This post is part of a series on the “In a Large Room” Retreat
I asked my friend from California, Cristina, to give the Picture Study talk. Here are her notes, slightly edited for publication.
If you know a little bit about Charlotte Mason, one of the highlights of her educational philosophy is “spreading a feast of ideas” before the child. A feast in that it’s a diverse range of subjects verses just “3 R’s” – reading, writing and arithmetic.
Part of the feast she suggests is something called Picture Study.
When I first was reading about Charlotte Mason five or so years ago and trying to wrap my mind around the whole thing, Picture Study stood out as something new, something exciting, but also slightly intimidating. My husband would ask, “How is this different than just looking at pretty picture?”.
1) So first I’d like to talk about WHY picture study? 2)Then I’d like to share five brief directives on HOW to do Picture Study with your students and even with yourself, because if it is good for our children, certainly there is the same growth we can gain from it. 3)Then we’ll do a Picture Study together, where you get to be the student.
The WHY . . .
1) Charlotte Mason talks about something called the “treasure chest of the mind” — storing up beautiful images for us to recall as we grow, as we consider. Certainly we are surrounded by images everyday and unfortunately now it’s really hard to keep the worst kinds out of our minds. By showing our children some of the most beautiful and celebrated images, whether it be paintings, illustrations or 3D sculpture, we are teaching them what is truly beautiful, à la Phillipians 4:8.
2) This also develops the habit of attention. Sir Isaac Newton said “If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been due more to patient attention, than to any other talent.” Charlotte Mason says that after teaching obedience to our children, attention is one of the most valuable habits for all of education we can train our children in.
3) Finally, Picture Study develops the skill of narration. You can’t hear about Charlotte Mason and also not know that narration is the means of training our children how to tell back, in their owns words, really anything: a portion from a book they read, a direction you gave them, a movie they saw. They use the storehouse of their own vocabulary having internalized the idea (making it thier own) then telling back in their own words what they have “gathered.” In telling back what we see from the picture, the children (or ourselves) have not only recreated that image in our head for life but gaining adjectives, adverbs, even telling a story in sequence describing words into our mouths. The images play out as words on a page, even as we internalize great classic books so we can do with great paintings.
Ok- so HOW do we do it?
1) Your most important job as the teacher is selecting the images (the paintings). You want to discriminate, using the best, the best place to start is the masters, but eventually as you get the hang of it you’ll be able to even sort through more contemporary work. You can do picture study really anytime, but as you consider what picture you will use, you might consider whether you want to…
A) study one artist at a time (artist study)
B) study a subject (Sunday school)
C) maybe you want to look at picture from a time period you are studying, either by when it was painted or the subject matter that is presented (i.e. paintings of Middle Ages)
2) As the parent/teacher your role after choosing the pictures is to secure the time and place of looking at these pictures and as they are being studied, carefully choosing questions that might lead the eyes of the children to parts of the image that they might be missing. Remember the goal is for them to internalize it, develop their ideas about it. Don’t ask if they like it or don’t like it.
3) Once it’s been studied a few minutes, take the picture away and challenge the student to narrate back all he remembers. If there is more than one student, ask the youngest to start then move to the older and challenge to bring out details not already mentioned by the younger child.
4) Leave the painting up to enjoy in the home.
5) Try to get to a museum to see the actual work of art or practice picture study with what you see there.