Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Review of Spears Art Studio, a K-8 Art Curriculum

What do you get when you have a closet full of art supplies, two kids, and a homeschool mom with an engineering degree?

Lots of child-directed home art projects and outsourced art lessons!

Honestly, I really do appreciate art. In fact, I spent quite a bit of time drawing in my younger years. However, my approach to art isn’t exactly, well…artsy. I’m great at copying things, my mechanical side enables me to see how things go together and I have strong spatial awareness. However, I’m just not that great at coming up with ideas on my own and I certainly have an aversion to the mess some art projects create. I’ve looked at a few homeschool art programs, but they either seemed too complicated or too crafty. As a result, art has always been an outsourced subject in our homeschool. Unfortunately, art classes don’t come cheaply. Spending over $50 or more a month in weekly art lessons for one child is not unusual, certainly not an expense that could be done on a permanent basis for most families. Because of cost and lack of ability, art has often been put on the back burner in our homeschool. After all, aren’t the 3Rs much more important?

The Spears Art Studio for K-8, designed by Diane Spears Ed. D, has really forced me to rethink my position on art instruction. I’ll admit that I was skeptical when my review package arrived. First of all, the program is on a CD-Rom with PDF files which isn't my favorite format for materials. Without being able to flip through pages, the small package was a bit deceiving.

Secondly, the first few projects I scanned appeared to be busy work, crafty and revolve around holidays. It shouted of my mediocre public school art experience as a child. However, I’m glad I was forced to dig in to complete this review. Otherwise, I would have missed out on a real gem.

Spears Art has impressed me on several levels.

The Mission…

My first attitude adjustment came when reading the first page of the 24-page introduction, which started with the Spears Art Studio Mission Statement:

1. in everything recognize the hand of God and to give Him glory;

2. to provide resources for the Christian educator that:
a. help students make connections between the Creator, creativity, and personal maturity;

b. are organized for natural learning progression;

c. provide experiences for higher order thinking skills;

d. “stretch” academic and manipulative skills

The introduction continues with skills addressed in the program, the importance of art instruction for all subjects, art concepts, how to teach and analyze art and more. Once sentence in particular caught my eye.

"Solid art instruction promotes creative thinking, problem solving, discernment, comparison, and learning how to see accurately. These are life skills needed for success in any endeavor.”

These aren’t just craft projects about the holidays.
I dug in deeper…

The Christ-Centered and Depth of Instruction…

First of all, this is a high-quality Christian art curriculum. Each lesson is tied into Scripture, making this a Bible and character development tool as well. However, it would not be an accurate statement to say this is just a Christian art curriculum. Also integrated into the lessons and projects are language, science, social studies, math and even music. For example, the first week of April’s water theme has the students learning some natural facts of water, relating earthly water to the water of the Spirit, and interpreting forms of water artistically. The related Scripture verse, Psalm 119:9, is about purity. Biblical stories about water, e.g. Jonah and Jesus calming the waters, are introduced. Vocabulary words, art and otherwise, are discussed, e.g. tempest, turbulent, pitch, refraction, and abstract. The privilege of Western society to have clean water and the importance that other societies have this same basic need prompt students to consider how they can assist ministries helping in this area. This is quite a bit of meat that is outside of the actual art project.

The Bulk of Content and Ease of Use…

Not only is Spears large on substance, it’s massive in the sheer size of 497 pages, 269 projects, and 137 reproducible patterns, posters and examples. Thirty-five weekly themes are provided with at least one project per grade level. Since the different level projects are based on the same theme, Spears is a great curriculum to use for teaching a group of multiple age children. Additionally, this is a program that you can use year after year for the same child.

Do not let the thoroughness of this program intimidate you. While the projects for each grade level are different, much of the prep work for the lesson, e.g. Scripture references, art history images, topic information, is the same. Spears does the legwork for you by detailing the objectives, listing images to retrieve and including a teacher inspiration section for discussing related topics. Patterns needed for a project are included, though art supplies do need to be gathered. I found that I had acquired many of the needed supplies already from years of taking 10-12-week outsourced art classes and gifts to one of my artsy kids. Some of the projects require planning for materials (e.g. baby food jar lids) and you may have an initial expense of buying some supplies. However, a complete supply list is provided in the appendix and each week's lesson lists supplies needed for the projects to aid you in planning. These lists are also available to view at the Spears website before purchasing.

Complete K-8 Supply List by Grade Level and Category

Complete K-8 Supply List by Month and Activity

At first glance, those lacking artistic talent may feel overwhelmed with the art instruction portion, but the lessons are really presented in such a way that almost anyone can have success. The use of images, along with a sample picture of a completed project, will help your students tap into their own artistic talent, even if the teacher is a bit lacking.

The Value…

Spears Art Studio K-8 can be purchased for $39.95, shipping included. Cost is not nearly as important to me as value. This price equates to a mere 15 cents per project. Or, if you prefer to break it down by year, only $4.50 per school year for only one child, less for multiple children. WOW! Even when you account for the added costs of materials and printing, this is still an exceptional deal. A combo package with the cd-rom and printed manual is available for $134.95, but you’d be better off printing off a personal printer, which I'm guessing will probably cost around $30. Otherwise, just printing what you need reduces the print cost significantly. Also available at the Spears website are a high school art program for $29.95, a calligraphy package and literature guides.

My initial reaction was to recommend this program for a co-op situation. Spears Art would be fabulous tool for group teaching for your local support group. However, you really can’t go wrong purchasing this for your own personal homeschool, whether you have many children or just one. It's Christ-focused, complete, organized, and a great value.

Diane Spears has shown me the importance of art instruction for both academic reasons and personal growth. Look around at the creation of our Father, the ultimate artist, filled with unique, intricate, and balanced creations. In His likeness, He placed within all of us the ability to express and experience in a variety of ways. Some of us just need to stretch a bit more…

So, I ventured out. We had our very first at-home art lesson. Below you will find the results of the January Week #1 lesson with two children, ages 9 and 11. I used the Grade 4 project for both kids. The theme was "Winter and Snow" and the project was to create a monochromatic snow scene using a punch technique. Not bad, eh? I think we have more projects in our future.

Visit the Spears website to view FAQ, an article on the importance for art instruction, 2 FREE weeks of sample lessons and to make your purchase.

To hear what other Crew members had to say about this program, visit the Official TOS Crew Blog.

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