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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Creating a course of study--"Art and Anatomy"

Patience pondering
Folks are always asking me--"If I am only concentrating on the basics, then how will I ever cover all of the other subjects, such as history and science?"

There are a number of ways to cover such things, none of which need curriculum (especially in the younger years), or even a "scope and sequence", and most of which can be done by a child independently through the reading of good books.

Just think about any topic of study; while modern textbooks can give a person a good overview, they can also kill a person's natural inquisitiveness, since only the facts the writers and publishers deem necessary are published, and are presented in an often dry, matter-of-fact way that makes anything seem dull.

Learning with real books is a totally different approach. Charlotte Mason was very much in favor of such a method, and this is the most natural way to explore the universe of knowledge and understanding. Modern homeschoolers such as Dr. Robinson (of the Robinson Curriculum), and Marilyn Howshall are also in great favor of such an approach.

Just reading aloud a good book over lunchtime, such as a historical biography, or even a nature book such as The Handbook of Nature Study, and discussing it, with a dictionary and encyclopedia (or the Internet) at hand is one of the most natural ways of covering many of the things that will spark the interest and light the fires of a child's imagination.

While waiting for the repairman the other day, I made good use of the time and read to my tiny girls from The Story Book of Knowledge, to be found in the Dollar Homeschool discs. We were covering the grandfather's explanation about clouds and snow. In discussing what we had read, I went over the point about snow being a natural insulator against the cold, which caused us to think of Igloos. We immediately went over to the computer and looked for videos on Igloo building, and found quite a few. We were all fascinated by the traditional way these snow huts were created, and it was such a profitable time for us all!

My eldest daughter (at home) is naturally inclined to take a subject and study until she has almost exhausted it. She has a drawer in her room that is full of notebooks, sketchbooks, and other collections of her notes, outlines, drawings, etc. in her various areas of interest. It hasn't been necessary for me to assign or keep track of what she was learning, other than to look over her findings and listen to her when she described her discoveries. She has known intuitively how to gather the best books, and we all know where to look if one of our favorite tomes is missing!

But there are times and circumstances that create for us the need to have a plan in place. One such instance may be when one is under the oversight of government officials who require something written in the form of a "plan", or when we have a child that, despite all the best intentions, is just a little bit too addled and needs to learn to be more studious.

This is why I have developed the idea of creating a "course of study". It is akin to a unit study, but does not rely on extensive pre-work by the parent/teacher. It uses notebooking techniques, but is not dependent on loads of research from all sorts of sources that would be beyond most early readers. It uses real books, but gives just a bit more structure and delves a bit deeper into a subject.

A course of study is basically using the contents page of a real book on any worthy subject adding in other books related to the subject, and then assigning notebooking projects after intervals of reading. All of this is listed on a sheet, with space for assigned times for completion (we don't assign grades for completed work around here--if someone's work is sub-par, they do the whole thing over, besides, why would someone do something that was not their best, anyway--isn't learning have enough merit of its own without attaching any carrot on the end of the stick?). 

It is very important to pick subjects that are interesting to each prospective child. I am not convinced that my artistically gifted son needs to do research on truck engines, nor do I believe my other history-buff son needs to study oil painting techniques. I am not going to try and cover every subject ever conceived during their time with me. Instead, I am going to train them in ways to study the subjects that will be of real worth to them throughout their lives, so that they will be able to teach themselves what they need to know as the need arises. We already spend a great amount of time touching on general and pertinent knowledge during our family discussions, which can last for hours at a time!

For an instance, my very gifted and talented son would do well to further study human anatomy for his artwork. I thought it would also be a good idea for him to have a greater understanding of how his body works, and how to better take care of himself.

I have chosen to use the book, Guide to Health from the Dollar Homeschool science collection for the main framework of his study. I am also including the book, Cyclopedia Anatomicae, which gives instruction in the art of sketching human and animal forms,  and the Dorling Kindersley book, The Visual Dictionary of Human Anatomy (please note; I did not go out and purchase these books just for this study. We have owned most of these books for a long time--and bought them from various sources, including from thrift stores and garage sales. What we often term as "coffee table books" are wonderful resources for these types of studies). 

For each chapter in the main book, I have made assignments; some in the form of keeping sketches, and also writing assignments and copy work. I have put my plan in a form that is color-coded, so that he knows what is expected with each chapter. Here is what it looks like:


This is only the first page, of course

I have left myself room to embellish the assignments, since I plan on using the writing assignments to teach things such as outlining, essay writing, etc. We are using notebooking pages in various forms as the need arises. Of course, if we find any other resources that are interesting to us, we also add those as we go along.  He is keeping his finished work in a three-ring binder.

This system could also be implemented by filling in only the main chapter headings, and filling in the other reading/studying materials as the child progresses. This is great for keeping track of high school credits for a transcript, etc.

I have also created courses of study in other areas, with more well-defined notebooking pages for the younger ones, which I plan on sharing in the future, perhaps with a PDF download of our study based on the McGuffey book, "Familiar Animals".


  1. Excellent Post! Thanks for sharing this it has given me a great example to start with while preparing for next school year.

  2. Thanks for the encouragement. What do you do with those who seem to only want a cursory knowledge of anything?