Beautifying the Mind: Picture Studies Pure and Simple

The Purpose Behind Picture Studies

The appreciation of art has the potential to shape the very people we are or are to become morally, intellectually and spiritually.  Charlotte Mason said,

“But we begin to understand that art is… of the spirit, and in ways of the spirit must we make our attempt.”                                        Volume 6, A philosophy of Education, pg 213

Appreciation of art is a skill the self seeks to acquire very naturally as in intelligence, imagination or speech.  It does not require even elementary understanding of art appreciation skills to be able to look at a masterpiece and have it affect you on one or all of these levels.  The purpose behind applying ourselves to this exposure is foremost, character development and secondly, to develop a general interest.  Both are closely tied together to form the roots of aesthetic sense; having a sense of the beautiful or characterized by a love of beauty.

How does art develop character?

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”                                                       Philippians 4:8

When we put beautiful in, beautiful comes out, and that beauty which is stored inside in the form of memory, becomes treasures that cannot be stolen.  Furthermore, these practices help develop observation skills and offer reinforcement to the relationships developed in history, geography, literature and other cultures and socio-economic characteristics.

Practically Speaking

Charlotte Mason practiced picture studies regularly, looking at 6 pieces by one artist every term, and she had three terms a year.  A quick calculation brings us to an easy conclusion that if this is practiced throughout the child’s educational career, upon high school graduation they will have been exposed and considered 39 artists and 234 pieces of art!  Is that not a beautiful accomplishment for a practice that takes 10-30 minutes every two weeks?

When I do a Picture Study, I print out a color 8.5 x 11 reproduction of a single picture for each child.  I found to be reasonably priced, particularly if I do the printing all at once for the year.  I also decided last year to give each student a binder for their pictures so that they have a sense of ownership of them and feel free to go back and revisit them as often as they like.  We combine this binder with their weekly recitation assignments and it is used regularly.

I will give each student their single picture for the session with the title and date on the back, and allow them to just look at it for 2-3 minutes.  They are encouraged to close their eyes for brief periods during this time and see if they can recreate the image in their mind.  If they can’t, they can open their eyes and continue absorbing the image’s details.

When the time is up, I will have the students flip their pictures over and have them “Tell Back” or narrate what they saw, giving them time and space to reimagine the picture in their mind and share what they recall.  When one student finishes, I will let another student fill in more details until everything has been shared.  Then, we flip the picture back over and review it again.  This time I will point out some details that may have been missed and offer some short biographical or historical information that is relevant to the appreciation of this piece.  This information I collected the night before on the internet.

I have three questions I picked up from John Muir Laws, a nature journalist, that I use to guide our investigations in every subject of study, including art.  I ask my students to consider these three thoughts:  I notice…, I wonder…, and It reminds me of….  These three questions stir just about every consideration the engaged mind might have and helps direct the processing of new ideas in a personal way, awakening curiosity and inquisitiveness.

Older students, maybe 3rd grade and older, might enjoy the reading of a biography of the artist.  It is imperative that this book not be “Twaddle”; just a dry compilation of facts about the artist and their work.  Instead, search for a piece of literature that will create a relationship with the artist.  To do this, we need to get to know them; their character, their thoughts, their challenges, the culture they lived in and how they responded to that culture.

You may ask, “What about form and composition?  When do we discuss color or movement?”  Yes, yes, yes.  These things come all in due time, but try to avoid clouding the study with analysis, sacrificing the relationship and personal joy your student is having.

For the older students, after the second viewing is complete, a great conversation is ready to take place.  Notice I did not say LECTURE.  A conversation requires input from more than one person and that is what you are looking for.  Within that conversation, you can bring up one or maybe two of these concepts as pertinent to the picture.  From a few articles I have a list of questions to choose from but again, I will use only one or two per study and they should be significant to understanding the piece.

  • Describe the use of space
  • What types of shapes do you see? Lines?  Colors?
  • What feelings or emotions do you feel when you look at this picture?
  • If you had done this painting, what would you have called it?
  • What do you think the artist is thinking or feeling while he created this piece? What are they trying to communicate?
  • What is the focal point and why does it stand out?
  • Look at the picture with your eyes half shut to see divisions and shapes of light and shade, balance and tone
  • What is in the foreground? In the background?

Last Minute Pointers

  • As tempting as it may be, be the guide but not the leader.
  • Refrain from sharing your observations and allow your students to find their own.
  • Lessons for younger student should not be longer than 10 minutes, older students can go as long as 30, but it is really nor necessary most of the time.
  • Don’t worry about teaching the different “schools” of artists.  After developing a relationship with 2 or 3 artists from the same school, your student will naturally notice similarities and identifying styles to their own joy and delight.
  • Art is a beautiful way to communicate a culture or time of history.  Try to pair your studies with where you are in your history timeline to offer another dimension to history and literature studies.
  • Lastly, don’t forget to incorporate three-dimensional art like sculptures, engravings, metal and ceramic creations.  An architectural study is fascinating when studying the middle ages.


Goegan, N. (2015, August 30). Corot Picture Study. Retrieved from Living Charlotte Mason in California:

Jimenez, G. (2007, June 18th). Looking at Art. Retrieved from Bright Kids:

Laws, J. M. (2016). The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling. Heyday.

S, J. (2015, June 10). Artist (Picture) Study Workshop. Retrieved from Charlotte Mason in the Bluegrass:

Smith, C. (2013, May). Elenor M Frost and the Narration of a “Picture Talk” Part 1 & 2. Retrieved from Charlotte Mason Institute:

Vencel, B. (2015, September 1). A Beginner’s Look at Picture Study. Retrieved from Afterthoughts Blog:



Come Ye Sinners, Poor & Needy

Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy ~ Hymn Study

Music Selections found on YouTube:

  • Fernando Ortega (with Amy Grant) Contemporary version

Music Selections found on Spotify: 

  • Fernando Ortega w/ Amy Grant on the Storm album


Author’s Biography

Joseph Hart was English.  He resisted Christianity while growing up in a Christ-centered home, and eventually even wrote against the preaching of many of the popular preachers (like John Wesley).  In 1757 the prodigal son returned as he came to know Christ and became an independent Calvinist preacher himself.



This hymn was written in 1759, just two years after his conversion.  It rings with the very real knowledge of being a sinner and the grace that frees.  Hart had the revelation of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane showing him that His sufferings were for him (and the Church), a beautiful expression of love and sacrifice.


Bible Verse for Reading, Narration and Copywork

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”         Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)

The Prodigal Son as told by Jesus in Luke 15:11-32


Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love and power.


I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
O there are ten thousand charms.

Come, ye thirsty, come, and welcome,
God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you night

Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.


View Him prostrate in the garden;
On the ground your Maker lies.
On the bloody tree behold Him;
Sinner, will this not suffice?

Lo! th’incarnate God ascended,
Pleads the merit of His blood:
Venture on Him, venture wholly,
Let no other trust intrude.



Charms:  a power of pleasing or attracting, as through personality or beauty

Bounty:  a generous gift

Nigh:  near in space, time, or relation

Laden:  burdened; loaded down

Tarry:  to delay or be tardy in acting, starting, coming, etc.

Prostrate:  to cast (oneself) face down on the ground in humility, submission, or adoration.

Suffice:  to be enough or adequate for; satisfy

Incarnate:  embodied in flesh; given a bodily, especially a human, form

Ascended:  to move, climb, or go upward


Venture:  to take a risk; dare; presume




(n.d.). Retrieved from (n.d.). Retrieved from Bible Gateway: (n.d.). Retrieved from

United Methodist Church Discipleship Ministries. (2017). Retrieved from

Holy Ghost with Light Divine

Holy Ghost with Light Divine ~ Hymn Study

Music Selections found on YouTube:

Music Selections found on Spotify: 

  • Walden Grove Orchestra (instrumental)
  • Remedy Collective (also found on YouTube) This version has a current melody with a beautiful horn sequence.  They only sing verses 1, 3-5 but I really enjoy it for personal listening pleasure.


Author’s Biography

Husband of hymn­ist Eliz­abeth Reed, An­drew Reed (1787-1862) at­tend­ed Hack­ney Coll­ege, Lon­don, and be­came a Con­gre­ga­tion­al min­is­ter. He was pas­tor at the New Road Cha­pel, St. George’s-in-the-East, then at Wy­cliffe Cha­pel, which he helped build in 1830. He al­so earned a de­gree from Yale Coll­ege, and found­ed the Lon­don Or­phan Asy­lum and Reed’s School in Cob­ham, Sur­rey. He wrote 21 to­tal hymns



This hymn is an important teaching on the ministry of the Holy Spirit in a Christian’s life.  The Holy Spirit, if regarded, can offer direction, reveal Truths, sanctify my life, and be a strength and power to enable God’s ministry to flow through me.  Complete surrender to the Holy Spirit is complete surrender of our lives to Christ.  (Osbeck, 1985)


Bible Verse for Reading, Narration and Copywork

15 “If you love Me, keep My commandments. 16 And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.                                         John 14:15-18 (NKJV)


Holy Ghost, with light divine,
Shine upon this heart of mine;
Chase the shade of night away,
Turn my darkness into day.

Let me see my Savior’s face,
Let me all His beauties trace;
Show those glorious truths to me
Which are only known to Thee.

Holy Ghost, with power divine,
Cleanse this guilty heart of mine;
Long has sin, without control,
Held dominion o’er my soul.

Holy Ghost, with joy divine,
Cheer this saddened heart of mine;
Bid my many woes depart,
Heal my wounded, bleeding heart.

Holy Spirit, all divine,
Dwell within this heart of mine;
Cast down every idol throne,
Reign supreme, and reign alone.

See, to Thee I yield my heart,
Shed Thy life through every part;
A pure temple I would be,
Wholly dedicate to Thee.


Object Lesson on the Holy Spirit

I can’t imagine a child that hears about the “Holy Spirit” or the “Holy Ghost” for the first time and doesn’t picture an actual ghost inside them.  This can be a very confusing topic to explain so I found this study for families with a great object lesson that will make explaining the Trinity a little easier.


Divine:  coming from God: divine laws; divine guidance. Extremely good or unusually lovely.

Dominion:  the power or right of governing and controlling; sovereign authority.

Woes:  grievous distress, affliction, or trouble:

Idol:  an image or other material object representing a deity other than God to which religious worship is addressed.  Something regarded with blind admiration, adoration or devotion.

Reign:  to have control, rule, or influence of any kind.

Yield:   to give up or surrender (oneself)

Devotion One

The Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness.  He intercedes in our prayers before the Lord, bringing even the cares of our heart that we can’t put to words.  He is our helper, always seeking to build relationship between us and the Lord.

26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us[a] with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.                                          Romans 8:26-27 (NKJV)


Devotion Two

The Holy Spirit points out sin in our hearts and minds.  He encourages us to repent and choose a path that will honor the Lord.  He teaches us God’s Word so we can understand and obey it.

16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.      Galatians 5:16-18 (NKJV)


Devotion Three

The Holy Ghost is the giver of hope, one of the greatest powers in the world and in a Christian’s tool box of disciplines, able to overcome evil.

13 Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.              Romans 15:13 (NKJV)



(n.d.). Retrieved from (n.d.). Retrieved from Bible Gateway: (n.d.). Retrieved from

Osbeck, K. W. (1985). 101 More Hymn Stories. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.


Music Studies for the Musically UN-Inclined

So, how does a music study work for the musically un-inclined teacher?

Music studies, why do them?  I mean really, with all the information and experiences I am trying to expose my children to day after day, is there really time?  Quite frankly I couldn’t have imagined ever being the one to say, YES!, but here I go.

Last summer, at the CMI retreat in Los Angeles, each daily session was started singing a hymn and a folk song accompanied by a piano.  The first day was a bit awkward for me.  I’m not what you would call musically inclined.  I can’t read notes, challenged at playing a kazoo let alone an instrument made of wood or brass, and though I enjoy worship in church, my voice might be closer to “a beautiful noise unto the Lord”.  However, I walked away from the experience enlightened.

First of all, music is FUN and FUN is a very important aspect of learning!  Music involves self-expression and that is a valuable skill to exercise.  Music is inspirational and as educators, that is one of our goals.  Music has a lovely and subtle connection with history.  Music adds life and depth to both cultural and biblical history and history does the same for music.  Lastly, music can affect our hearts and minds, bringing peace, joy or just a proper perspective to the moment.  In short, from my perspective, music is the color to an otherwise black and white day.

So, how does a music study work for the musically un-inclined teacher?  I started with choosing one hymn and one folk song for each month.  I researched it’s history, printed out it’s verses and found the songs on Spotify or YouTube.  When I introduce the song for the first time, we read through the verses while the music plays and take notes if there are any variances in the wording.  After that, we sing along with the song, finding our timing and melody with the music.  One morning we go over some of the vocabulary they might not understand.  Some mornings we talk about the concepts expressed in the song.  Sometimes I can find a Bible verse that goes with the hymn and we discuss that.  Sometimes the songs have fascinating authors or history and we learn about that.  Each morning we sing one of our songs and discuss one of these aspects until the month is through and the selections are changed.  It has been inspirational, encouraging, funny, thoughtful and interesting.

Will we ever discuss music theory, learn to play an instrument or hire a singing coach?  We’ll see.  But for now, the world of music is filling my home and our hearts as it adds a new layer of interest to our studies.  I know it’s making an impact on our lives because even the dogs have taken to howling with us!

Drawn to Know

I was pre-reading a resource for the CMI Retreat this summer.  The book was “The Laws Guide to Nature Drawing and Journaling” by John Muir Laws, who was also the keynote speaker at the retreat last August.  Within the first few pages I read, “You cannot truly know something until you have drawn it” and I stopped.  Think about that for a moment.  Isn’t that rather profound?  Consider what would happen if we sat down and drew something we really didn’t know or understand.  Imagine all the focus of attention, the time and concentration we would put on that ONE thing before it was drawn to completion.  What would happen?  Would we notice things we hadn’t seen?  Would we wonder about it and have curiosity spark?  Would we relate to it as we compare it to other things or experiences?  Of course we would!  And in the end, we would know it deeper and more intimately than ever before.

This was only the beginning of the epiphanies I enjoyed as I journeyed through this amazing resource and listened to his multitude of presentations at the retreat.  It opened my eyes to a brand-new way of approaching Nature Studies in our home and why we should continue to fight for room in our ever-tightening schedule for time outside, in nature.

I came with the understanding that nature study was THIS….  botanical-example

Every day I should pack up the kids and go outside with our nature journals for 2-3 hours.  We should be enjoying our time as we look for something natural that interests us and then we should draw it.  It shouldn’t take too long; the kids would love it, they would learn to focus and become inquisitive, develop powerful skills of deduction for studying science in the later years and in the end, we would have a whole journal full of beautiful documentation of God’s creation and plenty of joyous memories to boot.

In our best moments, we had some lovely memories of picnics in the park, working on journals and doing some of our reading for the day while enjoying lunch.  That was at its best.  I struggled to get out of the house more than once every couple of weeks.  Frustrations rose over our drawing skills; the huge gap between the reality on paper and the expectations in our heads.  In the end, it was hard to justify the investment with little to show in accomplishment, all the while thinking if I had just started this when my kids were younger they might have enjoyed this more.  I had conceded this wasn’t for us.

WAIT!  Don’t throw in the towel!  In steps Mr. Laws with a whole new paradigm shift.  First, he introduced the idea of “I notice”, “I wonder”, “It reminds me of….”  These prompts have begun to permeate our whole world of studies and ignite in us a growing flame of curiosity.  While we are observing Nature, we are challenged to identify exactly what we are seeing by completing the statement, “I notice…..”  Then we are encouraged to find questions by finishing the sentence, “I wonder…….”   Relating our new concept or object to something we have already experienced brings us to the “It reminds me of…..”

For example, as I spy an insect on the ground, I speak my observations out loud.  “I notice this critter has four pairs of legs but he also has two long arms which come from the middle of his body and he lifts them when threatened.  The arms remind me of a small scorpion because they have little pincers on the end.  I notice his head is a flesh color but his body is spotted and brown like a cricket.  He is very active and moves quickly.  He also has two pairs of mandibles on his head so I wonder if he is carnivorous.  You can see two close high-set eyes on his head.  I found him at night so I wonder if he is nocturnal.”

A little research took me to a website where I identified it as a Sun Spider or Camel Spider (Solifugae).  Quite a ferocious arthropod, I learned the arms are called pedipalps.  But it did not answer my questions about his behaviors.  I will have to continue my quest on that information.  Notice, I didn’t rush to identify.  The more time you take to notice and ask questions (think about the who, what, why, when, where and how), the more you will see and create a relationship with what you are observing.  Identifying needs to be the VERY LAST thing you do in your journal entry.  But, the very FIRST thing you should do is notate the date, location and weather.  Everything recorded on that page can now be considered scientific data.img_1451

Do you see the whole new level of purpose we have just applied and achieved in learning with Nature Studies?  I don’t have to point out that I am not an artist and my journal is nowhere near “beautiful”.  It actually has quite a bit more writing than I normally do, in part because a certain distance was required to observe this guy… and he was quick!  Detail was challenging.  But you know what my journal is?  It is mine.  It records what I saw, what I was interested in and helped me store that experience for future learning.  That’s what we want for our students, right?  We want something applicable to them!

I would like to encourage you, separate from your Nature Studies, to offer some instruction on basic drawing techniques.  This is not about making our pictures prettier, but improving our ability to communicate beyond words.  For some learners, this is a precious relief from the world of words.  This was surprisingly frustrating for my dyslexics who struggle with varying levels of dysgraphia.  Our approach was a discipline of expressing ourselves for who we are and resisting comparing ourselves to others who are expressing themselves for who they are.  Whatever the case may be, basic drawing skills can reduce frustration for hesitant drawers and broaden our ability of expression.

Also, it is imperative that you embrace nature studies, or any studies for that matter, with the same amount of enthusiasm that you want your students to have.  If journaling does not become a priority for you, it will not be for them.  Get yourself a journal, grab a few supplies (also discussed in his book) and your student’s hand, and go on a journey together, exploring the wonders around you.

Mr. Laws’ resource is a vast amount of information.  Not only does he spend well over half his book guiding his readers through artistic techniques for capturing nature on paper, but he has a whole chapter of suggestions on different types of journal entries, such as:

  • Draw what you see
  • Pick a subject and choose different perspectives and scale
  • Observe changes over time
  • Choose a species and look for similarities or differences.

I particularly liked the suggestion to take some string and tie the ends together.  Open it on the ground and observe anything that is going on inside the stringed area.  Narrowing down the area of observation seemed to help overcome anxiety from being overwhelmed by the great outdoors.

You can approach nature journaling as a unit study and focus on one element at a time.  An intense look at local birds, insects or geology, as an example, can be a great place to get started, especially with younger children.  Older students might like a more independent approach and may appreciate the development of awareness by giving them quarterly goals for observation.  For example, over the next 6 weeks, my students will need to document 5 local plants, 3 local trees, 5 local birds and 5 local insects.  They may decide what they record and when, but I look for them to be exercising the techniques we have already discussed and becoming aware of our surroundings.

“You cannot truly know something until you have drawn it.”  If someone drew me, the evidence of age would, no doubt, be obvious.  But would they notice that my wrinkles are laugh lines?  Would they wonder how I got that scar on my shoulder?  Would they recognize the color of my eyes as the same as my dad’s?  There is so much to be known about the world around us.  If we can inspire and teach the habit of wondering, noticing and developing relationships, we have infected a new generation with curiosity and helped them to think like true scientists on the never ending road to discovery.