Appreciating (and Teaching) Subtleties

Untitled, Heads , by Jun Kaneko, Akron Art Museum

Untitled, Heads, by Jun Kaneko, Akron Art Museum


Ogonek Custom Hardwoods’ main differentiator from our competition is the high-quality  craftsmanship we invest in every project we work on. Sadly it’s a reality of life today that we are surrounded by lower-quality things--often we don’t have the option to choose or afford better-- to the point that we many not recognize high quality when we see it or appreciate the difference. The difference between a veneer dining room table-top and a solid wood one. A dovetailed drawer versus a stapled one. A housed timber frame joint versus a non-housed one. Through my association with OCH I am starting see the difference. And seeing it requires slowing down, looking closely, and experiencing first-hand.

Slowing down. Looking closely. Experiencing first-hand. It strikes me that these are also great ways to describe homeschooling. Our son Danny is four years old, and I’ve been homeschooling him for the past three months. An enormous advantage of homeschooling is that we can craft a curriculum for Danny’s learning based on his own interests as well as concepts that we feel are important for him to learn. One of these is the ability to notice subtle but important differences. I’ve observed that Danny is already naturally focused on details and he often points things out to me that would otherwise have escaped my attention. Several weeks ago we were at the Akron Art Museum, one of our favorite places. Strolling through the gorgeous new Jun Kaneko: Blurred Lines exhibit, Danny walked up a piece called Untitled, Heads, and stepped right between the two brilliantly-colored ceramic heads to examine them more closely. I held my breath, thinking maybe he shouldn’t be getting that close, and was about to call him back to my side when he came running back anyway. “Mama,” he said, gazing up at me with a furrowed brow. “Why does only one of them have a face?” I would likely have stood in front of those heads for much longer before noticing that difference myself. He saw it immediately.

So teaching awareness of subtle differences to Danny--like so many other concepts I’m noticing, including mathematical ones--becomes less a matter of formal instruction and more about offering him experiences and opportunities to deepen the knowledge he is already naturally, effortlessly acquiring. Here’s an example of a simple qualitative awareness experience we did this week inspired by a Montessori color-sorting activity.

Paint Chips and Van Gogh’s Sunflowers

On a trip to the home improvement store for seed starter trays we also picked up a handful of paint chips in rainbow colors: red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. We got seven different shades of each color, easier to do with paint chips that include multiple shades on each one.

Once home I cut apart the colors and presented them to Danny in a mixed-up jumble. I asked him first to sort them into different color piles; obvious for the darker shades, but trickier, we discovered, with pastel shades. The palest shades of red, purple and orange (pink, lavender, peach) look very similar until you lay them right next to each other.

Next, we arranged the different shades of each color in order from darkest to lightest. Each shade of red, for example, was only slightly lighter or darker than the adjacent shades, so again it required laying them next to one another where the differences became easier to see than when they were spread apart on the table. I was amazed by how quickly Danny could detect the subtle shade differences, at times faster than I could.

We glued down our color cards in order from darkest to lightest, and then took it one step further. I pulled out a print of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and asked Danny to point out the colors we saw in the painting. Danny showed me that this painting that at first appears limited to just a few colors actually has, if you spend some time looking at it, every color in the rainbow in one shade or another.

I’ve heard other homeschooling parents say that although they are acting as the teachers of their children, in reality their children are teaching them. This experience with Danny illustrated the truth of that to me, but even more it makes me wonder …  is awareness of subtlety something we are born with and then gradually lose as we grow to adults? Danny is certainly more aware of details than I am. Maybe it’s more a matter of reclaiming what we once had and have lost as adults in a world that often doesn’t allow us the time to slow down, look closely, and experience first-hand. Thankfully we have our children (and craftsmen like OCH) to reintroduce us.