Julie Liddle: An Art Therapist’s Perspective

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I interviewed Julie Liddle, art therapist and art teacher, who runs Art in Hand, a unique art program for toddlers and preschoolers in the Washington, DC area. She is also an artist and the mom of two boys, Ben and James, who will be turning 9 and 6 this summer.

Note: Readers will have a chance to win an art activity set and a set of Julie's notecards at the end of the interview…

JEAN: First, can you tell us a little about your background as an art therapist?

JULIE: Well, to become an art therapist requires a master's degree in art therapy. Many people have never even heard of art therapy let alone realize that a graduate degree in the field exists! One comes to art therapy with a background in psychology and human development as well as art. An art therapist needs to be well versed with a wide range of art materials and techniques in order to support her clients in their creative explorations. And of course one has to have the theoretical background in psychology and psychotherapy. Generally art therapists are dealing with emotional health, although practitioners approach their work from a wide range of theoretical perspectives.

The one tenet that I can safely say is shared by all art therapists, however, is the fact that in art therapy the PROCESS of creating is paramount. This isn't to say that the product may not also be important, but a good art therapist would never consider the product without considering the context of the process that accompanied its creation. Contrary to popular belief, art therapists do not possess a crystal ball for interpreting artwork; rather, a responsible art therapist makes interpretations based on careful observation of the client's process in creating the work as well as the client's own comments about the work, in addition to the observable features in the actual art.

In addition to offering technical support to the art process, an art therapist provides emotional support by creating a safe, non-judgmental "holding environment" for the art-making to take place, and offers commentary on the process as it unfolds. Prior to starting the ART IN HAND program, I worked for nine years as an art therapist at a therapeutic school for children and adolescents aged with a wide range of emotional and learning disabilities. One-on-one art therapy sessions were a wonderful modality for allowing many of these children to express, explore, work through and contain emotions, experiences, and ideas within the context of a safe, supportive, trusting therapeutic relationship. For many of these children, achieving that sense of trust and safety was the primary goal of therapy, given the many losses and traumas they had experienced in their lives. Art therapy often provided the added "bonus" of boosting self-esteem and feelings of accomplishment in kids who hadn't had much experience with success in the past.

JEAN: How did you decide to change your focus to working with toddlers and preschoolers?

JULIE: After my first son Ben was born, I became more interested in the developmental aspect of art. I couldn't wait to watch those developmental stages I had learned about in my Child Art Therapy Class unfold before me "in real life."

As soon as he was old enough to sit up and grasp a marker, I had him perched in his diaper in the middle of the kitchen floor on a large piece of butcher paper making marks…on the paper, on his fingers, on his pudgy thighs… At the same time, the work that I had found so rewarding for the past nine years, suddenly began feeling much more draining, as my new full-time job of mothering left me with a deficit of nurturing energy for these highly challenging children at work.

Meanwhile, Ben was attending daycare 3 days a week in a fabulous program that was run and taught by folks who really understood early childhood – everything was developmentally sound practice. I learned so much from them. I would come in and see them doing all these great creative things with art and sensory materials with one year olds. What resonated with the art therapist in me the most was the fact that the emphasis was always on the PROCESS, and suddenly – click – on went the light bulb and the idea for my ART IN HAND program for toddlers and preschoolers began to take shape!

So while I'm not doing therapy per se in my art classes for tots and people don't come to my classes because that's what they are seeking, there's a unique feel I think to the way I lead my classes, because my training is that of an art therapist rather than an art teacher. I don't have this tendency toward technique where we have a goal as far as teaching this or that skill. It's really more exploration and imagination based and about supporting people in their emotional, spiritual, and developmental growth.

JEAN: Can you tell us more about Art in Hand?

JULIE: My art classes are for young children under the age of five together with their parent or caregiver. I offer the classes to two different age groups: eighteen months to three years old, and three and a half to five years old. Each session is inspired by a children's picture book, because I want to not only expose kids to language and literature and a love of books, but also because there are so many beautiful books out there that expose them (and their parents) to such a variety of ways that people can use art to express themselves.

I also try to, in the books we read and in the art we do, to reflect themes that are meaningful to young kids. So an underlying theme of the program is the idea of making connections, so that toddlers and preschoolers can begin to connect to things that they can relate to in their own lives and in the world around them. And when they make their art they can make the connections between their art and the story or images in the book we read, or to some aspect of their personal stories or experiences… whether it is something they have observed in nature, experiences related to family, friends, or their community, or things they have experienced or noticed through their various senses…all things that are important to little ones, that they can relate to on some level.

While the art activities that I introduce for the two age groups are not dramatically different, the dynamics of the classes are, because developmentally they're in such different places. Toddlers revel in the pure sensory, motor, and cognitive discovery that goes hand in hand with exploration in art. They are delighted by the effects they are able to achieve and the feelings of mastery and control that go along with being able to make their own choices.

The older group is much more verbal; they are creating with intent (which sometimes takes the form of recognizable images, sometimes not); and they have fascinating stories to tell about their creations. I often choose more sophisticated stories to read to the older group since they are much better able to focus on a more detailed story line. In either case, the focus is still very much on process.

I do like to clarify, that even though we focus on the process, that doesn't mean that the product is something that we don't value. There is inherent value in the product, by the simple fact that it was a particular child's unique creation. It's just that we don't want to have a prescribed end product – an expectation that it's supposed to turn out looking a certain way. I think it's important to introduce materials that offer the opportunity for "success", while allowing for each child's unique approach to the materials. There is satisfaction in creating something that we can look at and about which we can have interesting things to say. But we don't always have to have a finished product. Sometimes it truly is just about the exploration.

Another crucial piece of the ART IN HAND program, is helping to educate parents so that THEY understand all this talk about "process vs. product" and what it means to do art that is developmentally appropriate for young children. I really enjoy bringing this kind of mindful, creative approach to parents, opening them up to truly "hearing" what their child has to say, both verbally and nonverbally through their art. So this is where my theme of CONNECTING comes full circle-that connection between parent and child, through shared experience and careful listening and observing.

JEAN: Do you incorporate art therapy techniques in your everyday classes?

JULIE: I try to give parents the tools to create that "holding environment" that I referred to earlier, that space within which their child can feel safe and comfortable to express himself with materials. I also think my years of leading art therapy groups has helped me to know the importance of establishing rituals, of sensing how and when to make transitions, when to introduce something new to extend the experience and keep the kids engaged in art-making.

The interesting thing is that while I don't want to go back to that work now, I feel that I've learned so much about materials and ways to use the materials from the field of early childhood development and from the toddlers themselves, that I wish I had known when I was working with the adolescents and elementary school kids. These kids, whose early childhoods were impoverished, missed out on those kinds of stimulating experiences. I wish I had allowed them to have those experiences that they never had. Yes, if they were painting with acrylics and they put their hands in the acrylics and finger-painted with them, that was fine, and we would let them do that. But given what I know now, I would allow them use some of the art materials geared towards early childhood. Like liquid watercolors and finger-paints and shaving cream, and salt…materials that are so forgiving and so readily accessible for pure sensory exploration while still allowing for visual expression. So, while art therapy informs my work in early childhood, I would say the converse would also be true, if I were to go back to practicing art therapy.

JEAN: What are your favorite art activities for toddlers and preschoolers?

JULIE: Every time I think about this question, I come up with a different answer, but I think my favorite activities tend to be the ones that incorporate nature materials into the artwork. Each one is my favorite as we do them, so right now my current favorite is one we did last week. I read them stories that evoked images of the beach and ocean (All You Need for a Beach by Alice Schertle and Barbara Lavallee for the toddlers, and Out of the Ocean by Debra Frasier for the preschoolers). Then I gave them each an apple tray (the wavy blue cardboard things that the produce guy saves for me at the grocery store) and pans of tempera paints with various combinations of blue, white, and yellow, which mix into shades of blues and aquas as they paint on that curvy, wavy surface.

Once they've had their fill of this step, then I set out trays filled with beach-y treasures and materials that evoke the sights and sensations of the sea and sand…seashells, fish netting, glass beads (for the preschoolers), tissue paper in blues and greens, green cellophane, silver paper, sandpaper…Each child is then armed with a bag for collecting treasures and a glue bottle so they can affix them to their painted surface. As a final touch, I offer them coarse salt to sprinkle on their pieces. I think they are exquisite! Of course, I get equally excited in the springtime when we collect nature materials to build our own nests…

Another more traditional all-time favorite for me, the little ones and the parents is painting with liquid watercolors on coffee filters. The coffee filters are wonderful because they can get so wet and they don't disintegrate, and the colors spread and blend on them making a lovely tie dyed effect. They're really fun. And they are really beautiful. Even the kids with sensory aversions to messy paints are usually comfortable painting with the watercolors. Then I bring out the kosher salt and they sprinkle the salt on them, and it not only seems to hold universal sensory appeal to eighteen month to five year olds, it results in a spectacular visual effect as the pigment dries. And you can brush the salt away and collage with your paintings when they are dry (in fact this is MY personal art medium of choice these days).

Some great books that I associate with this project include Lois Ehlert's Waiting for Wings and Red Leaf Yellow Leaf or Eric Carle's Very Hungry Caterpillar. I have to admit that sometimes I do cut them into shapes, which is the most directive of anything I do. But still there's no way to paint on them wrong.

JEAN: I noticed on your website that you interweave children's books into your art lessons to encourage "emergent literacy". Can you tell us more about that and also share a few of your favorites?

JULIE: For me, it seemed natural to tie children's books to art-making. It all comes back to that concept of making connections. I feel much more comfortable introducing an art activity that is connected to something meaningful. It also helps give the group (and me) a sense of groundedness, a rhythm and routine that helps participants know what to expect, and it gives them the opportunity to make connections to what they have seen or heard in the story.

Again, the "favorite" question is always tough for me, but I suppose I would have to say that two of my favorite authors are Lois Ehlert and Leo Lionni. Ehlert's art work is gorgeous, from her watercolors to her mixed media collages, and I love that most of her books have a nature-related theme. Leo Lionni I love for his whimsical illustrations and brilliantly clever use of materials, and the wit and wisdom of his allegories, even though sometimes they leave me scratching my head! (Jean's note: you can find Julie's list of recommended books, by going to her website and clicking on the book list link.)

JEAN: What is your favorite aspect of teaching art to young children?

JULIE: Now this "favorite" is easy for me to answer, although I think I have to change the question a bit…because truthfully, I don't believe that I am "teaching" them art. I am giving them materials and tools, and inviting them to do what comes naturally. So…I would say the thing that I enjoy most about witnessing the art process of toddlers and preschoolers is how unselfconscious they are about it. How spontaneous.

That they don't have a preconceived idea going into it that it's supposed to be a certain way. So there is this complete freedom in their expressiveness. I get so excited when I see them doing their art. I'm just blown away by how beautiful it is. Those brush strokes that are so unselfconscious; I don't think an older child or an adult is capable of emulating that no matter how hard they try (and I guess that's the point)! I've thought about this a lot in the past year or so, as I've had a bit more time to reflect on the evolution of ART IN HAND.

I was the kid who was always worried about coloring in the lines. As a child I was fairly skilled artistically but I was so critical of myself because I had to get it right. I struggled with that my whole life. I don't think I ever really blossomed as an artist because I was much too self-conscious. It's only in the last few years that I have opened up in my own art-making and found a way to be more expressive and less self-critical. I think doing this work with toddlers has been my way of coming full circle. By giving other kids the opportunity to be totally free and spontaneous with the materials, I get to experience it vicariously as an adult-that wonderful freedom. And it has been fun to see how that has translated into my own art (which I still don't have nearly enough time for).

But when time allows, I create torn paper collages, and I incorporate those coffee filters, the liquid watercolor paintings, along with colored tissue paper, and images from magazines, photos, etc. No one can tell me if it's right or wrong. And each one tells a story. I usually work large, then turn the whole thing over, draw a grid on the back, and cut them into segments, so the end result is always a surprise! I make lots of note cards this way, but have ventured into making some larger pieces as well. I don't have much time and I don't do nearly as much as I would like. But I feel like I have finally found my medium and for the first time in my life, feel that freedom and spontaneity when creating. I have the toddlers to thank for that.

JEAN: Any ideas for parents wishing to incorporate art therapy ideas into their family's everyday life?

JULIE: These ideas aren't exlusive to art therapy, but I think it is important for parents to be mindful of how they respond to their children's art and art-making. It is so tempting to lavish our children with praise for what they are doing, and our intentions when doing so are usually to boost our child's self-esteem and motivation to continue. However, as parents, we do far more to encourage our children and enhance their feelings of worth and competence, if we comment qualitatively rather than quantitatively on what we see. The very act of stating what we NOTICE about what they have done or what we see ("You're using your whole arm to make those red brushstrokes across the page!" or "I see you've collected all the shiny pieces for your collage. The page seems to shimmer.") implies that we value what they are doing and motivates them to continue for the inherent pleasure derived from the process.

Evaluative comments such as "That's beautiful!" and "Great job!" have a couple of shortcomings. First of all, developmentally speaking, we know that toddlers do not set out to create something pretty when they are doing art…art-making is a sensory, motor, and expressive modality for them, having nothing to do with aesthetics. We inadvertently impose this notion on them prematurely when we talk to them about how pretty their picture is.

To confuse matters more, they have no way of understanding what exactly it is that makes this picture "pretty." We also fall into a catch 22 where they begin to seek our praise, and the internal gratification derived from the art-making itself becomes superceded by the desire for the external gratification of the praise. This ultimately results in decreased motivation and creativity, and increased dependence on external approval.

It takes a bit of practice to break the knee-jerk habit of making blanket praise statements, but just try to think descriptively. And when all else fails, you can always simply exclaim, "You did it!" It works like a charm every time!

JEAN: Anything else you would like to add?

JULIE: I think I've probably said more than enough already! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me and include me among the other inspiring artful interviewees on your blog. I really enjoy reading your entries and the responses of your many artful readers out there. I'm so glad to have discovered a place to share with so many like-minded folks. Keep it up!

JEAN: Thank you Julie! I really appreciate your willingness to share your expertise and your enthusiasm with me and with my Artful Parent readers. What a treasure trove of great information you just gave us! I think the paragraph on how (and why!) to talk to kids about their art is wonderful. And I love your beach art activity. I may be copying you on that one soon…

To learn more about Julie Liddle and her Art in Hand program, you can visit her website or read her articles in the Washington Parent on art for little kids (The Magic of Creative Discovery, The Art of Springtime, and Cool Art for Hot Summer Days.

* * * Readers who leave a comment to this interview by Friday, July 25th at 12 midnight EST will be entered into a drawing for a summer beach art activity set (everything a family needs to make Julie's current fave art activity mentioned above: three wavy apple trays, cellophane, shells, coarse salt, fish netting, tissue paper, etc) as well as a set of four of her collage notecards.



 
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Comments

  1. shllywlly says

    Wow…I really enjoyed reading this interview. I’ve used your blog as an inspiration to do at least one art project with the kids everyday. This interview gave me some really great ideas!! And to make it even better we are moving to the D.C. area next month so I’m definitely going to be researching her art classes. Way to Publicize!!!
    I recently posted on my blog describing Alfie Kohn’s philosophy regarding using praise with children. I really felt that Julie hit it right on the target. I love hearing someone describing what I try so hard to tell people but fail miserably. Would you mind if I reposted that section on my blog? With full credits of course!!

  2. Jean C says

    Thank you for this interview. It is really helpful especially about giving qualitative praise. I have to admit that I felt a little conflicted about how to approach praise when my child shows me her creations. While I don’t want to discourage, I also don’t want to lie either. The examples given in this interview really helped a lot in balancing that and also focusing on what is important to a toddler. Thank you. I wish I lived in the DC area! ;-)

  3. says

    Great ideas! I have a 3 year old who loves art and I wonder about the developmental stages of what is appropriate at this age (i.e. should pictures be recognizable as specific things). It was nice to see some ideas regarding this and some direction in appropriate praise!

  4. Carrie says

    What a great interview. I have three small boys, a toddler and two preschoolers so I’m always trying to find new art projects to do with them. I just got a lot of great ideas for how to tweak the older kids projects so that my 1 year old can participate as well, thanks!

  5. Tracey says

    I’m a preschool teacher, and I am always interested in learning about more activities to do with my students. I really enjoyed this interview!

  6. says

    Shelly,
    Absolutely, you may go ahead and post the bit on praise on your blog. I suppose I should’ve given credit to Alfie Kohn as well…when I read his article years ago, it was so great to read what I had internalized as part of my art therapy practice, put into words that applied to parenting. I’ve been trying to “spread the word” so to speak, ever since!

  7. snappybritches says

    I am so excited to start incorporating more art time into our daily life. Love the interview and the blog. Just found it last night!

  8. Jennifer says

    Great interview…I picked up quite of few things to do with my two year old! Love your blog!

  9. Carol Jerry Cox says

    Well said, Julie! You make art therapy proud! The photos of art and artists are truly inspiring.

  10. says

    I’ve always been so interested about art in therapy, especially with children. Thank you for that perspective!

  11. says

    I love this interview. I am going to mark it so that I can go back over it later. It is exactly where I am with my 16 month old and my 3 year old… except I am often at a loss as to what to do with them creatively. I was a HS teacher and sometimes taught art to the teens. I was told that my technique was more like art therapy, although I am not sure why. It was fascinating to see how Julie Liddel worked with the little children.

  12. says

    Thanks for another great interview, Jean! And, Julie, thank you for the suggestions and recommendations. I ordered some liquid watercolors from Discount School Supply after Jean mentioned them in a post and referenced your love of them. They came in the mail this past Friday. Fun, fun! We can’t wait to use them!
    I love the apple tray seascape. I need to see if I can connect with our local produce guy–or win your kit. :)

  13. threesneakybugs says

    How fun! Great interview. I have been working hard at the descriptive praise over the last few months and I’ve got to say I really appreciate how it opens up a dialogue with my son about what he’s doing rather than how a “wow, that’s beautiful” simply elicits a smile.

  14. says

    Julie what a great interview! Wonderful to read your thoughts about your evolution from art therapist to developmental art teacher and creativity facilitator.
    Robin

  15. says

    Love it! That picture of your son (I assume) on the paper is priceless, I’ve got to get some bigger paper — and a bigger kitchen. :) Can’t wait to try all of the other ideas as well, that ocean/water idea with the apple holders is great. Thanks Jean and Julie!!

  16. says

    What a great interview! Thanks so much for this. So many great ideas and things to think about. I will have to look up the Kohn article.

  17. 123pizza says

    Thank you for hosting this interview. I had never heard of Art Therapy before and now wish our school district had an art therapist because I know it would have been helpful with our sons.
    I also wish we had an Art in Hand nearby. I would definitely be involved with my daughter. But we don’t so I make do. At the moment all three of my children are sitting at the table creating “messages in a bottle”. I’m not sure where they got the idea but that’s what they want to do so I let them.

  18. says

    Hi Jean :) This was a very interesting read! Thanks to Julie for sharing with us. I love the ocean art idea! As I read it, I could see my sweeties in my mind’s eye – enjoying the painting, squealing and laughing as they chose treasures to add to it, etc What fun! Blessings, Q

  19. says

    I love the ocean and beach idea! Especially sprinkling salt afterwards. So much fun….I’ll have to give that a try with my little ones.
    Thanks for the interview,
    Sara

  20. says

    I love the blue boy!! I fooled around with the idea of going into Art Therapy myself, and even took a few courses in that direction, but didn’t follow through with it…. wishing now that I had.
    Thanks for the interview!

  21. says

    Thank you for a great article! I encourage my toddler to create art but haven’t tied it in with a book yet. I definitely will now!

  22. Cheri says

    i love reading your interviews! along with your blog i am challenged to find art in more of what we do:)

  23. says

    Thank you for another inspiring interview. I have seriously considered pursuing a degree in Art Therapy so it was wonderful to hear Julie’s perspective and insights. I’ll look forward to visiting her site soon.

  24. Lisa says

    Well, this has come at a most opportune time. I lead a parent-child art class at a local art center, and this validates all that I believe and have been trying to convey. I get such pleasure from watching these little ones dive in w/gusto to the project at hand. While some parents completely “get it” others have to be gently reminded to hold back from producing the activity, and there has been more then one tantrum because a parent doesn’t want glitter to come off in the car. It is fascinating to watch certain children overcome anxiety about touching wet paper mache (and end up essentially body painting!) I took an art therapy class 100 years ago at GWU. I am at a new stage in my life w/my last child going off to college. This interview has certainly helped me focus my feelings as to what I believe is an important and what to go on to pursue. Thank-you so much!

  25. says

    Great interview. I found the thoughts about praising kids work very helpful. I often fall into the “pretty picture” category, and this encouraged me to take more time to really look at what they’ve done.

  26. S. Marie says

    Wonderful interview. Thank you Jean and Julie.
    My 21 month old daughter was really into exploring with paints, crayons, markers, pens, glue etc. Now she says “Mama do it” and hands me the art materials. I try to encourage her to do whatever she wants, but she really wants me to “do it.” So I try to imitate what I have most recently seen her do. She loses interest if I keep coaxing her to “do it.” What is going on here? I have always let her lead the way and never focused on the product. Suggestions????

  27. says

    Thanks, everyone, for your comments. I really enjoyed reading them.
    Sheila, perhaps you’ve already tried this, but how about asking him open-ended questions about what he has done, rather than trying to think of a statement…”How did you make that part?” “What is your favorite part about this?” “Is there a story that goes with this creation?” I know it’s hard to break the “praise cycle”, but worth it in the long run. More comments might sound like this: “Wow, there’s a lot of detail in your drawing.” or even “Your drawing is very precise. It must have taken a lot a patience to make it like that.”
    S. Marie, this is not unusual, but always frustrating!! I would shy away from “traditional” art such as drawing and painting for a little while, where she has a “standard” for what she expects to happen now and has become dependent on you. Try some more unconventional projects that she might not even associate with her current notion of “art” such as building with 3-d materials (toilet paper rolls, other found objects from nature or around the house) , coloring pasta and then glueing it to a board, or fingerpainting with shaving cream to name a few. She might not be able to resist these sensorily engaging activities and will, in time, regain her independent spirit about using materials of all kinds. Take heart, nothing remains status quo for long…everything is a stage that will be moved through with a bit a patience.

  28. Andrea says

    Inspiring interview! Thanks so much for all the specific ideas and wonderful spirit!

  29. Amanda says

    I really appreciate the suggestions on how to talk to the kids about art, and how not to draw for them (read the other post too, from Susan Striker). I’m going to try these ideas! The problem I’m now having with my 2-1/2 yo daughter has to do with getting discouraged and quitting. Here’s what happened: after reading a post awhile ago, I cut out lots of construction paper shapes, put them by my daughter’s easel with a glue stick. She had a ball with them for a couple of days, gluing them on a sheet, taking them off the sheet, gluing them in stacks to each other, and just putting glue on them and leaving them, until my husband told her not to put glue on them until she was ready to put them on the paper. She quit immediately and won’t go near them now. I took him aside and tried to explain (as nicely as I could) that “we don’t tell kids how, that’s part of learning and expressing themselves”. But it seems the damage is done, and she really won’t do much art now of any kind (coloring, chalk, the shapes, glue). Anytime I get art materials out, she just wants me to draw for her, or she takes the stuff (crayons, markers) and plays with them like they are dolls (carries them around, makes “families”, etc.) Has anyone else had this happen? What can I do?

  30. says

    Amanda…the way your daughter is currently playing with the art materials (imaginatively) is also developmentally appropriate. I would lay low, keep the materials avaialable, but don’t press her to use them (the traditional way, I mean…she is “using” them after all, in her own way). Don’t let her pick up on your angst over her temporary discouragement and your eagerness for her to get back to artmaking, bcs then it becomes a power struggle, and a set-up where perhaps she feel she has to perform. Let it ride, and trust that she will make her way back to it on her own. Have faith, any “damage” is temporary. One of the best things about young children is their incredible resiliency!

  31. says

    What inspiring photos, and such a great interview. I love the different perspectives you compile here– they give me wonderful insight into how art can help spark my son’s creativity. Thanks for what you do, and thanks to Julie for being so thoughtful about this whole process! =)

  32. Susan D says

    I’m so glad I recently found this blog – it’s very inspiring. I look forward to using many of the ideas with my 3 1/2 year old daughter, as well as at my storytimes at the public library. Thanks!

  33. says

    Have I ever told you how inspired I am by SO MANY of your posts! This interview is great! I think that after Esme and I get through the alphabet weekly art themes, we shall try going through her books and using them for weekly themes . . .

  34. Jennifer Snellings says

    Wow! What a wonderful interview! As a mother of a preschooler and former art teacher (now a stay at home mom), I loved everything that was said! From unique ideas for art projects with little ones to the topic of how we praise our kids, I found it to be so helpful and encouraging! Thank you for taking the time to create such a helpful, creative and inspiring place for parents. Your blog is truly a blessing!

  35. says

    Wow! As a teacher I agree 100% with her thoughts on process vs. product, praise, how to talk with children about their artwork, and using books as jump off points for artwork. I wouldn’t have been able to articulate those ideas NEARLY as eloquently as she did, though! Thanks for taking the time to include this interview.

  36. kelly r. says

    Loved the article! It has given me inspiration and new ideas to use in my montessori classroom! I enjoy all that you bring to your blog…it always inspires me! Thank you!

  37. Jamey says

    I really enjoyed this article. My son is 20 months old and I’ve been trying to be very purposeful about adding more art and nature into his daily experiences. This article gave me a lot of good ideas for that. It’s also always helpful to be reminded that the focus with children needs to be on the process and not the product. Adults tend to be so goal-oriented that this is always a needed reminder!

  38. Alison says

    I love the idea of combining books with art. I’ve gotten some of the books you’ve mentioned in earlier posts (A Picnic with Monet, etc), but I like the idea of making art based on books not specifically related to art. I also really liked how Julie described how praise can inhibit creative growth rather than aiding it. It’s an important idea to keep in mind when working with children. Thanks for the great interview!

  39. Alison says

    Actually, I have a question too. I’m on board with the quantitative versus qualitative praise idea. But how do you deal with other people giving qualitative praise to your child? I ask, because as a preschool teacher I’ve tried to talk to children about their art instead of making comments about whether I like it or not. However, some children are so used to people judging their work that they continually ask, “Do you like it?” Any specific suggestions on how to deal with these types of direct questions?

  40. says

    I loved reading this interview so much that I’m going to print it off and stick it in my teacher’s planner so I can refer to it in my preschool class of 2 1/2 – 3 yr olds. So many great ideas!

  41. says

    Alison,
    Your question is a great one, and one that still challenges me as well. A few thoughts…one way for other adults (parents of your students) to learn this skill is through modelling; if they observe you making process/qualitative comments consistently, they begin to catch on, so capitalize on opportunities to do so. Secondly, in some cases, when you feel you have a solid rapport with a parent, you can educate them directly about this issue, and they will receive it well; but some parents, if you don’t know them well, might feel embarrassed or defensive, so you have to tread carefully here. Another way to indirectly educate parents, is to send home brief informative articles or handouts (like the Alfie Kohn article on praise…an abridged version was in Parenting Mag. a few years back). http://www.alfiekohn.org/parenting/gj.htm
    Now, for dealing with the kids in the moment…I might say something like, “I sure liked the way I saw you experimenting with all different kinds of brush strokes.” There’s a difference between acknowledging what you have noticed about their process, and just offering generalized blanket praise. You can also then follow up by asking them what they like about their project. Hope this is helpful. Even after years of doing this, I still get tripped up sometimes, and you don’t want to become stilted and scripted in your dialogue with kids either. It’s a fine line, and sometimes a genuine gush of admiration seeps out, and there is no crime in that either, as long as you are mindful most of the time.

  42. Alison says

    Thanks! Those are some good ideas to try out. I do often feel like it’s scripted when I talk to kids about their art, so I’m going to try out some of your suggestions.

  43. Donna says

    I am so glad I found this interview. I am starting an art therapy program in an early childhood program and have found little art therapy literature on children under four.. Thanks for the ideas and insight into how to use art therapy with this age group. My experience as an art therapist was with older children and adolescents. This is a new, exciting realm. Thanks.

  44. says

    I’m leaving a comment so long after this was posted I dont even know if anyone will read it.
    I’m just adding in my two cents here as a former preschool teacher and director.
    I went to a graduate school that also espouses this developmental art and it is so refreshing to see how Julie Liddle is bringing developmentally appropriate art to young children.
    I wish more of the classic craftsy parents and teachers who feel that the only way to do art with their children is to have them make copycat crafts, could experience what Julie is doing with her students.
    I so identified with Julie when she describes how stifled she felt.
    I’m sure it was from her negative experiences in school situations as a youngster doing only copycat art projects (and coloring books)
    .
    Even though I ma very much into art for children I also have that feeling that I was never able to really reach my true uninhibited true art self.