Learning History Through Art: braving clay & other art adventures

learning history through art | bas relief | ancient history art | Tapestry of Grace | ARTistic Pursuits

I remember in the past making a lot of excuses when it came to big art projects in our Tapestry of Grace curriculum. But on an impulse this year, I bought some air-dry clay. Maybe it was the creative rush of a brand new Hobby Lobby just opening in our area, maybe I was feeling excessively optimistic about our year—whatever the mind-set, I ended up with a big box of clay and no excuses. So I’m trying something new this year and braving the clay as we learn our history through art of different cultures.

First up on our tour, has been bas-relief. It seemed simple enough, as we read the instructions and looked at examples in our ARTistic Pursuits book. Carve out an image, smoosh the clay away from what you carved, add details, paint.

And honestly, it was that simple. All the kids enjoyed it. And I do love it when all my kids get to learn something together, from preschool to fifth grade. We learned Assyrian and Babylonian history through art and clay. We’ve been reading about the Assyrians bas-relief battle campaigns and, of course, the famous Ishtar gate of Babylon. Even my preschooler knows where the Ishtar Gate is on his talking globe. The boys chose to carve a dragon and a minion, while my daughter was inspired by the idea of Nebuchadnezzar’s Hanging Gardens.

ancien history | bas relief | history through art

ancien history | bas relief | history through art | preschool

This was a two week project, and part of my campaign to overhaul Mondays. If you follow my weekly updates via my email list, you know the struggle we’ve had with Mondays and my attempts to salvage something from these days. We do only math on Mondays, meet together about the upcoming assignments for the week, and do read-alouds and projects for the rest of the day. For this project, they shaped the clay one Monday and painted it the next.

ancien history | bas relief | history through art

None of the many fiascos I envisioned actually occurred, and I’m thinking I may even be brave enough to tackle Greek clay vases in another week or two. Homeschooling stretches us, doesn’t it? But I’m (usually) always glad I’ve taken the risk and been brave enough to try something new. Learning history through art and hands-on activities and fun read-alouds is exactly why I homeschool, at least one of my million or so reasons.

A Beautiful Mess

My three year old Littlest took his crayons outside the other day. It was a beautiful sunny day. And you can probably guess the results. The big kids ran inside to let me know about this goopy crisis occurring outside.

I’ve been praying about and preaching to myself about reacting less. Pausing in those messy moments. So I set aside the lunch dishes to inspect.

But rather than a mess, God allowed me to see art. Art just waiting to be made. And so we made it: a big beautiful mess.

Melted crayon rocks
We each took goopy crayons and made melted crayon rocks. Littlest’s rock happens to be the biggest.


melted rainbow crayons
With the left over ruined and ruining crayons, we made new rainbow crayons. Nothing like taking a “crisis” and making rainbows; after all, God himself did no less.


Incorporating Art in Learning

I love art. All of it. I’m not picky. So it’s always been important to me to incorporate art into my kids’ experience. Not necessarily making artists out of them, but equipping them with a desire, an appreciation, and some basic skills if they want to pursue it at some stage in their life. I guess to me, art is an avenue of worship, taking time to pause and appreciate the beauty our Creator has placed around us.

In the past, I’ve included it as a formal subject in keeping with the Classical Education model, and I think that worked well when they were really little. Now though, I’ve streamlined the essentials of our homeschool, what we must get done, and let art become a fluid part of our life. I’m incorporating art in the various subjects, activities, and areas of learning.

Learning to Draw | incorporating art

The one remaining “formal” aspect to our art is artist study. But even this is trimmed way down in Charlotte Mason style of “less is more.” We studied two artists from our history time period this year: Winslow Homer (for most of two terms, 24 weeks) and Frederick Remington (for our last 10-12 weeks). And by “study” I mean I have 4×6 prints that I either bought from Dover (artist post cards) or printed from online resources. We spent about 5-10 minutes a week on this, either reading the artist’s biography or admiring his pictures. Then, I tacked the picture to a gallery of the artist’s pictures on our window. That’s it. Next year, I plan to take the same approach with Norman Rockwell and Kandinsky.

Less has really proven to be just as effective (and much less stressful) than more.

Otherwise, art is an option for “play time” and “quiet time” activities. Art supplies are rewards they can earn with their chore point system. Personalized sketchbooks are birthday presents. And I peruse The Artful Parent resources for ideas to stimulate their creativity, when the moment presents itself.

Toddler Art | incorporating art

Then, I set an example. I pursue art myself. I’m playing with Zentangle and card-making. I’m bringing out my calligraphy and using it again. I’m teaching myself to paint. I practice sketching.

Learning to Paint | incorporating art

The perks? Art is fun. It’s not a task that I have to do or that I feel guilty about not having gotten to on the lesson plan. I can’t get “behind” in art. And my kids get to pursue what truly inspires them. My “messy” artist gets down and dirty. My OCD child gets to keep his hands clean with sketching. My toddler gets to do it all! And learning new skills becomes a life-lesson, not just a class activity.

Incorporating Art

Just Make a Mark

Just Make a Mark @ growingNgrace.com

I recently stumbled upon an art website that I absolutely love. She has fabulous ideas, substance, and an organized layout that makes it easy to find age-appropriate projects. She also suggests some really fun resources.

We had lots of fun with one of her ideas to teach the dot. I pulled up the youtube video of the book The Dot as a fun intro into our lesson.

The kids were immediately intrigued, and the story was so good that we ended up watching it at least 5 times. Then, the kids donned their plastic bag art aprons and got to work with oil pastels and watercolors—making their marks and squiggles; learning about oil and water; experimenting with mixing colors, and lots of art wonder.

Beginning Art


Beginning Art kindergarten


Beginning Art second grade

Perhaps that’s one of the joys of teaching art to little ones—letting the wonder of discovery make its indelible mark.

Illuminated Letters and Calligraphy

We’ve been learning about the fall of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Islamic Empire, and some church history over the last few weeks. St. Patrick, St. Valentine, and St. Augustine are a few of the names we’ve read about. And for art, we’ve explored the printed books the monks would work on.

We read Caedmon’s Song, a beautiful book about a shepherd who became a monk and wrote songs. Then the kids colored an illuminated letter. But I thought it might be more fun to go a step further.

We cut out our illuminated letter, glued it to some brown card stock, and experimented with calligraphy markers. I did help them with the actual writing, holding their little hands as they wrote so that they could keep the right angle. But to see their eyes light up as they saw the beautiful letters was worth a little intervention.

Child calligraphy project

child calligraphy project

Then we hole-punched the pictures and threaded some twine for hangers. It was a fun way to explore the work the monks would do and the perfect craft as we head into the Thanksgiving season.

Getting our Summer Groove

We’re several weeks into our new routine now, and loving summer! Nature walks, art, some music theory, poetry—summer school is in full swing. And thankfully, it’s all that I’d hoped and intended it to be.

I get a lot of questions about our summer school schedule, so I thought I’d share what our day looks like right now.

First of all, I’ve split our subjects and assigned them on different days. For instance, we do art and nature study one day; we do music and perhaps some poetry on another day; we do Life of Fred everyday. In all, we do our activities for roughly an hour a day. Nothing heavy, and lots of fun mommy-time with the kids.

music theory and music appreciation
music theory and music appreciation

Every day looks a little different. This is summer. This is our break. And while I want something to structure our days, I don’t want to be so regimented we’re not getting our breather. So first thing in the morning, I send them outside to play, to take advantage of the cool mornings before everything heats up. After playing for a couple of hours, they are usually ready for some structured activities. Oldest is still doing his Reflex Math everyday, usually while I shower and finish up with Littlest. Our “summer school” usually gets started around 11 a.m. and finishes up when we get hungry, around noon-ish.

Oldest's rendition of our dog at sunset
Oldest’s rendition of our dog at sunset

One day, we took a walk and did a nature scavenger hunt  (something taller than you, something smaller than your thumb, something that needs air, etc.); we also talked about the anatomy of trees and the different kinds of trees (deciduous/broadleaf and conifer/evergreen). Then we came in, cooled off, and did some art, learning to sketch with an ebony pencil.

art and nature study
art and nature study

On another day, we read Life of Fred on the front porch and then did a read-aloud together.

Another day, we practiced music together, learning notes on the scale using Lady Treble and the Seven Notes and Oldest’s recorder lesson book and Middlest’s Dora piano.

We added some extra stickers from "Lady Treble" to her Dora piano.
We added some extra stickers from “Lady Treble” to her Dora piano.

On yet another day, we went for a walk to pick different kinds of leaves, we read about the different leaf shapes and why plants need leaves, then we did leaf rubbings in our nature notebooks—and watercolored.

summer school schedule

It’s a little structure and a lot of fun. It’s learning in a casual setting. It’s creating and exploring and enjoying summer.