What do you do when your 8-year-old suddenly blossoms into an acclaimed painter and activist? If you’re Amity Neff, you homeschool.
Amity is the mother of Bria Neff (currently 9 years old), whose decision to use her budding artistic talent to help protect endangered wildlife has garnered both an internet following and a fair amount of media attention.
Since announcing her ambition about a year ago, Bria has sold scores of animal portraits and has pledged to raise $10,000 for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. So far she’s about halfway to her goal.
“I don’t know how she does it,” said Amity, confessing to a sort of pleasant perplexity when asked to account for her daughter’s ability and determination. “I’m taken aback by it.”
Amity is quick to add, however, that she’s determined to do all she can to allow not just Bria, but all four of her children, to prosper in their pursuits. And homeschooling is definitely part of that.
Prompted largely by Bria’s desire to study art, Amity and her husband Brian began homeschooling about two years ago. By adopting a new mode of education, Amity explains, “I felt like I could offer my kids more options, more chances to be successful.”
The flexibility and tailored curriculum offered by home education has definitely made a difference. “It has completely allowed Bria freedom to cultivate her art organically,” Amity insists. “She can discover as she sees fit.”
Portraits with a Purpose
So far, Bria’s discoveries have been a boon to lovers of art and wildlife.
She first started drawing animals at age 4. By 2nd grade, Bria was entering and winning art competitions, including one that ended up having a profound influence on her—the 2016 Animal Action Art contest sponsored by the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
Bria’s success made her curious.
“She wanted to know what endangered means,” explained her mother, “and what happens when an animal becomes endangered.”
The answers to these questions had a profound effect on Bria. She wanted to start helping endangered animals right away.
“There was no talking her out of it,” recalls Amity.
Since then, Bria has painted more than 100 different species. Many of these portraits remain available for sale on her website. http://www.artpal.com/Pigtailsart
Bria said she likes to dabble in a variety of textures and colors, an assertion evident in the range of images she has created—from a brilliant Panther chameleon in full profile to a close-up study of a white peahen nearly submerged in the ivory damask of her own tail fan.
She tends to depict her animals with detailed eyes and vivid expressions. This is because, as Bria explained, “I wanted to give them a face so people would know how important they are.”
A Beautiful Mess
Through her art, Bria has also put a face on the potential of homeschooled students.
“I personally feel she was born with a gift, as all children are,” said Amity. “She’s had a lot of support; I think that’s the difference. She’s had the time and energy to cultivate it.”
Bria has had some formal art training. She’s taken a few classes at The Washington Pavilion in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a converted high school that now provides homeschool courses in subjects ranging from science to the performing arts. The Neffs are so taken with the program that their oldest daughter, now 14, volunteers there.
However, Amity clarifies, the big advantage that homeschooling provides Bria—and all students—is the opportunity to explore what really matters to them.
“All children have the ability to do something significant,” she insists. “But not all children have the opportunity to develop. My children have had the ability to see where their strength and weaknesses are. It’s a very natural way of learning.”
For Bria, following this natural path of learning has meant getting her own art space in their South Dakota home, where she experiments and shares. The resulting “art parties” can be a lot of fun, her mother says, but also less than pristine—sometimes paint goes everywhere.
“You can’t be afraid of making messes,” Amity advises. “Everything great in life is messy.”
That includes providing ample space and opportunities for homeschooled children to explore their passions. As Amity tells her fellow parents, “The best advice is just let them do it.”
Photo Credit: All images courtesy of Amity Neff.