Tinkering Spaces: Interview with Mariah Bruehl of Playful Learning

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!

 

Comments

  1. Tania says

    Mariah’s book was waiting for me under the tree this Christmas (ok, I may have ordered it for myself!) and I would love to take her class in 2012!

  2. Tania says

    Mariah’s book was waiting for me under the tree this Christmas (ok, I may have ordered it for myself!) and I would love to take her class in 2012!

  3. Monica Luedke says

    That sounds like an awesome course to participate in! We’ve been working on creating our discovery room but it can be so hard to focus on figure out how we really want to make it open ended and beautiful at the same time.

  4. Mansishankar11 says

    I have limited space as we live in an apartment. I keep Plaything organized by using plastic net zipper bag. It takes up shape of the object stored in it and I find them better than using zip locks specially for medium size toys are miniature cars etc. Also I have put different set of stuff in each room which helps to engage my daughter all the time.

  5. Mansishankar11 says

    I have limited space as we live in an apartment. I keep Plaything organized by using plastic net zipper bag. It takes up shape of the object stored in it and I find them better than using zip locks specially for medium size toys are miniature cars etc. Also I have put different set of stuff in each room which helps to engage my daughter all the time.

  6. Sarah N says

    Great interview!! I love the spaces that Mariah has designed! I found out about her site a few months ago and am so inspired! Thanks for the chance to win a spot in her course. It sounds amazing!

  7. Sarah N says

    Great interview!! I love the spaces that Mariah has designed! I found out about her site a few months ago and am so inspired! Thanks for the chance to win a spot in her course. It sounds amazing!

  8. Joy Arcolano says

    Love the idea of a writing center!  The big question is how to make all this stuff happen in TINY RENTAL spaces (you can’t really create wall installations to hold stuff, but you also can’t use up a lot of the floor space…) without ending up with an overwhelming mess!

    • Rachelle says

      That’s true. We always went ahead and poked holes in the walls anyway. Maybe this is a question for my FB page.

  9. Cococorbett says

    Thank you so much for the inspiration. I am a mother of two boys (4 and 1) and I now stay at home full time. I was a 2nd grade teacher for many years and couldn’t agree more with some of the ideas you have shared here. What I find to be most important is the influence the environment has on children. I am constantly striving to create a space at home that my son can create in. Having access to the materials he would like to explore, rather than being limited to the materials I choose, is key. I always find he thinks of things I never would have dreamed of. We also face the dilemma of a small apt. so it is a challenge but also find to think about what wall of nook of the apt. I can turn into a center for him. I think it drives my husband nuts as I’m always asking him to hang (and rehang) things until they are just right for my son.

  10. M Wall says

    Thank you for brining new ideas and resources. I am going to start looking at the nooks and corners in my home!

  11. says

    I would love to take part in this course.  I am the director of a small private preschool with limited space–I need all the help I can get!

  12. Beth J says

    Trying to re-organize my infant, toddler, and pre-schooler’s playroom to incorporate so many of these ideas! LOVE them! Thanks, xoxo

  13. Maureen says

    I could SOOO use this!  I’m trying to redesign/reconfigure our guest room to be a combo craft room/playroom and still serve as a guest room and yet the room is not a large room so I am extra challenged.  Thanks, Maureen (jnomaxx at hotmail dot com)

  14. Sarah Hall says

    We are trying to open an arts integrated charter school in Southern New Hampshire, and this would be a great opportunity for us as we develop the space. Thanks so much for the info and ideas!

  15. Reyreywall says

    I would *love* to take the class  I’m studying Psychology and want to get my Ph.D. in Educational Psychology and I have studied Reggio Emilia and Montessori methods.  I’m a mom to a 5 year old so I want to make everything fun and comfortable for her to learn in.

  16. Shereen Cook says

    I would love to take the course! It sounds fantastic. I am constantly looking for ways to better arrange spaces in our home.

  17. Ramosloreto says

    Loved the interview! It has inspired me to create something similar at home. Let’s see if I can find similar materials. The online course sounds really interesting. Thanks!

  18. Kimbo_kat says

    **sigh** This book was the only thing I asked for from Santa this Christmas, and I GOT IT!  I am having so much fun and soaking up all the wonderful ideas and vivid photos.  I would LOVE to pair that with participating in the online course!  I hope I get picked!  Thanks, ladies!
    Kim

    • Rachelle says

      how about that?! the ONLY thing you asked for  — if i didn’t already have a copy, i may have done the exact same thing!

  19. Karenda says

    Enter me! Enter me! That sounds like a great class. I am currently working on adding a room to our house that will function as our family room/studio. This would be soo helpful.

  20. CW says

    Wonderful ideas. I’d love to take your course! Any tips for outside spaces? I’m currently working on a school garden plan and would love to incorporate art making spaces.

  21. Katelyn B says

    I would love to learn more, sounds so interesting! My children are 3 and under and I would love to learn about creating spaces for their age and as they grow. We have a school room that I would love to see inspiring excitement in learning and development.

  22. Kniehans1013 says

    Great interview. I struggle with figuring out how/what materials to keep out with a three and one year old about. We have a wonderful space for them to roam but I would love to learn how to make it more inspiring for all of us. Would love to take the class!

  23. Amanda Bindel says

    Mom to three and six year olds and religious ed teacher (in a Montessori-inspired, yet creative-in-response) religious education program. Always looking for new ideas. When my older daughter was four and my little one was toddling (and getting in to her stuff), I turned her closet into her workroom. I cleared it out, added some adjustable shelving, and put an Ikea desk and chair in. She had access to her materials with a door that closed! She truly spent hours at a time in there. Now both girls have access to the materials and they are not tucked away in a closet. :-)

    • Rachelle says

      i love this idea, amanda! i just turned my daughter’s closet into a reading nook, and she’s in love with the cozy little space. she literally melted down last night when her little sister went to bed before her and she was deprived of bedtime stories in her hidey-hole. thanks for the comment.

    • Rachelle says

      Wow, Heather, congratulations!!! Sending you good baby vibes and hope you have a smooth delivery. Thanks for the comment.

  24. Grace@PoeticHome says

    I recently found tinkerlab and have already done several of your fantastic projects with my soon-to-be two year old son.  I’ve just set up an art studio for him, but I know it needs much more inspiration — and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I just might be the winner.  Thanks so much!

    • Rachelle says

      That’s awesome, Grace, and I’m thrilled to hear that my blog has been a source of inspiration. Fingers crossed :)

  25. Laura_meyer says

    I love this concept and am always trying to get new ideas as to how to how to meet my girls’s developmental level and interests.

  26. Darienna says

    Was reading a little about the Reggio Emilia method and really keen to learn more.. To create a learning space for my little one.. :)

  27. Sheau says

    This is so wonderful. I have the book on my list for a while to get. This interview is very inspiring. Yes, creative spaces for our children!

  28. Constancewwhite says

    To love life is to know many things and to know many things one must first experience them through their heart and mind. I look forward to experiencing more!!! 

  29. Ajaranak says

    my home and my mind are in a mess. My new year resolution is to get things organized. I would really like a chance to have help for creating lovely spaces for my children.

    • Rachelle says

      I felt the exact same way last year, Ajaranak. For what it’s worth, I found a lot of inspiration in Tsh Oxenreider’s Organized Simplicity. You can do it — baby steps!

  30. Mmkrieger says

    I’ve learned a great deal from the shared art spaces on Tinkerlab, Artfull Parent, and Pink and Green Mama. I look forward to an opportunity to learn more about creating a better creative space for my daughter.

  31. Aspannagel says

    I love that Mariah adds music to her list – music plays such an important role in our daily family life. we start our morning with a dance party sometimes to music on the ipod and sometimes to our own marching band. Love it! Love your blog too :) thanks!

    • Rachelle says

      When I first read your comment this morning, it reminded me to turn the music on earlier today. I love a good dance party too! thanks for the reminder!!

  32. says

    Excellent interview!  Mariah is such an inspiration in our home!  It sounds like our ideal creative space would look almost identical too! ;o)
    xoxo
    ~ joey ~

  33. Amy @ Crunchy and Green says

    I love how music, science tool, technology and food are all included in Mariah’s list of an ideal art space. 

  34. Reina Mora says

    My children and me absolutely love Mariah’s book :) And of course we will love even more to be able to join her course so, pleaseeeeeeeeeeeeee, choose us ;)

  35. Christin says

    Oh my!  I love this interview!  I just recently bought the book Playful Learning and have completely changed my thoughts on activities, toys, etc.  We are getting ready to redo our playroom and I want to take the eCourse so bad but just can’t swing the fee right now…would LOVE LOVE LOVE to win it!!! 

  36. Kimberly Nicholls says

    I love the archival box idea. Right now I’m stuffing everything into one big plastic file folder box, which I know is not sustainable.  I do want to save stuff, but hadn’t really figured out how to limit it in a reasonable way.

    • Rachelle says

      I also store work in rubbermaid storage bins and the archival boxes are very appealing! Sometimes it’s hard to tell which pieces are milestone pieces in the moment, and with a little distance it becomes more clear. One thing that I do is store whatever I can’t bear to part with, and then revisit the pile a few months later once my kids are a bit older and I have more of a long-range understanding of what they’re creating. 

  37. DMama says

    Thank you for your ideas and inspiration.  My biggest challenge is organization in a small space.  My girls like both independent and family play.  I feel I could do a better job of rotating and organizing activities/supplies so they are inspired and can follow their personal creativity.

    • Rachelle says

      I feel the same way, and I’m constantly rethinking the way my little space is organized. Do you have a garage, storage area, or basement where you could keep those rotating materials? Are you on Pinterest? I have this board that you might enjoy: http://pinterest.com/tinkerlab/art-studios-for-kids/

  38. Joyniss says

    As a parent of 4 children and a play based preschool teacher I am always looking for creative ways to make an old space feel new, organized and exciting! Love your blog and can’t wait to get your book! Joy

  39. says

    I have really enjoyed this and your first Tinkering Spaces interview. I love thinking about ways to set up our home in a way that fosters creative learning and then to sit back and watch what the kids come up with. 

    My 7-year-old son has recently shifted from being super excited about art to being super excited about writing. This interview has made me think about how I could change up our “art area” to make it a great space both for him to write and for my younger two to draw/collage/paint.

    • Rachelle says

      Thanks, Amy! It’s so rewarding to watch children play and invent in a space designed with them in mind. I’m happy to hear that this gave you some ideas on how to make your art area more inviting for writing. Mariah certainly has some useful ideas in this area, and I’d recommend her book if it’s not already on your reading list.

  40. Sparks1919 says

    This is so wonderful.  thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to help other families like this :)

  41. Carrie-Anne says

    I really want to make my classroom more childlike and child inviting. I love the writing center. I also need help with clever storage for my daughters toys that are taking over the house. 

    • Rachelle says

      Mariah has so many good ideas — do check out her book if you have a chance. I’m sure you’ll love it, Carrie-Anne.

  42. Diana M. says

    My husband and I have just cleared a room in our home to dedicate solely to our twin boys future atelier. We purchased Mariah’s beautiful book and have highlights, bookmarks and tabs everywhere. What a great resource for ideas, inspiration and information on creating a thoughtful space for children to discover. I was so happy to stumble across this blog from Mariah’s Playful Learning emails. What a great find as well. I’m so excited to enter for the chance to win a spot in the upcoming ecourse! We are so in need of help in trying to put it all together while at the same time, not breaking the bank. Happy New Year!

    • Rachelle says

      My book is getting dog-eared too, Diana. Congratulations on making room for an atelier. Your sons will love it, and it will make your family life richer, I’m sure. Thanks for the comment, and I’m so glad you found my blog!

  43. Michael Nigro says

    One day I hope to have a home that is filled with wonderful spaces for both of my children to learn and have fun. One thing at a time. We will get there. 

  44. Cutekipepeo says

    What an informative interview. I would like to join the course.I have a 2 year old son and I want to be THAT mum!

  45. amanda smith says

    I really love these ideas and have recently signed up to the blog. I am going to try and hunt down some archival boxes now…

  46. says

    Great ideas! I’ve been working on creating an art space for my kids this past several months by tranforming our dining room into a “studio.” We have an added challenge of having a child with a developmental disability; supplies have to be somewhat accessible but safety and ease of cleanup is an issue as well.

    My favorite change so far has been the addition of a long bookshelf for all of our craft books, with 24 Bell jars mounted below it for beads, pom-poms, ribbon scraps, shells and other small supplies. Just looking at it makes us want to make something. The lids are screwed in permanently and the jars’ contents are visible but safe at the same time.

  47. Robyn says

    I love Mariah’s blog! I have tried to create playful learning spaces in our small home, but would love the additional inspiration her e-course will offer. Thanks TinkerLab!

  48. Paraskevao says

    I have seen a number of great creative spaces for children, some backed with obvious money, however, others with less funding. I am from the latter version. I also believe in letting my child be a co creator with me. I have choose small child sized materials, but also some big stuff, like rolling pins and manila envelopes, or pillow cases and stamp pads and rolls of contact paper. We decide when to rotate items or rearrange things. Clear totes and photo labels of objects for storage are great.

  49. says

    I would love to take this course! And I’d like to know more about using glass containers with young children. I’m afraid they’ll break it!

  50. Yayanaya says

    I am quitting my job to take care of my kids and would love to get ideas on how to organize small spaces for projects etc. can’t wait to get started!

  51. Maria Sanchez-Masi says

    Oooh!  I’ve been working on better utilizing our learning space and would LOVE to participate in the course!

Trackbacks

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *