Norman Rockwell Study – Four Lessons

Recently we had the pleasure of seeing some Norman Rockwell artwork up close.  A travelling exhibit featured a few of his most famous pieces, and also offered insight into his process.  Though I think of Mr. Rockwell as having captured life in action, his pieces were actually planned.  Early in his career, he used models that would stand in poses for hours as he sketched.  But with the increasing popularity of photography within the art world, Rockwell switched.  He would use everyday people, kids next door, neighbors down the street, and get them to pose.  A professional photographer would take pictures and print them.  And Rockwell would have his inspiration.  First he staged, next he photographed, then he sketched, and finally, Norman Rockwell painted.

With this full process in mind, the boys and I took off in search of what we consider local, southern, Americana.

We found it at our favorite monthly bluegrass night.

What has transpired is a month’s worth of art projects in our study of Norman Rockwell’s process.

Step One (Week One):  Photography – Take pictures that provide personal inspiration and represent Americana in your local community.  I have a few samples below, but I have not shown several different angles.  When taking the photographs, make sure to include the entire scene from various angles.  Also take close ups of the scene in parts.  In the photograph below, I also would need separate close ups of each player.  These close ups help provide detail we may not easily catch.  When moving into the sketching stage, the variety in your photographs helps with inspiration and observation of detail.

N.R. Study8

These three gentlemen practice in the back Sunday school rooms while the featured band plays the stage in another part of the building.  Bluegrass is an integral part of culture where we live.

N.R. Study11

This is the house band performing to the late night crowd at the end of a bluegrass night.

We have other photographs we are also using as our inspiration.  

Step Two (Week Two):  Sit down and sketch a scene using photographs as both basic structure for the piece and for inspiration.  In this phase, we can remove unwanted items and add elements we deem necessary.  As an example, for the three players, I can leave out the background posters, toys, and clutter and simplify any curtains, decor, etc.  Maybe have them standing on wooden floors instead of linoleum tile.  For the crowd picture, I would remove air conditioning units on the back wall and increase the size of the stage to feature the performers.  But no matter how I might alter my sketches, I still have the photographs as my guide.

As an example of an earlier practice round, here are some of my canning jars filled with seeds.  


And here is my sketch.  

Sketch of cans

Step Three (Weeks Three and Four):  Finally, Rockwell converted his sketch to paint and canvas.  So as a final phase in the activity, I would do the same.  Personally, because we do not have a lot of experience with paints, this final step of Rockwell’s process is purely fun and educational.  

This activity is a lengthy process.  It can easily be divided into sections or used in small parts for photography, simple sketching, elements in art, and as lessons in various mediums. The main point is to have fun, be creative, and learn about one of America’s favorite artists.


Why We Need Art

When we are young, we feel talented at many things. Ask a four year old to draw a self portrait and that four year old is expecting that piece of art to hold the front and center spot on the refrigerator. Ask an extroverted little girl prancing through the grocery store to dance for you in those rockin’ cowgirl boots and she just might do you a twirl and a jig. Ask a boy to sing you a tune and he’ll belt out something. At the top of his lungs.

Kids get the arts.

And then those same kids grow up into you and me.

And we don’t feel so talented anymore.

But here’s the thing. Each of us needs a voice. Needs the therapy creativity allows us. The arts are of utmost necessity if this world is to not only survive, but develop and move forward. Because while academics and errands and all the things of our ordinary days moves us on in a marching fashion, it is often the arts that truly wake us up. That song on the radio that suddenly captivates. The one that makes us spontaneously cry. The vibrant color in nature triggering new ideas on long walks. Seeing the ordinary in a brighter light, a different perspective, a kinder nature. Making our lives not just trudge along, but dance and twirl and sing out loud. Creativity and the arts help us breathe with purpose beyond ourselves.

Point is, we need creativity. Kids need creativity. And communities need the art coming out of our creativity. So this section is devoted to creating. And to sharing. And having fun with it all.


Norman Rockwell

Ahh, Norman Rockwell.  We love his artwork here.  Americana at its best, in some ways.  I have one of his most famous pieces, in print, hanging on a wall in my old bedroom back home.  The one of the girl looking in the mirror, fashion magazine on her lap, dressed in a simple white gown.  It is timeless.  Vulnerable.  Sweet.  Tinged in sadness.  Classic.  True then and true still. In a magazine article in Smithsonian Magazine dated October 2013, it stated that Norman Rockwell preferred to paint boys, claiming he understood their world better than he understood girls.  But I have found many pieces that capture both genders beautifully.  Norman Rockwell seemed to understand human nature quite well as a whole. We also don’t always immediately recall is his images of current social justice, politics, religious tolerance, and other difficult subject matters from his time.  The Ruby Bridges painting is, interestingly, another girl piece that captures a moment with indescribable clarity in its simplicity. or, which places conflicting religions standing side by side. I think though we tend to remember his covers for The Saturday Evening Post, the real reason he sticks with us and speaks to us, is his provocative images, which are set right down in the middle of our familiar world. We had the privilege of seeing a Norman Rockwell exhibit recently at the Columbia Museum of Art.  The up close view of his works, his process, his perspective spurred many discussions.  So much so, we have decided to take a couple of weeks to explore his art process and his subject matter in certain provocative pieces.  Please feel free to jump over to the activity section of The Arts category to see how we are furthering our study of this classic American artist. See also:  Norman Rockwell Study – Four Lessons

Homeschooling 101: My Dining Room Table Isn’t a Schoolroom and Other Ways to Teach the Kiddos

Quick!  Let’s play a game.  I will write a simple statement and you, the reader, think of the first thing that comes to mind.  Here we go….


Now, if I had to guess, the picture in your head is a dining room or kitchen table with me sitting on one side and the children sitting on the other.  We have textbooks.  We have workbooks.  We have a Bible.

Did I nail it or what?

When I started homeschooling, this would have been accurate.  It is certainly how I imagined homeschool.  Breaking it down, home-school is a compound word containing home and school.  So….it should mean school at home.  Except that the corporate form of school is rigid for reasons that are nonexistent in my house.  I am not containing twenty little people, we don’t walk together in a line down the hall every time one of us needs to pee, an intercom is not necessary (though a panic button might be useful at times), there is not an administration giving tours to prospective students, and I am not confined to a nine week syllabus.  Besides, my dining room looks out into the rest of the house.  To pretend the couch doesn’t exist and that wooden chairs is the way to go is silly.  There are three people with a whole house at their disposal to utilize for school.  Not to mention a car, some sidewalks, a park, a backyard, lots of farms, and a giant city with more cool stuff than I can list here, all at our fingertips.

And so we use the tools we find accessible.  We do not sit at the dining room table.  (I will admit, I have turned the space into a study of sorts, and if you can imagine a professor’s office, you have a good idea.  The actual table is covered with projects and paper and all sorts of schooly things.  But it is way too cluttered to get any work done there.)

Now, with this little myth out of the way, let’s talk about the way people really DO educate their kids.

This part was shocking to me as we came out of the public schools and into our home.  I figured most people did things generally the same way.  What I found is that homeschoolers are fringe people.  People already living on the fringe of society by not putting their kids in a corporate environment.  Homeschoolers are terrible rule followers by nature.  Therefore, the only rules in how to school your kid(s) are set by the state.  And believe me when I tell you that mommas and daddos take these guidelines as a challenge for creativity.  That said, all of my close friends, while drastically different from each other, do an amazing job.  Really.

And so, without further ado….

Here is a list of the common homeschooling methods used, along with a brief definition made up by me:

School at Home – Traditional method that typically keeps to a schedule and covers all basic subject areas using textbooks, workbooks, etc.  May or may not be religious, but usually does have an element of faith, and might even start each day with devotionals.

Classical – Featuring traditional elements, with subjects such as Latin, Greek, Biblical history thrown in.  A popular form of this method is the co-op, Classical Conversations.  These students meet weekly for group lessons, then do the rest of the work on their own.

Charlotte Mason – A variation of the classical method, but typically considered less rigid and more activity based, with shorter lessons and lots of nature study incorporated.  Co-ops are also often formed for groups of families, and this group loves notebooks and sketching.

Eclectic – Exactly as it sounds, with the parent picking and choosing the best of various methods.  May use some curriculum, but is not committed to any one publisher or series.  Often less structured.

Relaxed/ Relaxed Eclectic – Same as eclectic, but much less structure.  Probably field trip/ life experience component fairly important here.

Child Led – Taking the child’s interest and learning style as a guide and planning around these components.  Montessori for homeschool would be a good description, though not all child led homeschoolers are educated on the Montessori methods.

Unit studies – Taking a subject, such as trees, and incorporating it into a unit that encompasses writing, literature, science, math, etc into the study.  This group loves lap books and notebooks.

Unschool – The idea that life is a stage for learning and that given time and space, each person’s natural curiosity will lead him/ her to learn all things necessary for life success.  It was started in the 1970’s by John Holt as the idea that learning should be natural and has evolved into the previous description.

Radical Unschool – This is unschooling to the extreme.  Equality and individual desire reigns.  In households, an instinct of respect for others as necessary for cohabitation is the main structure.

Again, these definitions are my opinion, and while I tried to be honest, I do have a natural bias towards certain methods.

Our first semester, we used school at home, burned out, went to relaxed/ unschool for the second half of that year, and now have found a balance. We use curriculum, but not for everything.  We like field trips, but too many can make life hectic.  The kids learn better when their needs are considered, so child led just makes sense.  I need flexible structure or I can be prone to anxiety attacks.  So, in the end, if I had to label us, it would be life learners using the electic/ child led methods of homeschooling.

If any of these methods are of particular interest and you’d like to know more, please feel free to use the contact tab in the top right of this website or simply leave a comment/ question below.  I’d love to hear from you!

Homeschooling 101: What is UN School-ing??

There is a term used among homeschoolers.  It is Unschooling.  AKA Unschooler.  Unschooled.  To Unschool.  Depending on who uses it, the word can have many different reactions.  For example:

I once told somebody I unschooled my children and the response I received was, “Well, that’s fine.  But I want my children to be able to survive in the real world if I die.”


“Well, I unschool reading or history, etc., but we have to do math!”


“We are sooo unmotivated to start back.  Maybe we’ll become unschoolers, ha ha ha!”

Or my favorite….

“We unschool….after we get our main work done.” (Just FYI people, that would be unschooling recess.  That’s it.  Recess.  And since you are already at home, we call that playing outside.  You are unschooling playing.  Outside.) 


By definition at its origination and by way of the Oxford English Dictionary, the term Unschooled means:


1  Not educated at or made to attend school: unschooled children

1.1  Lacking knowledge or training in a particular field: She was unschooled in the niceties of royal behavior.

1.2  Not affected or artificial; natural and spontaneous.


Although the term has been around since the 1500’s, it became popular in the late 1970’s when John Holt used the word in his magazine, Growing Without Schooling.  He meant the term to speak about the first and third definitions.  Combining those two ideas, unschooling means not educated at school, but rather educated naturally and spontaneously, and in an organic or authentic setting.  

And yet, as is made obvious from the above reactions, unschooling has, unfortunately, developed a reputation for the second definition, meaning  lacking knowledge or training.

Within the homeschool community, there are many types of people, many styles of teaching, and various styles of learning.  It is the natural habit to identify oneself by the style of teaching in order to find like minded friends within the community.  This isn’t unique to homeschoolers.  Humans love to put themselves in boxes in order to figure out who else is in the box with them.  And so, after getting my bearing within the homeschool community, I started labelling myself as a relaxed homeschooler to some or as an unschooler at times as well.  What I meant by these labels is child led learning.  Approaching learning through the interests of the child.  Figuring out the motivation for learning and using it as a tool to move forward. Learning as a natural integration of our day instead of organizing each day by hour and subject.  Recognizing learning moments outside of the traditionally accepted lessons provided.  In other words, learning naturally with my children’s interests as a vessel to accomplish our studies.  What I did NOT mean is learning in a chaotic environment.  No curriculum.  Living without rules.  Having my children explore all of life with only  natural consequence as the teacher.  No expectations.

However, in my personal opinion, the term unschooling has been absorbed by a group of homeschoolers that do exactly what I did not mean.  Their households operate with few to no rules.  None.  At.  All. There are no expectations, especially regarding education.  Manners, safety, hygiene practices, etc. are learned through observation and natural consequence.  In other words, when people at the library start avoiding your stench, that is the natural consequence of not bathing.  In order to avoid this, it is time to learn to bathe properly.  It is commonly assumed children will pick up what they need for success in adulthood through natural curiosity.  When a skill is needed, a person will be curious and motivated to learn it.  One or two, I repeat – one or two, of these ideas connected (to a degree) with my philosophy on education and so I have tried in some ways to give their version of unschooling a try.  Many would say if it isn’t a complete immersion, it isn’t a proper try.  Whatever. What I found is I did not like it.  But more importantly, my children did not thrive.  We were stressed and unsure of ourselves and of what we were accomplishing.  Both children became increasingly anxious.  And so, alas,  I cannot relate to this particular group in a way that would put us in the same box.

Now, back to John Holt.  Even he saw the writing on the wall (of that box) with using the term unschooling.  In fact, by the early 1980’s he stopped using it.  I like him.  I like some of his writings.  I agree with him on various aspects of educating a child.  I think John and Maria Montessori would have been good friends.  I would have loved to go to that dinner party.

As for my family, we are moderately relaxed.  Not radical.  We begin our days later than some, but our days go later as well.  Learning is a way of life more than a to do list.  Yet as a person that loves lists, having set requirements each day and commonly accepted household expectations are a part of our organizational practices and our learning methods.  We use curriculum.  We may collaborate on schedules, but I lead.  We study specific academic subjects.  There are boundaries relating to electronics and personal space and bed time and privacy.  My husband and I are heads of the household.  Basic skills such as prayer, safety, manners, chores, hygiene, etc. are taught before a natural consequence requires the skill.  I  personally believe in first impressions.  I care about socially acceptable behavior when we are around others.  I want my children to feel confident and independent and equipped to handle the world outside our home, according to what is appropriate for their age.  Being shunned or considered rude simply because my children were not taught how to handle public situations is not comfortable for me or for them.

So there it is.  We are not unschoolers.  Probably won’t ever be.  I don’t even know quite how to label us.  But If I have to label our family, I say we are life learners.  Because, in the end, no matter how we learn, we keep learning.  Always.


***Please note – This is my personal experience with Unschooling.  For more information on the subject and for people out there in the homeschooling world that do it well, please use Google.  Those people are out there.  And they are successful.  It just wasn’t our thing.***