Friday, February 05, 2010

Why the Arts are Required

I hear a lot of parents talk about the "extras" in school--sports, scouting, music lessons, art classes...often in that order.  In our home, music and art are requirements, not extra.  I consider the fees that I pay to the teachers of art and music to be our "tuition." 

My husband never took music lessons of any kind, except what he was exposed to in "music" class in public school.  I took music lessons of every kind--8 years of piano, chorus, band instruments, marching band, stage band, rock band, musical theater, and later on, guitar.  I am not an accomplished musician, but more of a jack of all trades and master of none.  Nevertheless, I am well-familiar and can hold my own in a musical setting, can sing on key, and appreciate music on many different levels.  My husband regrets his lack of his musical training and wishes that he had some, and I cannot imagine my life without it.  One thing neither of us had was art training, though I am somewhat self-taught in that regard.  I feel the lack of training acutely and regularly.

When it comes to the question of what is really important in life and what is necessary for survival, I have to ask myself what it means to truly be alive.  I know my children need to learn that 8 x 7 = 56, etc. and proper grammar and spelling is helpful if one wishes to appear intelligent and civilized.  However, it is music and art that makes us come alive inside, helps us to connect with the whole world around us, and convinces us that we are part of the living, breathing human existence. 

I suppose it is important to learn to tie a knot or kick a ball, but will these things change the course of a child's life?  I'll sign him up for scouting or soccer sometimes, in certain seasons, but as we go, it is music and art that will remain as cornerstones of their educational experience.  If after five years he decides he wants to change the course of those studies, we can reevaluate, but only if and after he has given his best efforts to achieve some level of mastery of the fundamentals.  Then he should be able to make a well-informed decision for himself as to how necessary music and art are for his own existence. 

Poetry, or They Finally Get It!

Sometimes, every once in a while, when the homeschooling routine gets a little too routine-y for me, I break out and do something different.  I bought this book for this very reason, and I've been holding on to it for that just such an occasion.  I was simply not in the mood for the regular grind, so I pulled this book out and said, "Hey guys. listen to this!"

What resulted was multiple readings of several poems, but in particular, it was Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll that grabbed us.  I had the kids lie down on the floor and imagine the story as it unfolded.  If you have never read the poem, it is a story that is built upon nonsense words, but somehow it makes perfect sense.
Then, after they lay on the floor and imagined what I was reading, I encouraged them to draw from their imagination some of the key things that come up in the story:  a jabberwock, a vorpal sword, and a jubjub bird. 

The results were interesting...creative, as only kids can be.  What pleased me the most is not the level of their artwork, but rather that they actually connected with the poem.  Now they ask me to read it to them over and over, and are memorizing it just for fun. 

We continued on in the book and have come to haiku.  Matty found the concept easy and fun, and so today he wrote his first poem, inspired by the snow falling outside.

Beautiful white specks
Falling gently from the sy--
Covers earth in white.

by Matty Mine

I've been waiting to see my children really connect with poetry.  It seems that through this book we have finally closed the loop.  The structure of the lessons in this book seems very palatable, and the pictures are pleasant and add nicely to the lessons.  

Here a couple of our other favorite poetry books: