Tinkering Spaces: Interview with Emilie Brehm

ferby

Interview with Emilie BrehmThis interview is part of Tinkering Spaces, an informative series of interviews that center on designing kid-friendly creativity spaces. If you’re scratching your head because you can’t figure out where to put your children’s art materials, hatching a plan to turn your laundry room into an art room,  or shifting furniture to make room for a new easel, these interviews are sure to give you food for thought.

Today I’m joined by Emilie Brehm of Normalish,  a homeschooling mom of two sons, ages 7 and 3, with a third due to arrive in October.  After decades of interest in the arts and creative living, she found the ultimate inspiration in mothering.  Emilie holds a B.S. in Apparel Merchandising, Design, and Production from Iowa State University.  In addition to daily creative parenting, she enjoys photography, lettering, and interior design. 

{Readers will have the opportunity to win one of Emilie’s favorite and most-used art materials at the end of this interview.}


Rachelle: Welcome Emilie! I’m so glad that I learned about your creative home through Instagram. Can you tell me a little bit about your background, and how it’s inspired you as a parent?

Emilie: Since I was a young child, I’ve been interested in the visual arts.  My bachelor’s degree is in Apparel Merchandising and Design — and all of my favorite classes were the creative ones.  I loved the electives I took in calligraphy, children’s literature, and interior design.  I had a hard time settling on a major — there were so many possibilities!  One thing I knew was that I wasn’t inspired by the prospects of traditional career paths.  After graduation, I took a couple of extra semesters of “undecided” graduate school — not ready to leave the inspiring environment of academia.  Eventually I decided that my “calling” was parenthood.  It took years to conceive our oldest, so the prospect of a life of creative parenting was long-awaited.  Now, many years later, we’re expecting baby number three this fall — and although this “career” choice has been full of surprises, ups and downs, I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

Rachelle: Will you tell us about the family who lives in this space?  

Emilie: My husband and I live here with our two homeschooled sons (ages 7 and 3).  We’ll soon welcome a new family member — we’re expecting our third son, due in October.

kids art room

Rachelle: I was initially drawn to all the warm wood and natural elements in your home. How would you describe your space? And have you had to make any changes to the space since you’ve had children?  

Emilie: When we first saw this home about a year before our oldest was born, we thought it felt like a perfect “family home.”  We bought it, hoping to start our family here.  A month after moving in, we found out we were expecting our oldest.  So we were able to start making changes to create our family nest right from the start.  It’s a warm, quirky home, approaching 100 years old.  It sits on a large lot with plenty of room for little ones to run and explore.

Rachelle: Is there an underlying philosophy to your parenting and/or playful spaces?

Emilie: I’d say my philosophy is pretty eclectic — and constantly being tweaked as our family grows.  I’m definitely inspired by the Waldorf pedagogy, especially the use of natural materials, the emphasis on the arts, and delayed academics.  I place a lot of importance on outdoor play/nature exploration, open-ended playthings, unscheduled time, minimal use of screens/electronic media, children’s literature (our house is full of books!), and letting kids stay “little” (vs. the societal push to grow up so fast).  I’m influenced by attachment parenting, especially for the early years.  We’ve embarked on a homeschooling journey with our 7-year-old, which is currently inspired by unschooling.  How’s that for eclectic?  :)

outdoor mud kitchen kids

Rachelle: That IS eclectic, and it fits perfectly with everything I see in your home. If you had to be selective, what are three things that you love the most about your space?

Emilie:

  1. The natural light.
  2. The two sunrooms, both used as creating spaces.  One adjacent to the living room is the kids’ playroom, which houses their art table.  One adjacent to the master bedroom is “mama space,” with my sewing machine, fabric stash, etc.  Both are bright, inspiring rooms.
  3. Our wabi-sabi yard, perfectly imperfect and wild.  Tons of creative play happens here.

kids make art

Rachelle: It’s clear that “creating” sits front and center in your home. Do you have any tips for those of us who want to make our homes havens for making?

Emilie: I think a big step is a mental one — to relax into it and let go (I am definitely still working on this!).  Expect the messes (and try to embrace them!), but let go of other expectations and be flexible.  Keep appropriate materials accessible at all times so the kids can dive right in when inspiration strikes (stored right on our art table, we have: white paper, colored pencils, washable markers, crayons, scissors, glue, string, and tape).  If possible, a dedicated art table is great so projects and materials can be left out and revisited later — and no worries about damaging the surface.  I like an adult-size table so there is plenty of space for spreading out as well as room for parent-child collaboration (ours is a thrifted, vintage, wood dining table).   Give kids plenty of unscheduled time so they have opportunities to find themselves insprired!

 kids play tree trunk stumps

Rachelle: Your backyard play scape looks like a childhood oasis. Can you tell us about your “stump park” and how your yard came together?

Emilie: “Stump park” is our name for our playscape constructed of large tree stumps.  We had a large backyard tree that had to be taken down due to illness.  It was a huge oak, over 150 years old, with a trunk diameter of around 5 feet.  In an effort to use natural materials and encourage open-ended play, we already had many smaller tree stumps in use in our yard — so we were inspired to come up with a way to make use of this huge trunk.  We were lucky to be working with a wonderful tree service and hatched a plan together.  They cut up the trunk and the pieces were arranged with their super-power forklift into a playscape.  This process was especially fun because our oldest son was able to get involved — and even help operate the forklift!  It is great for climbing, crawling through tunnels, and pretending.  We have added a slide, a tipi structure, and plan to embellish the playscape more in the future.

forklift moves tree stumps

In the other main play area of the yard, we have a wooden play kitchen with lots of thrifted pots and pans for mudpie making.  Although it makes for a messy yard, we allow the kids to source mudpie “ingredients” freely, including sandbox sand, dirt and mud dug from here and there, leaves plucked from plants, grass and weeds (no chemicals on this yard!), and water.  Also in the “sorry, neighbors!” category, we have a variety of metal pots mounted on a board as a musical “banging wall” (inspired by Soulemama), which is located near our “demolition site,” a old, stone/brick fireplace that the boys are allowed to hammer, excavate, disassemble, and tinker as they choose (with supervision and proper safety, of course!).

This summer, the boys have spent many hours in their “digging site,” a section of the yard where they’ve removed enough grass to make a delightful muddy hole.  This spot has been a creative haven!  It has been a swamp, ocean, special cleaning factory, network of streams, body painting area, mudbath, and more.  We also take our more traditional art materials out in the yard sometimes and have a dedicated outdoor art table for drawing and painting under the trees.

Rachelle: Your yard sounds like a child’s dream! What do you wish for your children to remember about their childhood?

Emilie: A world of possibility.  Their creative spirits fully ignited.  Books.  The love of learning, exploring, experimenting. The magic and mystery of fairies and other wee folk.  Their personal interests respected and nurtured.   Love.

indispensable art materials

Rachelle: What five supplies are indispensable to you and your children at this moment?

Emilie:

1.  Colored pencils.  Our favorites are Ferby by LYRA.  They are high quality, smooth and vivid, and the triangular shape is great for little hands.
2.  Play-dough.  (we use both homemade and commercial)
3.  String.  Along with scissors, a spool of natural kitchen twine is very popular with both boys.
4.  Colored masking tape.
5.  Washable tempera paint.  We buy it by the gallon to accommodate our preschooler’s desire to squirt and mix.

 kids climb on tree stumps

Rachelle: What inspires you?

Emilie: Nature.  My kids.  Finding beauty in everyday moments; photographing them often.  Fellow mama friends.  Books, blogs (including this one!), Instagram, Pinterest.

Rachelle: Is there anything else that you’d like to share?

Emilie: I’d like to thank you, Rachelle, for starting the “creative table” project — both here and on Instagram. (Search #creativetable on Instagram) I already loved taking photos of what’s happening at our art table – now I’m thrilled to have a special spot to share them, as well as to peek in on and find inspiration in what others are doing.  I use Instagram daily and welcome new IG friends — I am “emiliebrehm”over there.Thanks for having me here at Tinkerlab, Rachelle!

Rachelle: I know I already said this, but I love following your images on Instagram. Thank you so much for generously sharing your home with us, and for taking time to chat with me!

Do you have a space that you think should be featured on Tinkering Spaces? Drop me a line at radoorley at gmail.com, along with three photos of your space and a few words about what makes your space a Tinkering Space.


Giveaway:

Emilie has graciously offered to share one of her favorite art materials,  a set of 12 LYRA Ferby colored pencils, with one lucky reader. To enter for your chance to win the Ferby pencils (a $20 value), click on the Rafflecopter giveaway. This is open to U.S. addresses only.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tinkering Spaces: Interview with Mariah Bruehl of Playful Learning

mariah bruehl headshot

Today I’m joined by Mariah Bruehl of Playful Learning, for the second interview in a new series of informative chats that center on designing kid-friendly creativity spaces, or tinkering spaces. If you’re scratching your head because you can’t figure out where to put your children’s art materials, hatching a plan to turn your laundry room into an art room, or shifting furniture to make room for a new easel, these interviews are sure to give you food for thought.


Welcome, Mariah! You’re the mind behind the inspiring website and blog, Playful Learning, and now a gorgeous book by the same name. Because of your book, I’ve been inspired to make some adjustments that make my home more child-friendly, and through your Playful Learning Spaces e-course I’ve enjoyed going through the steps of designing a thoughtfully assembled learning space. In short, you have so much to share with us about designing a fabulous studio space, and I’m thrilled that you’re here to talk with me today!

RACHELLE: Can you tell us a little bit about the “atelier” you created for your daughters and how the space is designed for rich learning experiences?

MARIAH: Our atelier was inspired by the amazing art studios that I was able to experience during a study tour at the schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy. In these beautifully created spaces, children are presented with a rich variety of materials through which they are invited to create in an open-ended manner. It is through the exploration of these thoughtfully selected materials that children are able to fully express their understanding of the world around them.

During my time in the classroom I learned first hand how the environment impacts children’s behavior. When I stopped working I decided to implement some of the best practices in classroom design at home, and was so pleased to see how little things I did around the house made such a big difference for the girls. Our space is set-up so that they have access to resources and materials that support their current interests. I like to make sure that they can independently access (and put-away) what they need. While I like to plan learning experiences, I also love to see what they come up with on their own during unstructured times. They love to dream-up and create their own projects and inventions!

RACHELLE: If you had to be selective, what three things do you love most about the space?

MARIAH: 

  1. It is is an inviting and peaceful place to create.
  2. The writing center, which has inspired the girls to make writing a part of their daily routine.
  3. The confidence and willingness to take creative risks that the girls demonstrate when they are in the space.

RACHELLE: Now that your children are in grade school, how has your home studio space evolved since you first designed it?

MARIAH: While I am continuously rotating the materials based on my daughters’ interests, the basic premise of the space has remained relatively consistent over time. I am a strong believer in providing even the youngest children with high quality materials, presented in a beautiful manner. Both Montessori and Reggio inspired schools use beautiful glass vases and dishes to create inviting displays for children. I have found that when we create environments that respect children, children learn how to respect their environment. When they were younger, I needed to be with them while they were working in the studio. Now that they are older, they love to create independently.

RACHELLE: I’m drawn to all of the natural materials that you incorporate into your home studio and playful activities. How do these materials play a role in learning and what goes into the way you choose them? 

MARIAH: Children are naturally curious and always seeking out information about the world around them. What better places to explore and learn about than their own backyard and local eco-systems? During our outdoor explorations we like to gather treasures, which usually end up in our atelier and are used creatively in some sort of project or learning experience. While I was teaching in the classroom I invested in a large leaf press, which has proven to be an incredible source of beautiful and natural art supplies. We enjoy using our precious collections (pebbles, shells, acorns, leaves, flowers, etc.) for any number of science, math or art inspired activities. We always have them on hand, because we never know what we will use them for next!

RACHELLE: I love your simple ideas for carving out a beautiful and accessible studio space. Can you give us some ideas about how we can organize and store completed projects?

MARIAH: Each year, I order one new archival box for each of my daughters. Throughout the year I save up their work in a large basket and then as we move into summer, the girls and I pick out the pieces that mean the most to them or that represent a developmental milestone. I label each box with their name and the date and keep them all together in the basement. The girls love to look through the boxes from previous years and take pride in the growth they see in themselves. Taking photographs of their work (while in process and when completed) is another great way to save children’s work without taking up any space. Children love looking back through old photographs!

RACHELLE: I live in a small home. What advice do you have for someone with limited space?

MARIAH: Most of the people I work with both in homes and in schools have space constraints. My favorite advice is to take advantage of little nooks. Often times there are numerous corners, or little spaces throughout our homes and classrooms that are not being fully utilized. It is amazing what a big impact a thoughtfully placed basket that contains interesting books and other special items can make on a child. I am also a big fan of taking advantage of wall space, and of creating caddies that can be carried around from place to place.

RACHELLE: If you were only restricted by your imagination, what would your ideal children’s art space include?

MARIAH: Ahhh… what a fun question! Large windows, open space, fresh air, quality art materials, musical instruments, scientific tools, appropriately sized furniture, good food, good music, and, yes… access to creative technology. I feel that creative spaces should be interdisciplinary and allow for self-expression through multiple mediums. Oh! I get giddy just thinking about it :-) To me that is a vision in which all schools should strive for.

RACHELLE: Is there anything else that you’d like to share?

MARIAH: As you mentioned above, I do offer an online course on creating Playful Learning Spaces for children. It is a fun way for people from all over the world to come together and form an online community that offers feedback and support to each other as we work towards creating dynamic and engaging spaces for the children in our lives. A new session will begin on January 18th and I would love to offer a space to one of your readers.

Thank you so much for having me here at TinkerLab. I am a huge fan of your work :-)

RACHELLE: Thank you for being here with us today; I always learn so much from you and the feeling is mutual!

Do you have a favorite studio space idea to share?


Mariah has graciously offered to share a a space in her upcoming e-course, Playful Learning Spaces, with one lucky reader. Playful Learning Spaces ($125 value) is a six-week online course that is designed to guide parents and teachers through the process of designing thoughtful spaces for children. Throughout our time together we will explore and share ideas for creating areas that invite children to engage in reading, writing, science, art, and more. We will also discuss organization, storage, and selecting materials for different ages and stages of child development.

Readers who leave a comment by Friday, January 13 at 9 pm PST will be entered to win a space in the course. Winner will be chosen by random number generator. Open internationally.

A winner has been selected. Congratulations, Mansishankar11, and thank you to everyone who entered to win!

 

Tinkering Spaces: Interview with Jean Van’t Hul of The Artful Parent

MaiaWatercolors_JV

Today I’m joined by the inspiring and talented Jean Van’t Hul of The Artful Parent, who I’ve invited to kick off a new series of informative interviews that center on designing kid-friendly creativity spaces, or tinkering spaces. If you’re scratching your head because you can’t figure out where to put your children’s art materials, hatching a plan to turn your laundry room into an art room,  or shifting furniture to make room for a new easel, these interviews are sure to give you food for thought.


RACHELLE: Welcome, Jean! Your blog,The Artful Parent, is a huge reason why I’m blogging today. You’ve inspired many parents like me to begin their own Toddler Art Group, your writing is so friendly that I often feel like I’m chatting with you over a cup of coffee, and now, lucky for us, you’re writing a book! I’ve watched your art studio grow and change along with your children and I’m excited to have you here today to share some insights about setting up a functional home art studio.

JEAN: So glad to be here! I love your blog too, Rachelle, especially your generous approach to experimentation and creativity.

RACHELLE: Thanks! You have an adorable, functional studio space that I would love to call my own. Can you tell us a little bit about this space and how it got started?

JEAN: We moved to our house when my older daughter, Maia, was almost a year old. I’d been reading books on children’s art and wanted a space to use for art. The house is small, but there is a large laundry room at the back with a cement floor. Perfect for kids art! I painted over the fake wood paneling, gave the cement floor a coat of paint, set up a coffee table to use as a toddler-sized art table, and invited one of Maia’s toddler friends over for an inaugural art experience (feelie goop). Over time we added shelves, more art supplies, different tables, and an art drying wall.

RACHELLE: If you had to be selective, what are three things that you love the most about the space?

JEAN: Well, I truly don’t think a child needs a fancy art space in order to make art. A table and a few supplies are enough—whether they are in a corner of the living room or just at the dining table between meals. That said, here are three things I especially love about our studio:

  1. The wall of shelves my husband added. There are low shelves where I keep art materials accessible for the girls and also high shelves where I keep art materials that I don’t want them to use without supervision.
  2. The drying wall, which doubles as an art display wall.
  3. My IKEA adjustable tables—a generous gift from my toddler art group mamas! The table top is a wipeable laminate, which is so perfect for art.

RACHELLE: You recently posted about updating your creative space to accommodate a five-year and a toddler (and of course, the Toddler Art Group). How did you change the space to welcome children of different ages and various developmental stages?

JEAN: I was mostly just more selective about what materials I kept within reach and what I put higher. Also, I had to think about (and adjust) easel and table heights. Beyond the actual art space, I had to reconsider how and when I let my older daughter do art. The one-on-one kinds of projects we were used to were hard to do with a needy baby/toddler with us, so we started doing more simple projects and saving the more ambitious projects for naptime. I also began setting up a variation of the big sister art project for the toddler. It’s getting easier again to do a wider range of activities and Daphne is joining in more and more.

RACHELLE: Your children are prolific art-makers! What do you do with their art as they make it and how do you organize and store their completed projects?

JEAN: They certainly are prolific! And I can’t say I always keep up. I try, but the art piles up! I do have a simple storage system that has worked well for me. I use plastic storage boxes labeled with the child’s name and age. We also use artwork for birthday and holiday cards, wrapping paper, and gifts.

RACHELLE: You’ve written a lot about your favorite art materials, and I’ve discovered my favorite watercolors and paper for young children through you. What five supplies are indispensable to you and your kids at this moment?

JEAN: It’s so hard to keep it to 5!

  1. Liquid watercolors
  2. Washable tempera paint
  3. Paper
  4. Markers
  5. Homemade playdough

Those are the five that get the most consistent use. But how can I leave off contact paper?! Or collage materials? Or tape and glue?! Really, the supplies that are indispensible are whatever the kids are working with right now. How’s that for an answer? :)

RACHELLE: If you were only restricted by your imagination, what would your ideal children’s art space include?

JEAN: I’d have to say that our art space is pretty ideal for us right now. If I were wishing for more, I might add a sink right in the studio for washing hands and brushes. Also, morning sunlight. And a studio elf to keep it clean.

We actually don’t do the majority of our art in the studio, though. A lot of our art making and creative activities happen at the dining table or the nearby kid-sized table. There’s something to be said for having an art space (even if it doubles as an eating space) right in the thick of things and in the midst of family life.

RACHELLE: You also seem to be an avid sewer, and I know that many of us would love to find more time for our own creative pursuits. Between blogging and writing a book, how do you carve out time for your own projects? And where do you work on them?

JEAN: Ask me again in a few months!

Parenting is my priority time- and energy-wise right now and my own creative pursuits often take a backseat to what I can do with my children. But I have started to think about how I can embrace my own creativity and see what that might mean to me at this point. I’m not even sure. I’m considering trying out an evening art class and possibly a photography class. We’ll see…

RACHELLE: Is there anything else that you’d like to share?

JEAN: Thank you for inviting me here, Rachelle! I hope we can talk in person someday!

RACHELLE: I hope so too; that would be so much fun. Thank you for joining us today!

Jean has graciously offered to share a 2012 Artful Parent Calendar with one lucky reader. Around the Year with The Artful Parent: Celebrating the Seasons and Holidays with Arts & Crafts” is no ordinary calendar. This one is chock-full of ideas and inspiration to keep you and your family artful throughout the coming year. Each month features at least one seasonal art or craft activity complete with photos and instructions. By keeping this calendar handy, you’ll have an attractive visual reminder to add a bit more art into your family’s life throughout the year.

Readers who leave a comment by Monday, December 19 at 9 pm PST will be entered to win a free copy of the Artful Parent calendar. Winner will be chosen by random number generator. Open internationally.