Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Attention, Comprehension, Retention: Fruits of Narration...and Painting

Use of narration in Charlotte Mason's teaching method is intended, among other things, to develop the habit of careful attention, with comprehension and retention, when reading or listening. I was treated to the fruits of this budding habit in my six-year-old this week at a Cub Scout meeting. A police officer came to talk to the boys about "stranger danger"; at the end of his presentation, when he called on the boys to review what he had told them, I found myself impressed at Aidan's precise recapitulation of the points of the officer's talk, especially since he is the youngest boy in the pack.

On another note, all three children have been very busy painting this past week. I limited the older ones to two sheets of paper each, and suggested that rather than making painting after painting as they usually do, they spend more time on each one and pay attention to details. They really did careful work -- more CM fruit, I think, this time from short lessons and perfect execution in handwriting and coloring -- and I can see it's time to give some real instruction in watercolor techniques and invest in some good paper. If they like it perhaps I'll add this book to our Year 5 booklist.

For Abby, I just give her a thick brush and a small amount of one color of tempera paint... and as many sheets of paper as she wants (Brown paper bags work well). This is the method/sequence I have used introducing all my children to painting as toddlers (with credit to Young at Art by Susan Striker):
one brush, one primary color of tempera
one brush, one secondary color of tempera
two or three colors, one brush each
two primary colors, one brush each, one empty pan and one more brush for color mixing (go through all the primary combinations)
one color, one pan of white, one brush (go through all colors + white)
one primary color, one secondary color, one brush each, plus extra pan and brush for mixing
It actually takes a couple of years to get through the sequence, allowing the children to really spend time mastering each stage. And of course, show them how to use a sponge to clean up the table and fingers afterwards.

Striker's book by the way is excellent in many ways, and lacking in others. The outline of the developmental stages of children's drawing is especially interesting and helpful (did you know your child's drawing can tell you if he's ready to begin writing?) She favors real child-produced artwork over pre-made partially-adult-done projects, and the real strength of the book is its explanations of how to do this with a controllable amount of mess (the one brush per color set-up for toddlers, for example). She opposes coloring books in favor of real drawing, but the neutral, non-judgmental, non-interfering approach she takes toward developing this skill leaves something to be desired. It's a bad idea of course to constantly criticize children's work (constructively or otherwise) rather than just enjoying it (isn't that what art is for). But while observation drawing comes naturally to some children (who will flourish without much direction), others (like mine!) need some adult direction and explicit instruction to get going. My children attempted little or no representational drawing until ages 4 and 5, until I got past Striker's bad advice in this department, and Mona Brooks' Drawing With Children got us moving in the right direction.

No comments: