Putting the Child *In the Way* :: The Art Center

After posting about my oilcloth projects, I’m eager to share with you a new setup we have for our art center.
Charlotte Mason speaks of Masterly Inactivity and what she says has always struck me:
“We ought to do so much for our children, and are able to do so much for them, that we begin to think everything rests with us and that we should never intermit for a moment our conscious action on the young minds and hearts about us. Our endeavours become fussy and restless. We are too much with our children, ‘late and soon.’ We try to dominate them too much, even when we fail to govern,and we are unable to perceive that wise and purposeful letting alone is the best part of education.”  
“…once we receive an idea, it will work itself out, in thought and act, without much after-effort on our part” School Education, Volume 3, p. 27-28
That part is important – that wise and purposeful letting alone!  There is no need to provide artificial or forced lessons in exploring, investigating, observing, creating.  The child will do all these things on his own when inspired after reading good and worthy books!  This thought shared in Volume I provides the impetus for my approach to setting out art supplies in the manner you see.
“Nature will look after him and give him promptings of desire to know many things; and somebody must tell as he wants to know; and to do many things, and somebody should be handy just to put him in the wayHome Education, Volume 1, p. 192

This is my job!  I try to put the children in the way of tools and resources so that they can investigate, explore and create.  This art center is simply an answer to that job of mine.  

If you remember (or you may not…in which case: fair warning!  This is a long post I’m going to link you to and is very picture heavy!) we have for a very long time kept our art supplies out and accessible on the shelves in our learning room.  I have long believed that when art supplies are lovely and are displayed or offered in an inviting way, the children will go to them and use them.  {And by the way, when art supplies are lovely and are displayed and offered in an inviting way, THE CHILDREN WILL GO TO THEM AND USE THEM.}  And I’ve seen the fruits of this over the years!
Three things happened here over the summer:
  • I wanted the shelf space for books.
  • I needed the art supplies to be more accessible to all members of our family (little and big).
  • I had a wooden tv cabinet that was solid, sturdy, unused, that Rob and I DID NOT want to lug up to the attic and that I was sure had a REAL purpose somewhere in my learning room…if only I could figure out what it was!
I decided it would make a very nice art center and hoped it wouldn’t scream “I’m a tv cabinet”  to everyone that walked past it.  It might though.  🙂
We keep our favorite art pencils, watercolor pencils, markers and watercolor pens on the top of the cabinet.
Here are the art supplies you see pictured:
**Prang color pencils (in fact Prang’s entire selection is inexpensive and good quality)
**Collection of paints:
       **Lyra watercolor set
       **Prang watercolors
**Paintbrush collection
**Waterbrush pens:
       **Niji Waterbrush pens – small, medium, large, flat, also available as a set from Dick Blick
       **Aquaflow Waterbrush set – this is an inexpensive set and is perfect for my littles!

A short word about waterbrush pens:  We love them!  They’re fantastic because they contain the water necessary for watercoloring within the barrel.  My oldest daughter really enjoys them.  They’re so perfect for nature walk watercolors completed in the field. I always give credit to Kimberlee’s post, The Joy of Watercolors, because that’s where I learned about these waterbrush pens and we’ve enjoyed them so much ever since she told us about them!

:: These little watercolor creatures were inspired by the Hawkinson books linked below ::
Art books:
**Botanical Illustration in Watercolor by Eleanor Wunderlich
**Keeping a Nature Journal by Clare Walker Leslie
**Collect, Print and Paint from Nature by John Hawkinson – favorite!
**More to Collect and Paint from Nature by John Hawkinson – favorite!
DVD Instructionals:
**Beginning Watercolor Journaling with Christina Lopp and Gay Kraeger
**Eve Anderson’s Teacher Training Tools DVDs (Nature Study contains dry brush method)
In the drawers of the tv-cabinet-turned-art-center we keep a variety of art materials like felt, glues, acrylic paints, extra tape, wooden miniature shapes, pipecleaners, popsicle sticks (seriously…you really can make anything out of wooden popsicle sticks!  This is the one art supply I always keep stocked).
One thing that has worked out so much better for us is using the art center to display our Metropolitan Museum of Art page-a-day calendar.  The children see it and comment on the art much more often.  Which brings me to my little fine print warning: not all art on the calendar is appropriate for little eyes!  There are some nudes and a few other images I don’t display.  Different families have different comfort levels on this and whether or not they want to handle it…so I’m just mentioning for your consideration!  It doesn’t happen frequently so I just remove art I don’t want observed and put it on the backside of the calendar.
The art center has worked out well for us!
As you can see, my littlest’s table backs up to the other side of the art center….
….where she loves to grab her supplies and work!
{by the way, this post is a mish-mash of pictures taken today and pictures taken this summer when I originally set the art center up!  And that explains why Katie, my 4 year old, is wearing a summer dress in the above picture.  She’s not wearing a summer dress today, I assure you!}
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Now, before I go, I want to address a question I know you’re all asking.  It comes from a comment I had from the oilcloth project post.  Sarah writes:
And I assume that keeping the children’s art supplies out works well for you? I love how they look in the mason jars! But I would be afraid that they wouldn’t put them back and keep them sorted … We are having troubles with that in other parts of our home (toys!), and I really am struggling with how to keep them available … but neat (and easy for them to clean up).
It does work out well for us, Sarah.  If you have little-littles (just starting to toddle) you might not want art supplies within arms reach of them, in which case, do consider another way of setting supplies out!  Our former manner of making art supplies available on shelves worked well for us when the Doodlebug was toddling.  They were out of her reach, but older children could see them and reach them.
Now, as for sorting and putting things away, like the art supplies you see set out – that is a habit to cultivate with the children.  It is one which affords me a great deal of leeway in the way I set things about in the home.  When something comes out, I make it a point to assist the children in remembering to put the item(s) away when they’re done.  It takes an investment of time and effort on my part, but after a few days of gentle reminders, they know where things go and how to return them and tidy.  It’s a habit of tidying. Which brings me to a couple of other tools you might find useful, Sarah:
Hope you enjoyed this little post on our Art Center.  It really is all about putting the children in the way of beautiful, worthy objects which assist them in exploring the ideas they encounter within the covers of their worthy books.
Do spend some time reading through Erin’s fantastic post on her art center!  And the conversation at 4Real discussing an art center as an easy way to unleash creativity in your home.
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  1. Inspiring! Yes, the page for 1 November this year was a doozie, wasn't it! I am going to have to get searching for the How to Draw Like an Edwardian Lady.

  2. I love these peeks into your schoolroom, even if they do tend to stir a little jealousy in my selfish little heart! 😉

    You've done a great job of creating a beautiful space.

    thanks for sharing 🙂

  3. This was a wonderful post, Jen! And thank you so much for addressing my question(s) specifically. I really appreciate it. I think it is time to introduce some clearer guidelines with toys, including a toy rotation. I am hopeful it will make a difference.

    You are so kind and helpful here, on your blog, as well as at 4Real. You are a blessing!

  4. Bumped into this post through Pinterest and love the Charlotte Mason quote. This week we are doing a J-term where the girls pick a topic and study it in depth on their own. They love it and it motivates them to get back to school after our Christmas holiday!

    We love art and your art table ready for creativity is perfect. I need to be more organized in this way! Thanks for inspiring!

  5. Hi Stacy,
    Thanks for updating the link to the Eve Anderson DVD!

    Yes, I have all three of the Eve Anderson DVDs that Perimeter School makes available. They're all fantastic! Very helpful in the practicals and I learned so much from them. I highly recommend them!

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