Starting a Co-Op by Tina F.

This article is a repost of something Tina Filmer wrote a few years ago, a true gem, enjoy!

“A Christian should use these arts to the glory of God — not just as tracts, but as things of beauty to the praise of God. And art work can be a doxology in itself.” Francis Schaeffer
“But Colin was of an exploring mind and he knew nothing about the Doxology. ‘What is that?’ he inquired….They sing it i’ church,’ he said. ‘Mother says she believes th’ skylarks sings it when they gets up i’ th’ mornin’.’” from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
“Millais, a member of the Pre-Raphaelite movement, expressed a general interest in her artwork saying, ‘Plenty of people can draw, but you and my son John have observation.’” to Beatrix Potter


• Start young to nourish the eyes, ears, mind and soul to the aspects of beauty.
• Train attention and observation so that the student can find delight and beauty and perhaps many doxologies!
• Keep lessons short.
• Use narration.
• Present the best curriculum in art, poetry, language, nature study, handwork, and composers.
• Appreciation becomes true delight when beauty is encountered~ a walk in a museum, a walk by a pond to find lichen, singing when not in “school,” and being in awe of seeing the real thing.
• The goal is to carry away a picture of beauty in their minds.

HYMNS: Melissa Dula
• Starting with a prayer and hymn sets the tone for the morning.
• Try to expose the children to the sheet music or preferably a hymnal. It is important to show the music, not just the words.
• Choose hymns that glorify the Lord, engaging the mind and the heart.
• Worship is “To adore; To pay divine honors to; to reverence with supreme respect and veneration” (Noah’s 1828 dictionary).
• Songs we did this year: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God; Be Thou My Vision; May the Mind of Christ, My Saviour; King Alfred’s War Song. Christmas Songs – Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Angels We Have Heard On High

MUSIC STUDY: Tina Fillmer
“In music study the same principles apply as do in picture study, nature study, and nature notebooks. That is the principle of attentiveness and good observation. The goal is not to have children who can give a lecture on music theory. It is to have children learn to enjoy classical music and tell one piece from another just as naturally as they learn the difference between, say, The Farmer in the Dell and When the Saints Go Marching In- because they are both familiar with and fond of what they are hearing. The more they are exposed to good literature, the better they get at reading the themes and language of literature. In art and music, the more they are simply exposed to pictures and music, the more they learn to ‘read’ the themes of the world’s classic compositions.

So they can simply play around with music, listening to it, plinking away on musical instruments without being burdened with facts about the lives of composers, music theory, technique, and composition. In other words, those of us who do nothing much more than play the tapes and CDs, occasionally humming along, of each term’s composers need not feel guilty. You might try leaving the radio on your classical music station sometimes…and after a while you too will know the delight of hearing one of your children say, “Mom! That was Faure’!” And then you can know the humility of having to say, ‘Who?’” (taken from

How to start:
• Begin with simple exposure.
• Choose a “Best of”….composer CD from the library.
• Find used, inexpensive composer tapes at music stores or internet. ( has CDs and downloadable MP3 files starting at 99 cents).
• Check out Ambleside’s list of website resources for classical music online. They also list composers and their recommended pieces to study.
• Select and play music from the period of history of the student’s study.
• Attend a concert. Check out the Lollipops performances at
How to introduce the composer:
• Select 1-2 composers per semester. (We found that as a result of doing 1 composer/month, the kids remembered the stories, but confused the composers and songs.)
• Play one composer as background music for a period of time.
• Read biography of composer (Boyhoods of Great Composers by Catherine Gough and Opal Wheeler’s books, recently republished.)
• For young children, focus on the childhood of the composer. This is the part they’ll remember.
• Listen to “Classical Kids” tapes or CDs (historical stories of composers and their music) and “Beethoven’s Wig 1 and 2” (silly lyrics written for classical music).

How to engage the students:
• Dress the child as the composer and hold an interview as a form of narration.
• Have child dramatize a composer’s childhood story. (Mozart jumped onto the lap of the Empress and gave her a big hug. He also ran from his barber to compose a piece on his clavichord while having his hair cut.)
• Have child place composer’s picture on timeline.
• Help the child become attentive to the music by putting a silly lyric to a musical phrase in the song. Mozart’s 40th symphony (as suggested by Anna Brock of Charlotte Symphony)….”It’s a bird, It’s a plane, No, it’s Mozart!”
• Have the child count the number of times he hears the most important phrase in the song.
• Help the child identify the type of instrument(s) played in the song. (Listen for the violins.)
• In our co-op, we studied:
o Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Hansel & Gretel” (and had the kids narrate the story.)
o Claude Debussy (we did a cakewalk while listening to “Golliwog’s Cakewalk”).
o Georges Bizet: “Jeux d’enfants” (spun a top while listening to “La Toupie” (The Top), blew bubbles while listening to “Les bulles de savon” (Soap Bubbles), played Blindman’s Bluff while listening to “Colin-maillard” (Blindman’s Bluff), and played Leap Frog while listening to “Saute-mouton” (Leap Frog)
o Wolfgang Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” (and read the story while listening); Eine Klein Nachtmusic (sang the catchy tune “Please don’t play your violin tonight” from “Beethoven’s Wig” CD and taught the kids to play the most recognizable phrase on the piano (simplified sheet music from, and Bassoon Concerto (compared it to the grandfather in “Peter and the Wolf” and showed pictures of bassoons.

***Please note that Charlotte Mason may not have recommended to teach classical music by adding silly lyrics to the music.***

POETRY RECITATION: Bonnie Buckingham

“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever,” and the purpose of poetry is to make us blind moles see this beauty and so feel this joy, then our problem of teaching poetry to children reduces itself to this: What can we do to ensure that the poetry our children learn shall open their eyes to beauty, shall increase their joy? ” Parent’s Review,
Rev. H.C,. Beeching, 1892

• The poems to learn by heart are to be delightful and suitable to the student’s age.
• Begin with poems that are lyrical and have definite rhythms and beats. Look for interesting words that feel good on the tongue to say!
• Put hand motions to the poem.
• For instruction, read together several times.
• Keep going over the poem until memorized.
• Have the student stand up and recite. A class can do it together.
• Keep the poem alive afterwards. Keep reciting them. Have the children take turns.
• Read them free verse, but allow them to grow in recitation before requiring them to recite these…(example: King Alfred’s Prayer).
• Poems we introduced: “Daffodowndilly” from When We Were Very Young; parts of “The Walrus and the Carpenter” by Lewis Carroll; “Christmas Carol” by Christina G. Rossetti; “Who Has Seen the Wind” by Rossetti; “Fairy Land (ii)” by William Shakespeare; and many selections from Beatrix Potter Nursery Rhyme Book (with CD)…ISBN 33114038520052 (your kids will happily memorize all of these poems on their own!)

PICTURE STUDY: Bonnie Buckingham

“In these lessons we aim at giving ideas of three classes, concerning – (1) the meaning of the picture; (2) the beauty with which that meaning is expressed; (3) the personality of the artist – where this is clearly felt in his works, e.g., in the paintings of Fra Angelico or of Michael Angelo.” Parent’s Review, Miss K. R. Hammond, 1901.

• Have the child study the details of the painting for a few minutes.
• The picture is turned over and the child describes it from memory.
• Tell an interesting part of the artist’s life.
• When studying an artist who used more than one media, we discussed the nature of those different media. For example, Mary Cassatt used oil and chalk pastel). The students were allowed to experiment with chalk pastels at the end of our study mixing colors and noticing the direction of strokes. We also read the poem “A Box of Pastels” before they began). When we studied Winslow Homer, we talked about the difference between watercolor and oils, and after studying several paintings, had students identify which media he used to paint each of the paintings we studied. They had to give reasons to support their choice. The kids also did a watercolor copy of Homer’s “the Trout.”
• Have the child “narrate” by drawing an outline of the composition.
• The children can act out the painting. Each child was allowed to be Mary Cassatt (the artist) and compose paintings using other students, props and costumes. They would then take digital photos of their own compositions and were allowed to take the pictures themselves using the LCD screen to view their composition before taking the photograph.
• Attention and concentration habits as well as delight in beauty is cultivated.
• Describe the dimensions of the painting.
• Narrate as much as possible throughout the term.
• Use one painter per term or at least 6 paintings to know the artist.
• See the real paintings, if possible, and go to museums.
• We downloaded art prints from onto a CD and took them to Kinko’s to print each child a copy ($1 per copy). This gave the child a chance to “own” the painting. You may want to take an original painting from a book to determine how light or dark a picture should be. We introduced 1 print per session, and the kids put the prints in a plastic protector in their notebooks.

FRENCH: Melissa Dula
• Our goal was to familiarize the kids with French, and we did this by teaching the following in the allotted 10 minutes during our co-op: counting from 1-20, greetings, and familiarity with objects in the room.
• French songs such as “Frere Jacques” were added. After the song was taught, the kids learned to do “rounds” by being divided into two groups. Each group would be led by a teacher making good eye contact with the kids in her group.

NATURE STUDY: Amber Benton
Studies we did this year:
• Bugs (live and dead as well as captured and observation in the wild) – dry brushes in notebooks and narrations of how a particular bug lived (social/solitary, what they ate, where they lived) from personal observation.
• Small session on sky and clouds
• Fungi (concentrating on lichens)
• Life in a pond
Tools we used:
• Loupe (hands lens)
• Microscope

HANDCRAFTS: Amber Benton
Things we did this year:
• Cardboard Loom Weaving
• Making Pom Poms
• Long Unit on Bookmaking which included Paper Making and Altered Books
Essential things:
• Knowing the motor skill coordination of your students. Pick projects that can be done at several different levels.
• Use excellent quality tools (sharp scissors that fit the hand of the student; corkbacked metal rulers are a must when working with exacto knives).
• Handcrafts need not be expensive, but don’t necessarily rely on “kits.” Our weavings were done on cereal box looms with scraps of yarn and fabric, and our paper screens were made from wood scraps, ‘L’ brackets, and window screen material.

• Meet regularly.
• Find a way to communicate….email/phone/yahoogroup, etc.
• Agree on subjects to be taught and how to teach. Make sure each person is familiar with Charlotte Mason.
• Agree on a semester schedule, and post the dates and teacher’s names with dates.
• Teach from your strengths. Be aware of each other’s gifts and talents. Initially, 2 teachers would split all the subjects during one co-op session. Eventually, each of us took 1-2 subjects, did the research, and taught it at each co-op session.
• Assign a person to send reminders about the upcoming co-ops and items needing follow-up.
• Assign someone to watch the young children while the older kids are being taught.
• Each child should have a 3-ring binder (for art prints, poetry, etc.) and a nature notebook.

Our Co-op Schedule (every other Friday):
9:15 – Arrive/Exercise & Social Time
9:30 – 12:00 – Co-op
​9:30 – Hymn/Music Composer
​9:50 – Recitation
​10:10 – Picture Study
​10:30 – Language
​10:45 – Nature study
​11:30 – Handcrafts
12:00 – Lunch
12:30 – 2:00 – Bible Study/Kids Play


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