his gogo's and reading new library books, so it seems a shame to interrupt him when he so absorbed in something. And it's so freeing to be able to say, "actually, let him play, we can do "learning" later". Love the artworks!
    R x

    1. Thanks! It's true: I love the freedom of HE! and gogos and library books are all stretching different parts of his brain, just like lego, games, and no end of other things that the boys find to get involved with!