Thursday, October 2, 2014

How to Inject More ART into your Homeschool, plus a Mixed Media Art Project for Fall

My kids LOVE to create stuff and they are always drawing, but in the past I’ve struggled to “make time” for messy art projects.  My homeschool art,such as it was---it was often just a big fat FLOP (yes, being totally honest with you here) was mostly focused on art appreciation or picture study (ala Charlotte Mason).  It sometimes got done, but more often it didn’t. 

I kept telling myself that they were doing plenty on their own between drawing and randomly gluing bits of paper together.  I was lying to myself.

Tips for bringing more ART into your homeschool, plus instructions for fun (and easy) fall art project @ Homeschooling Hearts & MindsThe truth?  I was an art failure. 

But I like art.  I like creating.  I AM artistic.  I used to paint (watercolors), make artistic quilts, sculpt in paper mache, do all manner of artsy things.

I knew that failing at art was not a good thing for my kids! 

I had to acknowledge that if they were in school, in spite of budget cuts, they probably would have had more opportunities for experimenting with different media (besides pencils and computer or construction paper).

That’s sad, isn’t it? 

Especially since part of the reason that our family homeschools is so that our kids can have a more well-rounded, individualized education.  I had gotten so hung up on the academic end of that that, well…

I got hung up.  My homeschool was looking too schoolish without having the fun parts of school in it.

Bah!  I can do better than that!  It would be easier to send them to school if I’m not going to give them better quality education than they would receive there.

So, among other things, this year I’m making a conscious effort to have a day each week that we get out the watercolors or acrylics or paper and glue or oil pastels or some combination of the above and whatever else they come up with.  I have invested in some better quality (not highest quality, mind, because my budget has limits) materials for the kids to work with.

I’m also much more flexible about getting materials out at request and keeping them accessible to the older kids.  (If the 5-year-old could get out the paints, whoa, boy!  Common sense overrules here.)  Over the summer, there were some weeks they painted every day.

Things are going well.  We sometimes look at other artists’ work, but we do not study their biographies or do “picture study” really.  We just look at their work, note what media and techniques they use, talk about what we like or don’t like, but the main thing is getting our hands dirty by trying our own thing.

How to inject more ART into your homeschool!

(note:  links are for you convenience, they are NOT affiliate links)

1.  Stock up on decent quality supplies. 

If you have multiple kids, you will need more stuff (we don’t want fighting).  Here are some suggestions, but choose whatever works for your family:

    • quality drawing pencils
    • quality colored pencils---Crayola is ok, but I will probably invest in something nice once we use up my stockpile.
    • beeswax crayons (they blend well and have more vibrant colors than Crayolas)---Can’t afford Stockmar?  Neither can I.  We are using these Faber-Castel jumbo ones and they are great.
    • oil pastels---We have these.
    • modeling beeswax---I did spring for the Stockmar, but you can google recipes for making your own.
    • pan watercolors for young kids (we prefer Prang, not Crayola)
    • tube watercolors for the older kids and mom
    • a wide variety decent brushes---I have 2 levels of quality, because the younger kids still need to be reminded to not “scrub” with the brush, but they are learning.
    • thicker, quality papers, including watercolor paper, sketch paper, mixed media paper---These do not need to be the “best”, but you can really see the difference in your finished product when you use a nicer paper.
    • other papers---construction paper, scrapbook papers, colored cardstock, plain white
    • glue---sticks and regular tacky glue (but I do avoid Elmer’s school glue, it is sooo thin and messy)
    • scissors---if you can afford a little better than the cheapies, go for those and try to get scissors to fit your child’s hand.  No 14-year-old should have to cut with his 5-year-old sister’s scissors.
    • Whatever else looks good at the craft/art store!  Try something new.

2.  Don’t be afraid to let your kids really USE the art supplies.

You spent a bunch of money on supplies, but gulp, what if the kids wreck them? 

As much as we want to keep nice things nice, there’s no point in having them if we don’t use them, right?  This is part of the reason I recommend having more than one level of quality in materials if your kids are a wide age spread.  Young kids will eventually learn to take better care of art supplies as they watch their older siblings do so---and wanting to be like the bigger kids and use the nicer stuff gives them an added incentive.

3.  Have a space to do art so it won’t disrupt your whole household or schedule it in such a way that it won’t interfere with other stuff.  

Up until this year, we did “school” in the kitchen---meaning any writing, math lessons, etc. (we actually learn all over the house and outside).  This year I did something that I shoulda done like 5 years ago---I converted my den/library into a “school room.”  That sounds so schooly, right?

That’s part of the reason I resisted. 

But we don’t have desks lined up in a row.  We have a dining room table with maps under a clear vinyl tablecloth, computers, everything we need for our lessons, supplies, etc. 

It’s also a room with doors, so if we have something going on in there, we can just close the doors after we are done for the day and we don’t have to look at it.

We don’t do art in our school room, though, we do that at the kitchen table.  The beauty there is that we can drop whatever we are doing in our lessons, go create, and come back to what we were doing.  I can move any drying art projects into the school room to clear the kitchen table for a meal. 

While putting together the schoolroom was a major job to do (and I’m still working on it), it has had a very positive impact on our lives---I plan to post on this more in-depth at some point in the future.

But, you say, I don’t have room for a school room!  I agree, that’s a luxury for me that I never had before this house.  So here are some suggestions to make your space work for you:

  • Keep your art supplies in a portable tote of some kind.  Or keep them on a shelf or in a cabinet near where you will be working.
  • Schedule your art sessions to not happen right before a mealtime (right after lunch is a good time), that way if you need to leave things to dry on your kitchen table, you can cordon off an end for that.
  • Do art on a moveable platform of some kind.  We have some large, plain dry-erase type boards (no frame) that I picked up second hand.  We use them as paint boards or a base to do projects on, so they can be easily picked up and moved even when a project is “in progress.”
  • It might be helpful to have some place/area to move art projects to while waiting for them to dry or if they need to be completed in steps.  Be creative. 

4.  Schedule time for art and have an actual plan. 

I don’t know about you, but when I just put on my list “do art this week,” art doesn’t happen

If I say “Art Wednesday, mixed media project on trees,” it is much more likely to happen.  Especially if I put it on the kids’ list (they will remind me). 

Now, you can be flexible and change your project, or you can even leave it more open-ended and just say something like “work with oil pastels.” 

5.  Find inspiration in your other studies.

Maybe your young ones are doing Five in a Row and this week’s row was illustrations using wet-on-wet watercolors---sounds like the perfect time to break out the water colors.

Maybe you are learning about the change of seasons and finding out why leaves change color---time to do a fall leaf project.

Maybe you are studying the middle ages and learning about illuminated manuscripts---ahh, calligraphy, gilding, and more!

6.  Try out my list of free online art resources for links to art instruction and more ideas for your homeschool.

Now, how about a fun project to get you started?

The young kids are doing A Tree is Nice FIAR-style this week, so I decided to do a tree-inspired art project this week.  This project is great as a follow up for a fall nature walk---pay special attention to the trees and their shapes on your walk.

Mixed Media Fall Art Project

Mixed-Media Fall Trees


  • paper for base (we used 8-1/2” by 11” cardstock because it allows more color option than some other papers, is more sturdy than construction paper, and easily fits into a small portfolio)
  • “tree trunk-colored” cardstock
  • oil pastels
  • acrylic paint in fall colors (we used the kind in little bottles)
  • glue stick
  • cotton balls
  • cotton swabs
  • a palette (a paper plate or piece of cardboard will do)

I was inspired by Gustaz Klimt’s Birch Forest (click the link to see it).  When I say “inspired” I don’t mean that I was trying to copy this painting, it just gave me the beginning of an idea and I ran with it.  This project takes advantage of the high blendability of oil pastels to create the look of tree “bark.”

Step 1:  Choose your papers.  The completed project above was made by my daughter, Mary.  She used a dark green background and light tan for the tree trunks, but you could used any colors you like.  Also choose your orientation (landscape or portrait).

Step 2:  Color the trunk paper all over with oil pastels.  Try to keep it roughly going up and down if you chose a portrait orientation or across if you chose a landscape orientation.  You might stick with tree colors, but feel free to add in some unusual colors (when sunlight bounces off of things in real like, there are often colors there we don’t “expect” to see, doing art helps us to see these things).

Step 3:  Blend the pastels with your fingers or a paper towel.  Take your time with this.  You can blend as little or as much as you want---this step adds some depth to your trees.

Step 4:  Cut out your tree trunks/branches.  Be creative!  You might do relatively tall straight trunks with no visible branches that go from edge to edge, or you might have branches.  Try to imagine the trees you are making---bring out some pictures of different types of trees if needed.  You can make separate pieces, or continuous pieces.

Tree shapes for mixed media fall art project 

Step 5:  Find a pleasing arrangement for your trunks and branches on your background paper and glue them in place.  Use them moment to show how placement can help to create the illusion of objects being closer or farther away---closer trees will be lower on the page and bigger, smaller trees place higher will look farther away.

Step 6:  Time to paint!  Squirt various colors of acrylic paint onto your palette.  Dig a cotton ball or swab into the paint and gently dab paint on your picture to make “leaves” (both in the tree and on the ground).  Continue to dab with the same ball or swab to feather (leaf?) out your colors.  Pick up a new swab or ball with a different color and repeat (you can layer colors over each other).  Continue until you achieve the look you want.  Note:  Sometimes the cotton will leave a bit of itself in the paint---just pick it off before it dries.

A word to the wise:  Littles will sometimes go overboard with the paint---it may be helpful to say, “Oh, that’s just perfect!  Let’s let it dry now,” before they do too much, if you know what I mean?

The are just general guidelines/suggestions.  I recommend keeping this as open-ended as you can.  Peter, for instance, decided to create a “Man-eating Plant” (with explosions, of course) instead…good thing he’s homeschooled.

Man-eating plant with explosions

What thing do you want to do with your kids that you never seem to get around to doing?

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Horizons 5th Grade Math, a review

My daughter, Mary, and I recently had the opportunity to review Horizons Math 5 from Alpha Omega Publications Homeschool Division.

a review of Horizons Math 5 at Homeschooling Hearts & MindsHorizons Math is colorful, workbook-style program that spirals through important key concepts from year-to-year.  After each concept is introduced, the text focuses on it for a few lessons and then it is reviewed periodically throughout the year.   Tests are provided every 10 lessons for assessing your child’s progress.

It is quite comprehensive in its coverage.  You can download a pdf of Horizons’ scope and sequence here, but here’s a brief overview of the key concepts covered in the 5th grade level:

  • place value to the hundred billions
  • rounding
  • addition and subtraction properties
  • Imperial and metric measurements
  • percentages and simple ratios
  • fractions, including least common denominator, adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing
  • shapes and solids, including perimeter, area, volume, and surface area
  • multiplication properties, multiple digit multiplication
  • exponents
  • division properties, multiple digit division
  • mean, mode, and median
  • problem-solving
  • calculator use

IMG_0305 The 5th grade Horizons Math set sells for $81.95 and includes:

2 Student Workbooks (books 1 and 2)

1 Teacher’s Guide

Note:  Each book can also be purchased separately.  Please see the website for details.

This is really all that you need to teach the program, though there are optional manipulatives suggested in some of the lessons.  We have found them unnecessary so far, but should the need arise, we would be able to use substitutions we already have rather than specific pieces (Alpha Omega does not produce a manipulative kit for Horizons Math, but you can find suggested sets at homeschool retailers).

We have found the program really simple to use. 

The text is written to the student, but the teacher’s guide has teaching notes, activities, and additional worksheets for supporting your child when they struggle with a new concept.  The TG is a little cumbersome to use, as there’s one section with the lessons and then separate sections for the additional worksheets, exercise answers, and test answers---you may find it helpful to keep a bookmark in each section.

view of Horizon Math 5 Teacher's Guide at Homeschooling Hearts & Mindsview of Horizon Math 5 Teacher's Guide at Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Mary (age 10) has completed the first 20 lessons and the first  2 tests.  I was a little worried about going into Horizon’s 5th grade book, because she was coming from a different math with a different scope and sequence.  After looking over the placement test, I decided that she should be able to handle the transition with possibly a little extra teaching on my part. 

I needn’t have worried.  Horizons Math is packed with lots of review of previous concepts.  If you are coming from a different math program, as long as your child isn’t “behind,” he/she will probably be able to jump into his/her grade level, but you may want to check out the Horizons placement test to help you to decide.  It’s a  free download, but you do need to sign up for a free account to access it.

A typical lesson in Horizons Math 5:

  • Step-by-step teaching notes (some have hands-on activities or whiteboard activities)
  • some lessons have additional worksheets available to copy and give to your student if extra practice or reinforcement is needed
  • exercises in the workbook---these are a mix of practicing the current lesson and review of previously learned concepts

So far, I’ve found that since the workbook has the lesson written to the student, Mary can read it and then I help her if she doesn’t understand or needs further teaching.  Most of the lessons themselves(up to #20) have covered concepts that she has already learned previously.

The pages are colorful and there’s a nice mix of straight arithmetic computation, review of terminology, word problems, color by answer type thingies, riddles, and so on, all punctuated with cute graphics.  I think most kids will like the variety of activities.

Horizons Math 5 Review @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

If you have a kid whose eyes glaze over when you hand her a black and white page of math problems, Horizons Math is worth a look.

It sounds great, right?  But what do we really think of Horizons Math 5?

I am going to 100% honest with you here:  our feelings are mixed and I’ve decided that if we we continue with Horizons, I will need to make some modifications.  Let’s look at some pros and cons, shall we?


  • It’s colorful.
  • There’s a variety of exercises in each lesson
  • The lessons are a manageable length (although Mary sometimes wishes they were a little shorter, but she might say that no matter how short they were).
  • It’s all planned out for me---we just do the next lesson.
  • It’s mostly self-explanatory, making it suitable for an independent learner.
  • There are teaching notes and extra worksheets for support in the Teacher’s Guide.
  • It’s pretty much painless and yet thorough.  Yeah!


The instruction is a little uneven. 

This is a big one for us.  The lesson itself is often very simple, but then there will be something thrown into the exercises that hasn’t previously been covered in this book and is something I wouldn’t assume the child already knows (and remembers) from a previous year.  And these things are often not addressed in the teaching notes (other than being listed in the “objectives”).

Lesson 18, for instance, reviews rounding numbers to the 10s, 100s and 1000s, a skill Mary mastered a long time ago.  But then one of the exercises involves figuring out the area of a rectangle minus the square inside of it.  Area hasn’t been taught in this book and there is no direction given to the student for figuring this out.

Now, the teaching notes do direct the teacher to “work through one of each problem type in Lesson 18 Practice,” but they also offer no advice or support for actually teaching these particular exercises.  Hmmm…

I can teach someone about area, but what about the teacher who can’t?  I’m a little frustrated that the Teaching Guide offers no help in this area.

Another example is Lesson 21.  The actual lesson is easy peasy (adding 2 and 3 digit numbers with regrouping), but then suddenly finding the volume of a solid appears in the exercises, with no direction given to the student and no help offered in the teaching notes.

Again, I know that V=L*W*H, but what if my mommy brain was a little forgetful?  What good is a Teacher’s Guide that doesn’t help me teach my child?

And here is the really weird thing:  This concept is taught in a later lesson!  It’s taught in Lesson 80-something in book 2! 

This left me scratching my head:  why is this exercise in Lesson 21 at all?  And if it is covered later, why isn’t there a note directing me to that other lesson for help in teaching it?

And these are just a couple of examples, there were others we encountered just in the first 20 lessons.  Mary frequently found that the actual lesson was easier than the other practice exercises. 

I do expect that this will improve as we get further into the program and more and more concepts are taught in the lessons.  My solution for now will be to have her skip things that she doesn’t already know/remember and that haven’t been formally introduced.

The explanations given in the lessons are sometimes imprecise, incomplete, and/or confusing.

Lesson 15 is on Roman Numerals.  The explanation given for writing and reading them is as follows (emphasis added by me):

The letter values are added to attain the desired amount when writing some numerals.


50 + 30 + 4 = 84 1000 + 1000 + 1 = 2001

In other numerals, the first letter value is subtracted for the second letter value to attain the desired number.

10 – 1 = 9 5 – 1 = 4 50 – 10 = 40

There are no further rules or explanation given as far as when you add or subtract, or the fact that you only subtract a number in the same place value from a number---for instance, you can say XL (50-10=50), but you can’t say IC (100-1=99).

The Teacher’s Guide offers a couple of activities to do to practice working with Roman Numerals, but it does not add any clarification on how they work.

Mary has learned Roman Numerals previously, so this was a refresher---she remembered the rules on her own, she just needed some practice with remembering which letter is which. 

I anticipate that this lesson might be difficult for a student who doesn’t know/remember the rules or a mom who was not familiar with them.  Perhaps they plan to explain Roman Numerals more completely in a future grade?

This is only one example where the lesson was incomplete in its explanation.

Geometric problems are often not drawn to scale.

This may seem minor, but I think it’s confusing for a child to be directed to find the perimeter of  shape when one side is labeled as measuring “20 cm” and another is labeled “10 cm,” but the one is clearly not 2x as long as the other.  This happened in more than one lesson.  I think it’s important for a math book to have somewhat accurate diagrams.

Horizons Math 5 Review @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

Repetitious puzzles that require coloring might be a snore for many kids this age.

I’m must going to give you a picture for this one.  Some kids hate to color anyway---this is not going to inspire any interest in doing the puzzle:

Horizons Math 5 Review @ Homeschooling Hearts & Minds

The Teacher’s Guide could be more comprehensive.

There are a few activities given for some of the lessons, but you will need to refer to the workbooks to teach your child.  As I already pointed out, you will often find that there is something in the “practice problems” that is not addressed in the teaching notes.

Answers are given for exercises and tests, but just answers---no step by step explanations.

If you are accustomed to using elementary math texts without a teacher’s manual, you can probably safely skip it for Horizons Math 5.

Overall, Horizons Math 5 isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty good.

I have yet to find the perfect math program.  They all have some minuses and some even have glaring pedagogical problems.

Horizons has many pluses.  It’s self-explanatory and easy to use with an independent learner.  It provides lots of practice and review of concepts and procedures.  It’s open and go, for the most part.

For those areas where it seems lacking, it is easy enough to skip an exercise or provide my child with additional instruction on my own, but if you are uncomfortable teaching math, this may be harder for you.

I recommend taking a look at the samples to see Horizons Math might be a good fit for your 5th grader.

Definitely want it? 

Check out this great giveaway being hosted at Homeschool Encouragement and sponsored by Alpha Omega Publications Homeschool Division:

We are blessed to bring you an amazing giveaway from Alpha Omega Publications Homeschool Division. The winner will receive one subject from each of the main product lines plus a $50 Amazon gift card. That could be a retail value of $450! To enter, please use the form below. a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I received the product mentioned in this post from Alpha Omega Publications Homeschool Division to facilitate my review. I received no other compensation and all opinions presented here are my own.

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