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?
- It is is an inviting and peaceful place to create.
- The writing center, which has inspired the girls to make writing a part of their daily routine.
- 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!