Homeschooling Art: Top Ten Tricks to a Better Experience

The school year is fast approaching.  You pour over catalogs, chat with fellow homeschooling moms on social media, go to those monster conventions, and make a vow to fit in Latin studies, ballet, music lessons, timelines and art projects atop of the regular curriculum.  You have seen the statistics.  Children who do art do well in math.   They are more fulfilled.  They are less stressed.  But if truth be told, you do not even like art.  It is messy.  It is time consuming.  It is a mystery too big to unfold.

I have been teaching art to my children as well as other homeschooling children for the past 13 years.  I have watched parents struggle and have struggled myself.  I have picked up a few nuggets along the way.  Here is my list of ten things to help make the experience of studying and creating art a “wow” experience rather than a stressful one.


     Yes, the art museum in the nearest big city is expensive.  Go there anyway. On your way home, look at the local graffiti.  Go to art galleries. Check out local art guild shows (most are free).  Visit art studios (mine is always open to anyone!). Watch someone blow glass or throw clay. Volunteer to sit as a model for local artists.  They let you peek at their work on breaks. Libraries have big art books.  Browse.  Ask any artist and they will tell you, when they get into a rut, they look at art.  It encourages, inspires, and spurs to action.  One of the most productive and innovative times in my art career was right after visiting the Van Gogh exhibit at the De Young museum in San Francisco.


     I admit it.  I have cut corners and gone cheap when it comes to teaching art.  It is not worth it.  It is too frustrating. The $2 paintbrush sheds hairs.  The $3 Crayola watercolor globs.  The cheap paper buckles.  My first art mentor gave me enduring advice.  She said to never buy “student” quality anything.  Buy “artist” quality supplies.

It is the difference in driving the clunker car or the Mercedes.  Teach your student proper care of supplies.  Teach them to conserve, but go ahead and buy the best you can afford. Your students will notice and appreciate it.


     Stock up on watercolor paper.  It is stiff.  It is versatile.  It is thick.  The “tooth” on it is exceptional not only for watercolors, but also for acrylics, pastels and charcoal.  You can buy it in a roll, in large individual pieces, or in a pad.  It comes in cold pressed and hot pressed and in varying weights. . Experiment.  See which is your favorite.


     Let’s face it, all work, no matter how simple, looks fantastic in a frame.  I have two piles of finished pastels in my studio:  1. Definitely has to be framed; and 2. Not worth a frame, but I may keep it for a while to learn from it.  I go through those piles frequently, paring down even more which ones are deserving of royal frame treatment.  Rejects end up in the trash. Save your student’s work.  At the end of the year, have him (not you) pick his ultimate favorite.  Take him to purchase a mat and frame. Frame it.  Hang it.  Enjoy it. A frame to any artist, whether professional or amateur, conveys meaning, value, importance.  I guarantee your student will paint more if his work is prominently and beautifully displayed.


     When I lived in a 1,200 square foot house, I had an art bin full of supplies for my homeschoolers.  We left it in the corner of the dining room.  When we wanted to do art, we opened the bin.  Then we moved to a 900 square foot rental while searching for a home with land when we moved to Georgia.  I had an “art corner” in a bedroom. I put my work on the walls in that corner.  Here it is:

Now I have a studio and have plenty of space for myself and my students!

The point is, make some space somewhere.  If you make it, little artists will come. Dedicate the area as the art center.  Display art there.  Make it a cool place to go. Don’t forget to stock it with crayons, paints, pastels, pencils, pencil sharpeners, paper, scissors, glue, etc.


     I have had budding orniculturists, reptile experts and video gamers as students.  They are thrilled when I let them draw what they love!  Why not?  I am not a landscape artist.  I love the idea of strapping an easel on my back and heading out in my hiking boots somewhere to paint.  When I get there, though I feel revived from the hike, I gravitate to the other artists with me rather than the mountain in front of me.  I love painting people!  I do well when I paint what I love.  So does your student.   


     For perusing art styles, the sky is the limit.  My favorites on Facebook are the following:  Pastel Society of America, American Impressionist Society and International Watercolor Society.  Every artist who sells their wares now has to have a website.  Look at a website a day for inspiration.  For art instruction, Youtube is wonderful.  Khan Academy has art history with insightful commentaries and clear images.  Most large art museums have online tours, so you can view art right there on your computer.  It is not the same as actually being there, but it does in a pinch. Click on the “Fine Art” tab at the A to Z Cool Homeschooling website.  The possibilities are endless!


     Don’t forget the coupons for Michaels and Hobby Lobby.  You can print them or download them to your phone.  Pull out your Declaration of Intent.  Most places give at least a 10 percent discount.  It never hurts to ask.  Ask frame shops for mat board scraps.  They are happy to unload for a good cause.  You never know what you will find at garage stores or thrift stores.  One of my online Facebook pastel friends just bragged to all of us that she found a box of top notch pastels from France and paid about $20 (value was well into the thousands).  We all were salivating.  I spotted some brand new brushes in an antique store the other day.  Homeschooling parents are very resourceful.  Keep your eyes open.


     I have had a few parents help out in my co-op classes, all the while hovering, nagging, hurrying along, prodding and making suggestions to their little artist.  I have them go wash brushes.  Creativity takes courage, independence, security.  Hovering squelches the mood.  Give them the tools, show them art, then stand back and watch from afar.  Encourage them to experiment.  If they don’t like what they see, say to them, “It is only paper.  Good going, you are thinking outside of the box and being creative!  Good for you to push it.”  Provide a safe environment.


     Let loose.  Chuck that paint!  (You may want to do this outside.)  Drop a marble into paint and then roll it along the paper.  Use a squirt bottle and watch the paint dance into the crevices of the page.  Slap a paint soaked string against a canvas.  Blow on it.  Turn it upside down.  Tell your students to break the rules.  Be wild and rebellious.  CAUTION:  This may cause your homeschoolers to be art lovers, freedom seekers and independent thinkers.

Here is to a school year full of color, wonder and freedom!