Thursday, 23 May 2013

A Homeschoolers' Kind of Field Trip

In April (2013), our history co-op arranged a workshop with a local National Trust property called Upton House. The remit was to discuss a number of their medieval paintings, learning to de-code their symbolism, and also appreciate what was medieval about them.

Upton House
A National Trust property near Banbury

Upton House is a great place to do this kind of in-depth study of art because:

  • it offers its educational workshops when the house is closed, so we can have the place to ourselves;
  • its education department is very good with young people, and handles any behavioural issues like Asperger's very well.
  • its works of art are deliberately displayed without glass in their frames, at eye height, and without ropes to prevent getting close, so that people can best appreciate them;
  • its art collection is extensive and of high quality, including works by painters like El Greco, Hieronymous Bosch, Tintoretto, and others (later painters include Hogarth, Canaletto, and Gainsborough).

For 1 1/2 hours, the co-op students were face-to-face with some of the works of the greatest painters in the Middle Ages, studying symbolism of flowers, of characterization, of colour, of fable, myth, and legend.

The Co-op examines Hieronymous Bosch (1450-1516),
"Adoration of the Magi"
One of them said, "Oh, how much like Dali it is!"

After the workshop, we adjourned to the lovely gardens on a beautiful spring morning. We had our picnic lunches and let the children play in the woods and by the ponds, on the stairs and amongst the flowers, waiting for the house to open to the public so that we could wander around the house and view some more of its vast art collection.

Picnic in the Park

We also were keen to get back into the house to see what changes had been made since we'd last come here three years previous, when we had visited as part of a study of the 1930s. The excellent Education Department had, at that time, assigned each of the children a role in the household staff and proceeded to explain all their duties during a typical weekend of that era. The Education Officer played the role of Lady Bearsted (of Shell Oil fame), and even my volatile 8-year-old (elevated to the stately role as butler) was the picture of duty, submission, and importance.

Last Time at Upton House
"You just can't get the staff!"

And yet, in true homeschoolers' fashion, we ditched the planned return to the interior of the house and left the children to the roaming, the exploring, the delighting in the senses, soaking up the sun and bathing their feet in the cool water of the "Mirror Lake". One of the few days so far this year with some warmth (we all got sunburned), and we decided to let the children just BE.

Exploring the Gardens

Enjoying the Sun and Friends at Mirror Lake

So, we never did get "back to business", yet it was one of my favourite field trips we've ever taken.


  1. Looks a wonderful day out - very envious of your history co-op! We're due a return visit to Upton Park. That's the place with the sleeping beauty paintings, isn't it?

  2. Sorry -- Sleeping Beauty paintings are at Waddesdon Manor, near Aylesbury. Both are National Trust properties, though.


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