Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Review: Spears Art Studio

I am a writer. My cousin is an artist. You'd think that God would have mercy on us and give us children who bear the same gifts he'd blessed us with.

The joke is that Anne, my cousin's 11 year-old daughter, is a writer extraordinaire. And Logan, my son, is not a writer, but an artist.

Which means that on any given day, both of us are standing there, awed by our the fantastic gift poured into the child in front of us, and wondering how in the world we are supposed to direct THAT?!?

My cousin has found some wonderful outlets for Anne. Like the diligent homeschooling mother that she is, Kindred Blessings has found resources, classes, camps, mentors and a host of opportunities that give Anne the chance to develop her skills. Add to that the space and time that any budding author needs, and I am certain that in a few years Anne will be taking her prowess to bigger and better levels in the publishing world.

And how am I doing with my little Picasso? Not so well, frankly. I do great on that time and space concept; Logan has an easel and free reign with paints. He has supplies galore, and plenty of chances to explore with his tools. But instruction? Not so much.

I've considered multiple programs over the years. The one that I stuck with most consistently was ARTistic Pursuits. I found, however, that once we walked away from the time periods presented in the art history portion of the program, I had a hard time keeping art, as it were, on the table. (I realize that the program is not meant to be used that way.)

This fall, we've been trying Spears Art Studio, a curriculum that incorporates Christian elements into art instruction. Based around monthly themes (seasons, holidays, etc.), the program lists weekly ideas for each grade level. Art elements, design principles and different media are all covered.

There are 269 art activities listed in the elementary guide. This is a glut of activities, guys. There are more here than you could ever use in the course of one year of art instruction. Many are based on printable pdfs--a nice touch for those of us with more than one child using the program. The supplies are generally common, although I don't happen to have india ink or rice paper lying around. To help with the random "huh?" supply, the program offers a few substitutions that have turned out to be lifesavers for folks like me who fail to read too far ahead some days.

While I would like more in the way of step-by-step instruction, the background information and extra resources listed in conjunction with each project are numerous and thorough. How many art programs come with a reading list? This appeals to the writer in me, who likes to link a story to everything. It also gives me something to do (ie, read aloud) while the kids are in the midst of construction paper glory.

The biggest measure of the quality of a program, though, is whether or not children are learning. Maybe it's just my teaching method, but I'm not sure that the many fun crafts and experiences my children are getting through Spears are translating into a deeper understanding of art as a form of expression. While I am using the reference points and giving the background vocabulary listed, I still feel like something is missing. My kids, however, don't seem so concerned. They have gained a better understanding for the application of some of the included scripture, which obviously has lasting value. Perhaps if I myself was designed to "see" the way an artist "sees," I could give my kids the full value of this program. As it is, I feel like they are--at the bare minimum--being exposed to some of the big picture details. Someone else will have to fill in the blanks later. Someone with an artistic bent, I'm guessing.

Spears Art Studio is very user-friendly, easily customizable and reasonably priced. But it can't make up for any deficit of talent you may have. Only a real, live artist can do that.

1 comment:

mideastmom said...

Seriously taking this recommendation into consideration. So far, we've survived on Rod & Staff Artpacs. And a year behind grade level, at that. So they can do it on their own. :-/

And it's actually given them a good foundation of basic skills.

At some point, though, I want a little more in-depth instruction for them, and this might do just the trick. Fortunately, I married a real, live artist, so I've got that part of the list taken care of.